A year had slipped away before anyone took notice.
During this period, two major events shocked the residents of the City of Qing.
First, near a dozen top warriors from the Fang Clan, including Fang Han, the Clan's most gifted leader of the next generation, a mighty cultivator of the seventh realm, all perished inside the Hidden Territory. Not one person left the Territory alive. But nobody knew who the killer was.
However, the Elders of the Fang Clan knew clearly that only the Lings dared to, and were capable of committing such a massacre.
The Lings, of course, denied any involvement in this tragedy. Lacking evidence and still grieving from the loss, the Fangs decided against a direct confrontation. Instead, they shut their doors to the world as if brewing up a larger storm.
The second event that shocked the City was the death of the City's youth protégé Ling Xian inside the Hidden Territory.
This belief was indeed shared by every resident of the City. The Ling Clan could not deny it.
Any external entity could only survive inside the Hidden Territory for a month at most. This was an undisputable fact. Passed this time, the laws of the Territory dictate certain death.
Ling Xian had not been seen for a year. In the mind of the every member of the Ling Clan, death was the only plausible explanation.
In addition, the members who escaped the Territory had related every detail of their encounters on the inside, including the Kill Order issued on Ling Xian.
As a result, the Elders of the Ling Clan had no more doubts about his fate.
Hundreds of thousands of terrifying beasts plus four supreme leaders of the eighth realm, how could Ling Xian defend himself against all of them?
Nobody believed he could escape the pursuits of the beasts, nor that he could survive the terrifying forces of the Hidden Territory.
Nobody, except Ling Tian Xiang. Perhaps she did not wish to accept the truth, but she alone believed in Ling Xian. Every day she would return to the Forest of Mount Qian and wait for him to appear and recapture her soul.
Sadly, she waited in vain for a year.
On the last day, as she turned to walk away, tears flooded down her cheeks. Turning to look behind her every few steps, she felt hope fading away.
"Ling Xian… you promised me I will be in the front row when you rise to the top. That moment has yet to come, you cannot die!"
Ling Tian Xiang let out a long, hopeless sigh, turned and walked away without looking back.
Inside the Great Hall of the Ling Clan, Ling Tian Qing and the other Elders sat together and appeared worried and anxious about something.
Soon after, Ling Tian Xiang arrived. She sat down without a word, appearing equally somber.
"You went to the Forest again?" Ling Tian Qing inquired, his heart aching at the sight of her shattered state. "Why do you do this to yourself? It's a year. Every beast in the realm was after him. He could not have survived."
"I know, but I just can't accept that he's gone," Ling Tian Xiang responded miserably. She knew very well that his chances of survival were slim, but she simply didn't want to believe.
"You…" Ling Tian Qing continued helplessly, "must try to forget him. Even if he was still alive, you and him could never be together."
"Brother, stop. I understand all of that." Ling Tian Xiang shook her head, not wanting to continue this topic. "Let's talk about actual business. I hear the Fangs are mobilizing."
Ling Tian Qing's expression stiffened instantly. In a serious voice, he continued, "This is what I've called you all here for. According to our spy, just yesterday, that old fart Fang Yun Sheng took audience with the Leader of the Qi Clan. They appeared to have reached an agreement. Of course, we don't know what the topic of discussion was, but it's not difficult to guess they plan to join forces."
"Join forces to launch an attack on us!" Ling Tian Jiao shouted without reservation. He was no doubt the brains of the Clan.
"Indeed." Ling Tian Qing nodded. "We are the strongest amongst the three noble Clans of this City, followed by the Fangs, then the Qis. But if they joined forces, our chances of defeating them are slim to none. We need to come up with a plan."
The Elders eyed each other in search of an agreement.
Ling Tian Jiao broke the silence, "Brother, we can't just sit by and let this alliance happen. Perhaps they have already reached an agreement, but we can still reach out to the Qis. We can't let them create such an alliance."
"I have thought of this," Ling Tian Qing responded sternly then asked an impossible question, "If we fail, what then?
"Then we reach out Master Ye of the City. Even though the Qin Dynasty forbids outside interference on domestic disputes, we would only ask that he makes an appearance on our behalf," Ling Tian Jiao suggested.
