At this moment, he received a message from Mu Zi that their second expedition to the fairy-tale secret realm was going to happen soon. Aiolos went there again alone, and needless to say, things didn't end well. The three brothers decided to join forces again. Furthermore, Wang Zhong had almost gone crazy from being in closed-door cultivation for so long, and he needed this sort of place to give him some inspiration. If they were in danger, Aiolos was powerful enough to protect them anyway.
The Wanderlust Team's finances were much better because of Wang Zhong's victory in the challenge. As a result, it wasn't difficult for them to obtain a Pioneering Order. However, Oscar recently reminded Wang Zhong to try to remain in the Holy City as there were rumors that something big was going to happen in the Holy Land soon.
Although the higher-ups didn't say anything explicitly, their actions gave them away. Having lived in the Holy Land for so long, Oscar had his sources. The Holy Land's actions were rather subtle, but there had been numerous Federation army troop movements around the various dimensional base stations in the Fifth Dimension. These actions implied something — that the Holy Land was probably going to wage a Holy Battle soon.
"If there really is going to be a Holy Battle, the Wanderlust Team has a chance to participate in it." Oscar's eyes were full of longing. "I recall being in a Holy Battle before when I was still in Imperial Court. One could never describe how powerful the Holy Land is in words. One will only know after experiencing it personally."
The other members of the Wanderlust Team had evidently heard that from Oscar already. "That's a Holy Battle we're talking about here. If you participate in it, you can boast about it for the rest of your life," Small Eyes interjected excitedly.
"We are Holy Disciples, which means that we aren't ordinary people. You can amaze everyone with a single feat in the Holy Battle, or you might perish too. Nonetheless, the opportunities that a Holy Battle provides are unimaginable. The problem now is whether we are qualified enough to participate in it, so we have to make sure that we do well in our missions from now on."
Oscar was in charge of that, and Wang Zhong didn't think too much about it. It would be good if they could go, but there was nothing they could do if they couldn't. Major operations like Holy Battles were all decided by the higher-ups. In essence, the motive behind a Holy Battle was to conquer!
Humans needed resources, and the Holy Land needed them too. In order to acquire resources, the Holy Land needed to conquer many dimensional worlds. The complexity of such an operation couldn't be comprehended by a mere Holy Disciple.
After bidding goodbye to the Wanderlust Team members at the transit station, Wang Zhong was brought to the coordinates of the pyramids in the desert, which became the meeting place of the trio. In this sandy world, Ham Sausage was sitting down, looking around in a bored manner. Needless to say, Ham Sausage was planted here by Mu Zi to welcome Wang Zhong.
"Wah, my number one mount!" Simba came out of Wang Zhong's Soul Sea impatiently. As compared to dim-witted Big White, Simba obviously preferred Ham Sausage, which looked very majestic whenever it transformed. He pounced on Ham Sausage immediately.
When it came to Simba, Ham Sausage seemed to have become resigned to its fate, not even bothering to struggle. It treated Simba as if he didn't exist, wagging its tail at Wang Zhong in an attempt to please him.
"Bring us there." Wang Zhong smiled.
Ham Sausage howled, and his body expanded like a rising dough. Simba slid down from its head as if he was going down a slide.
"Let's go! Our awesome teleportation journey is starting!" Simba shouted excitedly.
Ham Sausage opened up its big mouth and swallowed Wang Zhong and Simba directly.
Although Wang Zhong had traveled via this odd transmission method before, it still felt weird to be swallowed. The surroundings were pitch black. Though he didn't move his body, he could feel himself progressing forward until he reached a rectangular door which was slightly open. After he opened it, Ham Sausage, Wang Zhong, and Simba were all sent into another place.
Aiolos and Mu Zi were waiting beside the coffin. Suddenly, they saw the coffin begin to gleam, and their eyes lit up. "He's here."
They were in a city that looked like it was painted white. The entire city had been covered by heavy snow, and there were frosty ice statues everywhere. Simba was spit out from Ham Sausage's warm mouth and immediately sneezed because of the chilly surroundings. Simba rubbed his hands together and kept hopping around. "F*ck, it's so cold! I can't stand it!"
Not only Simba, but even Wang Zhong felt cold. The temperature there was at least minus 50 or 60 degrees Celsius, requiring a considerable amount of Soul Power to endure the cold. As usual, Aiolos looked very energized. He was half-naked, showing off his fabulous figure, not seeming to mind the cold at all.
