Chapter 260: Deep Roots
For the most part besides the two groups that had met their untimely end at the hands of the mysterious man’s deadly fire and the new master of the Reaper’s Coffin, for the most part, many of the other groups of visitors were greeted with a much friendlier welcome.
Lavish banquets, crowds of consisting of hundreds if not thousands of patiently waiting followers and hordes of awe-inspiring beasts greeted many of the otherworldly visitors.
Unlike Zhang who had spent countless hours to tirelessly strengthen his forces in order to defend his people and his empire, many of the other forces scattered across the land viewed the scene current events as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Considering that these groups of otherworldly visitors were comprised solely of saints and even included a few half-deities, one could only imagine how powerful their backers were.
Throughout the millennia countless experts had been roped in by these visitors and taken to higher realms and even time this occurred the respective forces that these experts hailed from would receive countless benefits.
Hence unlike Zhang, most of the other powerful entities scattered across the realm had actually gone out of their way to curry favor with the visiting groups.
Also, there were not many factions who possessed a half-deity like Zhang nor were there many with access to an Ethereal point or the dragon's vein, hence offending these otherworldly visitors was not a wise decision to begin with.
Of all of the forces closely relate to the otherworldly visitors, there was one in particular whose fate was deeply intertwined with Zhang’s.
With tens of thousands of fluttering flags hoisted above massive sails, thousands of ships inscribed with the mark of the Siwang Empire could be sea bobbing about above the ocean’s surface.
Levitating above this massive fleet of ships was a group consisting of roughly two hundred individuals, most of which were garbed in blood red armor laced with golden thread, much similar to the standard armor of the Siwang Empire’s soldiers.
Obviously from this alone one could tell how closely related the Siwang Empire was with this group of people.
Upon seeing the arrival of the group of two hundred, the sound of trumpets and drums began to reverberate through the air as a lone individual ascended into the sky from a massive ship that was situated in the heart of the Siwang Empire’s naval fleet.
Garbed in golden robes embroidered with a dragon sewn out of blood red colored thread, a middle-aged man arrived in front of the group of two hundred while releasing a noble aura.
While a domineering aura was initially begin released from his body, the instant the middle-aged man garbed in golden robes caught sight of a young man dressed in crimson silk robes, his confident demeanor installed changed. Recognizing a beautifully carved pendant hanging from the young man’s robes, the middle-aged man instantly withdrew his aura and hastened his ascent.
“Protector Cang, greets his highness.” The middle-aged man said in a respectful tone to the young man dressed in crimson silk robes, contrary to the haughty and imposing gaze that he had prior to arriving in front of the group of two hundred.
Of the group of two hundred men, this young man was the only one not clad in armor, clearly indicating that he was a someone who held a special position in the group.
“Your highness, if I knew someone of your status was arriving I would have made better arrangements.” Protector Cang said after his gaze fell onto the young man’s jade pendant once again.
To a regular person, this would appear to merely be a beautifully made accessory, but to those within the Siwang Empire’s royal family, this pendant symbolizes something more. It was a symbol of power, a symbol of authority that allowed those who held it to call upon all of the empire’s resources at will.
“Protector Cang, my men and I have had a long journey, how much longer are you going to have us stay up here?” The young man dressed in crimson red robes said without bothering to look Protector Cang in the eye.
“I apologize for the delay, your highness. Please follow me, I've made all the necessary arrangements and have prepared lodging for everyone.” Protector Cang said in a subservient tone, despite how rude the young man demeanor was.
Leading the group of two hundred downward toward the Siwang Empire’s naval fleet, Protector Cang had a subtle scowl on his face as the thousands of sailors below saluted him and gazed upward respectfully.
After directing most of the members of the group of two hundred to their respective lodgings, Protector Wang and the young man dressed in crimson robes flew toward the fleet’s flagship.
“Your highness, please forgive me for asking, but why is someone of your status here. Usually another protector leads the trip to this lesser realm.” Protector Cang asked while gazing downward, not daring to look the young man in the eye.
“Do you remember the events that transpired a thousand years ago during the last opening of the great rift?” The young man asked in an emotionless tone.
“How could I possibly forget. The last time the great rift opened, the land was struck with calamity as that beast ravaged the land.” Protector Cang said as buried memories began to surface in his mind.
“That beast you speak of is a fallen god, and this time I was personally tasked by the Holy Emperor to retrieve its remains and its inheritance.” The young man said.
“But to send someone of your status, isn’t that too risky?” Protector Cang said. While he was unclear of the young man’s status within the holy empire, Protector Cang knew that only the empire’s inner elite would be in possession of the Blood Medallion.
“Are you implying that there is someone out there capable of harming me? Even if someone is capable of doing so, do you think they would risk injuring me? Hmph, of all of the holy empire’s dukes, my father, the Eighth Duke is known to be one of the strongest, who would dare to injure me, Prince San Cang.” The young man said in a proud tone.
“Of course! Who would dare to injure a prince of the Holy Empire. Even if they dared, I’m sure there aren't many who could hope to match your martial prowess, my prince.” Protector Cang said, after slightly gasping at the young man’s status.
As the son of one of the holy empire’s dukes, this young man was undoubtedly a prince and for a prince to have been sent to a lesser realm was somewhat unthinkable for Protector Chang.
