"This Li Feng is a deep schemer. Even though I bear no ill intent, he is still so cautious against me... However, that spell he used to subdue those beasts... How did such a weak cultivator like him learn such a spell? He is definitely not ordinary. Perhaps it really was a good decision for me to recruit him for this mission." The more Su Jia learned about Yin Hui, the more curious she became. Everything about him was unique. She figured that there was still much more she didn't know about him, even after she interrogated him back at the camp.
Yin Hui let out a smug smile as he passed Su Jia on his way back deeper into the pass. Yu Zhuwa and the six sabertooths followed like loyal subjects behind him.
"Tch, now that a portion of my spiritual sense is with him he's acting all cocky and arrogant. Whatever, our goals are still the same. If having a piece of my spiritual sense hostage makes him feel better, then I'll be the bigger man and let him have it." Su Jia was bitter, but didn't show it. Yin Hui was not like most of the young men she encountered. Unlike them, he did not fawn over her as if she were a priceless jewel due to her beauty. Instead, he simply looked at her like an average peasant. This annoyed her, but also gave her a more favorable impression of him at the same time.
With the six sabertooths at their side, the expedition went much smoother. Along the way, they encountered a few more spirit beasts such as, giant bats, bears with skills in martial arts, and even a few flame boars. However, none of them were a match for the sabertooths and were easily taken care of.
"Hey, what did you do to these sabertooths? That last spirit beast they dealt with had power half a step into Virtue Seeking. Yet these peak Spirit Manifestation sabertooths tore it apart in a single breath of time."
"It's a side effect of the Beast Suppression spell. I don't fully understand it myself. All I know is that any beast under my influence becomes stronger than it was before." Yin Hui explained. While it was true that he did not know the exact reason why the spell empowered the beasts, he felt it had something to do with his demonic cultivation. When he used the Beast Suppression spell, Yin Hui made sure to include a portion of his own spiritual sense in the technique as well. If he didn't, then the technique would simply give control of the beasts over to Su Jia. As he did this, he also noticed that those with more of his spiritual sense ingrained within them were more powerful than those with less.
"Interesting. So as long as you have a higher cultivation, any number of beasts can be put under your control?"
"Possibly. I've never tried gathering an army before. Most of my uses only involved controlling small groups at a time." So far, the only times Yin Hui used the Beast Suppression spell was in the heat of battle. He hadn't really taken the time to analyze the full capabilities of the technique at it's peak.
Yin Hui considered testing the idea of amassing a large army of spirit beasts given the abundance within Coiling Pass. An army of spirit beasts would be incredibly useful regardless of strength. If they were to encounter a spirit beast they were unable to defeat, the army would still be able to distract it long enough for them to escape.
However, Yin Hui quickly dismissed the thought. If he lost control, all of the spirit beasts would turn against them. At that point, even Su Jia would not be able to fend them off.
"Now is not the time to dedicate myself to refining my skills. Until I reach the Storm Province, my current level will have to do. Only after joining the Striking Thunder Sect will I finally be away from the Tang Clan's reach. Then I can focus entirely on cultivation and strive to become an Earth Immortal. Once I do, I will return to this province and get my revenge! Tang Jiao, Tang Bian, it doesn't matter, I will defeat them all!"
Suddenly, the entire mountain began to shake. Various caves began to collapse on top of each other, revealing others that weren't present before. The sabertooths accompanying Yin Hui started to cower and whimper as the tunnels collapsed. Yin Hui didn't blame them for having this reaction. After all, the cave they were dwelling in before being suppressed had probably just been flattened. Witnessing an unknown force display such terrifying power would frighten the heart of almost anyone.
"Not good! It looks like the tunnels are rearranging themselves!" Su Jia's voice contained traces of panic. She had been preparing to move through Coiling Pass for months already, but she never knew about this particular feature. Now that the caves had been rearranged, there was no way to backtrack towards the entrance in the event of an emergency.
A large portion of the ceiling split and descended towards the three cultivators. Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa used the Wind Bullet to shatter the rock before it could fall on them, but one of the shattered pieces ricocheted towards Su Jia. She let out a cold snort and raised her palm. A powerful force emitted from her hand that crushed the piece of rubble into dust.
After ten minutes, the cave-in still showed no signs of stopping. As a result, Yin Hui, Yu Zhuwa, and Su Jia were constantly darting back and forth. If the descending rubble was small, they would dodge. If it was large, they would attack. Eventually, the damage became too much for the floor to handle and it began to collapse in on itself. Yin Hui grabbed Yu Zhuwa and flew into the air, Su Jia following close behind.
The sabertooths were not so lucky. They howled miserably as the ground collapsed, all six of them falling into the dark abyss below.
"We have to flee into one of these new caves!" Su Jia shouted. She took out the compass and began to calculate the best possible tunnel to choose. However, this shifted some of her attention away from the oncoming rubble. While she was calculating, a large piece of rock eluded her spiritual sense and hit her arm, knocking the compass out of her hands.
"No!!" Su Jia cried.
Yin Hui's pupils shrunk as he watched the compass fall. If they lost that compass, their chances at escaping were as good as over.
"Su Jia catch!" Yin Hui threw Yu Zhuwa into Su Jia's arms and dove downwards. He kept his body in a tight position, trying to gain as much speed as he could. In a few breaths of time, the compass was within his sight. When it was within arms reach, he extended his arm to grab it. He let out a sigh of relief as he took hold of the compass and threw it into his bag of holding.
"Li Feng behind you!" Su Jia called out.
Just as the warning entered Yin Hui's ears, a chunk of rubble that size of a small hut smashed on top of his body.
"Aghh!" Yin Hui coughed out a mouthful of blood. The compass flew out of his hands as he descended towards the chasm below.
"Big Brother Li!" Tears streamed out of Yu Zhuwa's eyes as he watched Yin Hui's limp body fall into the depths of the mountain.
Su Jia held Yu Zhuwa tight against her body as she flew into one of the tunnels. Once they were inside, she let out a silent curse. Not only did they lose Yin Hui, but they also lost the compass as well. Without it, she was not confident in navigating through the pass, especially after seeing how the tunnels were prone to changing.
Gritting her teeth, Su Jia drew some blood from her finger and touched her forehead. A pained expression covered her face and she furrowed her brows. Shortly after, a strand of qi came out that formed into a mini replica of herself. The mini Su Jia made of qi merged with the blood, turning red. When the integration was complete, it shot into the walls of the mountain, passing through it and disappearing entirely.
"What was that?" Yu Zhuwa asked between sobs.
"A call for help, in case we don't make it out on our own." Su Jia's face was pale. She had severed a portion of her soul and sent it off to call for help. The replica was ethereal and could pass through solid matter. It also had its own awareness, sharing the same thoughts and intentions the original Su Jia had.
Of course, removing a portion of your soul from your body came with a few risks. The most obvious one was that the cultivation of the original would be weakened due to the loss. The second is that if the soul fragment was destroyed, the user would never be able to get it back. Their future cultivation would be permanently affected and they would lose a portion of their life span.
"Xiao Yu, let's go. My spiritual sense hasn't returned yet, which means Li Feng is still alive. Hopefully, if he survived, he picks up the compass and finds us. For now we have to keep going."
Yu Zhuwa wiped away his tears and nodded. He held onto the belief that this was all within Yin Hui's calculations.
"Big brother Yin Hui has survived through tragedies way more dangerous than this. He's got to survive. I know he will!"
The pit Yin Hui was falling through seemed to be endless. Fifteen minutes had passed and the bottom of the chasm still wasn't in sight. He struggled to move his body to no avail. The upward force caused by the speed of the free fall kept him firmly pressed against the rubble behind his back.
"This fall has got to stop eventually. If I don't escape by then, I'll be reduced to a pile of flesh and blood when I reach the bottom."
Yin Hui tried using the Living Earth spell to manipulate the walls around him. He wanted to slow down his descent by forming some kind of net that was soft, but strong by adjusting it's solidity. Unfortunately this was not possible, as the walls seemed to be protected by some kind of spell that made them immune to his power.
"Damn it, the walls are enchanted with some kind of protection!" Since he couldn't manipulate the walls, Yin Hui tried to control the rubble instead. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the enormous rock behind him. As he did, the shape of the rubble began to change.
"Yes! It looks like the protection only extends to earth that is still connected to the pass! If I can reconstruct the rubble behind me into a thin spring-like sheet, then I'll be able to float down gently like a feather!"
Yin Hui began altering the texture of the collapsed rock so that it would become softer. However, due to the sheer size of the rubble, the process was very slow.
"This is taking too long. I feel like I'll need at least another hour before I can fully transform this giant rock. I also don't know if I have that much time. The rubble is manipulatable so what else can I do?" Yin Hui pondered.
"Hmm, the smaller the change, the faster I can do it. Manipulating the shape is much faster than manipulating the texture. In that case..."
Gradually, the rubble behind Yin Hui began to part and it looked like he was being absorbed inside. This was Yin Hui's plan. Instead of trying to slow his descent, he would ignore it completely. If he could burrow to the top of the rubble, it didn't matter what happened to the rest of it. Once he was there, he would regain his mobility and could fly back up from where he came.
After a few minutes, Yin Hui broke through the final layer of the rubble and reached the top. He stretched his limbs as he relished the feeling of being able to move his body again. Sadly, the feeling didn't last long as more debris began to fall on top of him. Using Living Earth, he formed a shield above his head that protected him from most of the falling rock. Now the only thing he would have to worry about were the exceptionally large pieces.
Yin Hui took out Su Jia's compass from his bag of holding. The compass didn't sustain any damage since it was kept safe inside the pocket dimension within the bag. He let out a sigh of relief when he noticed that the route he needed to take wasn't back up. Pacing around the still falling rubble, Yin Hui found the direction he needed to go and flew into the closest tunnel. When he entered the tunnel, he was met by a pack of snow leopards staring him down with preying eyes. With his spiritual sense, Yin Hui discovered that each leopard only possessed Spirit Waking power. He immediately activated the Beast Suppression spell and put all of them under his command. The leopards eyes turned red and each of them grew twenty five percent larger.
"Hmm... Since my own spiritual sense is strong enough to suppress these leopards, let's see if I can make them even stronger!"
Yin Hui began to imprint more of his spiritual sense into the snow leopard's minds. As he did, noticeable changes started to appear in each of one. Some had longer fangs, some had sharper claws, while one even grew a horn. Furthermore, each leopard was now double its original size.
However, there was one leopard that caught Yin Hui's attention the most. This leopard did not have the longest fangs, the sharpest claws, or even a special horn. Instead, all the fur on its body had turned pitch black.
"With the power provided by my spiritual sense, each of these leopards should now have the strength of a Spirit Manifestation cultivator. It also seems like they evolved in their own unique ways as well. This thick aura of demonic qi radiating from each of them... I never knew demonic qi had such an effect on spirit beasts!"
Pleased with the results, Yin Hui climbed onto the back of the black leopard. He took out the compass and pointed towards the tunnel it was telling him to go to.
"Time to test out the abilities of my new companions. Into that cave over there!"
The black leopard let out a terrifying roar and its body began to turn into black smoke. This ability spread to Yin Hui as well and his body also began to turn into smoke. However, despite turning into a cloud of smoke, Yin Hui was still himself. He knew that to others he was just a cloud of smoke, but from his perspective he still had his head, arms, and legs. Confused, Yin Hui ordered one of the other leopards to attack him. When the leopard pounced towards Yin Hui and the black leopard, it passed right through them as if nothing was there.
Yin Hui was stunned. Wanting to test the capabilities of his new form, Yin Hui began to test his other spells and techniques. Living Earth, the Wind Bullet, every single skill was produced without a single deviation in effectiveness or power.
"Haha! This is great! I have truly profited this time around!"
Ecstatic, Yin Hui smacked the black leopard on the side and began to move. From an outside perspective, it looked like a giant cloud of black smoke with two red eyes was charging down the tunnel. Behind him, the other snow leopard's were following at their own pace. While the others were not necessarily slow, the difference between them and the black leopard was very apparent.
Despite the speed of the black leopard far exceeding the rest, Yin Hui felt that it was still holding back. Not wanting to waste the energy of the other leopards, Yin Hui put them all in his bag of holding. He was hesitant on whether this was possible, but after the first one went in without issue, the rest followed.
"Alright, show me what you can really do! Hyah!" Yin Hui gave the leopard a small part once more. The pace quickened and leopard was now moving through the cave at the speed of a lightning bolt.
Following the compass, Yin Hui and the black leopard passed through cave after cave. None of the spirit beasts they encountered were an issue, even those stronger than them. Any beast in their path would simply be passed through as if they were a gust of wind. They even arrived before another section of the pass that was currently experiencing a cave in like the one that almost killed Yin Hui. Once more, this was not an issue for the black leopard. As they approached the mouth of the tunnel, the leopard did not stop. It charged out at full speed and continued running on the air as if it were solid ground.
Yin Hui let out a hearty laugh. He was really beginning to like this leopard.
"Once we get out of Coiling Pass, I'll be sure to give you a reward!"
They continued moving throughout the pass with great speed until the compass started acting strangely when they entered a particularly large tunnel. Instead of pointing towards a single direction, it began rotating wildly.
"There must be something within this tunnel that's interfering with the compass..."
Yin Hui got off the black leopard and began to search the area. As soon as he left the beast's back, his body returned to normal. He told the leopard to join the others in his bag of holding, believing it deserved a good rest. Initially reluctant, the black leopard undid it's shadow-like form and leapt inside.