"It's been long." Aiolos smiled, stretching out his arms and hugging Wang Zhong firmly. "Us three brothers have gathered together again."
Sticking to their usual practice, the trio feasted on food and drinks first before attending to their proper business. Mu Zi was the happiest, munching on the sausages and snacks that Wang Zhong brought a lot of. The three of them got ready on the outskirts of this icy city.
Looking at this place's geographical location, it was a city in the old human civilization era dating back quite some time. It took up quite a large area, and there weren't any huge city walls around it. It was all plain land, and most of the housing were bungalows, with almost nothing blocking their vision. In the middle of this town, there was a unique tall building, partially masked by the falling snow.
"That's the central church in this icy city. There's nothing special about it, but we can treat it as an axis coordinate so that we can recognize which part of the city we are in."
"This is a dead region with very few monsters. There's only a little girl carrying matchsticks. She should be the core of this icy-city secret realm or rather, a manifestation of the powers of the natural law. I encountered her once, and she asked me whether I wanted a matchstick. Previously, I said yes, but when that matchstick started burning, it burned my own Soul Power and vitality too. It continued burning, and I couldn't escape from it. It burned at a really fast speed too, and it only got better after I escaped this secret realm. After that, I had to take a few days to recover…" Aiolos introduced this place.
He dismissed the incident lightly, but knowing his ability well, the other two were secretly shocked. They knew Aiolos was a freak who had a seemingly endless Soul Power and vitality. However, the burning matchstick was a judgment law, and even Aiolos couldn't outlast it. It took him several days to recover, which showed how terrifying this judgment law that burned Soul Power and vitality was. If it were the other two in this situation, they probably would have been burnt out immediately.
"That little girl is the key to conquering this secret realm. Our aim this time is to make her surrender."
"Can't we just attack her?" Mu Zi asked.
Aiolos shook his head. "Before I escaped the previous time, I attempted to, but my attacks were useless, though I didn't use my full power. She's like a judgment law, and I can't break through her defenses at all. She's more savage than the old witch Queen in the first level of this secret realm."
If Aiolos couldn't break through her defense, Wang Zhong and Mu Zi couldn't either. Mu Zi nodded.
"So if we meet her again this time, we say no?" Wang Zhong asked.
"I don't think it's that easy…" Aiolos shook his head. "When she started asking me, I felt like I was in a trance. It was as if that question was directed at my soul, leaving me with no choice but to answer directly from my heart. This time, I will try to control my soul forcefully when I answer her, but even so, I'm not sure what my answer will be."
Wang Zhong and Mu Zi understood immediately. Aiolos hadn't grasped the power of the natural laws in this secret realm, and he wasn't able to find out the little girl's power, which was why he seemed unsure when he sent the message to Wang Zhong and Mu Zi.
"Then everyone can only react according to the circumstances."
Aiolos nodded. "The icy city this time is a little different from the previous time. It became bigger. We'll split up in different directions. When you discover her, don't attack yet. Send me a signal, and I'll come. We'll see if we can find her weakness."
It was evident that Aiolos had a counter-attack in mind after the previous encounter with her.
The trio chose a direction each and started moving. The city seemed endless. After feasting for so long, the little girl still hadn't appeared in front of them, which meant that they had to find her. The extremely low temperature of this city might be lethal to average people, but it wasn't a big deal for the three of them.
Simba had returned to Wang Zhong's Soul Sea of his own accord. The arrogant Simba was afraid of the cold. The reason Wang Zhong was called along on this trip was because Aiolos and Mu Zi both sensed that this place could not be conquered by brute force. Wang Zhong was a lucky star, and they were extraordinarily lucky whenever he was around. However, this time, Aiolos specially mentioned for him not to attack. Wang Zhong wasn't scared of creatures who would try to absorb his power. However, the monster here didn't absorb power; it killed directly with its icy power.
In this extremely cold situation, Salamander's ability to search the surroundings was weaker too. The trio strayed away from each other. The layout of the city wasn't that of a circular loop, and it was as if the three of them were being led to further places. Snow continued falling from the sky endlessly, and the blizzard seemed to be getting stronger.
