With the Withering Leaf's fall, nothing stopped Calisto from returning to the Ancient Crystal World. Although starting with Star Connection, cultivators could cross space without hindrance, having never experienced it beforehand, it would be a lie to say she felt comfortable within.
And as she instantaneously crossed thousands of miles to return by her sister's side, she didn't forget to snatch the Withering Leaf.
"Master ordered us to protect the empress and jade consort until they finished their task. But shouldn't we, at least, warn him of the current evolution of things?"
Vylsea wondered as Calisto landed in front of her.
"I'm afraid it's too early to report on accomplishments. First, strengthen the barrier and lay down some formations. I believe this is merely the beginning."
Calisto replied and vanished to reappear by Verena's side, opening a whole into the barrier to push her past its walls before again closing it. Afterward, the blood fiend twins exerted their strength to strengthen the barrier while laying down protective formations to empower their defenses.
And indeed, Calisto was right. As soon as the eleventh queen fell, beneath the World Tree, a commotion arose.
The twenty-seven ant queens each occupied a root of the World Tree, with the first ten's position being closer to the base while those ranking between eleven and twenty-seven stood a step below.
But all remained connected in a collective consciousness allowing them to share experience and progress at a faster pace. Therefore, the eleventh queen's demise was something they all felt.
"It appears even our best estimations still failed to assess the Jade Dynasty's full depth. Now the World Tree's refining will end up a bit slower."
Said one of the queens close to the roots.
"The more people leave their post, the slower the process becomes. However, we can't afford to let our enemies take control of the Hidden Forest before the Goddess is ready. Otherwise, variables are bound to arise.
Moreover, we must retrieve that Withering Leaf.
Twelfth, fourteenth, seventeenth, eliminate those intruders and bring the leaf back."
One of the high-ranking queens ordered, causing three lesser queens to rise from their seats and shoot toward the Ancestral Blood Pool. By the time they arrived, Calisto and Vylsea stood before a blood-red barrier with their hands crossed beneath their chests.
"One death wasn't enough, so now you ask for three? At least, tell me your ranks are higher."
They goaded the new entrants, while silently activating their formations to prepare for battle. But hearing their derisive words, instead of the expected rage, smiles curved the three ant queens' lips.
"Alas, we're ranked lower than our fallen sister. However, do you know how ranks in the colony are determined?"
The twelfth queen asked in a calm, friendly voice.
"Why don't you enlighten me?"
"No problem. From eleventh to twenty-seventh, all have about the same strength. There isn't a big difference. Only the top ten queens stand leagues above the rest.
The reason is simple."
The twelfth queen replied to Calisto's "inquiry" while taking leisurely steps forward. The fourteenth and seventeenth did the same. And as the trio advanced, emerald-colored light burst and swirled around their forms, before forming a link between them all.
"On pure cultivation level, even the first ten queens are not that much higher. The key is that from eleventh to twenty-seventh, ant queens need to rely on one another to fully utilize the might of their life essence.
However, the top ten queens face no such restrictions. Hence, their battle-power is leagues above ours."
The twelfth queen stated in an eerie, jovial tone while her body glittered in emerald life essence. And as it shrouded the three of them, their battle-power rose to new levels.
In tandem, the three ant queens stretched out their hands, causing hundreds of thousands of vines to appear out of thin air and indiscriminately soar toward Calisto and Vylsea.
Their eyes widened in disbelief.
Without hesitation, Calisto and Vylsea unleashed their blood laws, summoning legions of blood serpent beasts to clash with the hundreds of thousands of vines barreling into them.
Alas, the blood laws crumbled under the vines' assault, releasing a massive shockwave that sent the two Paramount Knight ladies slamming against the barrier. Knowing that victory wouldn't be snatched depending on their strength alone, they fled back into the barrier and triggered their defensive formations.
Dozens of blood pillars rose from the ground, forming a massive blood dome around them all, and repelling the incoming vines without a hitch.
Konrad's Imperial Jade Seal and Sun Shooter appeared in the formation's eye, serving as its energy core and power supply. Controlled by Vylsea and Calisto, a hundred meters long blood-red bow appeared before the dome and fired dozens of arrows at the three ant queens.
The twelfth queen scoffed, and before the arrows could reach them, they crumbled under the protective halo of their life essence. In an air whistle, the three queens vanished, reappeared before the dome, and simultaneously punched!
Empowered by life essence, their fists crashed against the dome, sending another berserk shockwave throughout its walls. Still, the dome endured. The ant queen's eyes contorted into frowns, and again they punched, releasing a flurry of blows that echoed throughout the Hidden Forest.
*BOOOM* *BOOOM* *BOOOM*
Unable to counterattack, Vylsea and Calisto focused on defense, putting the full might of their cultivation into nourishing the artifacts, which in turn empowered the formation, allowing it to shoulder the three queens brutal assault.
Their relentless battering carried on throughout an entire day, but as if their energy knew no limits, they carried on. However, the blood dome stood firm, refusing to collapse under their oppression and keeping Konrad's consorts safe through the effort of his top legionaries.
Another day flew by, and still, the dome endured. However, Calisto and Vylsea were starting to show signs of faltering.
"How can they just keep punching and punching at full strength? Do they possess limitless energy reserves?"
The sisters wondered while sweat trickled down their foreheads. And indeed, although cultivators and mortals were not of the same mold, if there was one thing they had in common, it was limited energy.
Of course, what a cultivator saw as "limited," to a mortal was akin to "endless." However, to repeatedly release full-power blows across several days was an inconceivable matter. Until now, Konrad was the only one Calisto and Vylsea saw capable of doing so. But to achieve that, he relied on his unparalleled bloodline.
But now, it seemed that those ant queens could achieve the same thing with their life essence alone!
"It shouldn't take much longer…right?"
They consoled themselves as their arms quivered. But in truth, even if they managed to endure the remaining days, and give Yvonne enough time to complete whatever she was doing in that blood pool, they didn't believe her return would trigger any change in this situation!
At best, they could rely on the Harem Gate to flee this place and return to Konrad's side.
*BOOOM* *BOOOM* *BOOOM*
Three days passed in succession. The three longest and most torturous days the sisters had experienced in their lifetimes. But still, they endured, relying on Restorative Pills to replenish their energies and maintain the blockade.
However, at the dawn of the seventh…
*CRACK* *CRACK* *CRACK*
…they faltered. And cracks started spreading throughout the blood dome, marking the beginning of the end for them all. At that time, Verena awoke. However, due to the backlash she suffered, she couldn't rise to provide them with assistance, only being able to lie helpless before the inevitable.
They cursed in synch.