The tunnel Yin Hui was currently in was much longer and more spacious than the others he'd been in. The surrounding caves were all neatly aligned, as if they were intentionally dug with precision and intent.
"What is this?"
Yin Hui ran towards the clearing of the tunnel and found himself within a large catacomb, surrounded with even more uniformly aligned tunnels. In the center, a giant egg lay on a nest made of soft dirt, leaves, and tree branches. He approached the egg cautiously, wary of any potential spirit beasts guarding it. After all, an egg of that size must have been birthed from an even bigger mother.
Making it to the nest without any apparent dangers, Yin Hui examined the egg and it's home with great attention. Picking up a few leaves, he noticed that they were completely green, without the slightest hint of discoloration to them.
"These are fresh leaves! This means I must be close to an exit! However, it also means that something is supplying this nest with new leaves as well."
Yin Hui shifted his attention to the egg that lay in the nest. The egg was a whole head taller than him and wide enough to hide behind. Despite normally being very cautious, Yin Hui felt an urge to touch it. The egg gave off a familiar feeling, a kind of connection that he just couldn't ignore.
"Why am I feeling this way? Am I under some kind of spell?" Yin Hui tried to resist, but his body continued to move closer and closer towards the egg. When he was close enough, he lifted his hand and placed it on the egg's smooth surface.
As soon as his hand made contact, a giant yellow eye flashed within Yin Hui's mind. He collapsed onto the floor, his entire body weakened to the point he struggled to maintain consciousness. Sweat dripped down his neck as he tried to regain control over his body.
"What was that... some kind of spirit beast? Just its gaze was alone to paralyze my whole body..."
Still immobile, Yin Hui began to hear rumbling coming from the tunnels around him. Suddenly, giant snakes the size of small trees emerged from the caves and began to converge towards him.
"Shit! Not good! I have to move! Move!" Pushing his mind to the brink, Yin Hui mustered up enough strength to stand. However, the yellow eye flashed once more in his mind and his legs gave out. The second vision sapped all the remaining strength he had left and his surroundings began to dim.
"No... no..." Yin Hui whispered before passing out.
When Yin Hui regained consciousness, he was surprised to discover he was still in one piece. His body was stiff, but he mustered the strength to sit up.
The surface he was sitting on was warm and dry. There was also a rough texture to it, similar to that of fine gravel.
Yin Hui noticed that even though he was sitting down, he seemed to be moving. Still impaired by darkness, Yin Hui reactivated his spiritual sense to figure out what was going on.
"This is..." Yin Hui's pupils shrunk.
He was resting on the back of a giant snake. Surrounding him were countless other snakes of various colors all moving in the same direction.
One of the snakes noticed that Yin Hui had woken up and hissed at him loudly. Startled, Yin Hui immediately used the Beast Suppression spell on it. When his spiritual sense made contact with the snake's mind it immediately severed the connection and slapped Yin Hui hard with it's tail.
Yin Hui was sent flying from the strike. He almost fell off the snake he was riding, but managed to barely hang on. The snake hissed at him repeatedly, in a manner similar to human speech. Despite no words coming out, Yin Hui understood the message.
"Do that again and the next strike will take your life."
Yin Hui climbed back onto the snake he almost got knocked off of. When he was back on, he clenched his stomach. That one casual tail strike had fractured a few of his bones. He could also tell by how fast the snake broke free of the Beast Suppression spell that it was holding back a significant portion of it's power.
After that first experience, Yin Hui did not dare to use his spiritual sense to gauge the strength of the rest of the snakes around him. Considering how they were all roughly the same size and moving together as a group, he hypothesized that they must've all had around the same level of power.
"Despite being extremely angry that I tried to control it, that snake only injured me slightly. The way it stared at me with it's eyes... Could it be that whoever they're taking me to wants me alive?"
Yin Hui noticed that the snake that attacked him had a very complex gaze in it's eye. A gaze filled with contempt and hatred, but not completely towards him. It was as if Yin Hui was prey that it had been chasing for months, but right when it was about to catch him he was taken away by someone else. Because of this, Yin Hui felt that wherever these snakes were taking him he would be safe. If not, he would've been torn to shreds and eaten long ago.
Knowing that there wasn't anything he could do other then wait, Yin Hui took out Su Jia's compass. He let out a sigh when he saw that they were moving the opposite direction of where he needed to go.
The snakes seemed to know the layout of the pass well. There wasn't a single moment of indecision during the transitions between one tunnel to the next.
"These snakes are not only fast, but knowledgeable of the pass as well. Perhaps after I meet their master I could get him to let me ride one of these snakes to where I need to go."
After about three hours of high speed travel through a complex network of caves, the snakes stopped at the mouth of the final tunnel. Each of them kept their distance from the exit, as if a single step outside would cost them their lives. The snake Yin Hui was riding on turned it's head and hissed at him. The rest of the snakes did the same, a few of them gesturing to the exit with their heads.
The space at the end of the tunnel was pitch black. Even with his spiritual sense, Yin Hui could not pierce through the darkness.
Cautiously, Yin Hui flew off the back of the snake and through the mouth of the tunnel. As soon as he did, the sea of snakes slithered back into the pass.
Wherever he was, the area was vast. Despite being senseless, Yin Hui could tell that he was within an enormous chamber of some kind. It was an assumption based purely on intuition, but one that he knew was correct.
Suddenly, a small bright spot appeared on the floor of the chamber. This light was genuine, allowing Yin Hui to see with his eyes. In the center of the spot was the exact same giant egg from earlier.
"Move... To the light..."
The voice was ancient, and echoed throughout the entire chamber. Just these words alone carried so much power and authority that Yin Hui subconsciously began to fly towards the bright spot. When he broke out of his trance, he found himself standing right next to the giant egg in the center of the light.
"If I may ask, who are you your excellency?" Yin Hui clasped his hands.
Yin Hui normally hated using such honorifics when addressing others. Those who demanded respect by using these titles were never good people in Yin Hui's eyes. They were usually just narcissists who enjoyed bullying the weak to feel better about themselves.
However, in the presence of this voice, Yin Hui felt neither shame nor anger in addressing it as such. For the first time in his life, he believed he found someone worthy of such a title. The ancient voice radiated power and authority, so much so it compelled Yin Hui to subconsciously lower himself.
"Haha... You think you're worthy enough to know me?"
The laugh was dignified, and contained no traces of contempt or anger. It was as if it truly believed that Yin Hui was a lower being compared to itself.
"Perhaps not, I'm sorry if I offended you. However, will his excellency please tell me why I have been summoned here?" Yin Hui did not take offense to the voice's degrading words. From his point of view, he was indeed inferior in all aspects compared to this great being.
"You have respect boy, but that's only natural due to how limited your view of the world is. However, since you are so polite, I will grace you with my true form."
In an instant, 10 giant torches lit up, dimly lighting the surroundings. Like he assumed, Yin Hui saw that he was within an enormous chamber. The chamber was essentially just a larger cave, but at least a hundred times bigger than the others. It was covered with ores containing precious metals and minerals, some of them exuding large amounts of spirit energy.
"Are you done admiring my home?" The voice said.
Mesmerized by the riches within the chamber, Yin Hui almost forgot that he was in the presence of an extremely powerful being. He turned around and was about to apologize when his entire body froze.
"You... you're... This is impossible..." Drops of sweat began to form on Yin Hui's forehead. At that moment, he knew exactly where he was.
Before him was the barely visible figure of a gigantic snake with pitch black scales. Even after coiling itself a countless number of times, it still took up 70% of the chamber. It's yellow eye was the exact same as the one that appeared in his mind, though now he discovered that the eye alone was larger than his entire body.
"This is Black Serpent Mountain... And you're the Onyx Serpent..."
From Yin Hui's memory, Black Serpent Mountain was located in the inner region of the Tang Province. To go from the outer regions to the mountain would take at least a couple months, even by flight!
Yin Hui now understood just how wise he was to not provoke the snakes who transported him further. If those snakes could travel months of distance in mere hours or days, he couldn't imagine what cultivation they possessed.
"Is that what you people call me and my home nowadays? Hmph, I thought I was all but forgotten by now. To think all that is known of me is the color of my scales."
Yin Hui noticed that around the Onyx Serpent's head were nine faintly glowing stars. Within those stars were what seemed like mini-worlds. However upon closer inspection, Yin Hui felt the power of dao residing in each star!
"Your excellency... Are you an Earth Immortal?" Yin Hui was astounded. The ability to form a world using one's dao, and nine of them at that! He believed only a legendary Earth Immortal would be capable of such a feat.
The Onyx Serpent roared with laughter. His voice was so loud the entire chamber shook.
"An Earth Immortal? An Earth Immortal?!" The serpent's head slithered around Yin Hui with amusement in it's eyes.
"I would kill you right now for such an insult, if it just wasn't so ridiculously funny." A trace of anger could be heard within the serpent's tone. This minor change alone required all of Yin Hui's willpower to keep himself from falling to his knees.
"A mortal cultivator like you, who probably hasn't even seen an immortal in his life, dares to compare me to a mere Earth Immortal?! You should choose your words more carefully."
Yin Hui fell to his knees and prostrated himself. He was not afraid of death, but he feared the Onyx Serpent greatly.
"Forgive me great Onyx Serpent. My knowledge is lacking so I was ignorant."
"Hmph, an Earth Immortal is nothing to me. With my strength I could kill a thousand of them without lifting a muscle." The serpent scoffed.
Yin Hui gulped down a mouthful of saliva. The Onyx Serpent did not seem to be joking, he felt like it was completely serious when it made such a statement.
"Anyways, you asked why I have summoned you. Is that correct?"
"Yes your excellency." Yin Hui replied, keeping his head on the ground.
The Onyx Serpent nod its head towards the egg beside Yin Hui.
"The snakes that escorted you here are all my children. However, that egg is the only one that bears my true bloodline."
"I feel a connection has formed between you and my descendant. If that is correct, you should have met each other telepathically already."
Yin Hui thought back to the yellow eye that appeared when he first touched the egg. Initially, he thought it was from the Onyx Serpent, but it turned out to be its pre-born child!
"That massive power I felt enter my mind was actually from the egg?" Yin Hui stood up in shock.
"Obviously, if it was me, do you think you would still be alive?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Touch the egg once more. If it accepts you, it will integrate with your body until it is ready to hatch. Once it does, my child will fight along side you and act as your companion."
"What if it doesn't accept me?"
"Then I will kill you so I can sever that measly connection and raise the child myself. I am only giving you this opportunity because a loose bond has already been established."
A breath of cold air entered Yin Hui's nostrils. Once again he had been put into a life or death situation. He needed to get this egg's recognition or else he would die.
"I've been through many tough times since I became a cultivator, and survived them all. This will be no different!"
Mustering his courage, Yin Hui walked up and put his hand on the egg. A red flash of light appeared and Yin Hui's body was sent flying into an ore deposit a few feet away.
The Onyx Serpent shook its head.
"No! I refuse to believe it!" Yin Hui ran toward the egg once more and put his hand on its surface. Another red light emerged and he was sent flying away.
The Onyx Serpent watched with great attention as Yin Hui tried again and again to receive the egg's acceptance.
"I really thought this boy would obtain my child's recognition. Judging by the reaction, the degree of rejection is quite high. If that is the case, why would a loose connection be formed in the first place?"
After ten more failed attempts, Yin Hui's clothes were covered in dirt and dust. However he didn't give up. There were only two paths in front of him, one was to obtain the recognition of the egg, and the other was to die forgotten in the desolate chamber.
"My dao is the Dao of Vengeance! When I'm knocked down, I come back even stronger! My goal is to take down the heavens one day, I won't be stopped by an overgrown snake egg!"
The egg gave off a small fluctuation of spirit energy, when it heard Yin Hui's proclamation. It was as if it were taunting him, saying that all his attempts would be futile.
The Onyx Serpent's eyes lit up when it saw this.
"I see. While there is a connection, my child is too stubborn to accept it. He doesn't believe that this weak Spirit Waking cultivator is worthy of it. Let's see what this brat will do to overcome this."
Irritated by the egg's taunts, Yin Hui closed his eyes and began to condense the spirit energy within his body. He focused it all on his spiritual sense, filling the air with a thick aura of demonic qi.
"Interesting, this brat is a demonic cultivator and even has a fiend body. To start off the path of cultivation by following the way of the fiend... I wonder what circumstances caused him to do such a thing."
When his spiritual sense was raised to it's absolute limit, Yin Hui opened his eyes. He condensed the power of his spiritual sense into his finger and pointed it at the egg.
"If I can't receive your acknowledgment the normal way, I will receive it by force! Beast Suppression!"
With all his spiritual sense focused in his finger, a black ray of qi shot out. Because it was condensed to such a degree, the spiritual sense was actually visible.
When the black beam of spiritual sense hit the egg, the red flash of light representing the rejection force appeared once more. This time the red light did not vanish immediately after it emerged and began clashing with the black qi.
"Submit to me!" Yin Hui shouted.
However, the egg did not relent. In response to the forced suppression, the red glow around it intensified. Slowly, but steadily, the light began to push Yin Hui's spiritual sense back.
Yin Hui cursed and slapped his bag of holding. He took out the chest of qi crystals Yu Zhuwa gave him and began absorbing their power. The extra qi contained within the crystals bolstered Yin Hui's spiritual sense, changing the tide of the struggle.
The Onyx Serpent watched the clash with great amusement.
"A spell that allows the user to imprint their spiritual sense onto another and bind them to their will. What an interesting technique. However, this power I'm sensing from him. It's very familiar..."
