In the valley outside the spirit herb fields, the rebel army was assembled like an impenetrable matrix. No entrance or exit was permitted.
Though Forefather Goldenbell and the seven most important leaders had left temporarily, their lieutenants yet remained. The army’s morale was very high. They plainly didn’t know about their leaders’ demises yet.
The Martial Sacred Land only had roughly two thousand stationed at the spirit herb base. Though they were all elites, their absolute numbers disadvantage meant that they didn't have the forces to spare on a breakout effort.
However, they weren't going to try to escape even if they could.
Their only mission was to protect these spirit herbs. If this place fell to the rebels, what good was their safety?
Relying on the terrain and formation to defend to the last was the common understanding of all the cultivators who remained here.
But the army outside pressed down on their nerves as much as it did on their borders. No one could predict when the attack would come, despite its certainty.
And when it did, there would be a bloodbath.
The rebels had manpower on their side. They could send wave after wave of soldiers to push an offensive. The two thousand-odd elites on the sacred land’s side didn't have room for any error; each person that died was a soldier permanently lost on the battlefront.
Under these circumstances, the feeling of tremendous pressure was understandable.
Thankfully, the powerful defensive formation around the base covered all the main pathways in. The rebels would need to pay a hefty price to attempt brute entry.
Two slender figures stood in the passage to the nexus of the formation.
They shared a floral elegance, like orchids blooming in the stillness of the night. There was a unique aura that made them difficult to ignore.
The older of the duo was a more mature woman, her expression carrying the weight of authority. It was the Martial Sacred Land’s only female prime, Puresmoke.
Though not quite the strongest in the sacred land, she was a contender for that title.
At her side was a much younger girl, radiant with the exuberance of youth. Her complexion was pretty in its purity, but she conducted herself with an exceptional nobility as well.
The girl was the Martial Sacred Land’s holy girl, Yu Ling. Upon Myriad Abyss’s famous list of sixteen beauties, she ranked in the top five. Miss Yu Ling was the student of Prime Puresmoke.
Master and pupil were studying each and every connection of the formation, to prevent any flaws from being taken advantage of.
“Ling’er, the sacred land’s recent disaster is one we’ve never encountered in history before. In your heart of hearts, are you afraid of what may happen?” Prime Puresmoke asked unhurriedly.
Yu Ling stuck her pert nose into the air. “Master, I’m not scared of anything as long as you’re here. We’ve been together for so many years.”
“What if I’m not?” Prime Puresmoke sighed softly.
Miss Yu Ling froze a little. “Your abilities are sublime, master,” she ventured. “The rebels’ petty tricks won’t faze you.”
“Not necessarily,” the prime’s tone grew somber. “This time, the leader of the rebels is Forefather Goldenbell. My cultivation level is slightly inferior to his. If we fight, I may be able to keep myself safe, but I can’t say the same for everyone else.
“Of course, I’m to protect this base. Even that forefather won’t be allowed to take a single step inside. As long as I live, it will remain intact. If they intend to invade, it’ll be over my dead body.”
Though Prime Puresmoke was a woman, her speech and mannerisms embodied an uncommon sort of fortitude and gallantry.
“It’s the same for me, master. I’ll protect the base with my life too. I won’t leave you to this fate alone!”
“Silly girl. You have to do no such thing.” A hint of softness shone through Puresmoke’s lucent eyes. “You’re still young. You have a bright future ahead of you. If we can’t survive this calamity intact, you younglings have to be preserved. As long as you inherit our heritage, the sacred land’s light will not be snuffed out. Conversely, if the younger generation is lost too… then the sacred land will really be done for.”
Miss Yu Ling shook her head stubbornly. “The sacred land has many geniuses, but I only have one teacher. Master, I want to stay with you.”
“Childish!” Puresmoke’s expression darkened. “Don’t be so headstrong, Ling’er. You must listen to me in this. Your delusions cannot be tolerated!”
The holy girl’s cherry lips trembled, but she couldn’t break the silence against her master’s humorless look. More like a parent, her master had raised her from childhood. She had never imagined wanting to disobey before.
Still, she couldn’t just abandon her master and leave herself. Both student and pupil were beset with their own set of troubles.
As they passed through another passage, a scout came in from the outside in a hurry.