"That may be a temporary solution. Master Ye has an unpredictable character. He won't be so easily convinced." Ling Tian Qing let out a bitter, hapless smile and turned to Ling Tian Xiang. "Sister, what do you think?"
Ling Tian Xiang shook her head, "if that fails, we fight for it."
"We'll never win. Their alliance would be too strong for us to defend." Ling Tian Qing turned to Ling Tian Ao, "Brother, what do you think?"
"What more can I possibly add?" Ling Tian Ao was a spoilt, merry youth who frequented brothels and gambling dens. He was the joke amongst the four siblings.
The third oldest son in name only, he was in reality utterly useless.
"How did I know you'd have nothing to add." Ling Tian Qing had no expectations whatsoever but seeing his brother's sluggish state, he was suddenly overcome with fury. "Our Clan is in grave danger. Look at your attitude! Are you thinking up different curses to exterminate the Lings even faster?" He barked.
Ling Tian Ao's whole body shrank in an instant. He explained in a hurry, "Of course not! Don't you know me? Never done anything exceptional but love this family to death!"
Ling Tian Qing bothered with him no more and returned his attention to his clever brother, "Can you think of anything else at all?"
"Well…" Ling Tian Jiao was suddenly inspired by a memory. He recalled events from the Auction a year ago and quickly suggested, "Do you remember there was a mysterious man at the Auction here last year who invited you into his trailer. You can try to find him. Perhaps he will be able to help us."
"My thought as well, but we simply acquainted at the Auction. I had never seen him here before, and our encounter then was brief. I still do not recall how we ended up in his trailer." Ling Tian Qing let out a confused smile as he recounted the details of their meeting. However, he was certain they had never met prior to that event.
"I see." Ling Tian Jiao could not conceal his disappointment. Pondering a moment, he insisted one more time, "Regardless how well acquainted you are, you can pay him a visit offering him exclusive gifts. He is our last hope. If you can't find him, we're doomed."
"No one has seen the mystery man for a year. I have no idea where to begin the search. Perhaps he has already left the City of Qing." Ling Tian Qing sighed heavily. "Who knows, perhaps the Fangs waited until he's long gone to initiate this attack on us."
Ling Tian Jiao's eyes darkened in disappointment. He shook his head and kept quiet.
The air suddenly died.
The three of them all understood the direness of the situation. However, none were able to come up with a suitable solution.
"Regardless, we can't simply sit around. Do what he says. We will negotiate with the Qis first." Ling Tian Qing stood slowly and shifted his gaze onto the useless sibling while addressing the clever one. "This will be an important meeting. I can't trust anyone but you. I believe even if you can't break the alliance, you will be able to create some distance between them. During the battle, if the Qis have any reservation towards the Fangs, we'll have a chance."
"Rest assured Clan Leader, I won't disappoint you." Ling Tian Jiao nodded heavily. By referring to his brother as 'Leader', he was acknowledging the importance of this task as well as his determination to succeed.
Ling Tian Qing patted him on the back and directed his gaze onto Ling Tian Xiang. "Sister, I know you are acquainted with the daughter of Master Ye. I'll leave this task to you. Remember, do not push for it. If he rejects, it is not your fault."
"Rest assured Clan Leader, I will do my best." Ling Tian Xiang followed suit.
"You, the third one, I'll leave you to complete the last task."
Ling Tian Qing's gaze finally rested on Ling Tian Ao. "You are incompetent and dimwitted, so I'll give you the easiest task. Use those good-for-nothing friends of yours to gather any information you can on the mystery man from the Auction. I don't hold much hope. But if you do succeed, you'll be the savior of our Clan. Can you do that for me? For us?"
"Yes, Clan Leader, I won't disappoint you. I will extend my reach and dig up the earth to find this man!" Ling Tian Ao responded confidently.
"Good, now go get it done." Ling Tian Qing nodded to all of them. After their departure, Ling Tian Qing took a long, hard look into the distant sky and recounted to himself, "The prophecy given to me by that mysterious man is about to be fulfilled. The Ling Clan will be pushed to the edge of destruction, and a gifted youth will arrive to save us from ruin. But Ling Xian is dead. Who else could this be?"
His gaze exuded helplessness, confusion, and sorrow.
The storm is coming. The prophecy will soon come true. Where is the savior?