Chapter 903 The Omen of Vengeance
The High Patriarch of the Priory of the Four Seas was at the main stronghold when he received word that Li Zhiyuan was sighted inside Rydorburg.
All four of the Priory’s Prelates have been secretly dispatched to assassinate him and the fact that he has arrived at Rydorburg while there was nothing but complete silence from the Four Prelates who should have been the ones coming back with Li Zhiyuan’s head heralded a dreadful foreboding…
The Four Prelates were the Priory’s best of the best, all four of them warriors of Class VIII. He could count with one hand the names of the individuals in all of the Northern Steppes who could pit against the Four Prelates as equals in single combat and Li Zhiyuan was definitely not one of them. Furthermore, all four of them were sent to assassinate one and only one target. Not even a Class IX warrior could fully escape from such a deadly force unscathed.
“Or did Li Zhiyuan manage to slip past them unnoticed and get into the city?”
The High Patriarch just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his Four Prelates had failed and were killed in the line of their duties, resorting to feeble attempts to persuade himself that all was still well.
First Warden Dong Xiaoyu came hurrying into the audience hall and declared loudly, “Your Holiness, someone had just delivered a gift inside a gilded chest for you. According to the man who brought the gift, it is for Your Holiness’s eyes only and he’s sure that you’ll like it.”
Four acolytes came shuffling into the audience hall, lifting a square, gilded chest that shone and sparkled proudly even in the darkened hall that the whole chamber was filled with a warm and majestic ambiance.
The chest itself looked ornate and expensive at first glance.
“And where is this person whom my thanks should go to?” the High Patriarch frowned at not being able to see his newest patron.
“He’s gone, Your Holiness. Although I can tell you that his name is Wei, the overseer of the Cloud Nine Lodge that belongs to our local merchant prince Master Lu. I know him well, and that was why I allowed the chest to be brought in without going through all the checks that could cause unnecessary delays. But if you wish to speak to him, Your Holiness, I could send for him,” explained the First Warden.
Gifts being sent here from the Cloud Nine Lodge were hardly irregular occurrences.
As one of the strongest militant and religious orders in these parts, the Priory enjoyed such prestige that scores of other sects and orders, as well as independent individuals, wished to establish ties with it and the Cloud Nine Lodge, while functioning as temporary accommodation for those who visited Rydorburg, and also served as a conduit to deliver gifts and tributes to the Priory. That made it very common for the overseers of the Lodge to come to the Priory’s stronghold bearing gifts — as common as a few hundred times annually.
That was glad tidings compared to hearing about Li Zhiyuan’s presence in Rydorburg. Feeling slightly pleased, the High Patriarch got off his throne and got down to peel off the seal that kept the lid of the chest shut. Slowly, he began to flip open the lid while he muttered, “The Priory enjoys an abundance of wealth and power. If anyone thinks that a tiny chest like this would curry favor with — What the…?!”
He yelped with fright before he could even finish.
Sitting at the bottom of the single-compartment chest, nestled in the velvety folds of fabric padding of coruscating scarlet that lined the insides of the chest, was the hilt of a sword with a broken blade of about two inches wide and four inches long. The shards gleamed with a cold fury that slammed into the face of the elderly High Patriarch once he clapped his eyes on it.
“What in Heaven’s name is this?!”
The High Patriarch could not believe what he had just seen.
But First Warden Dong Xiaoyu was quick to react following his momentary shock, “T-That’s… That’s the shards of the Sword of Divinity! This is the Omen of Vengeance!”
“The Omen of Vengeance?!”
The High Patriarch repeated those words to himself, finding himself petrified by the sheer ominosity of what he was still trying to comprehend.
In his bloody northbound crusade to seek justice on behalf of the Creed of Divinity acolytes and Grand Master who had died trying to bring him home, Li Zhiyuan, now bearing the moniker of ‘The Aspect of Vengeance’, has developed a reputation of first delivering a gift — the broken Sword of Divinity in a box by means of an omen — to his targets before he exacted his judgment upon them.
Everywhere the broken shards of the Sword of Divinity were sighted, death and carnage would follow in its wake. Not one sect or order and certainly no one had been known to escape Li Zhiyuan’s wrath.
For this reason, seeing the broken shards of the Sword of Divinity was like hearing the bells of Hell, for Li Zhiyuan would come swiftly behind, dispensing death like Death himself.
That was how the shards of the Sword of Divinity were dubbed ‘The Omen of Vengeance’. For its appearance heralded the advent of the Aspect of Vengeance in all his bloody and brutal glory. No one could escape and no one could hide.
In just a short span of time, the name “the Omen of Vengeance” took the world of warriors by storm, striking fear into everyone in the world of warriors.