After approximately twenty minutes, Wang Zhong, blowing hot air into his palms and rubbing them together, passed by a building. He was about to continue advancing when he suddenly saw a lonely and small figure standing on a street ahead. She was wearing a short linen dress and was barefooted. With slightly messy hair and a dirty little face, she looked like an unfortunate child who lived on the streets. She didn't look like she was going to attack, but Wang Zhong shuddered as her gaze locked on him. At that moment, he felt his hair stand up on end.
The next moment, Wang Zhong kicked the building beside him, trying to create a commotion to alert Aiolos and Mu Zi. However, his kick that incorporated the full power of his Power Circuit felt like it had struck a steel block. Wang Zhong's foot was in pain as his Soul Power was absorbed. That thin and small girl crossed dozens of meters instantly and stood in front of Wang Zhong, just like a ghost.
The two of them came face to face with each other, and it was as if time and space stopped. They could hear each other's breathing. The little girl's breathing was a little shallow and ragged. Although she looked dirty, she was very cute, just that she looked bony due to malnutrition. Her big pitiful eyes looked at Wang Zhong as if tears could fall from them any moment, making Wang Zhong feel for her. This was definitely a psychological attack!
However, he could feel that his body was frozen stiff and unable to react. Damn it, he ended up being controlled by her after all. The little girl sized up Wang Zhong and raised her hand shyly. A dry matchstick appeared on her hand as she passed it to Wang Zhong slowly. Wang Zhong had a bad sensation in his heart. There was something wrong with this matchstick!
Remembering Aiolos's warning, he thought that he should run now, but his legs couldn't move at all, as if they were filled with lead. Dammit! Aiolos's information was wrong. Aiolos could run because he was in the Heavenly Soul Stage, but Wang Zhong was still in the Heroic Soul Stage. How was he supposed to run?
The snow stopped and froze in mid-air across the entire area. The little girl was very near Wang Zhong, and her breath misted in the cold surroundings. She appeared to be a living person, but her words caused Wang Zhong to be in a dangerous position.
"Big Brother, do you want to buy my matchstick?"
At this moment, Wang Zhong wasn't the only one facing this problem. When Wang Zhong encountered this little girl, Aiolos and Mu Zi met her at the same time too.
Facing this situation for the second time, Aiolos stomped his foot without any hesitation. He was extremely fast, and the little girl couldn't stop him in time as she had with Wang Zhong. A terrifying power penetrated the ground, causing it to crack. With a loud band, a huge echo sounded across the whole city.
Wang Zhong and Mu Zi would be able to hear this and arrive as fast as they could. As soon as this thought crossed Aiolos's mind, that voice which targeted his soul had already sounded.
"Mister, do you want to buy my matchstick?" A thin figure lifted the dry matchstick, looking at Aiolos longingly with an urgency.
This question prodded deep into his soul. This wasn't a normal situation at all. You weren't supposed to say the answer verbally after your brain and consciousness had time to react; this was a direct conversation with your soul, and you weren't allowed to think. Aiolos was very clear about this. When he first saw the little girl, he had immediately and forcibly taken control over his consciousness. After all, he was a top Heavenly Soul Stage expert. After putting up a defense consciously, he was able to give a different answer though his soul struggled a little.
"No!" Aiolos blurted out.
That temptation to his soul lasted for a mere moment. After he replied, Aiolos was completely awake. He was secretly relieved that there were only two choices. There must be a correct answer between the two.
He remembered that the matchstick instantly established an unbreakable, strange bond with his soul once he promised to buy the matchstick. It absorbed his Soul Power and vitality continuously to keep itself lit. However, this time, it was different.
Opposite him, the little girl looked disappointed and even desperate. No one wanted to buy her matchstick. She remembered that she hadn't eaten for one whole day already. Her small body shivered in the cold wind. At the same time, the temperature within a few hundred meter radius of the little girl started dropping rapidly. This world that previously seemed to be stationary suddenly came 'alive' and even started 'expanding'!
The snowflakes that were originally the size of a pea suddenly became the size of a goose feather. Every snowflake shone brightly, yet a frightening and lethal wave of cold air came from each of them. The temperature continued to drop steeply, seemingly about to freeze everything. Strong as Aiolos was, he could sense the terrifying cold surrounding him. The next moment, he could feel his body becoming slightly stiffer in this terrifyingly low temperature, and even the circulation of his Soul Power was slower. This was just from feeling the cold around him. If he directly touched the terrifying goose feather-sized snowflake, he wasn't confident that it wouldn't have any impact on him.
