Several voices exclaimed and shot toward Konrad's dropping form. Yvonne arrived first, stopping him mid-fall by wrapping her hands around his waist. Grey vein lines covered his face, neck, torso, and spread toward the entirety of his body while blood trickled down his lips.
And following a brief examination, Yvonne was startled to see that from Konrad's previously mighty body, she could now feel not the tiniest bit of cultivation. For all intents and purposes, he seemed no different than a mortal having yet to step on the cultivation road.
"With just three leaves? How could this be?"
From Zeas and Violk's minds, Verena and Else didn't see the mention of those leaves, and therefore, failed to understand the root of their ability. However, it didn't take a genius to figure out they were somehow connected to the withering World Tree.
"First bring him back to the tower, then we can choose the next course of action."
Else offered, and instantaneously, all vanished to reappear within the Empyrean Tower's Concealed Paradise where Konrad's floating castle and personal cultivation chambers remained.
After laying him down on the bed, Yvonne attempted a healing spell, but to no avail. Else then followed, using her bastet lineage's Life Sea to feed Konrad's body. The yellow sea dived past his pores to nourish and supplement both his inner and outer shell.
At the same time, Verena and Yvonne renewed their healing spells to support Else's effort. Meanwhile, Krann, whose link to Konrad was the strongest, oversaw the evolution of his condition.
After three hours of dumping her Life Sea into Konrad's body, Else's porcelain white skin grew pale, and her knees quivered as she teetered on her feet. Still, she didn't relent, carrying on until the last bit of strength left her body, and she too collapsed on the ground.
Krann's eyes shone with gravity.
"Master's current condition is critical. At a glance, it doesn't seem life-threatening. However, if left unchecked, I really can't say if he can live past this year."
Krann professed, his words causing an uproar within Konrad's consorts.
"What do you mean by this?"
Yvonne asked while suppressing the emotional rollercoaster her heart was turning into.
"The three leaves currently trapped within master's body are Withering Leaves born from a World Tree's withering. One leaf is enough to seal the target's cultivation base. A second will seal the physiques, and a third will lock the bloodline. Thus, turning the afflicted into a mortal.
Master's sudden fall and coma is a result of his abrupt descent into mortality. Thanks to lady Else's life sea, he should regain consciousness in at most…a week."
Krann began, and as his words echoed, the eyes of all those surrounding him widened in disbelief.
"Impossible, master's means are unending. With a wave of his hand, he can bestow the world's highest bloodlines, and achieve unprecedented feats! I refuse to believe that a trivial dying tree can hold him down!"
Astarte exclaimed, her words ringing true within the minds of her fellow harem members.
However, Krann sighed.
"I'm afraid it's not that simple. If there was only one, perhaps there could be room for maneuver. But with three, master's life is now linked to the World Tree's. If it dies, he dies, if it lives, he lives. The Withering is…his Withering!"
Krann roared in frustration and slapped his thigh as his words ended. Although, as a familiar, his life was bound to Konrad's, in that instant, he cared little for it, only lamenting his inability to assist his master in his time of need.
"What about his Ancient Secrets?"
Yvonne directly asked, unwilling to let fright and apprehension settle within her mind.
"The Ancient Secrets transcend cultivation laws. Master can still rely on and study them. However, better than anyone, you should know that Absolute War Sense relies on spiritual sense while Seer's Vision evolves from Origin Sight but thrives on soul power. In his current condition, even if he can comprehend the principles, master can use neither."
Krann explained with downcast eyes.
"But he can still use the Blossoming Death Art?"
Krann replied to Yvonne's last inquiry. And hearing this, she heaved a sigh of relief.
"If the Blossoming Death Art is unaffected, then this is easy to solve. If he perishes, he will be reincarnated in another one of his death flowers. That being the case, there is no need for excessive worries."
Yvonne declared, attempting to alleviate the new wave of emotions spreading within the harem, and though Krann didn't comment, he inwardly disagreed.
The reason was simple. Although Yvonne spoke true, and death would allow Konrad to escape The Withering, due to their intrinsic connection and the Flame Mark's memories, he knew of what others didn't:
If Konrad perished in body and soul, although he would indeed be reincarnated within another death flower, Krann firmly believed that the system wouldn't follow him in rebirth. The system had played a critical role in the Jade Dynasty's meteoric rise. And though as an individual, Konrad was relatively independent of it, for his faction and harem members, it was another story.
To say nothing of the rest, the Valkyrie Armors alone would vanish into nothingness. For their factions' overall strength, that would be a critical blow.
Of course, he wouldn't speak the words.
"Verena, use Seer's Vision on the female we captured to capture as much information as possible."
Yvonne ordered, and immediately, Verena got to work, scrutinizing the zenith ant captive's past to uncover all it contained. As an elder, her position within the colony stood leagues above that of Zeas and Violk, and she naturally had access to critical information.
Through her past, they were not only able to confirm Krann's words, but also managed to get a full picture of the zenith ants' hierarchy. They were a matriarchy, with the Ant Queens being the highest body the elders could contact. Above them was the Ant Goddess.
There were twenty-seven Ant Queens in total, each with a peak-stage Divine Ascension cultivation base, top-level bloodline, and more than one high-grade, Mastered Divine Physique.
As for the Ant Goddess…her cultivation was hard to put in words. At least, for the elders it was.
The Queens aall resided within the roots of the World Tree while the Goddess stood infinitely close to its base. As the World Tree withered, their strength continually rose. The inversely proportional rise allowing Verena and Yvonne to hypothesize their real goal.
Moreover, it appeared that over the years, the elders had managed to expand the colony's control over a substantial amount of the Hidden Forest's powerhouses and the forces they led.
"We can't sit and wait for death. Be it for Konrad or for the sake of our faction's future, the World Tree's withering must be averted. The Zenith Ant Leaders can't be allowed to drain the World Tree of its last bit of vitality.
I will immediately depart for the Hidden Forest to investigate the situation and seek ways to abort these events."
Yvonne proclaimed, and as soon as the words left her lips, Verena nodded in approval.
"I will assist you."
And decided to follow suit.
Thus, Verena and Yvonne departed from the Jade Capital to sneak into the Barbarian Continent and head straight toward the Hidden Forest.