The egg was beginning to lose ground against Yin Hui's spiritual sense. The beam of black qi had already reached it's surface and began penetrating the outer layer.
Yin Hui did not hesitate to keep absorbing more qi crystals to keep up the pressure. At this point, he had already used up half the box just making it to the outer surface.
"Just a little more! Once I force this stupid egg to submit, I will gain not only my freedom, but a powerful ally!"
The red glow from the egg intensified to it's maximum power. Currently, the brightness of the light even exceeded Yin Hui's Blinding Light spell. The tide changed again, causing Yin Hui's ray of spiritual sense to leave the egg's surface.
Yin Hui realized that the slow approach was not going to work. Emptying the entire chest of qi crystals, he absorbed them all at once. His body surged with spiritual power as the black beam of spiritual sense doubled in size.
The spiritual sense immediately pierced through the egg's defense and entered the inner layer. With his soul imprinted on the egg, Yin Hui walked up and placed his hand on the surface.
At first, nothing happened. However, after a few moments a faint white glow began to appear. This white light was not violent like the red one, and radiated an aura of warmth and acceptance.
"Yes! I've succeeded!" However, Yin Hui's happiness did not last long.
All of a sudden, the warm white glow was replaced with the red light Yin Hui dreaded. The power within this red light was several times more intense then it was previously, and sent a shockwave throughout the entire chamber.
Yin Hui's body was sent spiraling into a pile of qi crystals within the chamber. Enraged, he prepared to condense his spiritual sense once more and attack the egg.
"Stop, I've seen enough." The Onyx Serpent interrupted.
"I'm not done! I almost succeeded the last time. Give me another attempt and I will succeed for sure."
"I know that there's a chance you will succeed again and that's why I'm stopping you."
Yin Hui calmed his spiritual qi and stood still, glaring at the egg that gave him so much trouble. The egg flared it's energy once more and Yin Hui knew full well that it was mocking him.
"Based on what I've seen, my child really does not want to integrate with you. If you were to force it, you would only cause issues down the line for you and my offspring."
"So does this mean I failed?"
"What is your name boy?"
"I am Yin Hui." There was no point in lying to a powerful existence such as the Onyx Serpent. If Earth Immortals were ants to it, Yin Hui knew he would only be courting death if he were to try and hide anything.
"Yin Hui... Yin Clan... Yin..." The Onyx Serpent looked lost in thought. It was as if the name caused it to reminisce deeply about another time in the past.
Yin Hui could not tell if the memories the Onyx Serpent was recalling were good or bad. He only hoped that the dealings it had with the Yin Clan in the past were positive enough to convince it to let him go. Then again, he truly wondered how great his clan was at it's peak if they interacted with an existence such as the Onyx Serpent.
"Hmm. The Yin Clan and I had a connection back then. Out of consideration for that, I will let you go. Tell me your destination and I will have one of my children take you there. The pass you came from is connected to many places and I am it's ruler. Every route is known to me and I can ensure that you are taken through the fastest one."
Yin Hui gave a deep bow towards the Onyx Serpent.
"Thank you your excellency. I have a compass that guides me to the location I seek, which is one of the borders out of this province. Also, if it's too much to ask, may I also pick up my companions as well? They are somewhere in the pass and may be lost."
The Onyx Serpent nodded
"Yes, I sense them within the pass. They have encountered a pair of very powerful beasts. I will deter them for you."
A silent tremor was sent through the ground and out of the Onyx Serpent's chamber. Afterwards, the Onyx Serpent let out a whistle like hiss that echoed throughout the cavern. A short moment of time passed and a giant white snake entered the chamber, lowering it's head before the Onyx Serpent.
"Take this little one back into the pass and pick up his companions. After, take them to the destination on that compass he's holding."
The white serpent nodded and gestured towards Yin Hui to climb onto it. Yin Hui gave one last bow to the Onyx Serpent before flying onto the back of his new escort. The Onyx Serpent ignored the goodwill and turned its head away, dousing the torches as the white snake to departed with Yin Hui.
When Yin Hui left, the Onyx Serpent turned towards its unhatched offspring and let out a deep sigh.
"You do not know how big of an opportunity you just let pass by."
The egg ignited its red aura once more, but in a calmer way then when it was dealing with Yin Hui.
"That boy has great potential, you're simply too young and inexperienced to see it. I sensed a trace of 'his' aura when that brat tried to suppress you with his spiritual sense. I've told you about 'him' before haven't I? Furthermore, the connection formed between you two was perfect in all aspects."
The egg's aura flickered slightly, turning a tinge redder.
"How arrogant... I've told you many times that a spirit beast's true potential is only unlocked through the life and death bond formed with a cultivator. Even I would not have reached my current level of power without the many trials I endured along with 'him'. Then again, I used to be just as haughty and narcissistic as you when I was young, so I will not blame you for your feelings."
The red aura around the egg intensified, piercing through the darkness of the cave with a swirl of crimson. Afterwards, it calmed down and dispersed completely.
The Onyx Serpent let out a small chuckle.
"You're right. If the two of you are really fated to be together, then he will return one day. When that time comes, I'm sure that brat will have met your standards and change your mind."
During the time that Yin Hui was in the Onyx Serpent's chamber, Su Jia and Yu Zhuwa were aimlessly wandering through the various caves of Coiling Pass.
The pill that allowed Yu Zhuwa to see in the dark had already worn off, and he was now clinging close to Su Jia.
"Elder Sister Su. Is Big Brother Li Feng okay?"
"I can't say he's completely fine, but I know for a fact he's not dead. My spiritual sense is still on him and I would know if it was--ugh."
Su Jia fell to her knees and began coughing violently. A mouthful of blood came out and splattered onto the ground.
"Sister Su Jia what's wrong?!"
"Damn it Li Feng... Just what are you doing right now?" Su Jia knew that what she felt was the backlash of something happening to her spiritual sense. She did not feel the connection between her spiritual sense and Yin Hui sever so it meant he wasn't dead. Considering the degree of the backlash, Su Jia assumed that it was due to Yin Hui overexerting her spiritual sense. If her spiritual sense was actually destroyed, she would have lost a lot more than a mouthful of blood.
Su Jia and Yu Zhuwa turned their heads towards one of the tunnels. A low growl could be heard getting closer and closer to them, accompanied with the sound of scraping on the ground.
"Sister Su Jia, what is that?" Yu Zhuwa asked.
Su Jia hid Yu Zhuwa behind her and slapped her bag of holding. A pill came out and she swallowed it immediately. When the pill reached her stomach, a refreshing feeling filled her entire body, restoring her stamina and vitality.
As the growl grew louder, the bodies of four half-wolf half-human hybrids entered the range of Su Jia's spiritual sense.
"Strange... Why can't I sense their cultivation levels?"
Once they were 15 meters away, Su Jia sent out a palm at one of the wolf-men. A giant projection of Su Jia's palm shot out of her hand and completely vaporized one of the beasts on contact, reducing it into a pile of flesh and blood. Witnessing one of their own get taken down, the three remaining wolf-men stopped their advance.
"Stay away! Or else you will end up reduced just like your friend!" She warned.
The wolf-men turned their heads towards the remains of their fallen comrade and began to devour them. After they were done, they continued on their way to Su Jia and Yu Zhuwa.
"Disgusting creatures. Die!"
Su Jia shot another palm at the wolf-men, but this time one of them casually smacked it away. Shocked, Su Jia picked up Yu Zhuwa and took a giant step back, distancing themselves further from the beasts.
The wolf-men approached the pool of blood Su Jia coughed out earlier and began to drink from it. As they did, their bodies began to grow.
"They're devouring my discarded blood and getting stronger? Is that how they obtained the strength to deflect my palm strike? By consuming the life force of their fallen comrade? Cultivation such as this mirrors that of demonic cultivators!"
At this point, Su Jia knew that the best option now was to run. By consuming their comrade, the wolf-men became strong enough to withstand her palm. Now that they feasted on her blood as well, it was likely they were now even stronger than her.
However, before Su Jia could plan out an escape route, one of the wolf-men snuck up behind her and attempted to slash her with it's claws.
Luckily, Su Jia was able to dodge in time, only receiving a small nick across the cheek.
"If I hadn't given away part of my spiritual sense and sent out that piece of my soul I would be able to take down these abominations easily. Li Feng, this is all your fault for holding a grudge over such petty things!"
The three remaining wolf-men were now surrounding Su Jia and Yu Zhuwa. Because they were half-human, their intelligence was much higher than most of the spirit beasts within the pass. They poised to attack simultaneously, coordinating themselves in a tight formation in order to prevent any chance at escape.
"First you take a piece of my spiritual sense hostage. Then you fall into the abyss during the cave in with the compass, forcing me to sent out a distress signal using a fragment of my own soul! True it's partially my fault since I dropped the compass, but you could've just thrown it to me as soon as you got it instead of putting it in your bag of holding! Ugh! If I survive this I'm going to beat you senseless the next time I see you!"
"Roar!!" All three wolf-men attacked together, reaching out with their sharp claws.
Suddenly, the entire cave began to shake. The wolf-men stopped attacking and looked around in fear. Su Jia assumed it was another cave in and tightened her grip on Yu Zhuwa. They were currently in a very narrow tunnel, so there was not a lot of time to react if anything were to collapse. Understanding this, Su Jia focused all her attention towards her spiritual sense. If the ceiling crumbled she would be ready to destroy the rubble. If the ground collapsed she would be ready to keep herself afloat with Yu Zhuwa.
The three wolf-men were acting strange. Despite the obvious signs of a pre-mature cave-in, the three beasts were not running or trying to get away from the area. Instead, they dropped to their knees and started to kowtow.
"What is going on? Sister Su Jia, is it another cave-in?" Yu Zhuwa asked.
Su Jia noticed that despite the tremors within the earth, there was no structural damage happening to the tunnel they were in.
"Lord... Please spare us..." A husky voice said.
It was one of the wolf-men. One of the wolf-men who had a more human-like form kept smashing his head on the ground while constantly begging for forgiveness.
Unfortunately, whoever the wolf-men were pleading to did not seem to care. In the blink of an eye, all three of them exploded into mists of blood.
Su Jia felt a chill run through her entire body. The moment the three beasts were about to die, the image of a giant yellow eye flashed within her mind. She knew without a doubt that the owner of the eye was the one who killed the three wolf-men. However, what terrified her the most was that she felt like this all-powerful figure was still holding back significantly.
The strongest beings she had ever been in contact with were Immortal Treading cultivators. Yet, none of them could compare to the power she had just sensed. It was as if this being while still suppressed had the power to exterminate the entire province with a mere flip of it's palm.
"Did you feel that Xiao Yu... Xiao Yu?" Su Jia looked down and noticed that Yu Zhuwa had fainted. She sighed, but didn't blame him. The pressure exuded by their mysterious savior was simply too overwhelming, even for her.
"I wonder though... Why did that expert only attack the wolf-men and not us?" As Su Jia contemplated the matter, she heard a low rumble out in the distance. As the sound got closer, she realized the answer to her question.
"Li Feng!" She shouted.
Now within the range of her spiritual sense, Su Jia could see Yin Hui riding calmly on top of a giant white snake. The snake was incredibly fast and reached her within a few short moments.
"Su Jia, I've gotten us a one way escort to the border. This white serpent already knows where we need to go and will take us through the fastest route. Climb on."
As soon as Su Jia hopped on the back of the enormous serpent they immediately took off. She was caught off guard by the sudden burst of speed and fell hard on her rear.
"Pfft... Weak in the legs from wandering aimlessly for too long?" Yin Hui smirked.
Su Jia's face reddened.
"You..." After securing the unconscious Yu Zhuwa with a couple of restraining spells, Su Jia walked up to Yin Hui and slapped him across the face.
Yin Hui's head turned slightly from the force of the slap, but he wasn't really injured. He looked at Su Jia with a puzzled expression.
"Did I do something wrong? Seriously, it was just a joke."
Su His leaned in slightly and put her hands on her hips.
"Of course you did! You were late! Did you know that before you got here Xiao Yu and I almost died to a group of spirit beasts? If it weren't for the help of a powerful hidden expert, we would've been corpses by the time you showed up!"
"Then shouldn't you be thanking me? Considering how you two are alive and all your enemies are dead, how do you know I didn't have something to do with it?"
"Hmph. As if you could know such a powerful existence. That expert had power that would triumph over an army of Immortal Treading cultivators. I bet you haven't even seen a power such as that before in your life. While I didn't actually see who it was, I'm very sure that our savior was a hidden Earth Immortal who simply couldn't stand by to watch a beauty such as myself be killed!" Su Jia flicked her hair in a prideful manner at the last statement.
Yin Hui laughed bitterly. If the Onyx Serpent heard this it probably would've just left the two of them to die. In its own words, not even a thousand Earth Immortals would stand a chance against its might.
"I could've taken those beasts out easily if I had my full power. However, you forced me to split a portion of it and give it to you! You want me to thank you? You should be thanking me for being merciful enough to not beat you senseless for making me go through all that! Hey, are you even listening to me?!" Su Jia watched angrily as Yin Hui shook his head and walked away from her. He sat down and began to cultivate his qi, ignoring Su Jia.
"Why you... I'll put up with this for now because you have gotten us transportation to the border, but don't think you'll always be this lucky." Su Jia sat down as well and also began to cultivate, trying to restore as much of her cultivation as possible before they got to the border.
"What an infuriating girl..." Yin Hui sighed.
With the speed of the white serpent, Yin Hui and the others reached the exit after four days of travel. Along the way, they fed off sustenance pills from Su Jia and water from Yin Hui's bag of holding.
