When they were gone, Zhen Huilan said, frowning, "Lu Kang, things like this have been happening a lot recently, right?"
With a bitter smile, Lu Kang nodded. "Yeah, a few other powerful sects also refused to pay us spirit stones after arriving in the city via the teleportation portal you've established for us."
After a brief pause, she said, "I have a suggestion for you, considering Cai Lan isn't here to keep order. From now on, turn this teleportation portal off and tell people that it's broken. And since you don't have some of the spiritual materials needed, you won't be able to fix it within a short period of time."
Lu Kang seemed to be in a very difficult situation as he said, "But if we do that, we might offend the foreigners who want to come to our realm through our portal. Our head also thought about shutting the portal down. However, he was afraid that if we did, foreign experts would seek trouble with him in the future."
Zhen Huilan sighed. "You need to survive the imminent calamity first. It's hard to say if there will be a future for the Blood Skull yet, so I suggest you focus on the present."
Lu Kang sighed repeatedly over their difficult situation.
"You three go ahead and return to our residence while I go and learn about the situation inside and outside the city," Zhen Huilan commanded. "Afterwards, I'll determine when to go to the Void Illusion Mountain Range."
Pei Qiqi nodded. "Okay."
Immediately afterwards, Nie Tian and Li Ye followed her to their residence in Shatter City.
On their way, Nie Tian noticed that there were many more Greater Heaven stage foreign cultivators in the streets than before. He even saw a few Worldly realm foreign cultivators giving out glittering spirit stones to others in exchange for information.
They mostly asked about the situation in the Void Illusion Mountain Range.
After returning to their residence, the three of them weren't in the mood to practice cultivation. Now that an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty loomed over all of Shatter City, everyone felt insecure and uneasy, as if a storm was coming.
"Thankfully I was wearing this new mask when Huang Fan came," Nie Tian thought to himself, looking overjoyed as he touched the slightly chilly mask he was wearing. "If I were wearing the old one Dong Baijie had given me, he might have already recognized me."
Deep in the night, a bloodcurdling scream broke the silence.
Nie Tian, who was cultivating with Star Stones, was instantly awoken. With a grim expression, he pushed his window open and looked down into the lonesome street.
He had lived in Shatter City for some time, but not once had he seen someone openly break the Blood Skull's rules and kill people in Shatter City before.
The Blood Skull forbade all sorts of fights inside the city.
If people wished to fight each other, they would have to acquire permission from the Blood Skull, and the fight would have to take place in the Blood Fighting Pit inside the Blood Skull's headquarters.
If fights broke out in other locations in the city, the Blood Skull would immediately send out powerful experts to end the fight and punish the parties involved.
But now, during the first night he had returned to Shatter City, he heard someone's agonized shriek right before death.
As he stood by the window and pondered the situation, he caught sight of a middle Greater Heaven stage man being pierced through the abdomen by a masked, black-garbed early Worldly realm expert with a spear.
The man let out a miserable cry and died.
The black-garbed killer dragged his victim's body into the shadow of the street, and then disappeared after a quick search.
Even though it happened quite far down the street, Nie Tian was able to get a clear view of the whole thing. Afterwards, his expression turned increasingly grim.
The wooden door to his room was pushed open. Pei Qiqi and Li Ye came in and walked to the window where Nie Tian was standing.
Li Ye didn't drink today. His eyes remained sober as he said in a low voice, "The order of Shatter City has been broken. When I returned, those who worked for me told me that killings take place inside the city every night now. Many powerful foreign experts and even those who live in the city no longer respect the rules set forth by the Blood Skull.
"Right now, all of the Blood Skull's powerful experts have been summoned to the Void Illusion Mountain Range.
"With the forces they have left in Shatter City, they're no longer able to keep order. Plus, rumor has it that Cai Lan might not even be able to return from the Void Illusion Mountain Range alive."
Pei Qiqi was as expressionless as always as she spoke, though the look in her eyes had become very grim. "But at least we're still fairly safe here. After all, no matter whether it's those rule-breakers who live in the city or foreign experts, they all know who our master is and what she's capable of. As long as we don't leave this residence, we won't become targets and be dragged into this chaos."
Li Ye let out a sigh. "Bad things are about to happen to the Blood Skull, the Wild Fire, and the Dark Moon. The word of the appearance of those spatial rifts has already spread like wildfire and attracted the attention of too many powerful sects and clans from all over the Domain of the Falling Stars. Before, they didn't consider the Realm of Split Void valuable, and thus didn't attach any significance to it."
