Meanwhile, Astarte stood on the tenth peak with her bewildered eyes mirroring the confusion within her heart.
"What the hell is going on? Where are master and Else?"
She wondered while using her Origin Sight to sweep the surroundings and seek the presence of her partners. However, an irresistible force prevented her from seeing beyond the eleventh peak. With that new limit, she made no progress. Worse, as time went by, she was forced to exert more of her cultivation base to contend with the rising chthonian energies in the air.
Although unlike death essence, nether force wasn't inherently lethal to the living, it still was a potent, chilling poison. Therefore, the combination of the two soon turned into an intolerable source of discomfort.
But for the sake of being by her master's side, tolerate, she would.
Without hesitation, Astarte turned into a silver light beam and flew toward the eleventh peak. But she didn't even cross thirty meters that her speed plummeted, and she crashed onto the ground. Suppressed by a force whose origins she still knew nothing of, she struggled to return on her feet, and rush toward the next peak.
With the suppression she endured, five hours passed before she landed on the eleventh peak. Sweat filled and trickled down her forehead while she gasped for breath like an untrained mortal discovering cardio.
"To say nothing of the fact that I don't even know their accurate location, even if they merely lied ahead, at this pace, can I really catch up to them?"
She wondered while wiping off her sweat. Lack of Information indeed was an exasperating condition. Alas, even if she knew nothing might come out of it, she could only blindly rush ahead, hoping that ultimately, their road would cross.
After all, at one point in time or another, Konrad would ultimately head into the most "chthonian-heavy" locations.
Renewing her resolve, Astarte dashed across mountain passes and slopes, eager to make her way out of the eleventh peak to reach Konrad. However, as she did, never did she expect that a pair of dark-green eyes observed her from the shadows.
With her presence concealed by her Withering Leaf, Ilkaalt stood within one of the naturally formed cultivation caves of the eleventh peak, trying to harvest death lilies.
Alas, as she reached out for them, the lilies would turn scalding hot, and sear her hand! After the umpteenth searing, she recoiled in frustration. This had been going on since she stepped into the mountain range!
"Although my control of life essence enables me to resist the death essence within this mountain range, it also makes me unable to lay hands on those lilies. If I can't even harvest the bits here? How can I possibly touch what lies within the Bone Mountain?
Am I really doomed to failure?"
She wondered with clenching hands. Having dived into the Blood Mountain Range without permission, she knew she would face harsh punishment back in the colony. However, she cared very little about that.
If she could obtain the means to control both life and death essence, her strength would rise exponentially. And in the future, even the goddess would be forced to treat her differently. But now, it seemed that thought of hers truly was naïve.
If even with her bit of control over life essence, death essence repelled her this strongly, how could one possibly wield both?
Controlling both life and death essence was downright impossible.
With a sigh, Ilkaalt prepared to depart from the eleventh peak, find and snatch that riveting mortal man, and leave the Blood Mountain Range for good. But before she could make her move, Astarte's presence appeared in her vicinity, and she shifted her attention toward her.
With her Origin Sight seeing through all barriers, she could see the Valkyrie's current feeble state, not that it made a difference.
"Strange, why isn't Handsome with her? What about that other bitch? Did they get separated?"
She wondered and vanished to reappear a few miles away from Astarte, trailing her from the shadows. The dazed, puppet-like Qehreman stood beside her.
And as Astarte crossed another Mountain Pass and made her way toward the twelfth peak, Ilkaalt remained sharp on her tracks.
"No mortal man can possibly stand guarded and enjoy the company of this level of goods. Handsome's status is definitely not simple. Maybe I should use her to investigate?"
She reckoned. However, the scene of Astarte holding onto Konrad with subservience and silent adulation reappeared within her mind, and her eyes flared with a maddened glint.
"Nah. No need. In this world, whose status can compare with mine? Regardless of Handsome's origins, I must snatch him and make him my mate before that damnable woman picks one for me. As for that hindrance…she can die!"
Flicking her tongue over her lips, Ilkaalt pounced from the shadows, activated her Mountain Toppling Physique, and released an empowering surge of life essence as she drove her right hand toward Astarte's back in a claw strike!
But at that time, Qehreman's dazed state broke, and he screamed:
Alas, it was far too late, and by the time the sound reached her ears, Astarte was finding her chest pierced from back to front by a lithe hand glittering in life essence.
And seeing the hand tear through her heart, she knew the move lethal. After all, she wasn't a Sage.
Blood gushed from her chest and lips, but she still mustered her last bit of strength to turn toward her murderer.
Her eyes locked on Ilkaalt, whose maddened gaze nailed with remarkable intensity.
"The things that I want, no one can touch. If you want to blame something, blame yourself…for being in my way."
Ilkaalt declared, then pulled out Astarte's heart before crushing it within her hand.
As life departed from her body, Astarte teetered on her feet, and warm tears filled her eyes. Not of pain, but rather, of regret.
Regret, because she didn't get to see her master one last time.
"Master, sorry, I fai-…"
But Astarte didn't even get to finish her words that she dropped onto the ground, with the spark of her life extinguished.
And as her flowing blood formed a pool beneath her, Qehreman's eyes widened in disbelief.