The same frightful premonition from just now was once again sowed in the High Patriarch’s mind.
“This is the Omen of Vengeance, the gift presented by the Aspect of Vengeance Li Zhiyuan!
“Could it be that…”
The High Patriarch’s heart raced so madly that he was teetering on the brink of having an aneurysm.
“Wait, there’s a hidden compartment below!”
First Warden Dong Xiaoyu pried open the false bottom where the broken Sword of Divinity was placed and as soon as he removed the bottom, the unbearably putrid stench of rotting flesh and blood erupted into the hall like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear detonation.
“What the hell are these?! Wait, human heads?! That’s the Amethyst Prelate! And that’s the Obsidian Prelate… No, no, no! These are the heads of the Four Prelates! This is impossible! Impossible!” Dong Xiaoyu crumbled the moment he recognized the faces as he had fallen into the deep abyss of an icy chasm. He rubbed his eyes again and again, unable to believe his eyes.
“The heads of the Four Prelates!
“Hidden inside the secret compartment of the chest are the heads of the Four Prelates!”
The High Patriarch’s face turned as white as chalk as his vision blurred and darkened. His very person swayed as he struggled to keep himself steady, and the dizziness of what felt like a stroke nearly felled him. The deaths of the Four Prelates were more than just a heavy blow to him. It was a crippling blow to the Priory; as the very pillars of the Priory, the entire structure of the order rested on their very shoulders as leaders in both prestige and power that all Wardens and Chapter Masters of the Priory looked up to for guidance and direction.
“LI ZHI YUAN!”
That was a roar that sounded as if it came from deep inside his soul. A roar that fully illustrated his anger, hatred, and fear of the terrible fate that had befallen his four subordinates and protégés — what really happened, how did they get themselves all killed, and why did none of them manage to escape?!
“Could it be that Li Zhiyuan has someone helping him?! Someone or some unknown entity of great power and influence?!
“Could it be one of the great sects or orders outside of the Northern Steppes region?!
“Arcusstone? That cannot be!” The High Patriarch denied outright that possibility. For years, the Priory had been vigorously expanding its power base, all so that it could one day replace Arcusstone as the strongest religious order in the Northern Steppes and the de facto leader of the world of warriors. The Priory has been actively trying to mask its activities, but one could barely discount that Arcusstone might have long been observing the Priory. If that were true, then Arcusstone could very well be the reason behind Li Zhiyuan’s mishap, his resurgence, and now, his crusade for vengeance.
The High Prelate sat there and wondered long and hard.
But if there was something that he neglected, that was the fact that Li Zhiyuan had killed the Four Prelates without any help at all from anyone or anything.
“Your Holiness…” called First Warden Dong Xiaoyu who tried to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth.
The High Patriarch shot him a look. In just mere moments, the visage of anxiety and fear quickly subsided, melting into a mask of determination and clout. Then he attacked.
A cold flash ripped through the air in the dimly-lit ambiance.
All four acolytes who helped to carry in the chest clawed and clutched at their throats, desperately indisposed to part with the final slivers of their life before they collapsed lifelessly to the ground.
“Nothing of what happened in here is to get out of these walls,” the High Patriarch warned a shivering First Warden Dong gravely. “Make sure that no one knows about this, then relay this directive: the Four Prelates are absent from the Priory indefinitely on a secret mission of the utmost importance. Therefore, effective immediately, their duties shall be handled by the First and Second Wardens until their return.”
“Understood, Your Holiness,” responded First Warden Dong Xiaoyu, exhaling with relief.
He was so afraid that the High Patriarch might kill him as well to keep his lips sealed.
The High Patriarch might no longer retain the same fervor and ambition that once elevated him to the apex position in the Priory and with too few to witness him in action anymore, hushed whispers were often uttered in the corridors of the Priory’s stronghold that he had lost his edge and the brutal shrewdness that once kept all his naysayers silent. Still, the old lion in the High Patriarch wielded the same invincible might that could crush anyone to death with just the lift of a finger and Dong Xiaoyu wasn’t eager at all to put that to the test.
“And send for my son. Bade him come back here as soon as he could. Tell him that something has changed and we can no longer afford to wait for him to finish his training anymore.”
That was the High Patriarch’s final directive.
But Dong Xiaoyu stood there with the High Patriarch’s words reverberating in his mind like a neverending echo.
“Is he coming back at last?!”
The actual reins of the Priory’s leadership had been passed over to the High Patriarch’s son a few years ago. Word has it that as heir to the High Patriarch’s chair, the young prodigy had achieved powers and rank that outstripped even his father and it was because of his rare gifts and talents that he was handpicked to receive further training elsewhere.
