The group first finished the map as far as they could remember. Then, Mei Chao Bing had everybody draw a copy of their own.
“Keep this copy with you at all times. If we get separated, the map might provide you with hints as to where to go to avoid the demonic practitioners or at least where to find a safe hiding spot if you’re unable to return. Now, if you’re ready, let’s go.” He motioned in the direction they were supposed to investigate from now on.
The others exchanged some glances but finally followed. The only ones who didn’t hesitate at all were Yun Bei Fen, Yuan Lei, and a bit surprisingly Yi Ju. Mei Chao Bing didn’t seem to notice but Yuan Lei’s expression lit up slightly. It seemed that even by now, they had already made some slight progress. It wasn’t much but with time, it might not be impossible to have these people put their trust in Mei Chao Bing.
The group went past the stone desert in the western direction. According to the map, there shouldn’t be anything notable for the next few miles but then, a few stone slabs could be seen peeking out from the ground every here and there.
Mei Chao Bing turned to look at Liu Bao Ru. “Was this the place you mentioned?”
She nodded. “Yes. There isn’t much to see but it’s bigger than the area we were investigating before. It looks a little like the ruins of some kind of town but we weren’t sure either.”
Mei Chao Bing looked around. Liu Bao Ru was indeed right. This did indeed resemble an old town or maybe even a city. There seemed to be a flight of stairs leading down with long and flat steps. Further away, there were some knee-high walls.
Yuan Lei looked at Mei Chao Bing. “Could it be a dwelling of the demonic practitioners?”
“Well, it’s not impossible but … considering that almost everything is buried by sand, it would have needed to be abandoned long ago. But on the other hand …” He crouched down and brushed away some of the sand that was covering the stone slabs below their feet. “The stone is completely intact. None of the walls caved either. So it shouldn’t actually have been a long time ago.”
“Could it be that it was covered by sand not because of the time that passed but because of something different?”
Mei Chao Bing straightened up and turned to Yuan Lei. “You mean like the array?” He pondered. “That could be. A spirit gathering array that is left unsupervised or deliberately left running for a long time will drain a place of all its spiritual energy until even the land itself changes. The sand here is extremely dry. It might not have been like this originally. So maybe it was drained of its energy and because of that, it was swept here by the breeze?”
Yuan Lei nodded. “That would make sense.”
“Then why did the demonic practitioners leave?” The one asking this time was Song Mu.
Mei Chao Bing tensed but then turned around to him. Right now, he was the leader of this team. He had to treat all of them the same way. “That is a good question. I doubt the left because of the consequences of what they themselves did. Maybe they wanted to relocate because they knew the righteous faction would come to investigate as soon as there were any large movements here. After all, this kind of change couldn’t be hidden for long.”
He glanced around, his brows furrowing. Yes, there was no way this could stay undetected. It made him wonder just how long it had taken from the time the demonic practitioners started this until their faction found out. With the degree of change … It should have been a long time.
“The array we found in our area was drawing the spiritual energy in in a circular motion. It could be that it started from the middle and then grew fainter in the outer region. Thus our people took a long time to notice the changes while the area around here might have been sucked dry of energy long ago.”
He glanced around uneasily at that. “It was like this in the area our group investigated and it’s still the same here. From what you said before, the whole border region might be like this. That’s … an unbelievable amount of spiritual energy. I’m afraid this is an integral part of their plan.”
Song Mu also looked around. “Should we search for the array and deactivate it?”
Mei Chao Bing gave him a look. “If we did, the same thing as yesterday might repeat. We should definitely search for the array around here but after that, we have to report back. This kind of thing can’t be done without informing the Elders first and making a plan that everyone knows about. Otherwise, we’d put the other groups in danger.”
Song Mu didn’t answer. He knew very well just who had been responsible for what happened yesterday. Even though he hadn’t been part of that team, the others had naturally talked about it after they came back and were sure that the Elders wouldn’t catch on. He couldn’t say that he agreed with that but … it was too late to choose sides. Now, he could only continue on the path he had embarked on back then.
Mei Chao Bing closed his eyes and then turned back to Yuan Lei. “Keep an eye out for any traces of someone who was here before us or anything they might have left behind. The rest should keep their eyes open as well. This site might be the answer to what the demonic practitioners are planning.”
The others nodded and then spread out. When Mei Chao Bing looked around, he noticed that the women had indeed done as he said and teamed up. Well, at the very least, one of the junior martial sisters had joined Liu Bao Ru. Yi Ju had actually gone and followed Yuan Lei.
Mei Chao Bing raised his brows but didn’t say anything. He had told her to find something she could do, after all. If this was what she decided on, it would be very good.