“Madam Prime, Forefather Goldenbell and seven rebel leaders departed just now. We don’t know what they’re up to.”
“Departed? For what reason?” Prime Puresmoke was mildly surprised.
“I’m not sure. I was observing the enemy near the edge of the formation, so I saw what might’ve been abnormal weather. I didn’t dare go investigate it myself. After that, the forefather and the other rebel leaders took their leave. Maybe there’s some kind of disturbance even further out? Perhaps our reinforcements have arrived?”
There was some serendipitous surprise in the scout’s tone.
“Reinforcements?” Puresmoke furrowed her slender brow. “The sacred land is tight on manpower as it is. Headquarters is understaffed, and the various strongholds have been siloed apart from each other. Even if some of the factions that didn't join the rebellion want to help us, they can’t break through the blockades. Plus… what factions are left in this nation that can rescue us from our troubles?”
She leaned toward pessimism. As a prime of the sacred land, she knew the situation in Martial Divine Nation better than many others. She didn't believe every faction in the nation had rebelled, but neither did she believe in the remnants’ ability to come to their aid.
“Master, could the reinforcements be from elsewhere?” Miss Yu Ling suddenly suggested. “Didn’t headquarters send out a request to the other sacred lands nearby?”
Puresmoke glanced at the hope on her beloved pupil’s face, then sighed. “Ling’er, rebellions were launched almost in tandem in all ten of the divine nations. Their synchronicity was premeditated. Therefore, many of the ten sacred lands are in serious trouble themselves.”
“I don’t believe that all ten of the sacred lands will fall at once,” Yu Ling replied. “There’s sure to be some sacred lands quicker at quelling their rebels than others.”
The cultivators stationed in this base knew little about recent events in the outside world. A lot of news didn't make their way here in the first place.
Prime Puresmoke had heard about Eternal Divine Nation’s return to civil peace, but she hadn’t dared for too much anticipation. The higher the hopes, the more disappointment there was when they were dashed.
However, she didn’t want to take away her cherished disciple’s ability to dream. “We’ve received news that the Eternal Sacred Land has taken care of its rebels,” she nodded.
As expected, Yu Ling was immediately overjoyed. “Isn’t Eternal on the best of terms with us, master? They’re sure to help after they’ve settled things, right?”
“That would be ideal. Nonetheless, they’re sure to be in considerable turmoil right now. I wonder how long it’ll take them to stabilize and send out a team?”
Puresmoke was worried that the Martial Sacred Land wouldn’t last that long. Even if it did, how much good the reinforcements would do was still up in the air. If the Eternal Sacred Land offered only symbolic assistance, the overall situation wouldn’t be much different.
She took a few moments to sort out her thoughts. “Continue your observations. Report back if there are any new developments,” she instructed the scout.
“Yes, ma’am.” The scout inclined his head before leaving.
The two women went back the direction they’d come from, their minds no less troubled than before.
“Come here, Ling’er,” Puresmoke called out to her student.
“Honored master.” Yu Ling approached, her voice low.
“I don’t know what this Forefather Goldenbell is trying to pull, Ling’er. If the rebels launch an attack, I’m going to find a chance to send you out. If you can get away with it, retreat quickly without a glance back, got it?”
The holy girl stammered without agreeing. Instead, she tugged at the hems of her clothes.
“What, you don’t listen to your master anymore?” Prime Puresmoke demanded icily.
“It’s not that!” Yu Ling shook her head several times in succession. “We’ll definitely be fine, master. I’ve been thinking just now… if Forefather Goldenbell was going to launch an attack, he wouldn’t have a reason to leave. Something must’ve happened to make him leave.”
Yu Ling’s words were a helpful reminder. This new line of thought put Prime Puresmoke deep into thought once more.
Her disciple was right. What then, had pulled Goldenbell away? Was it a tactic to lure the sacred land’s troops out, maybe?
As a rather conservative person, Puresmoke’s first instinct was that this was a possible trap.
However, that didn’t seem quite correct. Goldenbell could see just that they relied on the defensive formation and lacked in manpower.
The old man wouldn’t take such a stupid approach.
Mid-conversation, the scout came scurrying back. There was great excitement on his face. “Madam Prime, they’ve started fighting out there!”