As the three of them got off, Su Jia and Yu Zhuwa ran towards the light almost immediately. It was as if they had just awakened from a dark nightmare and couldn't wait to bask in the sunlight once more. Yin Hui was not as hasty and did not rush out like the others. Instead, he turned towards the white serpent and gave it a deep bow.
"I am grateful to you for getting us through the pass. Please send my regards to his excellency the Onyx Serpent as well when you return."
"Not at all young master, it was my pleasure." The snake hissed.
Yin Hui was slightly shocked. The entire time they were traveling, the white serpent showed no signs of being able to communicate in human tongue. However, now it was able to speak with great fluency.
"Young master? Surely I'm not worthy of such a title." Yin Hui laughed slightly.
"Maybe not now, but I have a feeling that you will be in the future. I've been one of the patriarch's closest servants for a long time, so I know a bit about how he thinks."
"Like him, I believe this won't be the last time you will come here. I look forward to witnessing your growth when you return. Until then, I will pass on your kind words to the patriarch. As you know already, he takes respect very seriously. Good bye, young master."
The white serpent lowered it's head slightly towards Yin Hui and then slithered back into the pass.
After the serpent left, Yin Hui went to rejoin the others who were waiting for him outside. He squinted his eyes as the light of the sun filled his vision for the first time in a while.
"Who would have thought that a beautiful sunrise awaited us when we emerged from the pass. Such a warm feeling..." Yin Hui smiled.
Yin Hui could not remember the last time he had such a genuine smile on his face. While his expression was quite pleasant, underneath it was a profound sadness. Under the gentle golden rays of the sun, Yin Hui briefly imagined a life where fate had been kinder. In this vision, his parents were alive and happy. They sat together at the edge of a palace balcony, watching the rise of the morning sun.
The scene within Yin Hui's mind was incredibly realistic. He became so engrossed with this alternate reality that he felt his consciousness slip into a dreamlike state.
In the dream, Yin Hui had regressed into a younger version of himself. He stood no higher than four feet and his hair had shortened to its previous length. Beside him were two tall adults, a man and a woman. He could not see their faces, but he knew they were looking at him with love and affection. Despite being present in the dream as his younger self, Yin Hui had no control over his actions. Furthermore, he also felt himself spectating the entire scene from afar in his original body. Existing in two different body's was an extremely odd sensation, yet also felt extremely normal.
"Father? Mother?" The small Yin Hui asked.
"Yes Xiao Hui?" His father smiled.
"I want the rest of our lives to be as warm and beautiful as this sunrise!"
The woman who was his mother laughed.
"So do we Xiao Hui. Let's go get some breakfast okay?"
As soon as the younger Yin Hui was about to touch his mother's hand, he heard a voice call out to him.
"Li Feng? Big Brother Li Feng? Are you still with us?"
The dream ended and Yin Hui saw Yu Zhuwa standing directly in front of him.
"You look way happier than you usually do. Did something happen?"
Realizing he was back in reality, Yin Hui shook his head and cleared his mind. He buried the feelings that had manifested within the dream deep in his heart. Once he did, his warm expression disappeared and he returned to his dark and empty demeanor.
"It was nothing. I just thought the sunrise was especially pleasing and beautiful after being in those caves for so long."
"Ha! A dark and gloomy person like you actually feels sentimental things like that? Li Feng, everyday you surprise me even more." Su Jia mocked.
Yu Zhuwa let out a small chuckle.
"Don't take it to personally Big Brother Li. Sister Su is just playing around. We're only one last step from getting to the Storm Province right? Let's keep going!"
"Right..." Despite burying the feelings deep into his heart, Yin Hui could not stop thinking about the scene he witnessed during his trance.
"Why am I still thinking about it? That was just a dream. A wish. My destiny is a trial of blood and vengeance. My parents died when I was an infant and there is nothing I can do about that. All I can do now is get stronger so that they can finally be avenged."
"Hmm?" When Yin Hui sobered up again, he noticed that Su Jia was now standing before him.
"Do you need something?" Yin Hui asked coldly.
"Damn right I do. Give me back my compass and the strand of spiritual sense I lent to you."
Without hesitation, Yin Hui took out the compass and threw it over to Su Jia. Afterwards, he brought a finger to his forehead and extracted a single strand of qi. He stared at the strand for a moment before flicking it towards Su Jia.
The wisp of qi soared through the air and into Su Jia's forehead. When it entered her body, her spiritual energy surged by a significant amount.
"Now there should be no excuses when we raid the border."
Su Jia snorted.
"Hmph! Even so, you should always return what you borrow. Didn't your parents ever teach you that?"
"No they didn't." Yin Hui said in a casual tone.
"You... I don't know how to deal with you anymore..." Su Jia pouted. No matter what she did, she could never win a battle of words against Yin Hui. He would either find some clever way to reply back to her or say something completely shameless, yet make it sound normal.
"Forget it, it'll only be a little longer before we go our seperate ways. The border should be in sight after we pass through this valley. Let's go."
The three of them traveled across the valley primarily through flight. However, they would descend every once and a while and go by foot when they sensed a patrol passing by.
The cultivators that patrolled the valley relied on their spiritual sense to scan the area quickly. However, its effectiveness was relative to their cultivation. With Su Jia accompanying them, it was mere child's play for her to interfere with the patrolling cultivators spiritual sense without them noticing.
By sunset, the border to the Storm Province was only three kilometers away. With his refined senses, Yin Hui saw the outline of a heavily fortified castle. Directly behind this castle was an enormous gate half it's size, with walls extending endlessly in a horizontal direction.
"Is that the outpost we need to takeover to get through the border? It's practically a fortress!" Yin Hui turned his head angrily towards Su Jia.
"I never said it would be easy. Sorry to say this, but out of all the outposts controlled by the Tang Clan this is the weakest one." Su Jia grimly said.
"What are we up against?"
"The reason this outpost is considered the weakest is because they prioritize quantity over quality. Most of the cultivators you'll encounter will range from early Spirit Waking to early Spirit Manifestation. There might even be some peak Impurity Cleansing cultivators too, but you won't have to worry about them much."
"If that's the case then even I'll be able to take a few of them out!" Yu Zhuwa said enthusiastically.
"Just because they're weak it doesn't mean you should let your guard down. A thousand peak Impurity Cleansing cultivators could quickly overwhelm an early Spirit Waking cultivator if they drop their guard." Su Jia warned.
"So I assume our job is to take out all the weaklings while you go after the leader."
"That's right! It might be a bit of a challenge for you if you encounter a Spirit Manifestation cultivator, but I'm sure you'll think of something." Su Jia said cheekily.
"I'm glad you have so much faith in me..." Yin Hui sarcastically replied.
"Other than the leader, the only other person you need to be wary of is his right hand man. The leader's right hand is rumored to be a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator. If you are to encounter him, run immediately."
Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa nodded their heads. They had already seen a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator in action before. With their current level of power, trying to oppose such an opponent in a one on one battle would simply be courting death.
"Anyways, we'll rest for now and start the invasion tomorrow at first light! Sleep early tonight boys! I don't want any of you sleeping in and giving them extra time to prepare!" Su Jia winked.
Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa looked at each other with blank expressions. They had a feeling it wouldn't be them struggling to wake up tomorrow.
"Alright so does anyone have any questions before I tell you the plan?" Su Jia asked.
Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa shook their heads.
They were currently hiding out in a forest three kilometers from the outpost. While three kilometers was a relatively far distance to mortals. To cultivators, it was considered extremely short.
To Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa's surprise, Su Jia was incredibly punctual when it came to waking up in the morning. When they got up, she was already outside scouting the area for patrols.
Seeing this shift in work ethic, Yin Hui's opinion of Su Jia increased slightly. Perhaps she was more diligent then he originally thought.
"Our primary objective is to take out the leader of the outpost and his second in command. Once they are out of the way, the rest of the operation will be easy."
"Easy for you, assuming you aren't near death after fighting those two." Yin Hui retorted.
"Unlike you, I am very considerate of the people around me. That is why I prepared this in advance."
Su Jia held her hand out and opened her palm. A small ball of qi the size of an apple emerged, containing a complex array of circles and symbols within.
"This is a spell formation!" Yu Zhuwa gasped.
"That's right. This spell formation has the power to suppress all those with cultivations below peak Spirit Manifestation. Of course, I adjusted it so that you two would be unaffected."
Yin Hui's eyes widened.
"Formations like this really exist? I had no idea such a thing was possible! How did you do this?!"
Su Jia laughed.
"Haha! So you finally see me as a respected senior now? Tell you what, if you kneel before me, I'll let you hold it in your hand and experience it for a bit."
Yin Hui did not hesitate and immediately got on his knees. He even lowered his head and clasped his hands.
Yu Zhuwa looked at Yin Hui with a confused expression. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't imagine a situation where Yin Hui would act in such a subservient manner the way he was now.
On the other hand, a massive grin had formed on Su Jia's face. She was delighted. Seeing the normally cold and detached Yin Hui bow before her in utter reverence was a very satisfying feeling.
"Ah, that's more like it. Since you were so nice about it here you go. Just be sure to keep it stable so you don't accidentally activate it." Su Jia passed over the ball of qi containing the spell formation to Yin Hui.
When he received the formation, Yin Hui began to examine it as if it were the most precious gem in the world. He was like a deranged fanatic, analyzing the ball of qi at various angles and even sniffing it.
The confusion in Yu Zhuwa's face grew as he continued to spectate Yin Hui's strange behavior.
"Did Big Brother Yin Hui go crazy? Maybe this is just an after effect from being in the caves for so long." Yin Hui's antics were just getting too bizarre for Yu Zhuwa. It was as if he was looking at an entirely different person.
After a few more moments, Su Jia took back the spell formation.
"Okay that's enough. If you like this formation so much, I can pass you the instructions to make your own after everything is over."
"I'll hold you to that." Yin Hui replied solemnly. When the spell formation left his hand, Yin Hui's eccentric demeanor vanished and he returned to his normal self.
Putting the formation away, Su Jia took out a dozen paper talismans from her bag of holding. She divided them equally and distributed them to Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"These talismans have been enchanted with a spell that will create a massive explosion when activated. They can cause great damage to structures and buildings, but will not affect cultivators. Use them to cause a distraction while I sneak in and confront the leader. After I'm done, I will activate the formation and you two can flee to the Storm Province."
"Sounds good. We'll head to the front gate now to set up an attack. Xiao Yu, let's--"
One of the talismans in Yu Zhuwa's hands exploded. The force produced by the talisman uprooted every single tree within a fifty meter radius and sent them flying into the air.
Outside the outpost castle, countless guards flinched as the sound of a massive explosion filled their ears.
"What was that?"
"An enemy attack?"
"It came from the forest! Send a patrol to investigate!"
The castle doors opened and a squad of four cultivators emerged from the castle. These cultivators were not weak either, with each of them possessing early Spirit Manifestation cultivation.
"To think that we are still being sent out on patrol duty despite being Spirit Manifestation cultivators."
"Perhaps this will be the last. After all, we just broke through not too long ago."
They were about to fly out towards the direction of the explosion, but stopped when they heard a pair of heavy footsteps approach them from behind. A middle aged man with a very ferocious looking face came out and joined the squad of Spirit Manifestation cultivators.
The guards standing outside gasped in shock.
"It's Lord Kai! What is he doing out here?"
"Is the situation really so severe that Lord Kai has to take action?"
While the four cultivators were considered strong in comparison to most in the outpost, Lord Kai was in an entirely different class of his own. That was because unlike the others, he was not an early Spirit Manifestation cultivator, but a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator!
"Lord Kai. With all due respect, we are fully capable of investigating this matter on our own. There is no need for you to get involved." One of the Spirit Manifestation cultivators said.
"That's right. It is probably just another minor band of rogue cultivators. There is no need for you to dirty your hands with such a lowly task." Another added.
Lord Kai raised his hand.
"This was a personal order from the overseer himself. Are you questioning the orders of our leader?"
The two Spirit Manifestation cultivators who spoke earlier immediately lowered their heads.
"Forgive us Lord Kai. We did not know that this was an order from Lord Overseer."
"Indeed, we apologize for our ignorance."
Lord Kai scoffed, but did not reprimand the two cultivators further.
"For a band of rogue cultivators to get this close to the castle undetected is already enough cause for alarm. The strongest patrol squads we have in our ranks are lead by early Spirit Manifestation cultivators. If they could not detect the intruders then it is likely that we are dealing with an enemy with at least mid-stage Spirit Manifestation power."
The four early Spirit Manifestation cultivators took in a breath of cold air when they heard this. They felt extremely fortunate that they did not take off ahead of time. If it truly was a mid-stage Spirit Manifestation cultivator they were dealing with, then they would simply be walking into their graves. That was because despite possessing Spirit Manifestation cultivation, they did not manifest their ethereal spirits yet. The ethereal spirit was a key component of a Spirit Manifestation cultivators power. In fact, if all four of them were to face an early Spirit Manifestation cultivator with an ethereal spirit, none of them would stand a chance even if they were working together.
"Now that I am here, it no longer matters if it is a mid or even late stage Spirit Manifestation cultivator. Come, I want to see who would dare attack an outpost entrusted to us by the great Tang Clan!"
With Lord Kai leading the way, the five of them took to the skies and flew in the direction of the explosion.
Back in the forest, Yu Zhuwa was repeatedly kowtowing to Yin Hui and Su Jia.
"I'm so sorry! I didn't know integrating some of my qi into the talisman was going to activate it!"
