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Deciding to take a stroll through the Glacial Thicket rather than fly over it, Mira took in all the sights around her.

The beauty of the forest was captivating, with its towering ice-covered trees and snowflakes dancing in the air. As she moved deeper, the trees grew taller, denser and seemed to attract more Qi.

Surprisingly, the further she walked, the less creatures she saw. It usually wouldn't take her more than a few minutes to find a beast, but the more she walked, the less frequent these encounters became.

'Is it because the environment is getting colder?' Mira wondered, raising her hand to better feel the dropping temperatures, but shook her head. 'The creatures that live here should've grown accustomed to the cold. If anything, I should be finding stronger beasts.'

That's when she had another thought, one she didn't think much of before.

'...There aren't that many people here.'

In fact, the only people she saw were the ones Dominique encountered. Other than that, she hasn't seen a single person.

Of course, the Glacial Thicket was massive, taking up a good portion of the Northern Continent, but it should've been popular enough that the residents frequented here. At the very least, the various powers on the Continent should be eager to control this location.

'Now that I think about it, there aren't as many people on this Continent as I thought there would be.' Whether it was the city Captain Jorvik dropped them off at, the Frozen Sangfroid Temple, or here, nothing particularly stood out. They all seemed like small cities, despite being major powers.

Everything was more spread out, and it seemed people didn't go out and explore like they did on the Western Continent.

Stronger beasts here were definitely more unrestricted and common, but Mira knew how cruel and relentless humans were. If they wanted to expand, what could a few random, lone beasts do to stop them?

Only united clans of beasts could truly hold back humanity's pursuit of war and resources.

The Glacial Thicket was the perfect training ground, yet there was hardly anyone there? The more she thought about it, the weirder she found it.

'Odd… Very odd.' Mira stopped for a moment to ponder. 'Either there's something here that I'm missing, or there's something fishy going on with the Northern Continent.'

For some reason, her instincts told her it was both, but she wasn't sure why.

'I guess I'll find out when I reach the center of the Thicket… or not.' Mira thought as she hurried up, still taking her time to stroll through the beautiful environment.

The Glacial Thicket wasn't exactly filled with resources—just strong enemies and, from what she saw with Dominique, the occasional rare item. Maybe the people here just weren't as bloodthirsty or greedy as she thought they'd be.

Either way, Mira was eager to see if there was something interesting deeper in this danger zone.

A few hours passed, and her ears twitched, hearing voices in the distance as she walked closer to the center. 'Is that where all the people are?' Mira wondered, curious.

She cast a simple illusion over herself, tucking away her distinct tails and fox ears, adopting the appearance of a wanderer. Her aura, too, was subdued, making her just another face in the crowd.

As she approached the center of the Thicket, she noticed the area was bustling with people. The crowd was a mix of adventurers, mercenaries, and people who looked to be part of different factions, all drawn to the spectacle in the heart of the forest.

Mira tapped the shoulder of a man nearby, keeping her voice casual. "Excuse me, what's happening here?"

The man looked slightly startled and just pointed ahead without a word. Mira followed his gaze, and her eyes widened at the sight.

There, piercing the sky, was a gigantic ice crystal. Its surface burst through the clouds, and the aura emanating from it was so intense that even someone like Mira felt oppressed by it.

Inside the crystal, a flame of icy blue burned, casting a mystical glow that burned so bright it not only melted the ice around it but also the snow outside. However, as soon as it melted, it was reformed into ice again, becoming stronger and more resilient, which in turn fed the flame.

It was like a paradoxical positive feedback loop. So much so that not just Mira but most of the other people had no idea what was going on.

All they knew was that something spectacular was happening.

'A treasure's being born.' Everyone thought as their eyes lit up with greed.

"I wonder when it'll finish forming."

"Probably a few more days, right? I reckon when that fire grows strong enough to burst out of that crystal, it'll be ready."

"I don't know. It seems to me that the ice crystal is more of a prison to contain that fire than anything. I think it'd be a good idea for us to give it some space, lest whatever breaks free tries to kill us. However, I'm willing to put my life on the line to watch it. I'll warn you guys if something happens."

"Nice try, idiot, but nobody's leaving."

"I think an elemental is being born."

"...."

Whoever said that last statement caused a tense silence to fall over the area.

Everyone here was quite strong, at least in the Nascent Soul Realm, so they understood the benefits of finding, capturing, and absorbing an elemental, especially one as unique and powerful as this one.

They all glanced at one another, spotting any potential enemies.

If it truly was an elemental, only the last man standing would receive it.

"I think someone should just take it." A tall, burly man in a brown fur coat stepped up and said. "It doesn't matter who. As long as it's someone from our Continent, it's a win."

He was only at the peak of the Nascent Soul Realm and knew that his chances of obtaining it were slim to none. Thus, in order to sow a little discord as well as find a potential solution that didn't result in a bloodbath, he decided to speak up.

The crowd then started whispering as they realized that the man was right.

"...He's not wrong. Treasures like these do conveniently disappear as soon as they're discovered."

"Shush! Do you want to get yourself killed? You've heard the rumors, right?"

"...Shit."

"In recent centuries, more people have been visiting the Southern and Northern Continents. Coincidentally, rare treasures have been disappearing more often. Who do you think is capable of that?"

"..." The guy knew but didn't dare to say it out loud. He didn't want to disappear as well.

'Are they talking about the Central Continent?' Mira wondered as she listened in on the whispers. That was one of the only 'groups' she could think of that could have a global presence.

'I guess there is the Mercenary Association, though.' She thought, giving a few people in the crowd a glance. During her short time as a Mercenary, she could tell that at least a dozen people in the crowd were part of the Association.

However, from what she understood, they were based in the Central Continent. Thus, regardless, it was most likely them behind the scenes.

'But, the Eastern Continent is supposedly filled with countless times more people than all other continents combined. So, it could also be them, or possibly some other hidden, rogue group that's looking to take control of the world.' Mira speculated, but at the end of the day, none of that mattered to her.

There was a treasure right before her very eyes, and she wasn't willing to give it up to any of the idiots here. There wasn't anyone in the Divine Sea Realm present, at least that she could sense, so her chances of obtaining it were relatively high.

'Now, whether I'll be able to escape with it is a different story.'

But, she preferred to act first, then ask questions later.

Plus, causing chaos on another continent, one that's not her home, doesn't sound too bad. She doesn't have to worry about alliances or any of that nonsense and can just go wild!

As she was thinking of how to snatch the crystal, the people around her began to argue.

A group of stern-faced monks and nuns stepped forward. Their leader, a cold woman with a calm demeanor, addressed the crowd. "The Frozen Sangfroid Temple has protected these lands for centuries. We are best suited to guard such a powerful treasure," she declared.

Her claim was immediately challenged by a member of the Abyssal Night Sect, known for their ruthless and secretive nature. Dressed in dark, flowing robes, the sect's representative, a man with a cunning glint in his eyes, retorted, "Power such as this should not be hoarded by one group. The Abyssal Night Sect proposes a joint custody, where all can benefit."

The proposal sparked a heated debate among the gathered factions. Representatives from the unorthodox sects, dressed in various colors and styles, each put forth their claim, arguing about the treasure's potential uses and the need for its fair distribution.

As the argument grew more intense, the burly man in the brown fur coat tried to mediate, suggesting a contest of skill or a lottery to decide the owner. But his words fell on deaf ears as the factions were too engrossed in their squabble.

That's when a particularly strong, lone cultivator jumped up into the air and flew toward the crystal. "Fuck all of you! This treasure is mine!"