Slightly surprised, Shi Xueman stared at the message tree.
She had no idea who Ai Hui was communicating with but didn’t pry. What astonished her was the message tree’s ability to communicate with someone who was outside of the city limits. Then again, this wasn’t some ordinary message tree but rather a specimen of the first generation.
Communication between Central Pine City and the outside world was nearly completely broken. The only message tree still fully active within the city was the one in the mayor’s residence. She had used it to communicate with her family after the outbreak of the blood disaster.
“May I use this message tree?” Shi Xueman suddenly asked.
Ai Hui waved his hand without looking and replied, “Go ahead.”
Shi Xueman found it laughable that a leaf from her own message tree was hanging on this one. Ai Hui would probably never guess that Shi Xueman was actually “a bad deal.”
A bad deal....
Shi Xueman’s amused expression became a grimace as she hung up a new leaf in place of the one she previously put up. She thought of her doting grandfather who must be racked with worry and came close to tears.
Reminding herself that she was much stronger than before, she kept her emotions in check and penned her message on the leaf.
Just as she finished writing, the dean flew into the alley.
The dean was shocked to see the completely transformed yard that was littered with the corpses of blood ants. Even more remarkable was the team, especially Ai Hui. It had only been a few days since the dean last saw him, yet already seven palaces were activated!
Was Ai Hui a genius that he had overlooked?
The dean was flabbergasted. In all his years as dean, he had never once met such a freak.
“Seems like the fight went well. And to think I was worried about your safety. Hmm, weren’t there more of you?” the dean asked as he noted the numbers that didn’t add up. He recalled Shi Xueman’s group had more members than just herself and Sang Zhijun.
“The blood ants….” Sang Zhijun replied in a sad tone.
Shi Xueman’s eyes were slightly bloodshot while Duanmu Huanghun quietly looked down.
Ai Hui stared fixedly at them. These guys had some top-notch acting skills…. Even someone as dumb as the ingrate could perform so well!
No matter their incompetence or mediocrity, pretense was indeed the natural ability of the younger generations of influential families. In the harsh and backstabbing world of the rich and influential, pretense was essential for survival.
Those at the top of the families existed above all other authority and rules, free to act as they pleased. But before they could reach such a level, the younger members could not escape the shackles of their environment.
The dean sighed deeply. A quick survey of the piles of blood ant corpses littering the ground was enough for him to visualize the bitter fight that must have taken place. Fortunately, Duanmu Huanghun and Shi Xueman were safe and sound…. The number of deaths he had witnessed had served to numb his emotions. After seeing a number of powerful teachers fall before him, what were a few students’ deaths?
Was he going to survive this catastrophe? The dean was deeply pessimistic of his chances.
He equally doubted their chances of surviving until reinforcements arrived.
But still he did not forget his duty as the dean. No matter his pessimism, he could not pass that feeling on to the students. The dean began to encourage and console them, “Let’s all perk up and not let our imaginations run wild. There are still battles to be fought.”
“How is the situation within the city?” Shi Xueman took the initiative to ask.
The dean hesitated for a moment before deciding not to sugarcoat it. “The situation is terrible. We have lost control of almost one-third of our land. What’s worse is that the blood ants have started to transform.”
“Transform?” Ai Hui and Duanmu Huanghun asked in unison.
“Yes, we suspect that elemental energy is what’s driving the blood fiends’ transformation.”
Ai Hui slightly trembled after hearing this. He understood more than his peers about the blood fiends. Back in the Garden of Life, he had drawn the same conclusions after observing their sensitivity to elemental energy. In other words, elemental energy was highly attractive to these blood fiends.
Blood of God; blood refinement; using elemental energy as food; transforming after devouring elementalists....
A chill ran up his spine. Was the Blood of God really trying to destroy the Avalon of Five Elements? Did they consider all other elementalists as prey?
Noting the shock and concern on his allies’ faces, he realized that telling them all he knew about the blood disaster would only serve to frighten them further.
He decided to keep every last word about it to himself.
Would revealing his knowledge help them in escaping from Central Pine City? Would it help them survive this danger? No.
On the contrary, he would be opening Pandora’s Box if he told them any more. Even if he managed to get out of this alive, there would be no end to his troubles and likely face incarceration and repeated interrogations. And since the higher-ups would not be satisfied with answers obtained via gentle questioning, they would definitely turn to crueler methods of torture to ease their worries.
Even if he somehow managed to survive all of that and become a hero, the Blood of God would most certainly seek revenge on him.
Truthfully speaking, between the Blood of God and the Avalon of Five Elements, Ai Hui regarded the former more highly. Despite their weak appearance, the plans they hatched were far beyond those of the Avalon of Five Elements. Even now, the Avalon of Five Elements had yet to fully comprehend the current situation.
When an underground organization with hundreds of years of deliberations finally decides to act, their preparations must surely be complete.