Yin Hui sighed. He knew Yu Zhuwa was clumsy, but he didn't expect him to screw up this badly so soon.
Su Jia on the other hand, seemed to be taking it even worse. Her face tightened and she seemed to be trying her hardest not to lash out at Yu Zhuwa for his mistake. She was about to speak when all of a sudden she jerked her head to the side with a look of shock on her face.
"Su Jia what's wrong?" Yin Hui noticed Su Jia's change in expression and felt a bit of concern.
"The enemy has discovered us! There are five cultivators heading in our direction!"
"What? Who are they?"
"There are four early Spirit Manifestation cultivators and the last... Peak Spirit Manifestation! It's the leader's right hand man!"
Su Jia cursed under her breath. While these cultivators were of no issue to her, it was a big problem for Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa. With a portion of her soul missing, she could not handle a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator and protect the both of them at the same time.
However, there was no trace of panic on Yin Hui's face. Instead, the corners of his mouth arched up into a small grin.
"Su Jia, ignoring the four early Spirit Manifestation cultivators, can you prevent the leader's right hand man from getting anywhere near the two of us?"
Su Jia nodded her head.
"Of course, why?"
"Then there is nothing to worry about. I can take out the other four myself."
As they neared the section of the forest where the explosion occurred, Lord Kai released his spiritual sense around the area.
"So there are three cultivators hiding in this part of the forest. Two of them are in the Spirit Waking realm while the other..." Lord Kai's eyes narrowed.
"Is something wrong Lord Kai? Have you identified the intruders?" One of the Spirit Manifestation cultivators asked.
Lord Kai did not respond to the cultivators question. This was because he was in deep thought. While two Spirit Waking cultivators were irrelevant, the fact he couldn't sense the power of the last one troubled him.
"There are three cultivators around this area. One of them is a three aspect Spirit Waking cultivator, while the other only has a single aspect."
The four Spirit Manifestation cultivators let out sighs of relief when they heard this.
"In that case, they must be relying on a treasure that allows them to conceal their presence. You mentioned three cultivators right? Who is the third?"
"That is the problem. I can't pinpoint the exact power of the last cultivator. With that being the case, there is a high chance that the third cultivator might be a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator like myself."
The faces of the four Spirit Manifestation cultivators turned ugly.
"Peak Spirit Manifestation! Impossible! What is an expert such as that doing here?"
"This is more serious then we thought. Could they be scouts sent by the Yan Clan?"
Lord Kai exhaled deeply.
"It is a very likely possibility. If these three really are a scouting party from the Yan Clan, we need to eliminate them quickly so they can't report back to their leaders."
Suddenly, a jet of pressurized air shot out from the forest towards one of the early Spirit Manifestation cultivators.
The Spirit Manifestation cultivator it was aimed against let out a cold snort. He stuck his palm out to meet the oncoming attack and dispersed it effortlessly.
"Hmph... A mere Spirit Waking cultivator dares to attack me? You are simply overestimating your capabilities!"
Looking towards the direction the blast of pressurized air came from, the Spirit Manifestation cultivator saw a handsome young boy of around fifteen years of age coldly smiling at him.
"Giving away your position like that. Your arrogance has cost you your life!" The Spirit Manifestation flew after the handsome youth who attempted to attack him.
However, before he could even get within a hundred meters of the boy, an illusory image of a giant palm emerged from the forest and grabbed the Spirit Manifestation cultivator mid-flight. He tried to break free, but the palms grip was too strong. The grip tightened and the Spirit Manifestation cultivator exploded into a pile of flesh and blood.
"No way! That brat is merely a Spirit Waking cultivator! How could Brother Luo be killed so easily?! Was it the peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator?"
The faces of the remaining early Spirit Manifestation cultivators were filled with fear at the sight of one of their own being killed so easily.
Lord Kai's expression darkened.
"Fellow daoist, our leader is the overseer of an outpost under the jurisdiction of the Tang Clan. We are wondering why you have trespassed through our territory without authorization. If your answer is satisfactory we will trouble you no further."
There was no response. Instead, an illusory palm even bigger than the one before shot out of the forest towards Lord Kai.
Lord Kai furrowed his brows and two thin beams of light shot out of his eyes. The beams collided with the palm and both dispersed, leaving behind a cloud of smoke.
When the smoke cleared, a young girl stood before Lord Kai and the remaining early Spirit Manifestation cultivators.
"Was that a satisfactory answer? Indeed, I did not come to your outpost with authorization. That is because I don't need permission if I want to trample it under my feet."
Lord Kai frowned.
"Unfortunate. If you were an ally, I feel like you and I would have gotten along quite well. A beauty such as yourself is a rarity in these parts. Alas, you are an enemy. Therefore I'm afraid I will have to put you down." Lord Kai tensed his body and released his full cultivation base.
Su Jia let out a cold laugh.
"Haha... You're the overseer's right hand man right? You don't seem to have your bag of holding with you. Without any armaments or treasures, you don't stand a chance against me. Once I finish dealing with you, taking the rest of the outpost is going to be that much easier."
The Spirit Manifestation cultivators beside Lord Kai gasped as Su Jia released her cultivation. The aura that radiated off her body was the exact same as Lord Kai's!
"Peak Spirit Manifestation! This girl is actually a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator!"
"She's so young too! I'm certain she is only in her early twenties at most!"
A peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator at Su Jia's age was an extreme rarity within the Tang Province. Even in the Tang Clan, there were very few geniuses who would be able to match her talent.
The three Spirit Manifestation cultivators accompanying Lord Kai were all in their late thirties. Reaching early Spirit Manifestation at this age with decent backing meant that they possessed average talent at best.
Unfortunately, being blessed with talent wasn't always a good thing. If one did not have the right backing, an aspiring genius could find themselves cut down by an overly paranoid sect or clan.
Lord Kai signalled to the three Spirit Manifestation cultivators behind him.
"I'll deal with this girl myself. Her companions should not be far away. With your cultivations, you should be able to finish them quickly. Return to me afterwards."
"Yes Lord Kai!" The three shouted in unison. They spread out in different directions and used their spiritual sense to search the area for Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"You dare?" Su Jia released her oppressive might to restrain the three cultivators. However, her attempt was negated by Lord Kai, who countered by unleashing his own spiritual pressure.
"I am your opponent and you don't have time to worry about your friends."
"A middle aged man like you who's spent half his life to reach the peak of Spirit Manifestation? What makes you think you are my equal?" Su Jia sneered.
Lord Kai kept a calm face and did not play into Su Jia's taunt.
"Don't get too conceited girl. You may be more talented than me, but our cultivations are the same. In this situation, I am at the advantage due to having more years of experience."
"Experience your mother! Instead of using such frivolous words, how about you show me this experience of yours in a fight!"
Shaking his head, Lord Kai let out a small sigh.
"Such a vulgar mouth for a girl. If you had a bit more tact and restraint you would've become a notable figure in the Tang Province someday. Very well! If it's a fight you want then it's a fight you will get!"
Down in the forest, Yin Hui made no attempts to hide his presence as the spiritual sense of the three Spirit Manifestation cultivators locked onto him.
A few moments later, the three cultivators descended upon Yin Hui. They surrounded him and began to pace around in a circle with scorn and contempt in their eyes.
"How foolish. A third aspect Spirit Waking cultivator dares to challenge us? I'll have you know boy that the difference between Spirit Waking and Spirit Manifestation is equivalent to the difference between Heaven and Earth."
"He didn't even try to hide his presence from us. I bet he has already accepted death in his heart."
"Three moves should be enough to take care of this brat. According to Lord Kai, the second Spirit Waking cultivator is even weaker than this one. Once their dealt with, we can return to the lord and assist him against that girl!"
Together, the three Spirit Manifestation cultivators shot orbs of fire at Yin Hui. Not to mention three, but just one of these blasts alone had the strength to incinerate him.
Yin Hui smirked and a bright flash of light emitted from his body. He had not been sitting idly the entire time he was being tracked. While waiting for his opponents to arrive, Yin Hui spent all his time condensing solar energy for the Blinding Light spell.
"Gah! What is this spell? I can't see!" One of the Spirit Manifestation cultivators shouted.
"Xiao Yu now!"
While the three cultivators were disoriented, a blast of pressurized air came out from the shadows and smashed into one of the Spirit Manifestation cultivators.
It was Yu Zhuwa. He had been hiding inside a tree shadow and was charging the Wind Bullet the entire time. After firing, he leapt into the shadow of another tree before anyone could notice.
While Yu Zhuwa's Wind Bullet wasn't even close to being powerful enough to injure an early Spirit Manifestation cultivator, it still had the strength to send his target flying. Borrowing the momentum of the attack, Yin Hui took out his broadsword and swung at the spiralling cultivator.
Unfortunately, the cultivator still had his spiritual sense and saw the attack coming. He dodged at the last second and at the cost of his left arm, managed to escape a fatal blow.
The cultivator's face turned red with anger at the loss of his left arm.
"So the other was hiding nearby! You both will pay dearly for taking away my arm! We were originally going to give you two quick and painless deaths, but now that plan has changed!" He turned to his other two companions who had already recovered from Yin Hui's spell.
"Don't hold back! These two juniors are crafty! Sever their limbs and take them back to the outpost! I want to take my time torturing these brats before they die!"
Yu Zhuwa snuck into the shadow of a tree directly behind Yin Hui.
"What do we do now brother Yin Hui? I don't think the same trick is going to work twice." Yu Zhuwa whispered.
There was no trace of panic on Yin Hui's face. Instead it seemed as if he was hesitating about something.
"I didn't want to reveal my trump card so soon, but I guess if all of them die before they can tell anyone it won't matter."
"Big brother Yin Hui, what do you mean by that? Is there something inside your bag of holding that can take these three down?" Yu Zhuwa asked.
Yin Hui responded with a slight nod.
"That's right. Yu Zhuwa, stay inside that shadow. If you expose yourself, you might get hurt when the fighting begins."
Yin Hui tapped his bag of holding and seven demonic looking snow leopards came out. Each of them possessed red eyes and had a bloodthirsty expression. At the head of the pack was a leopard twice the size of the rest, with fur as dark as the night sky.
The three cultivators took several steps back at the sight of the leopards.
"Spirit Manifestation spirit beasts! Each of them seem to have some kind of unique mutation as well! How did this brat acquire such powerful servants?!"
"Attack. The souls will go to whoever deals the killing blow." Yin Hui commanded.
As Yin Hui gave the word, the seven snow leopards charged towards the three cultivators.
"The two of you hold these beasts at bay! I'll go after the boy! I refuse to believe a Spirit Waking cultivator can fully control these Spirit Manifestation spirit beasts! He must be using some kind of treasure given to him by that girl!"
One of the Spirit Manifestation cultivators took out a small dagger and went straight for Yin Hui. He flew over the reach of the snow leopards and threw his dagger. As the blade soared through the air, it multiplied into a hundred copies of itself and descended upon Yin Hui.
"Take that brat! Each of those daggers have enough power to take down a peak Spirit Waking cultivator! With a hundred of them flying towards you, dodging will be impossible!"
Yin Hui did not move and instead raised his right hand.
"Black leopard! Come to me!"
In the blink of an eye, the black leopard rushed over to Yin Hui's position and shielded him from the falling daggers. Afterwards, Yin Hui climbed onto the leopards back and both of their bodies began to sublimate into black smoke.
The Spirit Manifestation cultivator who threw the daggers at Yin Hui gasped in shock.
"What is this technique?!" He took out another dagger and threw it at the cloud of smoke. The dagger multiplied once more and descended upon the black smoke.
However, none of the knives made contact and every single one of them passed through the smoke as if there was nothing but air.
"Charge!" Yin Hui shouted.
The roar of a snow leopard filled the area as Yin Hui and the black leopard rushed toward the Spirit Manifestation cultivator. Unlike the others, the black leopard had the power of flight. Once it got close enough to the cultivator, one of its paws materialized and dealt a severe blow to the man's torso.
Falling to the ground, the cultivator took out a medicinal pill and popped it into his mouth. Immediately, the wound he received began to close, leaving behind only a tiny scar across his chest.
"Be careful! This black leopard has a strange ability that allows it to turn itself and whatever is on it into a cloud of smoke! However, when it attacks it materializes! We need to coordinate our attacks in order to seize that opportunity!"
Hearing no response, the cultivator angrily turned his head towards where his teammates were supposed to be.
"Did you not hear me? Ignore those other leopards, we need to deal with this black one first--"
The cultivator's eyes widened as he saw the bodies of his two comrades being torn apart by the other six snow leopards. They seemed to have been killed before they could retaliate as their bags of holding were still unopened.
"These leopards aren't just consuming their flesh. They are also devouring their qi and soul essence as well!"
Using his spiritual sense, the remaining Spirit Manifestation cultivator noticed that bits of qi would leave the corpses of his fallen allies with every bite the leopards took.
"I must report this to Lord Kai! If these leopards make it to the castle and devour our men, they could become a threat to Lord Overseer!"
However, before the Spirit Manifestation cultivator could take off into the air, the black leopard materialized and crashed hard on top of his body. The cultivator coughed out a mouthful of blood as his body was pinned down by the giant beast. He tried to reach for his bag of holding, but another hand had already reached down and snatched it.
"Those multiplying daggers of yours are pretty useful. I'll be sure to use them carefully when we raid the outpost." Yin Hui said with a smile.
"Damn you... You don't know who your dealing with. Lord Overseer isn't just the person in charge of the border. He's also an elder of the Tao Clan! One of the Tang's most loyal allies!"