Luckily, this heavy snow didn't seem to cover a large area and only occupied a few hundred meters radius from where the girl was standing. Aiolos was planning to retreat as fast as he could and try to get out of this area. With his speed, it would only take an instant for him to cross the distance of a few hundred meters. However, just as he was about to move, the girl disappeared from her initial position and appeared behind Aiolos right after, blocking him from leaving.
Aiolos raised his hand and wanted to follow up with an explosive attack, a battle style he used often. He wanted to converge the power of the heavens and earth inside his body. However, in this space covered by goose feather-sized snowflakes, Aiolos discovered that he wasn't able to gather any power of the heavens and earth at all. This area seemed to have become the little girl's exclusive territory; it was totally under her control.
His fist hit an invisible shield, causing the entire space to vibrate slightly. However, it didn't hurt the little girl hidden behind that invisible field at all.
Right after, a goose feather-sized snowflake landed on Aiolos's shoulder. Unlike the so-called low temperature that could still be felt in the outside world, Aiolos felt a thorough sense of 'nothingness' when the snowflake touched his body.
It froze everything. Not just your physical body, but also your Soul Power, body cells, and even the atoms that made up your body cells. It froze everything!
This was way beyond the definition of cold, to an absolute zero degree!
Aiolos could only feel his body stiffen completely in that instant. The force that seemed like it could freeze everything went deeper into his body, right into his vast Soul Sea. It was as if it wanted to freeze his Soul Sea at once!
This icy feeling came too fast, to the extent that Aiolos almost forgot to react. At this moment, a resistive force suddenly exploded from his Soul Sea like a gushing volcano crater. It resisted that all-pervasive icy feeling and managed to alleviate the situation a little.
"It's no use." The little girl's voice had changed. Unlike her shy voice just now, it was as cold as the bone-chilling surroundings now. There was an expression of endless resentment and bleak despair on her face as her cold little hand pressed on Aiolos's fist. "Without a matchstick, we are going to die…"
Aiolos didn't have the time to listen to what she was saying. In the blink of an eye, the battle between the terrifying cold force and the surging Soul Power in his body had reached its most intense stage, with both forces tugging at each other. Both forces were in a deadlock for now.
Whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh…
The goose feather-sized snowflakes in the air became the size of a human palm and swallowed both Aiolos and the little girl entirely in the blink of an eye.
Mu Zi's situation wasn't much better than Wang Zhong's and Aiolos's, or rather, it was worse. Aiolos might have been able to answer differently this time, but he had felt a strong sense of challenge when the question was posed to him both times. The way he answered was more independent and imposing as he wanted to conquer the little girl, regardless of whether it was by force or some other method. This resolve full of vitality and hope was a stark contrast to the little girl.
However, Mu Zi didn't feel challenged. When it came to that lonely scene with snow falling and the figure that seemed exceptionally lonely in the snow, Mu Zi had a flashback to his childhood, especially when those eyes full of sorrow and even desperation looked at him. It made him think of his lonely life.
No matter how strong he had become or how much he had experienced and faced alone, he could never forget that feeling in his distant memory.
Moreover, the Life and Death Coffin represented despair, and Mu Zi's fate dictated that he would be alone forever and bring trouble to others wherever he went. To Mu Zi, the same question was like a power of natural law that evoked the deepest feeling in one's heart and magnified it continuously.
Aiolos's warning and all of Mu Zi's psychological preparation beforehand disappeared without a trace in this instant. He didn't try to resist at all. This was the weakness of humans; no matter how strong you were, an exposed weakness was extremely dangerous in the Dimensional World. From beginning to end, Mu Zi's desire to live had never been very strong.
"Okay," said Mu Zi. He was too far gone, and at this moment, he didn't even know his own name. Both his consciousness and soul were trapped in the desire to free himself from his fate.
The little girl's face showed her joy, which led Mu Zi to be more sure of his answer. She walked over and grabbed Mu Zi's hand gently. When both of their hands made contact, their souls met, and the matchstick in the little girl's hand lit up with a rustling sound.
It was like a warm fire in winter and a shining light on a dark night.
