"Well, it started earlier than I expected."
Both Konrad and Ilkaalt thought as the pitch-black fog above twisted into an amalgam of eldritch shapes. A vast concentration of nether force gathered, chilling the atmosphere while the mass of black fog split into more than three-hundred, fifty-meters tall Ravenous Ghosts.
Those clearly were a step above the rabble Qehreman effortlessly obliterated beforehand. And seeing them, both Konrad and Ilkaalt's eyes contorted into frowns.
Ilkaalt, because those ghosts' appearances marked the failure of her objective.
Konrad, because the situation just got significantly more complicated. At the very least, five-hundred-million aggrieved souls inhabited the Blood Mountain Range, each with the potential to turn into a Ravenous Ghost.
However, it went without saying that not all would succeed in turning into Ravenous Ghosts. Or more accurately, even if they did, not all could survive. The majority would turn into food for other Ravenous Ghosts to devour; thus, creating a natural selection at the end of which mighty ghosts would rise to stand above the rest.
Of the initial five-hundred million souls, perhaps not even one percent would remain. However, the strongest ghosts among the survivors would be a force to be reckoned with. Konrad didn't doubt that many would possess high-level Saint strength while finding several Sage-level entities was perfectly reasonable.
As for the strongest among them, that was hard to estimate. For that reason, Qehreman's anti-chthonian abilities were of paramount importance. Although Konrad didn't believe him to be able to obliterate the strong Ravenous Ghosts with his mere presence, at the very least, he would manage to suppress them enough to make the task easier for his ladies.
At least, that was the original plan.
But as the tremors carried on, blossoming into a startling earthquake while the ghastly, nether force oppressed them all, Konrad realized the situation worse than he'd initially calculated.
The three-hundred ghosts chirped in tandem. Though, their eerie chirping couldn't be compared to the singing birds Konrad's party was used to.
In fact, they sounded more like a caricature of gleeful laughs.
However, Konrad ignored them. Instead, his eyes trailed the chthonian energies they left in their wake to spot the origin of this poltergeist. And beyond the Blood Mountain Range's eighteen peaks, the shadow of a nineteenth now appeared, towering above all the others at nearly fifteen-hundred miles. That mountain was so tall that it approached the Ancient Crystal World's exosphere!
With width surpassing all the other mountains combined, were it not for the seamless cloaking that concealed its existence beforehand, it would have been impossible to miss.
Not just Konrad, now that the cloaking force was dispelled, all eyes rose toward that mountain, and all were startled to see…that a mountain, it was not!
Or rather, this mountain wasn't made of stones!
"Bones…those are all…bones…"
Astarte stammered, and indeed she was right. The bones of the one billion barbarian citizens butchered within the Blood Mountain Range's vast expense of land all gathered to form that horrid bone mountain. And shockingly, those bones were all blood-colored and painted the new mountain in a more vivid blood-red than the remaining eighteen.
And even from the tremendous distance, Konrad could feel the massive energies concentrated in that place.
Compared to that, the cave before him was not worth mentioning.
But at the same time, a monstrous, previously slumbering force awoke within. It was that force's awakening that triggered the earthquake and summoned the towering ghosts now threatening Konrad's group.
The earthquake rose in magnitude, bringing alongside it an avalanche of boulders while Konrad and Qehreman dropped toward the ground. With a wave of her hand, Astarte stabilized Konrad, leaving only Qehreman to tumble.
He complained. However, before he could speak further, the three-hundred Ravenous Ghosts descended upon them!
As they did, the temperature plummeted at breakneck speed, going from around 10 °C to -35 °C in a heartbeat! And still, it fell!
"Those three-hundred Ravenous Ghosts are already at a high-level Saint level. Individually, they can't deter me, but once combined, this can become cumbersome. To say nothing of the forces lying in wait."
Ilkaalt appraised. The most dreadful thing about Ravenous Ghosts was that they feared absolutely no form of physical attack. If the move didn't rely on laws, soul power, or another form of spiritual force like Dasra's Celestial Guardian, it couldn't damage them in the slightest. However, when led by a greater power, just like with a formation, Ravenous Ghosts possessed the ability to overlap their nether force into an organic whole.
Worse, within the Blood Mountain Range, they possessed innate superiority with higher battle-power than it would be on the outside, while their opponents found themselves weakened.
Therefore, although she had full confidence in her abilities, Ilkaalt didn't dare take this gamble.
"A pity, but I have to leave. Hateful…"
She sighed and was about to vanish when the three-hundred ghosts reached a fifteen-meters radius from Qehreman.
As he teetered on the ground, a formless force erupted from him, forming an invisible barrier that slammed into the Ravenous Ghosts and forced them all back!
Ilkaalt's eyes widened in a stupor.
"Impossible. How…can this be?"
And as if to force her to accept this reality, the Ravenous Ghosts against pounced on Qehreman. However, the same invisible barrier knocked them back, preventing their nefarious forces from harming him in the slightest.
Ilkaalt's surprise vanished, and her lips curled into a smile.
Ignoring all the others, she stretched her hand toward Qehreman, causing the emerald life essence swirling around her to glitter in a brighter shade. As it did, green light erupted from Qehreman's body while his eyes glazed, and his consciousness vanished.
Like a puppet, he rose from the ground, vanished, and reappeared by Ilkaalt's side.
By the time Konrad's party realized what was going on, she already had her hand on his shoulder.
"She can use the life essence within an individual to take control of them?"
Konrad realized, far too late. But indeed, he was right. Although with her level of life essence and control, Ilkaalt could only affect low-level cultivators, for someone at Qehreman's level, it was more than enough.
"Handsome, I will give you another chance. If you willingly come with me, we can both enjoy this heavenly shiel-"
Ilkaalt began, but before she could finish her words, Else's sword was hacking at her neck!
But in a green haze, she vanished, avoiding the move and leaving Konrad's party to deal with the Ravenous Ghosts.
"Oh well, you can't say I didn't try. Handsome, chase me. The farther, the better.
But do hurry. Otherwise, I might have to chase you instead.
Ilkaalt's voice reverberated as she vanished from sight.