"Tao Clan..." Yin Hui clenched his fists. As soon as the surname Tao was brought up, feelings of rage and anger that could only be surpassed by the Tang swelled within his mind.
"That's right. My suggestion is to hide somewhere in the outskirts and assume a new identity. While you have caused us some trouble, the damage isn't completely unforgivable. We are preoccupied with the upcoming threat of the Yan Clan, so we will most likely not spare the effort to hunt you down should you choose to flee."
"My feud with the Tang and the Tao is irreconcilable. Even if they won't go after me, I will not stop until I exterminate every single one of them!"
The Spirit Manifestation cultivator shook his head.
"You don't understand, the Tang Clan is unstoppable. If they want you dead, you will die. Within this province, the Tang control the lives of everyone. The rebelling Yan are no exception."
"That girl who accompanied you may be a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator, but it is still not enough to defeat Lord Overseer. Even if you somehow manage to defeat him, you will no longer have a future in this province."
Yin Hui had heard enough. He motioned towards the black leopard and the Spirit Manifestation cultivator's head was torn off his body.
"I know I don't have a future in this province. That is why I won't be staying for very long. However, I will return one day and when I do, the rivers will run red."
Activating the Evil Fiend Devouring Technique, the soul of the Spirit Manifestation cultivator emerged from the corpse. Yin Hui did not absorb it himself and instead fed it to the black leopard.
The snow leopards had so much demonic qi within them that their bodies were nearly identical to Yin Hui's. Therefore, they also inherited the ability to absorb the souls of the cultivators they defeated. While they could naturally do this by consuming the corpse, the benefits were greater if the soul was properly extracted.
After consuming the Spirit Manifestation cultivator's soul, the leopard grew by ten percent. It's energy levels flared and its cultivation increased. The other six snow leopards also got stronger after devouring the other two cultivators. With their appetites satiated and their task completed all of them returned to Yin Hui's bag of holding.
"Wow big brother Yin Hui, that was amazing!" Yu Zhuwa said as he exited the shadow he was hiding in.
"Did you get those leopards during the time we were separated inside the pass? Now that you have them even Spirit Manifestation cultivators will not be an issue!"
Yin Hui gave Yu Zhuwa a soft pat on the back.
"Those Spirit Manifestation cultivators did not possess an ethereal spirit. I feel like even though they were defeated relatively easily, fighting a real Spirit Manifestation cultivator would be difficult. Even with the leopards it would be a lengthy battle and I would definitely not be able to contend against three at once."
"I see. At least sister Su Jia said that the fortress is mostly comprised of weaker cultivators. With the amount of souls you can harvest there, the leopards are bound to get stronger!"
"Alright alright, a little less optimism and a bit more realism. We don't know for sure how things will go until they do. However, I got to say that your skill with the Lurking Shadow spell seems to be improving."
Yu Zhuwa let out a beaming smile at Yin Hui's praise.
"I know! I may not be able to jump from shadow to shadow just yet, but my individual melding never fails anymore!"
"I guess the best method of improvement is real life and death experiences." Yin Hui said
An ear-shattering sonic boom echoed from the sky above.
"That must be Su Jia."
"Do you think she will be alright?" Yu Zhuwa asked.
"Her opponent is a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator. Even if a piece of her soul is missing, I'm certain she is going to win."
"How are you so sure? Aren't they both peak Spirit Manifestation cultivators."
Yin Hui shook his head.
"When I had obtained that sliver of spiritual sense back in the pass, I got a glimpse of Su Jia's true power."
"Then does that mean..." Yu Zhuwa gasped.
A wry smile left Yin Hui's face.
"That's right. Su Jia is a Virtue Seeking cultivator!"
Su Jia and Lord Kai distanced themselves from each other after their last exchange,
Holding an elegant looking short sword, Su Jia had some slight battle damage on her. Her purple dress was torn in a few areas and her hair was slightly scrambled. While there was a small bruise on the right side of her jaw, there was not a trace of blood on her body.
Lord Kai on the other hand, was the complete opposite. The entire upper portion of his robes were completely destroyed, exposing his extremely bloodied chest. His topknot had been cut off during the fighting and his hair draped around his head in a messy pattern.
Breathing heavily, Lord Kai was currently in a very sorry state.
"You deceived us... To think that you were not actually at peak Spirit Manifestation, but Virtue Seeking! It is no wonder you came to us acting so cocky and confident."
"Be grateful that I am not at my full power. If I were, you wouldn't have been able to lay a single finger on me." Su Jia retorted.
Lord Kai let out a wry smile.
"I have said this before, but I'll say it again. It is a shame that you are our enemy. If you were on our side, the Tang would've surely offered you a very prestigious position in the future."
"I offer you one more chance to join us. Even if you're a Virtue Seeking cultivator, from our duel alone, I know you are still not a match for Lord Overseer."
Su Jia threw a vertical sword strike towards Lord Kai's head. However, instead of hitting his head, it was blocked by two golden wrist guards attached to his arms.
"What are those wrist guards made out of! My cultivation is greater than yours, but I can't even put a scratch on them."
"These wrist guards are a gift from Lord Overseer, given to him by the Tang Clan himself. All attacks against it will fail unless my opponent is an entire cultivation stage above me. With this being the case, I have confirmed that you are not a peak Virtue Seeking cultivator."
Lord Kai staggered back slightly. Even though he could block Su Jia's attack, the force behind it was still as strong as ever. Given his injuries, defending against just one of her attacks required all of his energy and effort.
Seeing the amount of effort Lord Kai was putting into blocking her strike, Su Jia understood that even if her attack wasn't getting through she was still doing damage. She pulled back her sword and began to deliver blow after blow with greater emphasis on power over speed. While Lord Kai fended every single one of them, his face twisted in pain with each one.
"Give up! Even if you can block my attacks, the strain it will cause on your body will kill you eventually! If you surrender, I'll hear your last words and give you a painless death!"
"Tch... I really didn't want it to come to this, but you leave me no choice!"
As Su Jia prepared for another heavy strike, Lord Kai smashed his fist into his own chest. He coughed out a glob of black blood and qi began to pour out of his mouth. This qi was not like normal qi and contained Lord Kai's essence. It was his soul qi!
"Soul Escape..." Su Jia muttered.
"That's right. By sacrificing a portion of my soul, I can trade it for a massive increase in speed. My present and future cultivation will diminish, but at least I will survive."
Su Jia swung at Lord Kai, but it was useless. Before her attack could make contact, he had already put two hundred meters of distance between them.
"I will be reporting to Lord Overseer about this matter. If you are wise, you will take your comrades and leave as soon as possible. As for me, I sense that mine have all been killed. You are young and possess a lot of talent. Even on opposing sides, I don't wish for a genius such as yourself to perish before reaching your full potential."
After leaving those parting words, Lord Kai left the range of Su Jia's spiritual sense.
Shortly after, Yin Hui flew up to her position, carrying Yu Zhuwa on his back.
"Sigh... I dealt with my four opponents, but it seems like you can't even handle one. No doubt our invasion will be that much harder now that they are getting a heads up."
"Hmph! Next time I'll take the lackeys then and you can battle the peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator." Su Jia snorted.
"Fine fine, I guess it couldn't be helped. Should we attack before they have time to prepare then?"
"Of course. If that coward thinks he can escape from me by hiding in his castle he is dead wrong."
In a decorated palace, an old man with long white hair sat cross legged in the air. His eyes were closed as rich spiritual qi swirled around him, giving him an aura of power.
Suddenly, the doors flung open and a young man of about twenty five ran into the center of the palace.
"Elder! Elder!" The man got on his knees before the old man and clasped his hands.
"What is it?"
"We have received a soul message from the young miss!"
The old man lifted an eyebrow, but didn't open his eyes.
"Interesting, what did she say?"
"It appears... That she attempted to get through Coiling Pass and has gotten lost there."
Silent, the old man stroked his beard.
"I heard that the young miss wanted to weaken the Tang Clan's hold on the border. However, the other elders were hesitant. I guess she decided to take matters into her own hands and raid the outpost herself."
"What should we do my lord?"
Letting out a sigh, the old man ceased his meditation and descended downwards.
"Even though her actions violate our laws, it doesn't change the fact that she is a talent that we cannot afford to lose. For our future plans, we need to make sure she reaches her full potential."
The young man looked up with visible joy on his face.
"Elder! Does that mean..."
"I have an idea on which outpost she intends to attack. Putting into consideration her current cultivation, there are very few she can take on her own. However, the young miss has a very feisty and arrogant personality as well which narrows it down even further."
"I will mobilize a team at once to come to the aid of the young miss!" The young man bowed deeply and turned towards the door.
Before the young man could take a single step forward, he felt his entire body freeze at the elder's command.
"Coiling Pass is a maze of tunnels filled with countless spirit beasts. If you were to venture there with a group of your peers you would become just as lost as her. Knowing the young miss, she mostly likely stole a compass before leaving. If even she could not get through Coiling Pass with one, do you think you would be able to?"
"No sir..." The man said dejectedly.
"Do not fret. I will accompany you and act as a guide through the pass. While I cannot guarantee that we will make it to her in the shortest amount of time, I assure you that we will not be lost."
"Thank you great elder." The young man bowed his head.
"Gather your friends, but keep the group small. We do not want the other elders to know about this. If they find out, it will only complicate matters once we bring the young miss back."
Nodding his head, the young man left the palace quickly to search for the best cultivators suited for the rescue operation. After he left, the old man shook his head.
"That girl... Constantly causing trouble for her grandfather. While she is incredibly talented and beautiful, she is also headstrong and brutish. If I wasn't always there to save her from all the trouble she causes, she would most likely have been killed long ago."
"She is right though. If the Tang are to be overthrown, the initiative needs to be taken. With all the benefits the capital provides them, delaying will only weaken our position. If my cultivation was just a bit higher I would be able to force those old men to see reason. Sigh... I'm sure that when we return, I'll have to do a lot of explaining. Whatever, I'll come up with an excuse on the way back."
Despite the windows being closed, a gust of wind entered the palace. When the wind ceased, the palace was completely vacant and the old man disappeared.
On the top floor of the overseer's castle, Lord Kai kneeled before an old man wearing luxurious red robes. A black sash was wrapped around the robe that had a silver crest inscribed with the surname Tao.
This old man was Tao Mu, elder of the Tao Clan and overseer of the border between the Storm Province and the Tang Province!
"Tao Kai, what happened out there for you to return with such serious wounds? From the looks of things, you seem to have barely escaped with your life." Tao Mu said with concern in his voice.
"Yes father, in order to escape I had to sacrifice a portion of my soul. Initially, I believed that the intruders were two Spirit Waking cultivators and a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator like myself. However, it turns out that one of them is actually at the Virtue Seeking realm."
"Hmm... There are many Virtue Seeking cultivators in the Tang Province. Could you identify which clan they were from?"
"I'm afraid not. All I know is that she is a female cultivator in her early twenties at most. However, for someone so young her battle prowess is unparalleled. Even if I had my bag of holding with me, I still do not think I would have won. If it wasn't for the Golden Bull Wrist Guards given to us by the Tang Clan I would not have survived." Tao Kai had a grateful expression on his face as he gazed at the golden wrist guards fastened to both his arms.
Tao Mu's eyes narrowed.
"A Virtue Seeking cultivator in their early twenties? Perhaps even younger? Talent such as this cannot be some unknown genius."
"Tao Kai, use as many resources as necessary to find the identity of this girl. If a person such as this continues to remain unknown, there will likely be grave consequences for us in the future."
"What is it? Why are you so silent? Even though your cultivation has taken significant damage, I still hold a decent position with the Tang. I will make sure you receive the best treatment possible and ensure you maintain the respect and authority you have always had."
"Father, we do not need to do anything to get that girl to reveal herself. In fact, you will probably be able to see her yourself."
"Oh? What makes you say such a thing?"
The entire castle shook as the sound of a massive explosion could be heard coming from the main gate. Shouts of panic echoed throughout the fortress as countless guards mobilized to investigate the cause.
Tao Kai let out a deep sigh as if he knew this was going to happen.
"Because she has come to us..."
Veins of rage popped out of Tao Mu's forehead.
"Courting death! This girl believes she can take over my domain with the help of two Spirit Waking cultivators?"
Spreading his spiritual sense over the entire fortress, Tao Mu sent out a voice transmission that was heard by every single cultivator in the area.
"Everyone, this is command from your Lord Overseer! There are three intruders that have entered the castle, two Spirit Waking and one Virtue Seeking! I do not care how they are dealt with, you will be rewarded either way. If they are brought to me alive, the reward will be greater, but if not so be it!"
At the front gate of the castle, bodies and rubble littered the ground as Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa made their way inside. Most of the guards outside were in the Impurity Cleansing realm and thus stood no chance against them. Once they were all dead, Yin Hui used the Evil Fiend Devouring Technique to extract their souls. Just from the front gate alone, he had already acquired fifty souls.
"Aren't Impurity Cleansing cultivators basically mortals still? Since we're planning to leave the province do we really need to kill them?" Yu Zhuwa asked. He understood why the top figures of the outpost needed to die, but felt sympathy for the lower ranking members who were just following orders.
"Yu Zhuwa, when fighting against an enemy you must be thorough. Immortals, mortals, men, women, children, they are all the same. Pull the weeds from their roots and you will never have to watch your back."
Yu Zhuwa had a depressed look on his face.
"It's just so ruthless. Is there really no other way?"