The old prisoner mentioned that the Blood of God had six god apostles, and Ai Hui believed this to be true. Whether or not there were only six, however, was something he was unsure of.
If captured by One Thousand Yuan again, he was probably better off surrendering….
And if he wasn’t good enough to become a blood elementalist, then he’d just have to accept that fact. Ending up dead was still better off than living a wretched life. Ai Hui decided to find some time to have a talk with Fatty about it.
Ai Hui maintained a straight face while his mind worked.
He would only divulge these thoughts to Fatty and Lou Lan.
“If so, we’ll need to take back all of the lost areas and eliminate every last one of those blood ants that continue to transform,” Shi Xueman said gravely.
The dean was secretly pleased to see Shi Xueman’s resolute expression as she said these words. She was truly Shi Beihai’s daughter.
“Indeed, that is the mayor’s opinion as well. We must reclaim the lost areas at all costs before the blood ants transform. Everyone will be involved in this operation, even students and residents. I’m here to inform you guys of this operation, and someone else will come by later to brief you on your mission. This is a city-wide mobilization order!”
“Yes!” Shi Xueman answered, stiffening her body and giving a salute. “We accept this order!”
She wasn’t the only one doing so. Duanmu Huanghun, Sang Zhijun, and Jiang Wei saluted the order as well. In the Avalon of Five Elements, ordinary citizens were normally not involved in operations. As such, a city-wide order signalled just how dangerous the situation had become.
Ai Hui and Wang Xiaoshan didn’t perform the salute. Coming from the Old Territory, they weren’t accustomed such formalities.
“I’ll tell them to try their best to avoid splitting the few of you up,” the dean said as he looked over the blood ant corpses again. “After being together for some time, you guys must have built up a rapport with one another. We’ll instead send some students to reinforce your group, so please look out for them.”
The dean’s gaze landed on Ai Hui, knowing that he was the core member of this group.
Shi Xueman suddenly blurted out, “Since a city-wide order is in effect, and we’re currently in a state of war, are we allowed to act according to martial law on students who disobey orders?”
The current members had full faith in Ai Hui’s orders, but the newcomers might now. She didn’t want to bring up something like this so soon after witnessing their comrades’ deaths, but it was crucial to set the record straight. In times of peace, a lack of solidarity affected only relationships, but in times of war, it could potentially lead to their deaths.
Everyone else looked at the dean.
The dean was taken aback. He wouldn’t have found it strange if Ai Hui had been the one to ask this. From their conversations, the dean found that Ai Hui was not easy to deal with; the boy simply wouldn’t compromise without a bargain. The one asking this now, however, was Shi Xueman, which meant that Ai Hui had already won the trust of Shi Xueman and the others.
He was quite something… this fellow.
The dean had no idea how Ai Hui had managed to accomplish this, but his evaluation of the boy was raised by quite a bit. Shi Xueman and Duanmu Huanghun were, after all, not well-known for their easygoing personalities.
“Definitely! Deserters are to be executed, and no one is exempt from this,” the dean instructed.
Everyone tensed upon hearing the words “deserters” and “executed.” These words reflected the graveness of the situation and foreshadowed the slaughter that was soon to follow.
“I require some additional supplies,” Ai Hui informed, breaking his silence.
The dean sighed. “I’ll try my best to get what you need.”
With a city-wide mobilization order passed, even individuals like Shi Xueman and Duanmu Huanghun had to charge ahead. Anyone caught retreating would be severely punished, possibly implicating their entire family.
The dean had no say in this matter since the authority to pass such an order lay solely in the hands of the mayor. There was no longer much of a choice either, considering their bleak circumstances.
If Shi Xueman and the rest perished as a result of the city-wide mobilization order, nobody would blame the city or the academy because it would be considered an honor. It was a good thing for the dean as well, to no longer have to protect Shi Xueman and the others.
Seeing the blood ant corpses reaffirmed this feeling.
Keeping the students away from the fight was not much different from sending them straight to their deaths. Even if they knew of their impending deaths, retreat was no longer an option for anybody.
How many students were going to die? The dean didn’t dare to think too deeply on it.
He had picked a number of talented students to be placed under Ai Hui’s care. He wasn’t sure what would come of this, but he wanted to leave some hope for Central Pine Academy’s future.
Ai Hui was a student as well and would hopefully look out for them.
“Are my master and mistress okay?” Ai Hui asked.
“Don’t worry. The embroidery workshop is a key protection site.”
The dean’s words allayed Ai Hui’s worries.
Soon after, the dean brought over roughly 100 students, each and every one of them handpicked.
Ai Hui recognized most of them as the brightest of Central Pine Academy.
He glanced at the dean who had unexpectedly placed such confidence in him.
“I leave them in your hands,” the dean announced tiredly. “As for the resupplies you requested, you’ll have to make a trip down to the stores. They’ve agreed to your request, but resources are very limited.”
Nobody could have imagined the future achievements that would come from these sad and frightened youths gathered in this courtyard.