Wang Xiaoming turned around at the sound. That majestic roar still resonated in his mind, but the door—along with the forest and the tiger—had vanished, having been replaced by a wall of solid white.
An oil painting hung on the wall—blue and green trees, draping branches, and a ferocious tiger—staring at them unmovingly, without a trace of life to it.
A strong sense of disappointment welled up in Wang Xiaoming’s heart. He sighed, “It feels like a dream.”
Baal examined their surroundings. It was a lobby of about two or three hundred square meters, with a tall, domed ceiling. He thought for a moment and then reached out a hand before making a fist—
“This is Bloodnight Mountain,” he declared definitively.
Wang Xiaoming looked at him and then at his hand, realizing quickly, “Ward doesn’t work anymore?”
“Yeah,” Baal answered, “the Forest of Shattered Illusions sent us here prematurely.”
Baal looked at the only door in the lobby. “We’ll know once we find someone to ask.” Since they were in the Bloodnight Mountain, what he had to do right now was to drag Cain out from his damned coffin!
Wang Xiaoming followed behind him and looked at the handle on the door. He grabbed it and pulled it toward him.
Along with the flow of the air, the sounds of arguing crashed over their heads like waves.
As if sensing a stranger’s intrusion, the voices suddenly quieted.
Those who had been fighting till their faces turned red all turned around to look at the two uninvited guests.
After a pause of about one or two seconds, a surprised voice called out, “Edward? Wang Xiaoming?”
Afterward, Wang Xiaoming thought the gazes on him became more heated.
Baal’s gaze swept around.
It appeared to be a conference room. There was a round conference table in the middle and eleven Kindreds were clearly separated into three clusters.
The surprised voice belonged to Singh.
Baal’s lips pressed together and he said, “If I’m not wrong, this is the so-called Elder’s Conference.”
The words “so-called” stabbed most of the Kindred in the heart like a sharp sword.
“Rude!” A very ugly Kindred immediately jerked upright. “Do you know what you’re saying?!”
“I know,” Baal responded calmly. “If you don’t know, you can go find a hearing aid.”
“You…” Anger deepened the contours of his face, which made the ugly face appear more twisted.
Singh hurriedly interrupted, “Alright. Edward, though the McAvery Elder is absent, you should respect the other clans’ Elders.” In contrast to before they entered the amusement park, Singh’s voice sounded like it was repressing some emotion but was also impatient. “Tell us why you two have appeared here. The trial hasn’t ended yet.”
“That, you should probably go ask Cain…”
“Lord Cain,” Wang Xiaoming supplied in a rush. As someone who knew what was happening, Baal’s arrogance was merely a continuation of his usual style and habits. But from the point of the view of the Kindred, that arrogance was a bit… worthy of a beating.
Baal lifted an eyebrow and gave him a look.
Singh looked behind them and asked, “So where are the other… Kindreds?”
“Didn’t pass.” Baal shrugged, his tone as easy and natural as though it had nothing to do with him.
Singh and the other Elders glanced at each other, not knowing what to do.
Singh asked probingly, “Because…” He had given Michelle orders that if Edward couldn’t be persuaded to join them, then she was to get rid of him. Of course, he had considered that Michelle would fail. After all, even Daniel had lost. He had organized this meeting to get the other major clans to agree that if this Kindred, who was strong enough to defy the logic of the Kindred, really came out of the Forest of Shattered Illusions, they would join forces to destroy him completely!
But in his original estimation, even if Michelle and Andy failed, there would at least be some contestants from the Sabbat or the Camarilla left. But clearly things were, like Edward’s abilities, once again beyond his imagination.
Baal responded impatiently, “Does there need to be a reason to fail an exam?”
Wang Xiaoming chuckled dryly and expounded, “I have experience with that. It’s usually either because the teacher taught poorly or the student didn’t put in the work.”
“Or they weren’t talented enough,” Baal added.
The eleven elders, “…”
“I agree,” the ugly elder said without warning.
“I also agree.”
The argumentative Elders suddenly cast nine votes in agreement.
In a place that was as rigid about rank as the Kindred, children like Baal would never be praised as being lively, cute, or even filled with personality. They would only consider him unteachable. The McAverys being called crazies and subtly relegated to the outskirts of the Camarilla was not without reason.
“Leslie, what about you?” Singh turned around to look at the Giovanni Elder, who had kept a cold distance from all the ruckus.
Leslie slowly looked up.
He never looked healthy and always looked like he was barely breathing, as if he’d stop breathing in the next moment and say farewell to the world. But those Kindred who knew who he was and what he had done knew not to think lightly of him.
As the first third generation Kindred to suggest destroying the second generation, he had a decisiveness, courage, and violence in his body that most Kindreds lacked.
“I…” Leslie paused, “… object.”
Everyone’s gazes focused on his face… and those lips, as red as the sun.