"This is the world we live in. The quicker you accept it, the better. Now come. We need to attract more attention for Su Jia. The inside of the castle is full of shadows for you to take advantage of. Even though the sun is still out, there are plenty of places for you to hide and ambush."
"Alright..." Yu Zhuwa entered a large shadow cast over the ceiling and began to travel through it.
"That's right... This is how the world works. I am living proof of that. When my clan was brought to near extermination I can't imagine how many innocence were slaughtered. They may have missed a couple roots, but I will not. When the time comes for the Tang Clan to fall, I will eliminate every single being born with the surname Tang." Yin Hui muttered. He pictured the faces of Tang Jiao and Tang Bian. No matter what, he declared in his heart that he would not be able to share the same sky as them. Either they would fall before him, or he would die trying.
However, when thinking of Tang Jiao, Yin Hui also thought of Tang Li as well.
"I forgot... Tang Li is also a member of the Tang Clan. When the time comes, what will I do..."
Since they first met, Tang Li had always been Yin Hui's sole friend and benefactor. If it wasn't for him, he wouldn't have even became a cultivator in the first place.
"Will I really have to kill Tang Li...? What would that make me in the end?"
"Big brother look out!"
Hearing the warning, Yin Hui immediately ducked his head. A fireball the size of a large basket flew over him and destroyed a piece of rubble outside. Forty meters in front of him were three male cultivators, each carrying a different weapon. One had a sword, another had a bow, and the last carried a small fan.
"It looks like his reflexes are pretty good." The cultivator wielding the fan said.
"He was warned by someone. Considering how this person didn't take action against us and called out to his friend instead, it is safe to assume he is not the Virtue Seeking cultivator." Said the man carrying the sword.
"Strange. The intruder before us has spiritual sense, which implies he has achieved the third aspect. However, his actual qi reserves are that of a second aspect Spirit Waking cultivator." The bow cultivator said with a puzzled expression.
"Don't mind the details, this is a great opportunity for us! So what if the intruders have bizarre techniques and cultivation? They are still Spirit Waking cultivators! We are at its peak and should have no trouble taking down those in the same realm as us! Get them quickly before anyone else arrives! You two look for the other one, I'll take down the one right in front of us!"
The man with the sword broke off from the group and began charging down the hall towards Yin Hui.
As the man approached him, Yin Hui took out the broadsword from his bag of holding. The sword cultivator swung down hard onto Yin Hui, who assumed a defensive stance and met the blade with his own. The attack was so powerful that the floor beneath his feet cracked when he blocked the strike.
Due to the difference in qi reserves, his opponent's attacks were much stronger and faster than his own. Therefore, Yin Hui was mostly on the defensive the entire time. Knowing that being on the receiving end of such powerful swings would eventually tire him out, he created some distance between him and his opponent.
"Ha! I wonder why a Virtue Seeking cultivator would bring such trash with them. Did they really think that just because we are in the outskirts that all the cultivators would be weak?"
Laughing, the sword cultivator tried to take a step forward, but found that his feet wouldn't move. He looked down and noticed that the ground itself had transformed into vines that wrapped around his ankles.
A blast of pressurized air came from the ceiling above him, shattering the earthen vines tangling his feet and smashing the sword cultivator into the ground.
"Gah!" The sword cultivator coughed out a mouthful of blood.
"Now!" Yin Hui rushed toward his fallen opponent and aimed his blade at the man's heart.
However, before he could deal the finishing blow, Yin Hui saw a flurry of arrows fly at him. He parried the one's closest to him and shot a Wind Bullet at the rest. The Wind Bullet deflected all the subsequent arrows and headed straight for the other two cultivators observing the fight.
Opening his fan, the fan cultivator threw out a blast of air of his own. The force of the wind was no weaker than Yin Hui's Wind Bullet and cancelled the attack completely. Afterwards, he created another gust of wind that carried the sword cultivator back to their position.
Recovering from the initial attack, the sword cultivator clasped his hands towards the cultivator carrying the fan.
"Thank you for your help. I got careless."
The fan cultivator ignored the words of gratitude and looked up at the ceiling.
"You saw that didn't you?" The bow cultivator asked.
"Yes. It seems that the other cultivator has some kind of technique that allows them to merge into shadows." The fan cultivator replied.
"I trust you have a solution to this then? After all, even in broad daylight the castle is full of shadows. Letting someone with that kind of ability roam free would be disastrous." The sword cultivator added.
The cultivator holding the fan smiled.
"Of course. Follow this plan and our hidden enemy will have no choice but to reveal themselves."
"You have all been informed of the plan. Now go!"
The sword cultivator jumped in the air and swung his sword towards the ceiling of the castle. A crescent wave of energy came out of the blade and caused a significant portion of the roof to collapse. The bright light of the sun shined down from above, creating a divide between Yin Hui and the three cultivators.
"This isn't good big brother Yin Hui. I can't travel through the shadows to get to their side anymore because of that split." Yu Zhuwa said.
A portion of the ceiling on Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa's side of the castle began to fall apart. The cultivator wielding the fan was launching orbs of fire at the roofing above them, causing more light to shine down.
Yin Hui cursed under his breath. He understood what the enemies strategy was. By creating a divide between them and the rest of the castle, they effectively blocked their advance. Now they were destroying the roof in order to lure Yu Zhuwa out of hiding.
"I could just let out the seven leopards and end this right now. However, the entire fortress is on high alert so anything I do will be noticed."
"Our job doesn't necessarily require us to take these three out. In that case..."
Reaching into his bag of holding, Yin Hui took out the talismans Su Jia gave him. He had already used one on the main gate which left him with five more.
The bow cultivator's eyes widened when he saw the talismans in Yin Hui's hands.
"Explosive talismans! So that's how they caused so much damage to the main gate so quickly. If they manage to get deeper into the castle and ignite them, Lord Overseer will be furious!"
Reacting quickly, the bow cultivator shot out a swarm of arrows aimed at the talismans. However, none of them got through as Yin Hui formed a shield of rubble using Living Earth. Afterwards, in conjunction with the Wind Bullet, Yin Hui propelled a single talisman past the arrows and into the three cultivators.
The talisman detonated and a massive explosion blew up the hallway the three cultivators were in. The confusion didn't last long as the fan cultivator produced a large gust of wind that blew away the smoke and debris. Unfortunately for them, by the time the dust cleared, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa were already gone.
"Damn it!" The cultivator holding the fan gritted his teeth as he snapped the fan shut.
After escaping the three peak Spirit Waking cultivators, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa sped through the castle. Once they felt like they had entered a new section of the fortress, they would release an explosive talisman and cause severe damage to the infrastructure.
Over the span of two hours, three more explosions, each in different parts of the castle could be heard by every single cultivator stationed at the border.
Along the way, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa encountered another early Spirit Manifestation cultivator without an ethereal spirit. Believing he had generated enough chaos, Yin Hui released the seven leopards out of his bag of holding. The leopards quickly tore the Spirit Manifestation cultivator apart and began to rampage throughout the fortress.
Screams from hundreds of Spirit Waking and Impurity Cleansing cultivators could be heard as Yin Hui and the seven leopards painted the halls with blood. The leopards benefited greatly from the slaughter and each of them now had true Spirit Manifestation power. While they may not necessarily win against a mid-stage Spirit Manifestation cultivator, they would still be able to put up a decent fight.
Yin Hui himself also received great benefits from the massacre. Even after distributing the souls among the seven leopards, he had enough to boost his qi reserves from that of a first aspect Spirit Waking cultivator to what it should have been for his current level. Now he was a third aspect Spirit Waking cultivator in every respect, from qi control to actual qi reserves.
Back on the top floor of the castle, Tao Mu was fuming with rage. He walked over to a wooden table nearby and smashed his fist against it, splitting it in half.
"What is going on out there! Even without my spiritual sense, I can hear the sound of my castle being blown apart! Furthermore, I sense that these explosions aren't even being caused by the Virtue Seeking girl you spoke of!"
"The other two that came with her are unique as well father. Despite being in the Spirit Waking realm, they managed to take out three early Spirit Manifestation cultivators who had yet to form their ethereal spirits." Tao Kai remained in a kneeling position facing his father.
"Why is it that I sense the auras of seven beings with early Spirit Manifestation cultivation accompanying these two brats?! Not just that, but they are also growing stronger as our men are being slaughtered!"
"Seven beings with early Spirit Manifestation cultivation? This I was not aware of." Because Tao Kai was so focused in his battle with Su Jia, he did not pay attention to what happened to the patrols he came out with. He was suspicious to how Yin Hui managed to defeat three early Spirit Manifestation cultivators himself, but he never would've expected it to be due to having seven companions of the same level.
"Tao Kai. There is a high possibility that this Spirit Waking cultivator is a demonic cultivator. The way these seven mysterious beings are getting stronger through the slaughter of our troops concerns me. I want you to go down there and kill them. Even though your cultivation has declined, it should still be enough." Tao Mu reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out a small green pill. He threw it to Tao Kai who swallowed it immediately. As the pill's contents dissolved within his body, all traces of his battle with Su Jia faded away. His exterior wounds were healed, but the damage to his cultivation and soul was still present.
Tao Kai stood up and clasped his hands.
"As you wish father. Once I finish dealing with them, I will return and aid you against that girl."
A few moments after his son left, Tao Mu let out a sigh. He straightened his robes and walked out of the room, taking with him a qiang with a jaded blade-head off the wall on the way out. Entering an empty foyer, Tao Mu stood at the center with the spear by his side.
"You've been watching me for quite a while now. Is this an optimal location for our battle? Show yourself!"
Tao Mu tapped his spear firmly on the ground and golden ripples began to appear. The ripples spread and Su Jia, who was hiding within a shadow cast by one of the support pillars was revealed.
"Your instincts are sharp old man. Can't say the same about the rest of your people here though." Su Jia said smugly.
"While we are enemies, I am grateful that you did not kill my son on his way out. I cannot say I would do the same."
"I don't need to deal with that weakling. I've given him a beating already. The one I'm here for is you old man."
Tao Mu chuckled.
"What about your friends? Do you not care about them? Those two Spirit Waking cultivators may be able to take out an early Spirit Manifestation cultivator, but they are still no match for my son even in his weakened state."
"Heh. Li Feng has always found ways to surprise me. No matter what I throw at him, he never fails to rise above it. I believe he will find some way to deal with your son. After all, I've already softened him up for him."
"What a treacherous friend. I wonder how you manage to even have friends judging by the way you act."
"Enough talk! It's time to fight!" Pulling out her short sword, Su Jia leapt towards Tao Mu, aiming for his head.
Grasping his qiang with both hands, Tao Mu clashed with Su Jia's sword using the tip of his spear. Sparks flared as transparent ripples formed on the ground at the point of contact between the two weapons.
Su Jia grunted as she tried to overpower Tao Mu. However, Tao Mu simply laughed as if he were having the time of his life.
"Aren't you a Virtue Seeking cultivator girl? Or have you just broken through and have yet to form one yet?"
Tao Mu disconnected from the clash and delivered a swift kick into Su Jia's abdomen. Su Jia was sent flying into a pillar nearby and crashed right through it.
"My dao is not like most others. Instead of cultivating a specific principle, I focus my efforts entirely on my skill with the spear. This is my dao! The Dao of the Spear!"
Twirling his spear at extreme speed, Tao Mu created a cyclone that swept Su Jia out of the castle and into the sky. Reorienting herself and just barely recovering from the earlier kick, Su Jia lifted her sword up just in time to block a devastating stab from Tao Mu.
Despite blocking the attack, the internal force of the stab pierced through Su Jia's defense and hit her hard in the chest.
Below, the guards frantically moving about outside the castle suddenly stopped as they saw Tao Mu and Su Jia fight above them.
"It's Lord Overseer!"
"Lord Tao Mu is actually fighting?"
"Who is that girl! A girl as young as that is actually fighting with Lord Tao Mu?!"
Borrowing the force of the stab, Su Jia backed several meters away from Tao Mu. She wiped the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth and assumed an aggressive stance. Tao Mu smiled and adopted a neutral stance, as if he was giving Su Jia a break.
"It's been a while since I enjoyed myself like this. A decent opponent is hard to come by in the outskirts such as these."
"Isn't this the time of the battle where you ask me to surrender and join your side?"
"Hahaha! You are funny, girl. Unfortunately, I am not like my son. Even though you are a genius, you are simply too talented. Your talent rivals that of many of the Tang Clan's younger generation. From what I know of the Tang, they would most certainly not accept a talent greater than their own. Therefore, regrettably, you must die."
Tao Mu switched to a fighting stance and held his qiang in a stabbing position.
"While my dao is more physical then ethereal, it still follows the same path. As a show of respect, I will utilize the power of my virtues to send you off."
A slight pressure began to fill the area as Tao Mu's body began to glow a faint cyan. The glow spread to his spear and his movements became blurred. He paced around Su Jia as if he were walking on solid ground. With each step he took, a clone of himself was left behind until a ring of clones surrounded Su Jia.
"Behold, my first virtue. Speed!"
"Haha! Dodge girl, dodge! Be honored that you will fall to my Speed Duplication Array!"
Tao Mu let out a flurry of attacks at speeds barely visible to Su Jia's eyes. With each swing and stab he performed, a random clone within the ring would do the exact same thing. It was as if she were constantly fighting two Tao Mu's at once!
Su Jia cried out in pain as she received multiple cuts all over her body. Her purple dress was torn and her beautiful face was now covered with red scars.
"Agh! You'll pay for that!" Su His swung her sword violently at the clones surrounding her. Unfortunately, the clones were unaffected as her blade passed through them as if it was cutting air.
