Immortal Ice Empress: Path to Vengeance
Chapter 909: Unexpected Visit

Western Continent, Vorandis City

It had only been a few months since Mira last visited Vorandis, but the changes that happened were substantial. Of course, Maria, better known as "The Saintess," was usually at the center of it all. This time wasn't any different.

However, the reason behind her growing fame wasn't like before.

Around the time Maria broke through to the Soul Transformation Realm, her attitude had taken a drastic change.

If before, she made public appearances every day, at the very least. Now, people would be lucky if they could see her once a week. Even when they did, there was a stark contrast compared to how she was now versus a few months ago.

She seemed a lot more depressed, no longer lighting up the room with her smile. She still did her duty as the face of her organization, and she'd still do her job, but something was different.

In Vorandis City, Maria's change in demeanor spread like wildfire, sparking concern and wild speculation among the populace. Citizens gathered in small groups just to talk about what might be happening to their resident Saintess and if there was anything they could do to help.

"Have you seen The Saintess lately? It's like the light has gone out of her eyes," one woman remarked to her companion as they moved through the crowded market.

"Yes, I noticed it too. The last time she appeared in the city square, she seemed... distant, almost as if her mind was elsewhere," the other replied, her voice tinged with concern.

At a local tavern, the topic dominated discussions, with patrons theorizing about the cause of Maria's sudden change.

"I heard from my friend that's close to one of the workers at Sanctum that she's been having nightmares," one man claimed, his voice carrying over the din of conversation. "Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can even hear her occasional screams at night."

"Nightmares? Are you stupid? The likelihood that she even sleeps at night is already low, much less having nightmares! I bet she's just trying to stabilize the changes that her new Realm breakthrough brought. The Soul Transformation Realm isn't something to take lightly, after all." another countered, shaking his head dismissively.

"...I guess."

Amidst the speculation, a figure covered in a dark green cloak and light armor walked through the city, taking in all the conversations. It was someone that neither Mira nor Maria would've expected to come to Vorandis.

Although they've known each other for years, it still seemed out of character.

Celaine made her way through Vorandis with a singular purpose. She had heard of Maria's problems and, despite growing apart after entering the Battle Maiden Sect, felt a compelling urge to see what was going on.

Celaine's first stop was the headquarters of Maria's organization. She flipped her hood back and walked into The Sanctum. The guards at the entrance nodded at her approach, recognizing her face

"I'm here to see Maria," Celaine stated, her voice firm and leaving no room for argument.

One of the guards swallowed hard, nodding quickly. She could sense that Celaine definitely wasn't here for business, but it wasn't her place to pry. "Please, follow me. I'll take you to her."

The corridors of the complex were eerily silent as Celaine followed the guard, her footsteps echoing against the stone floor. They arrived at a large door, behind which Celaine could sense a tumultuous mix of emotions.

The guard opened the door and quickly stepped aside, allowing Celaine to enter. The room was dimly lit, with a single figure seated at a vast desk, her back to the door. It was Maria, her posture slumped, a far cry from the vibrant leader she was known to be.

Maria turned at the sound of the door, her eyes widening slightly at the sight of Celaine. For a moment, neither spoke. It'd been a while since they had been in a one-on-one setting like this. Fortunately, Maria was still Maria, even if she was a little different.

"Celaine... what brings you here?" Maria's voice was a whisper, barely audible.

"I heard you weren't doing too well, Maria. I want to know why. What's happened to you?" Celaine's tone was softer than usual, a hint of genuine concern breaking through her usually stoic demeanor.

"..." Maria fell silent.

How should she answer that? Overall, she was fine. Her organization was expanding nicely, and she had amassed quite a large amount of wealth. Her subordinates were growing more skilled, not just in fighting but in all the side occupations as well.

Her strength was improving more than she ever thought possible. Her time in the Primal Ascendance Convergence Secret Realm had been greatly beneficial, not to mention she could use as many Spirit Stones, treasures, pills, etc., as she wanted with how rich she was.

Sage Aila, her teacher, had passed on everything she knew, all the techniques she had, and even helped her create some of her own. It wasn't wrong to say that on the entire Western Continent, there might not be a better healer than her.