Singh paused. “Why?” It had been a very long time since Leslie had cast a vote that was not “abstain.” Ever since the second generation had either died or gone into hiding and Cain had fallen into slumber, he had become the Grand Elder of the Kindred. In order to maintain fairness, he actually wouldn’t even cast objection votes against the Sabbat. His move just now was very out of the ordinary.
Baal looked at Leslie and said with a frown, “I may have seen you somewhere.”
“That would be my honor.” Leslie stood up unexpectedly and bowed to Baal respectfully.
Excitement ran through the other Kindreds.
“I want to see Cain.” Baal realized things were going much more smoothly than he had imagined. Had he known this, he might have not even needed to participate in that childish Sacrificial Night of Fresh Blood.
“Of course.” Leslie pointed to the other door in the conference room. “Keep walking through there and you’ll see a golden gate.”
Baal gave him a meaningful look. “You’re very smart.”
Leslie sat back down and answered, nonplussed, “I am simply doing what Lord Cain wanted.”
Baal’s lips lifted slightly and he pulled Wang Xiaoming along, opening that door as if nobody was watching. Before they left, he turned around to tell Singh, “If I were you, I’d thank him.” Just then, he really had considered just vanquishing all of them.
The smile that Singh always wore disappeared. He turned around to stare at Leslie. “I think you owe us an explanation.”
“Who do you think could end the trial of the Forest of Shattered Illusions and bring them to the conference room before we could cast our vote?” Leslie asked with faint mockery.
All the Kindred Elders paused in their tracks.
Singh asked after a while, “Who the hell is he?” He was definitely not a regular sixth generation Kindred. The way Leslie spoke to the man was not the way a Kindred Elder spoke to the younger generation.
Leslie closed his eyes and rested.
Wang Xiaoming and Baal walked down the long corridor.
The paintings hanging on either side showcased different scenes. Wang Xiaoming recognized a few of them as Hell or the Mortal Realm, so the other ones must be from the other seven realms.
“Which painting is the one of Heaven?” He glanced around curiously.
Baal was becoming numb to Wang Xiaoming’s obsession with Heaven. “The whitest one.”
Wang Xiaoming had thought Baal was telling a joke, but when they encountered a nearly pure white painting hanging on the wall as they walked, he froze. “That’s Heaven?”
Baal glanced at it disinterestedly. “Probably.”
“Maybe that’s the Heaven in his mind.” A trace of pity, so quick that it couldn’t be detected, passed through Baal’s eyes.
“Blank?” Wang Xiaoming struggled very hard to find a color that was not white among that canvas of white. “Oh, there’s gray here… Dust?”
“Maybe a shadow?”
“Shadow? How can there be a shadow without an object?” Wang Xiaoming blinked his eyes.
Baal answered, “Sometimes the shadow is in your heart.”
Wang Xiaoming carefully examined that so-called shadow. “Judging from the shape, it looks like the shadow of a tree.” He paused and remembered a story about two trees betting on their reincarnations. “Could it be that Lord Cain dreams of becoming a tree in his next life?”
Baal answered expressionlessly, “He doesn’t have that chance.”
Wang Xiaoming mused, “I think I know why he likes sleeping so much.”
“…” Baal followed Wang Xiaoming’s thoughts to their conclusion—
Because he was busy dreaming about being a tree.
A golden door appeared at the end of the corridor.
The smooth floorboards reflected harsh light from the corridor lamps.
Wang Xiaoming squinted his eyes and looked at the blurry reflection of himself and Baal against the door and suddenly cried out, “Ah!”
“What is it?”
“My hair’s messed up.” He ran his hand through his hair.
“Did my hair just become messy or has it always been messy?” Wang Xiaoming asked nervously.
Baal responded with, “Hasn’t your hair been like this ever since I’ve known you?”
“That’s not true.” Wang Xiaoming’s face was practically pressed up against the door. “Look, it’s curled up here.”
Baal answered in frustration, “That’s because you like sleeping on your side.”
Wang Xiaoming said embarassedly, “I must have embarrassed humanity just now.” There were all the Kindred Elders in that conference room. The effect was like a gap-toothed Kindred running onto the stage of the United Nations in a conspicuous manner.
Baal realized Wang Xiaoming’s face was utterly embarrassed and comforted him, “Don’t worry, this will be the last time.”
Wang Xiaoming looked up pitifully.
“The next time, you’ll be embarrassing the Kindred.” Based on the principle of keeping shameful things private, the Kindred would not publicize that—at the most they’d pass it around internally.
Wang Xiaoming, “…”
The door loosened and then shakily pulled itself open.
Wang Xiaoming stuck his head in curiously, but Baal grabbed him and pulled the man back into his arms.
“I am very curious about how Lord Cain looks,” he murmured quietly.
Baal responded, “One thing you can be certain of is that he has two fangs and is not a vegetarian.”
Wang Xiaoming said, “Because he loves trees, so he also cares for plants?”
“No, because I survive by absorbing nutrients from the soil.” A slightly teasing voice rang out.
Wang Xiaoming paused in surprise and said quietly after a long moment, “Lord Cain?”
“Please come in.” The voice was tinged with laughter.