"The snow hasn't melted yet..."
The young man walked away, his outline gradually fading into the night. However, those meaningful words and that parting gaze still seemed to linger before them.
The Ji father and daughter pair stood solemnly in the cold wind for a long time, only till Lin Jie could no longer be seen did they exchange glances with each other.
Ji Zhixiu was silent as she watched guests leaving in succession via the main entrance in the distance. The bustle throughout the past three days was slowly dissipating and returning the huge manor to its original emptiness and silence.
Suddenly, the corners of her lip curled up as she said profoundly, "A man's wealth is his own ruin… This is what Boss Lin once said to me."
Ji Bonong asked helplessly as he stepped back into the courtyard, "Do you have to speak to me in riddles? What Boss Lin means is clear as day. Are you afraid that I won't understand?"
"The greed of human hearts has always been immeasurable…" he lamented.
Ji Zhixiu followed after, her smile widening. "But I'm just afraid that their strength can't match up."
As the guests dispersed, A16 manor, which had been bustling for three consecutive days, fell completely silent. It was as if the songs, dancing, and festivities of today were all an illusion.
Ji Bonong headed along the partial-open corridor, gazing at the still dark and gloomy sky above the garden despite the snowfall having come to a halt.
To him, this familiar scenery was completely different from the past.
He lowered his head and eyed his palm. Power gathered within him after he became a transcendent being. Surging aether filled every corner of his body as if excited and restlessly anticipating something.
Ji Zhixiu followed behind with the brass case containing the five books in her arms. She could clearly hear the old butler's voice coming from the side hall, giving orders for the servants to tidy up the place. Even the sound of melting snow outside seemed so distinct and clear to her.
These sounds both loud and soft were all mixed together, and hearing it all was not annoying and frightening.
Ji Bonong took a deep breath.
Looks like... he still needed some time to get used to this power.
Or rather... he needed a chance to practice and gain proficiency.
Ji Bonong stopped abruptly in his tracks, the corners of his lips curling into a contemptuous smile. Calmly, he said, "If you covet these five books, please come and get them in three days according to the rules. The highest bidder gets them, while everything else is out of the question. I've been doing business for so many years and never had the habit of giving special treatment to others."
His voice echoed through the empty hallway. A moment later, a hoarse, male voice answered—
"Heh, President Ji is really ambitious…"
A person in a hooded black robe suddenly materialized from the shadows at the end of the corridor.
Following that, as if having been signaled, there were whooshing sounds all around, and several transcendent beings appeared in a variety of ways around them, all familiar faces to Ji Bonong. They hadn't even bothered removing their banquet outfits, nor had any intention of hiding.
Ji Bonong glanced around and chuckled. "Didn't all of you leave? Or was the snowfall too heavy so you guys wished to stay at my humble abode?"
"Don't play dumb, Ji Bonong."
The leading black magician removed his hood, revealing a sinister face filled with avarice. It was the overseer, Oded.
The black magician's gaze was firmly fixed on the case held by Ji Zhixiu. "You were the one who broke the rules first. Rolle Resource can only be helmed by mortals, yet now you wish to be above transcendents..."
A ceremonial knife slipped out of the black magician's sleeves into Oded's hand as he assumed a combat posture.
"You aren't qualified to hold these five books!" he growled.
Ji Bonong scoffed. "It's not up to you to decide whether I'm qualified or not."
Oded's eyes narrowed. "Does that mean you're going to publicly disobey the central administration's command and betray the mission Rolle Resource has had since its inception?"
Ji Bonong let out a long sigh. "Mission? You mean being the dogs of transcendents like you people? Generation after generation, every president of Rolle Resource has just been the dogs for you people! There will never be a day when I can turn the tables if I live under your surveillance, only being controlled and abiding by the fate that has been laid out for me."
He glanced at his tightly clenched fists. "I've had enough..."
Oded sneered. "Had enough? This lofty status and near-endless wealth. A life that many people can only dream of, and yet you feel it isn't enough. Could it be that your greed knows no bounds? Looks like you've really been bewitched and brainwashed by that bookstore. I have to get rid of you, you damned pest!"
Before he even finished, Oded had already turned into a black shadow and shot forth. He appeared behind Ji Bonong in a flash and raised the ceremonial knife while mouthing an incantation. At the same time, the other transcendents also activated their abilities toward the two Jis caught in the middle.
At the moment they approached—
"You're right. The greed of the human heart is immeasurable indeed."
Ji Bonong raised his head, revealing moving black meridians on his face that were like wriggling black worms. His lips morphed into a frightening smile as he said, "Not just you guys, but... me as well."
The sound of flesh being torn rang out. One of the Pandemonium-rank transcendents, who was still blinded by greed, felt as if his abdomen was pierced by an invisible palm. Blood splattered throughout the corridor as his viscera leaked out from the perforation.