All things considered, she was doing more than okay. Everything was looking up except for one thing.

"If it's taking you that long to answer, you must not be fine," Celaine said before Maria could reply. She sat on the desk, playing with the little trinkets littered about, then turned her attention back to the blonde-haired beauty. "I'm guessing it has something to do with Mira? I doubt you'd be acting like this if it was anything else."

"I-" Maria just opened her mouth, only to get interrupted.

"I'm guessing something happened in that Secret Realm. I didn't see or sense you beforehand, but I felt your presence for a moment after we left. You're not strong enough to sneak past all those beasts, and the only person I know who can break you into such a place would be Mira. Then, there's the fact that even Mira felt a bit off afterward. There's no need to hide anything from me. Just give it to me straight."

"..." Maria's eyes widened, and her mouth went agape. She'd been friends with Celaine for several years now, and she could swear that was the most amount of words she'd ever heard her say at one time.

Sighing, Maria shook her head with a wry smile. "...Yeah. You're right. Something did happen. And truthfully, I'm not really sure how to process it."

"What'd she do?" Celaine asked, but Maria just gave a weird look.

"Hmmm… It's hard to say whether it's really Mira's fault or not. I mean, it is, but she didn't have a choice. No-! Ah… What I mean to say is that…" She paused, looking Celaine straight in the eye.

"I died."

"....Huh?" Celaine's brain froze.

"That's right." Maria let out a pained chuckle, looking off into space. "I died, and Mira was the one who killed me."

"...Maybe that guy was right, and you really are having nightmares," Celaine mumbled, feeling like Maria was playing tricks with her. Although her expression said otherwise, saying something like 'I died' when she was literally sitting right in front of her was about as ludicrous of a statement as you could get.

Maria chuckled, not offended at her friend's skepticism. "I know it's hard to believe, what with me being very much alive right now, but it really did happen. For… I don't know how long I was really dead. Not unconscious or anything like that, but true death. In fact, I was conscious of the whole thing, even the part when I was cut in half and after I was reconstructed."

Celaine sat frozen, the trinket in her hand momentarily forgotten as she processed Maria's confession. Her eyes searched Maria's for any hint of jest, but found none—only a profound sorrow and a haunting depth that hadn't been there before.

"You... died," Celaine repeated slowly, each word heavy with disbelief. "And Mira... she was the one who killed you. How is that even possible?! You're here, you're alive!"

Maria sighed, leaning back in her chair, the weight of her memories pressing down on her. "It's a long story, Celaine. But the gist of it is that I was teleported into some dark place, what looked to be a large set of stairs of what I could only assume was Mira's treasure. However, we were trapped, like it was some kind of trial. We tried to break out, but Mira seemed to understand what was going on. Thus she had to make a choice."

Celaine's expression hardened. "A choice that involved killing you?"

"Yes," Maria nodded. "But she, or I suppose, it also brought me back. It was... a miracle, to say the least. Something that shouldn't be possible. But Mira... she's always been one to defy the impossible."

The room fell silent as the gravity of Maria's words sank in. Celaine couldn't begin to imagine the kind of torment that experience must have inflicted on both Maria and Mira.

"And now?" Celaine finally asked. "How do you feel about all this? About Mira?"

Maria's gaze drifted to the window, where the setting sun cast long shadows into the room. "I don't know," she admitted. "Grateful, of course. I'm glad to just be alive. But there's also fear... and confusion. It's not easy to come back from the dead, Celaine. There's a part of me that feels like it's still lingering in that moment of death, unable to move forward."

Celaine moved closer, her usual reserve giving way to concern for her friend. "Is that why you've been distancing yourself? Because you can't seem to get through this?"

"Partly," Maria confessed. "It's hard to face the people who look up to you, to be their pillar of strength, when you feel so... broken inside. I-I just… I just don't know what to do or how I should react…"

Celaine could see that, if Maria were alone, tears would've already started falling, but she held herself back. That fact alone made her feel even worse for her friend. Maria was by far the nicest person she knew, yet…

"That's it! We're going to go give Mira a beating! Right now!!"

Chapter 909: Unexpected Visit
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