This matchstick was very unusual. When it was lit up, a small cluster of icy crystals emerged from the top of the matchstick. And those crystals could move.
They emitted a strange blue light and started to take the shape of an icy flower which grew rapidly. From taking the shape of a flower to being in full bloom, more and more layers of petals were formed. The outer layers that lost their glow withered rapidly, were replaced by the inner layers, and disappeared into thin air.
On the whole, it looked like a cluster of blue flames. The crisp sound of cracking when layers of the icy crystal broke off or squeezed against each other was especially clear in this quiet city.
It was as if the world was left with nothing but this ice crystal flower. Everything lost its meaning in front of this icy flower.
Mu Zi's eyes were fixed on it like he was in a trance. While holding hands with the little girl, he admired its brilliance and beauty and was swept up by the feeling of loneliness from watching the outer layers withering continuously.
His Soul Power and vitality were being burnt off. Mu Zi could sense this clearly, and he certainly knew that he had the power to stop all of this: he just needed to free his hand from this little girl. He could even stash the little girl into his Life and Death Coffin. That didn't seem to be a tough job, but he just didn't feel like moving or destroying this moment.
He was long used to despair and loneliness. This feeling was familiar, and warm to him even. He could hide here and lick his own wounds like he always did.
Death? That was never a sensitive or taboo word to Mu Zi. On the contrary, he suddenly felt that he had been staying in the realm of the living for too long now…
In the blizzard, two figures gradually grew dimmer, only leaving behind the brilliant cluster of ice crystal flowers burning and shining brightly in the snow.
Darkness and solitude. Although it wasn't very fitting in this world of white snow, both marched to the same melody and theme.
"Big Brother, do you want to buy my matchstick?"
Wang Zhong could feel emotions of sorrow and despair being ignited in that instant. That familiar feeling of being in the dark and wanting to find a corner to hide in resurfaced at this moment.
It was too easy to sink into this feeling. Rather than a frontal assault that made you give up, this dragged you into a deeper, quieter place that was filled with more despair, a place you couldn't get out from. However, he was Wang Zhong.
Wang Zhong had experienced this feeling before too. The duration he experienced this feeling for was probably not shorter than that of Mu Zi. He had experienced the same loneliness and despair too. However, what made him different from Mu Zi was that he wasn't as miserable. Mu Zi's misfortune was a bolt from the blue, while it was more of a slowly built-up torture for Wang Zhong. The important thing was that Wang Zhong still had Simba.
It was that clown — who always shone in a myriad of colors and danced around in fluorescent powder in the night sky — who had illuminated his whole world. Simba had been the glimmer of hope in Wang Zhong's world.
Despair and hope were two emotions which seemed to be completely opposite. However, they co-existed harmoniously in Wang Zhong's world.
Just like how a beam of light would only appear to be the most dazzling in the dark, darkness would appear to be the most annoying in a world full of light. Everything in this world was built on contrasting pairs. If darkness didn't exist, light would lose its meaning.
Despair and hope were the same thing. They were a contrasting pair. One could experience the extremity of both emotions only when both existed. Once one experienced true desperation, one would realize that it was nothing much to be bothered about.
Wang Zhong wasn't lost or confused at all; it was as if the emotion that was enough to make people die from despair was just something he was accustomed too. To him, looking at this thin little girl in front of him was just another point of view of the old him who curled himself in a dark corner.
She didn't need him to be sad with her; neither did she need a cold rejection from him. She needed someone like Simba, a light in her life.
Wang Zhong didn't answer the question. With strong willpower and clear thoughts, he resisted the temptation to make a choice. It wasn't a must to choose between life and death, or black and white. There are often more choices available to us in our existence. Sometimes, when everything drove you into desperation, perhaps you just lacked the courage to try something new. At this moment, Wang Zhong's body regained its mobility.
Wang Zhong was not scared, and he wasn't planning to escape. On the contrary, he walked towards her, but he ignored the matchstick that seemed like the only hope. He took off his coat and wrapped it around the little girl. He touched the little girl's cold forehead gently, giving her warmth. "There isn't only one way to obtain warmth."
This warmth that held a strong spiritual power had an impact on the little girl. Obviously, she had never encountered such a situation in the long time the secret realm had existed. Any power of the natural law or birth of a secret realm followed the laws of the universe, just like black and white, hot and cold.
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