“If he returns, that would mean the end to all our troubles!” Dong Xiaoyu mused with hope.
“Thank you so much for that favor, Mr. Wei.”
Inside his premium-level suite at Cloud Nine Lodge, Li Mu thanked the overseer Mr. Wei for his help in delivering his chest to the Priory.
As the biggest and most luxurious lodging in Rydorburg, Cloud Nine Lodge sought to provide the best service and unique experience to every one of its patrons, rarely, if not never, giving ‘no’ as an answer, much more so for a patron staying in one of its most expensive premium-level suites.
“You’re too kind, Mr. Li. As one of our most esteemed customers, a simple favor like this is the least we could do for you. Please don’t hesitate to come to us if you have any other requests.”
The overseer Wei said very courteously.
“As a matter of fact, I do have one more request to make of you, Mr. Wei,” Li Mu smiled at him, “I’m sure you’ve been in Rydorburg for quite some time here?”
“I’m a native here, sir. I grew up here all my life, so I know people from all walks of life in this city. So whatever you need, I’m sure my extensive contacts in this city are adequate to make sure that your requests are fulfilled.”
“Very good, Mr. Wei. I like a man who doesn’t mince on words. Allow me to first convey my gratitude for your frankness, but I’m looking for someone. A girl who came from Autumnbrook. Her name is Shen Xiaoyue. I have reasons to believe that she came to this city somewhere a year ago.”
Li Mu called for Shen Jia who provided a detailed description of his elder sister’s appearance.
“You’ll have your answer in three days, Mr. Li,” said the overseer.
Li Mu squeezed a bag of jewels into the overseer’s hands. “Consider this an advance for your services. Trust that a bigger reward is in store if you’re able to locate Ms. Shen for me. You can even say that I’m in your debt too.”
Mr. Wei deftly stowed away the bag of jewels without even an inkling of hesitation and grinned wryly. “It is my honor that I can be of service to the famous Li Zhiyuan, the Aspect of Vengeance. Having you owing me a favor is certainly something that not mere gold and silver could buy. Very well, sir, I’ll take my leave for now. Good day to you.”
Shen Jia waited until Mr. Wei was gone before he turned to Li Mu and bowed very respectfully. Replete with gratitude, he said, “Thank you so much, sir.”
“Let’s hope we’re able to find your sister,” said Li Mu simply.
Rydorburg was a huge city and finding someone with just a name and descriptions of her appearance was searching for a needle in a haystack. Even the most informed information peddler in the city’s underworld would call it a nigh impossible undertaking. Li Mu and Shen Jia would have to be really, really lucky if they hope to find Shen Xiaoyue here.
And that was assuming Shen Xiaoyue did really come to Rydorburg in the first place — which was a big if itself.
Finding her really was easier said than done.
Li Mu stayed his hand from making any moves against the Priory for the next few days. Instead, he wandered around Rydorburg, touring the city carelessly and shopping most profligately like a rich prodigal.
He bought and tamed the most feral of horses in the city’s stables, sampled the most vintage wine, and learned the most potent and invincible of martial arts disciplines, and those were not without slaying the most dangerous enemies he ever encountered, and he enjoyed the best food he had ever tasted before, and savored the womanly charms of the most beautiful women he ever met.
He was living the ultimate dream that all warriors could ever hope for.
Of all the things he had been doing for days, there was only one thing that he had refrained from doing.
That was hiding his tracks.
He knew that the Priory’s spies were watching him.
His highhanded behavior was to stack as much pressure and humiliation as he could upon the Priory, with hopes that this would incite the Priory into marshaling every ounce of authority and influence it possessed and call upon the assistance of every acolyte in its ranks and every ally it could rely on. Li Mu wanted the Priory to come at him at the fullest of its strength with zero expense spared.
Only then would he decimate the Priory with overwhelming might, destroying its root and stem. He would relish the looks of despair written all over the faces of his foe while he tore down the Priory’s stronghold brick by brick, wiping the Priory from this world in its entirety.
That was what the real Li Zhiyuan would have wanted: justice for the former Grand Master and his fellow students of the Creed of Divinity who had given their lives to protect him.
On the third day.
Night had only just descended upon the cityscape of Rydorburg.
A nervous Shen Jia was pacing around the vestibule of the suite with great anticipation. He was waiting on word about his sister and the suspense was killing him. There was just no way he could concentrate on his training.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Someone was rapping on the door from the outside.
“Do come in!” Li Mu called loudly.
Mr. Wei allowed himself into the suite. He bowed and provided a report, smiling, “We have good news, sir. I have just received information that someone had found Ms. Shen. She’s at Pink Alley off Crusade Avenue.”
Shen Jia never looked so happy and ecstatic before.