“Your highness, all other matters aside, how can this old man assist you in locating the remnants of the fallen god?” Protector Cang asked, hoping to gain the young prince’s favor and earn himself a supporter within the inner workings of the holy empire.
“You simply need to mobilize the forces of the empire and assign them to my men, who will take care of the rest. As long as you are able to do this and things go well, you will no longer have to offer up one billion souls as tribute every time the great rift opens. I'll also grant you a bottle of Divine Energy Pellets. On top of that I will allow you to pick ten talented individuals for me to take back to the holy empire, where they will be allowed to cultivate and given access to the holy empire’s vast resources.” Prince San Cang said, causing excitement to flash into Protector Cang’s face.
“Are your words true, your highness? Usually only two of the empire’s finest are brought back. And usually we are only given a single Divine Energy Pellet.” Protector Cang said in a delighted tone.
“Do you think this prince is lying to you?” Prince San Cang said with a raised eyebrow and a slight frown on his face, causing a panicked expression to instantly appear on Protector Cang’s.
“Of course not! How would I dare think that?” Protector Cang quickly responded in a hurried tone.
“Good, let us quickly return to the mainland. The rift will only remain open for one year’s time and we must locate the fallen god’s inheritance before then.” Prince San Cang said.
“At once, your highness.” Protector Cang said before guiding Prince San Cang toward a lavishly decorated room and departing toward the ship’s main base of operation.
Once Protector Cang was out of Prince San Cang’s presence, his previously subservient demeanor instantly changed back to an overbearing one.
With firm steps, Protector Cang entered a large room filled with dozens of men clad in armor. Upon seeing Protector Cang, all of the men instantly stopped what they were doing and saluted him in unison.
“Your majesty!” All of the men yelled as they saluted and kneeled onto one knee in front of Protector Cang.
“At ease.” Protector Cang said while casually waving his hand.
“Send orders to the rest of the fleet, we are returning to the mainland. Also send word back to the empire, have my sons mobilize all of our available forces.” Protector Cang said in a commanding tone as he seated himself atop a golden throne situated in the middle of the room.
By now it should be obvious that Protector Cang is none other than the current emperor of the Siwang Empire, the same man who had ordered his armies to attack the Heilong Kingdom and collect the souls of countless innocent people in order to offer them to the Holy Empire.
“At once, your majesty.” A young man whose armor was covered in dozens of different insignias said before the sound of war drums echoed throughout the surrounding area.
Joining the sound of war drums were the roars of dozens of massive serpentine beasts whose heads rose out of the ocean’s surface. With large harnesses strapped to their bodies, these beasts were tethered to the ships of the Siwang Empire.
Thus, the Siwang Empire’s massive naval fleet began heading back to the Wulin continent.
Unbeknownst to Zhang, besides the forces of the Siwang Empire, other major fractions that ruled over vast expanses of the realm were also heading to the Wulin continent with various guests in tow.
Some could be spotted soaring through the sky and piercing through clouds atop flocks of gigantic winged beasts, some could be seen gathering in front of ancient looking arrays, while others could be spotted standing atop the masts of gargantuan ships pulled by strange looking monsters that dwelled in the depths of the sea.
As various forces headed toward the Wulin continent, the peace that had enveloped the Aurora Empire had come to a sudden end. Over a span of a dozen or so days, the Aurora Empire’s imperial court had received a string of urgent reports from the northern edge of its domain.
Over the span of five days, the populace of dozens of small villages and a handful of towns had all been turned into dried up corpses, all donning a terrified expression that made one’s spine tingle with fear.
The first to discover what was occurring was a group of soldiers from the Aurora Empire’s Northern Regiment, while on a routine supply delivery to a small village located deep within the empire’s northern mountains, these soldiers had stumbled upon a very strange sight when they had arrived at their destination.
Ever since the Aurora Empire had been established, the mostly fractured northern regions had been supplied with steady shipments of food from the southern regions via the use of Yuying’s teleportation array and from there the soldiers of the Northern Regiment were tasked to distribute these supplies throughout the region.
Usually showered with heartwarming welcomes from the local villagers, the soldiers were greeted with an eerie silence that caused a chilling sensation to overcome their senses. The cheerful children who would often run up and looked at the soldiers in awe were nowhere in sight, the elderly who would usually be seen sitting in front of their porches had all but disappeared and the men returning from the forest with their hunted trophies were also missing.
Being a place with little fertile land and dangerous beasts, food was an extremely highly valued commodity, making it so whenever the soldiers of the Northern Regiment arrived at their destination to make a delivery they were the center of attention. People would often stop whatever they were doing and crowd around the horse driven carts brimming with various grains and meats from the empire’s southern region.
Thus, when these soldiers saw that no one had come to greet them, they had instantly felt that something was amiss. Afraid that the village had been attacked by bandits, the had soldiers quickly fanned out and began searching the village.
For the most part, as the soldiers searched the village, no one could be found, it was not until a guy wrenching cry echoed through the air did their search come to an end.
In the center of the village, piling upward toward the sky was a mound of dried up corpses belonging to the former inhabitants of the small village, be it children, the elderly, men or women, all of whom resided in the small village were now laying lifeless one on top of the other.
Although they were the first to make such a gruesome discovery, this group of soldiers was not the last.