Even though Hua Mu had said that they were almost at the Cloudsoaring Sect, there was still some ground to cover.
Standing on the Lightning Shuttle, Nie Tian looked off into the distance, and he could see the cloud-wreathed Cloudsoaring Mountain already.
Normally speaking, they would have to pass over Black Cloud City to get to Cloudsoaring Mountain. However, Hua Mu seemed to be intentionally circling around it.
Nie Tian turned to Hua Mu and asked in a soft voice, "Is my master in the Cloudsoaring Sect right now?"
Hua Mu shook his head, saying, "I'm afraid not."
"Do you know where he is now?" Nie Tian was curious.
"Pulling strings somewhere in order to secure the Cloudsoaring Sect's future. Where else could he be?" Hua Mu said, his face filled with helplessness. "Your master has never lost faith in you. However, many people within the Cloudsoaring Sect believe that you won't return to the Realm of Flame Heaven again. The way they see it, even if you're still alive, you won't be able to refine the fragmentary star marks within such a short time.
"Not to mention that you only had two fragmentary star marks when you disappeared. As everyone knows, the third fragmentary star mark was in Ning Yang's hands, and all three fragmentary star marks need to become one to seal the spatial rifts and restore peace to the Realm of Flame Heaven.
"Most of them assume that even if you're still alive, the Realm of Flame Heaven will be submerged in dense demon Qi before you return. By that time, Demon armies will once again pour into the Realm of Flame Heaven and make it their paradise.
"That was why the senior members of the Cloudsoaring Sect asked your master to help them seek a place in another realm where the Cloudsoaring Sect could keep a foothold.
"Therefore, he went to the Realm of a Hundred Battles."
After hearing Hua Mu's description. Nie Tian said with a deep frown, "My grandfather, my aunt, and my master are the only ones I truly care about in the Realm of Flame Heaven. Now that none of them are in the Cloudsoaring Sect, I'm not in a hurry to go there. Mr. Hua, if you don't mind, can you take me to Black Cloud City? I want to take a look there."
Upon hearing these words, Hua Mu fell silent.
A concerned look appeared in Nie Tian's eyes as he asked, "Is there something wrong?
Hua Mu smiled bitterly. "As a matter of fact, I intentionally took a detour so that we wouldn't pass above Black Cloud City. I just don't want you to return to Black Cloud City and see how nasty it has become."
However, Hua Mu's words made Nie Tian even more curious, and thus he insisted, "I went through lots of things in the Green Illusion dimension, the Heaven Gate, and the Realm of Split Void. I'm no longer the child you think I am, and I'm strong enough to handle whatever is happening in Black Cloud City.
"No matter how bad it has become, handling it will be a part of me growing up. I hope you can understand."
"Alright..." With a soft sigh, Hua Mu changed the direction of the Lightning Shuttle and steered it towards Black Cloud City.
Even in powerful realms such as the Realm of Mystic Heaven, air-transportation spiritual tools were rarely seen, much less in the Realm of Flame Heaven.
Even though the Lightning Shuttle was flying close to the ground, since Hua Mu had completely sealed its trace and aura, it would be very difficult for ordinary Qi warriors to sense its existence.
As the Lightning Shuttle flew closer and closer towards Black Cloud City, Nie Tian looked down from midair, and discovered that the fields outside Black Cloud City were completely wasted, as if no one was farming them anymore.
In his memories, the areas outside of Black Cloud City used to bustle with farming activities; farmers could be seen everywhere, working hard in their fields.
However, all he could see now were farmers sitting idle at their doors. Each of them was wearing a grim expression, and not the slightest spirit could be seen in their eyes.
Even though they were still alive, their hearts seemed to have died already.
In a secluded location outside Black Cloud City, Hua Mu landed the Lightning Shuttle. Nie Tian hesitated for a moment before taking out the mask Dong Baijie had gifted him. After putting it on, he turned to Pei Qiqi and Hua Mu and said, "I'll take a walk in the city."
Hua Mu nodded and said, "Sure."
Then, he turned to Pei Qiqi. "Qiqi, you might want to make some alterations to your appearance as well. The current Realm of Flame Heaven is a bit... strange. Your appearance might attract some unnecessary trouble."
"Oh, I see." Pei Qiqi took out a plain-looking mask from within her ring of holding and gently placed it on her face.
Afterwards, the three of them walked quietly into the city.
After entering Black Cloud City, Nie Tian didn't head directly towards the Nie Clan. Instead, he strolled around without a destination, and observed what changes had happened to Black Cloud City.
He saw that the citizens of Black Cloud City were in similar state to the farmers he had just seen; they all lived soulless lives.
Most of them had sluggish eyes, as if their lives had lost all purpose.
Some stronger citizens bullied the weak to vent their negative emotions. Brothels had become the most popular places within the city. People ate, drank, and whored all day long, as if they were enjoying their final moment of madness before the impending doom.
Bloody fights took place day and night in every corner of the city.
Plundering, murdering, and raping could be seen everywhere.
The former three great clans, the Nie Clan, the An Clan, and the Yun Clan, seemed to have left the security within the city completely unattended.
During the night, every household locked their doors and didn't dare to go out.
From behind those tightly-locked doors, the sounds of wives weeping, drunk husbands cursing, and children mediating could be heard.
A spirit of desperation and insanity seemed to have pervaded the entire city, making every Qi warrior abandon their cultivation, indulge themselves in whatever pleased them, and murder people as long as they felt like it.