That individual's facial expression hadn't even changed yet, still half malevolent and half in shock.
He looked at the huge hole in the abdomen and started to sway. But before he hit the deck, his body was ripped up in the next moment, and his severed limbs hit the ground.
It was as if the corridor was caught up in a rainstorm of blood.
Oded's pupils constricted. The other transcendents were all frightened and stopped in their tracks, but at the same time, none of them chose to flee because the temptation of those five books in the brass case was too strong.
Ji Bonong has indeed become a transcendent being! This thought flashed across Oded's mind.
It was rather obvious that this was the bookstore owner's doing. According to intelligence reports, Lin Jie and Ji Bonong had only been alone for not more than a few hours. Yet now, the latter was able to instantly kill off a Pandemonium-rank transcendent being.
The importance placed by the central administration wasn't groundless indeed...
"This is what you are relying on?" Oded shouted furiously. "You really betrayed the central administration! You are dead! We will not tolerate a transcendent controlling Rolle Resource. Both you and that Lin Jie are dead!"
"When Boss Lin said that the snow hadn't melted yet, he was referring to remnants of the old era like you, right? Heh, I don't need the central administration to tolerate me. Just let them be as angry as they want."
Ji Bonong remained where he was as an invisible force swept across once more and cut another transcendent being in half. Spreading his arms wide, he declared, "From today on, Rolle Resource will leave the central administration and head toward its own freedom and independence! Do you see it? The era of freedom is arriving. We control ourselves!
"The battle has been decided. Winter shall pass and spring is about to arrive. It is something that no one can stop. When the sun shines, snow will definitely melt."
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As soon as Ji Bonong finished speaking, one of the hunters among the group erupted with strength and charged forward, incited by the rampant greed in his heart as well as the stimulation of blood. In an instant, his rationality was completely devoured by the sordid blood as he transformed into a beast that shot forth like a blur.
His strength and speed had reached the extremes, and he even dodged Ji Bonong's attack.
Ji Bonong's attention was diverted toward this opponent for a moment.
At this moment, Oded suddenly raised an arm, and the sleeves of his black robe slipped down, revealing a strange handbell carved from pale bones.
This was a ceremonial item of a strange, ancient tribe from the Lower District as well as a sub Supreme-rank transcendent object, capable of producing a tinkling that even Destructive-rank couldn't withstand.
"I'll let you understand that your wishful thinking is nothing but a pipe dream!" Oded sneered as he rang the bell. "You are only fit to be stepping stones for my advancement!"
The entire corridor was distorted as the place began to fall into an illusion. It was as if countless mirrors all around were reflecting light, making it impossible to distinguish between reality and illusion.
"Advancement… Haha, what about these five books? Are you prepared to hand them over to the central administration? If you're truly loyal to the central administration, you should have reported to them directly and not come alone, Oded," mocked Ji Bonong. "To still be finding excuses for your greed at this time, you people are truly beyond saving. Is there a need for such trash to exist in our world?
"Better to lessen the burden of this world, huh..." muttered to himself.
Those transcendent beings, who were ripped apart by Ji Bonong and lying on the ground still breathing, let out heart-wrenching roars, which, when accompanied by the crisp tinkling of the bell, were incredibly ear-piercing.
Oded prepared himself to hear a wail he would find most pleasurable, then suddenly stopped in his tracks as his eyes widened.
Ji Bonong had disappeared all of a sudden.
Or rather, he had become something else.
With his back turned to the night sky, Ji Bonong's body greatly expanded, casting a shadow over Oded. The immaculate suit he wore was torn apart as he became a colossus—
Ji Bonong's eyes became incomparably huge, and countless worms squirmed within like the bubbling surface of boiling water.
"You... you... you?!" Oded was horrified, and his brain seemed incapable of functioning.
No, this definitely isn't transcendent... Goddamn, what has that bookstore owner done?!
"Hah…Hahahaha…!" Ji Bonong's delighted chortling sounded as if many different voices were overlapping. "Is the current me still that same mortal in your eyes? Overseer, you've watched me for so many years. Have you seen enough yet?"
Then the colossal thing's abdomen gradually opened up, his body becoming flat and elongated like a leather back. And when his abdomen was fully opened, what was within weren't internal organs but many pairs of hands.
"Come, have a closer look..."
Oded let out a shrill scream. His rationality, which had been muddled by the five books, finally returned to him. He desperately wanted to escape this sorry state, but the countless hands that reached out from Ji Bonong's body grabbed hold of him and pulled him in.
Ji Bonong sneered and closed up his body, which then shrank back to his original form. Glancing at the blood-soaked corridor, he muttered, "You have to pay a price if you try to take Boss Lin's books for free..."