He shook his head, a bothered expression appearing on his face. "But now..."
Staring into the lonesome street, Nie Tian said, "What's the situation over in the Void Illusion Mountain Range?"
"Who knows?" Li Ye said with a wry smile. "People are greedy by nature. Cai Lan is no different. He's well-aware of how special and important those spatial rifts are to many powerful sects, yet he still insisted on scrambling for the rights over them. But the Blood Skull isn't an old and powerful sect like the Heaven Palace Sect, the Flame God Sect, or the Tool Sect, and he isn't a Soul realm expert himself."
Pei Qiqi picked up the conversation and said, "I wonder how long the turbulent situation in the Realm of Split Void is going to last this time. It's even hard to say whether the Blood Skull, the Wild Fire, and the Dark Moon will still be here when the turmoil comes to an end. Many people have seen through the situation, so naturally, they'll no longer respect the rules set forth by the Blood Skull."
With a pause, she added, "Perhaps the same things are also taking place in Ash City and the Land of the Abandoned. I doubt that there's a place in the Realm of Split Void that's completely safe now. We'll need to be more careful from now on; no more willful actions." Apparently, she had realized how huge this crisis was going to be.
Nie Tian listened in silence as he suddenly remembered Zhao Shanling, who had single-handedly contended against Zhen Huilan, Zhu Bin, and Qin Yi.
Many years ago, that man had wiped out numerous sects and killed countless Qi warriors with his Death Reign in the Realm of Unbounded Desolation. However, he had behaved just as arrogantly and willfully as always after his return, and no one had been able to subdue him.
The reason why he had behaved as such was three-fold. Firstly, he was a Soul realm expert; secondly, he possessed the Death Reign; thirdly, he was an unmatched expert in spatial magics.
Similarly, the reason why Huang Fan had dared to openly disobey the Blood Skull's rules, which was none other than a slap to their face, was because he was a late Worldly realm expert backed by the Heaven Palace Sect.
Nie Tian thought to himself, "As long as people are strong enough, they'll be able to tear any rule or order into shreds."
He gradually realized that if he were at the late Soul realm, he wouldn't need to hide from anyone or wear that mask anymore. He would be able to openly travel between any realm in the Domain of the Falling Stars and do whatever he wanted. No one would be able to stop him.
"I need to become stronger and acquire a higher cultivation base!" The light of the fragmentary stars started to shine in the depths of his eyes as he grew more and more resolute.
"Nie Tian, you should give your guest elder's identity medallion to Li Ye," Pei Qiqi suggested, "so that he can go to the Blood Skull's headquarters in the morning to trade in your contribution points for spirit stones and the spiritual materials you need. It's not certain whether the Blood Skull will still be standing when this whole thing is over, so you'd better cash in your contribution points for killing those Dark Moon members and Hunters as soon as possible. If you're late, the Blood Skull may fall, and then you won't get anything."
"She's right," Li Ye chimed in.
Without any hesitation, Nie Tian tossed the guest elder's identity medallion he had obtained from the Blood Skull to Li Ye and said, "I'm in need of wood-attributed and fire-attributed spiritual materials. If you come across any high-level spirit beast meat, please get me some as well. If there's any points left, trade them for spirit stones."
Li Ye grabbed the identity medallion. "No problem. I suppose the Blood Skull will probably give face to our master and cash the contribution points, and I'll be able to get you quite a few items with the points you have in here."
"You just stay here and rest," Pei Qiqi said with a commanding tone. "Don't leave this residence to roam about in the city."
Nie Tian nodded. "Okay."
After the two of them left his room, Nie Tian shut his window tight and started refining his vortex of star power with Star Stones again.
After his earlier enlightenment about his insufficient strength and poor cultivation base, he felt a strong sense of urgency.
Over the following days, he never left his room or paid any attention to the killings that would occur in the city every night. Instead, he focused on practicing cultivation with fire-attributed spiritual materials and Star Stones, as well as refining his powers and pushing his spiritual sea to its limits.
Meanwhile, he continued to absorb flesh power from the spirit beast meat he had purchased from the Dong Clan using Life Drain in order to strengthen the green aura in his heart.
As for his vortex of wood power, he didn't refine it specifically, since the rich wood power he had gathered from the magical place had already refined it and readied it for his next breakthrough in cultivation.