Mortals abandoned work and left fields unattended. They lived on the grains they had stockpiled and waited for the day to come when Demons invaded their homeland.
After roaming the city for a day, as Hua Mu had warned him, Nie Tian saw the darkest side of human nature, and how days without hope could drive people crazy.
The thing he didn't foresee was that after the Yun Clan had been extinguished by a fallen meteor, neither the Nie Clan nor the An clan had taken its place as the most powerful clan in Black Cloud City.
On the contrary, the Yuan Clan from Frost Stone City had become the most powerful clan in Black Cloud City.
Frost Stone City had been hit by several meteors. Most parts of the city were in ruins. Therefore, the heavily damaged Yuan Clan decided to leave Frost Stone City and move to Black Cloud City.
Their arrival made them the most powerful clan in Black Cloud City.
At first, in light of Nie Tian's stunning accomplishments, the Yuan Clan hadn't dared to make moves on the Nie Clan. However, as Nie Tian had disappeared, everyone had blamed and hated Nie Tian for his irrational behavior. Later, when Wu Ji had secretly sent Nie Donghai and Nie Qian to the Realm of a Hundred Battles, the Yuan Clan had lost all scruples and started to confront the Nie Clan at every chance.
Originally, the Yuan Clan had been backed by the Grayvale Sect. However, since the Grayvale Sect had been flooded by the Demon invaders, it was basically wiped out from the Realm of Flame Heaven, with only a handful of members being lucky enough to have escaped death.
As one of the valemasters, Yuan Xian from the Yuan Clan was one of them.
Because of that, Yuan Xian and a few others became the last remaining force of the Grayvale Sect.
In such perilous times, all the major sects set aside their differences and united as never before.
Considering the calamity the Grayvale Sect had suffered, all the other sects showed great sympathy towards them and provided help as long as it was within their power.
That was why the Cloudsoaring Sect hadn't opposed the Yuan Clan when they had asked to move into Black Cloud City.
The An Clan was formerly backed by the Spiritual Treasure Sect. After the upheaval that had ravished the Scarlet Flame Mountain Range, the Spiritual Treasure Sect had also sustained heavy losses. Soon afterwards, when they had been invaded by Demon outsiders, they had lost most of their members.
Even though the Spiritual Treasure Sect had survived the series of devastating calamities, they had become the weakest sect since then.
However, the An Clan had somehow lost this backer of theirs.
The reason behind this was that An Shiyi and An Ying had been driven out of the Spiritual Treasure Sect, and thus secretly gone to the Blood Sect.
Even though Li Jing, the sectmaster of the Blood Sect, had agreed to shelter the pair of sisters for Nie Tian's sake, many senior members of the Blood Sect had detested the An Clan, and thus refused to acknowledge its status as their subordinate clan.
Meanwhile, the Spiritual Treasure Sect had removed the An Clan from their subordinate clans after learning about An Shiyi's unauthorized leave.
On the other hand, due to Nie Donghai and Nie Qian's evacuation, the Nie Clan had once again been detested by many members of the Cloudsoaring Sect.
Even though the Nie Clan was still a subordinate clan of the Cloudsoaring Sect, they hadn't received any special care from them. Adding in the fact that many people attributed the disorder and downfall of the entire Realm of Flame Heaven to Nie Tian, in people's eyes, the Nie Clan had become a pest, a thorn in their flesh.
Many Qi warriors and mortals of Black Cloud City would take every opportunity to start fights with members of the Nie Clan, which made every trip Nie Clan members took outside full of danger.
Worst of all, the Yuan Clan had even openly sought trouble with members of the Nie Clan and An Clan. There had been many occasions where members of the Nie Clan and An Clan had been secretly ambushed or assassinated soon after coming through their clan gate.
Having roaming the city for some time, Nie Tian subconsciously walked towards the direction of the Nie Clan.
Along the way, both Hua Mu and Pei Qiqi followed Nie Tian without uttering a single word.
Hua Mu had been to many places and experienced many things, so the unspeakable things that were taking place in Black Cloud City didn't create much of a wave in his heart.
Pei Qiqi, however, had never imagined that an impending doom could breed so many evils in such a small city.
Her eyebrows were deeply knitted the entire time they strolled the city streets, as if she was absorbed in thought.
Since it was the first time she had witnessed this kind of thing, it seemed to have come as a great shock to her.
Just as they were about to arrive at the Nie Clan's front gate, Nie Tian saw an acquaintance whom he hadn't seen for a long time, Nie You.
Nie You was one of the few members of the entire Nie Clan from whom Nie Tian had felt warmth.
A few years had passed, and Nie You had already grown into a slim and graceful young woman. It was just that she seemed a bit too thin for her age. As for her cultivation base, she was only at the ninth level of Qi Refining, and hadn't entered the Lesser Heaven stage yet.
She seemed to have snuck out of the clan gate, and now she was about to sneak back into the Nie Clan. However, someone had targeted her.
Nie You was trotting towards the Nie Clan's gate with her chin lowered when two Lesser Heaven stage Qi warriors suddenly appeared in front of her and blocked her path.
At that very moment, Nie Tian, Hua Mu, and Pei Qiqi showed up at the corner of the street.
Nie Tian came to a stop, and standing several dozen meters away, he glared at the two Qi warriors who were wearing Yuan Clan garments, his eyes shining with frosty light.