"What? These aren't actually clones?"
Tao Mu let out a wry smile.
"That's right. Though it might not seem like it, the beings you see before you are not corporeal clones. They are merely afterimages formed through movements I can only perform when I have activated my virtue of speed."
"This is... The virtue of speed...?"
"Mmm... Over the years, I have refined my speed to the point my enlightenment of the concept itself reached a great height. After reaching that level of mastery I discovered that I could establish it as one of my three virtues."
Simultaneously, every single afterimage pointed their spears towards the injured Su Jia.
"Now that I have integrated it into my dao, my speed has ascended to even greater heights!"
All together, Tao Mu and his clones thrusted their spears. Just as they were about to impale Su Jia, a translucent light came from out of nowhere and entered her body.
Su Jia's entire body began to glow orange and her cultivation skyrocketed. All the afterimages disappeared as she reached out and grabbed Tao Mu's spear, which was mere inches from piercing her heart.
"This power... It's virtue!" Tao Mu gasped.
Su Jia roared as she sheathed her sword and delivered a hard punch into Tao Mu's face. Tao Mu was sent flying towards the castle like a wayward firework. His body crashed through the top floor and completely collapsed it.
The guards spectating below were horrified.
"Impossible! That girl actually injured Lord Overseer?!"
"Well it looks like sister Su Jia is doing well." Yu Zhuwa said happily, hearing the commotion outside.
He was currently hiding within the shadow of the black leopard who was currently being rid by Yin Hui. With the help of it and the other six leopards, they had already cleared out seventy percent of the cultivators inside the castle.
At this point, the seven leopards could be considered as the third strongest beings in the entire fortress. The black leopard was the strongest, now having the strength of a mid-stage Spirit Manifestation cultivator that had just broken through. While not as strong as their leader, the other six were strong as well, with each of them being able hold their own against an early Spirit Manifestation cultivator.
Yin Hui had gotten more powerful as well. His improvement wasn't as great as the leopards, but nonetheless his strength had increased exponentially. By now, the amount of Spirit Waking souls he had consumed were well over 200. Not only did this result in his qi reserves reaching the peak of Spirit Waking, but he had actually surpassed it! At least in terms of base attributes, it was safe to say that Yin Hui was now the strongest Spirit Waking cultivator in existence!
"I've never reaped this many benefits in my life before! What an amazing feeling! While my arsenal of techniques may be lacking, I'd say I am unmatched when it comes to Spirit Waking cultivators!"
Suddenly, an enormous pressure filled the area. The seven leopards stopped in their tracks and gathered in a tight wedge formation. Despite reaching mid-stage Spirit Manifestation, the black leopard was on high alert, which meant that the opponent before them must've been at least that level as well.
Walking out of a dark doorway, a burly man wearing tattered robes that completely exposed his upper body approached them. On both of his arms were two golden wrist guards that stopped just before his elbows. Having had a glimpse of the finale between Su Jia's fight back in the forest, as soon as Yin Hui saw the golden wrist guards he knew who the man before him was.
"You're the overseer's right hand man are you not? The one they call Lord Kai." Yin Hui said coldly.
"Most impressive. I did not think that a couple Spirit Waking cultivators like you would be able to cause so much trouble on your own. Then again, you are a demonic cultivator. I can tell just by looking at these beasts that they have been corrupted with some kind of terrible demonic spell. How impatient are you to submit to the demonic path at such an early point in your cultivation."
"You don't know anything about me." Yin Hui scoffed.
"Indeed, I don't know anything about you. In fact, I don't need to know. You are my enemy and will be shown no mercy. My father will strike that girl down, just as I will be the one to strike you down." Tao Kai tapped his bag of holding and a set of gold armor appeared. The armor attached itself to him as if it had a mind of its own until he was covered from head to toe in gold.
"The overseer of this border, and elder of the Tao Clan, is your father?" Yin Hui asked.
"The defensive properties of this armor are lacking compared to the Golden Bull Wrist Guards from the Tang Clan. However, it is still at a level where your spirit beasts will not be able to penetrate it!" Tao Kai ignored Yin Hui's question and assumed an aggressive stance. However, this alone was enough of a confirmation for Yin Hui, who clenched his fists tightly.
Tao Kai charged at full speed towards Yin Hui and the seven leopards. As he advanced, every leopard with the exception of the black one sprung into action.
The six leopards let out miserable howls as Tao Kai viciously beat them down. Protected by his golden armor, their claws and fangs were completely ineffective.
After beating the last leopard into unconsciousness, Tao Kai turned around only to be hit by a full power Wind Bullet.
With the amount of practice he had against the masses of cultivators throughout the castle, accompanied by his bolstered qi reserves, Yin Hui no longer required any charge up time to use the Wind Bullet at it's maximum force.
Unfortunately, no matter how many he fired, Tao Kai was completely unfazed. Charging through the Wind Bullet, Tao Kai threw out a strong punch towards him. However, just before his fist made contact, the black leopard activated it's smoke ability, causing his body to turn into smoke and the punch to pass through him.
"Interesting, an ability that turns the user and whoever is riding it into intangible smoke. Too bad this is not enough to stop me!"
Reaching into his bag of holding once more, Tao Kai took out a gourd with five symbols engraved on the surface. Each symbol represented one of the five elements, with the fire symbol being a flame and the water symbol being a wave.
Removing the cork at the top of the gourd, a strong suction force emerged and began to suck in all the black smoke.
The black leopard howled as its smoke-like body was pulled into the gourd. It tried to turn back into its physical form, but it seemed like the gourd had some kind of spell that prevented it from doing so.
"Damn it! No!" Yin Hui shouted in defiance, but it was no use. Jumping off the the leopards back, his body began to turn back into its normal form.
However as soon as he materialized, Tao Kai shot out two beams of light from his eyes that pierced Yin Hui's chest.
"Gak!" Yin Hui coughed out a glob of blood as he fell back down onto the leopards back. Since his body was on the black leopard, he began to transform into smoke once more.
"Yu Zhuwa... Run..." Yin Hui muttered before being completely sucked into the gourd.
While Yin Hui and the black leopard were being pulled into the gourd, Yu Zhuwa took the opportunity to move into another shadow. He heard Yin Hui's words and despite being reluctant, scurried away deeper into the castle.
"I don't think so." Smashing his foot hard on the ground, Tao Kai collapsed the ceiling, allowing light to shine on the whole area.
Without any shadows to hide in, Yu Zhuwa was revealed.
"A kid? I don't enjoy dirtying my hands with children, but I'll make sure your end will be quick and painless." Tao Kai picked up a giant piece of rubble with both his hands and slowly walked over to Yu Zhuwa.
"Stay away!" Yu Zhuwa said fearfully. He fired a Wind Bullet at the rubble in Tao Kai's hand, shattering it into many large chunks and spreading them onto the floor..
"Bad choice boy. That rock could have smashed your head in instantly so that you would have felt no pain. However, if you want to be slowly beaten to death then that's fine by me."
Yu Zhuwa froze in place as Tao Kai approached him. It was as if fear had completely paralyzed his entire being. Within a few short breaths Tao Kai was right in front of him, bringing his fist back.
"Any last words while you can still speak boy? Hmm?" Now that he was face to face with Yu Zhuwa, Tao Kai noticed that the child before him was actually glowing.
"I've seen big brother Yin Hui use it many times. If I could master the Wind Bullet then I can do this as well. At this range and with this much light, I cannot fail!"
In an instant, a bright flash of light erupted from Yu Zhuwa's body. Tao Kai covered his eyes as he was blinded by the sudden flash.
The distraction only lasted for a moment, but it gave Yu Zhuwa enough time to hide himself within one of the shadows created by the rubble he scattered with his earlier attack. When Tao Kai regained his senses, Yu Zhuwa was nowhere to be found.
"What a clever brat..."
Brushing the debris and dust off his robes, Tao Mu grabbed his qiang and flew back into the sky. He wasn't injured, but it wasn't like Su Jia's attack didn't hurt either.
"So it seems that you were simply stalling for a piece of your soul to return to you. Now that you are a complete being again I presume that this is your full power?"
Surrounded by an aura of orange, Su Jia radiated limitless vitality and power. Color was restored to her face and she looked like she was full of energy.
"That's right. My dao is the Dao of Youth and this is my first virtue, hot-bloodedness!"
Tao Mu stroked his chin. It was obvious that he was impressed by Su Jia's dao.
"The Dao of Youth... A very fitting dao for you. The same goes for the virtue you selected. While your dao may not be one of the Great Heavenly Daos, its synergy with your character could be considered flawless."
"Just because my dao isn't one of the heavenly daos, it doesn't mean I won't be able to pummel you now that we are on equal levels of power old man!"
"That was not what I meant. Many cultivators in this world strive to master the strongest and most complex dao's they can find, thinking that power lies within the dao itself. However, there have been cases where this isn't always true. Sometimes, the best dao is the one that correlates most strongly to the person. There is a legend that the first immortal from our world ascended with a very common dao, but the synergy was so great that not even those possessing heavenly dao's were a match for him."
"I'm sick of your rambling! Fight me once more!" Drawing her sword, Su Jia charged towards Tao Mu like a tiger pouncing on its prey.
Tao Mu used his Afterimage Array once more, producing a line of afterimages that were so perfect others would think that they were solid clones.
However, Su Jia did not show weakness in the face of the numerous clones that appeared before her. Brute forcing her way towards Tao Mu, she released a barrage of high-speed sword strikes at every single afterimage.
Maneuvering into her blind spot, Tao Mu sent a piercing jab towards Su Jia's stomach. The spear connected and Su Jia was pierced by the blade of Tao Mu's qiang.
"Too arrogant. In your mania you have left yourself wide open to an attack in your blind spot. Now you have paid with--- What?"
Tao Mu's eyes widened as Su Jia pulled herself out of the blade of his qiang. Immediately, the wound began to rapidly heal until there was no hint of damage at all.
"My virtue of hot-bloodedness doesn't just empower my attacks, it also fills me with vitality and energy! When my virtue is active, I can fight using my full speed and power for three days straight and any wounds I receive will instantly heal!" Putting away her sword, Su Jia rushed towards Tao Mu and gave him a hard tackle. She wrapped her arms around his waist and they began to descend downwards like a meteor.
"You are crazy!" Holding his qiang in his right hand, Tao Mu tried to stab Su Jia with it. However, Su Jia grabbed his wrist and twisted it. He groaned in pain as his grip on the spear faltered and slipped out of his fingers.
The guards below looked on in horror as they watched their leader descend towards the ground like a shooting star.
"We must help Lord Tao Mu!"
"Fool! What can we do? If that girl can fight on par with Lord Tao Mu, we wouldn't be able to take two steps without dying first! All we can do is wait and hope that Lord Tao Mu has a trick up his sleeve!"
A large cloud of dust formed as Su Jia and Tao Mu hit the ground. With her massive vitality reserves, Su Jia recovered from the impact quickly and rose back into the air. Her injuries weren't heavy to begin with as it was Tao Mu's body that took most of the hit.
"Lord Overseer!" The soldiers cried out.
"That girl emerged from that crash with next to no injuries! On the other hand, Lord Tao Mu has yet to reappear..."
"Impossible! Did that girl kill Lord Tao Mu?"
Looking down at the dissipating cloud of dust, Su Jia let out a snort.
"I know that wasn't enough to kill you. Stop pretending!"
As the dust settled, Tao Mu's body could be seen sprawled across a crater created by the impact. His eyes were closed and his robes were in tatters. Despite this, upon closer inspection it was clear that he was not injured at all!
Letting out a sigh, he opened his eyes and slowly got up.
"This old man hasn't had this much fun in a while. Regardless, it is time for me to end this."
"You can't hide forever brat!" Tao Kai shouted.
Whenever Tao Kai checked a piece of rubble for Yu Zhuwa, he would turn to see more displaced rubble suddenly appear behind him.
Earlier, he had guessed correctly once, but before he could do anything he was hit with another Blinding Light.
Tao Kai briefly considered an area spanning attack that would take out all the rubble out in one go. However, he quickly rejected the idea since there was a possibility Yu Zhuwa could escape in the middle of his attack. If Yu Zhuwa managed to flee back into the castle, tracking him down would be many times more difficult.
Maintaining his position was the best choice to make. After all, he had a hostage.
Watching Tao Kai within the shadow of a tiny pebble, Yu Zhuwa contemplated his next move.
"I need to figure out a way to get that gourd and free brother Yin Hui. Think! With my strengths, what can I do?"
Suddenly, the answer came to him.
"Hey! Lord Kai!"
Tao Kai turned around slowly. He didn't want to be tricked into receiving another blinding flash of light again.
"Have you finally accepted your fate and decided to come forward?"
"If I come out. Will you listen to what I say and not attack me?"
"Yes. I will hear your last words if you surrender now."
Taking a deep breath, Yu Zhuwa stepped out of the shadow he was hiding in. He had initially been charging Blinding Light, but for his plan to work he had to discard it.
Tao Kai's eyes narrowed as he saw Yu Zhuwa walk harmlessly towards him.
"This boy is too trusting and green. I shouldn't be surprised though since he is still quite young. If I were not an honorable man, he would have been killed as soon as he revealed himself."
"Now, what are your final words in this life?" Tao Kai asked.
"I don't have any final words. I want you to release my friend." Yu Zhuwa said sternly.
"Are you mad boy? What makes you think that I'll agree to such a request?"
Yu Zhuwa let out a faint smile.
"Judging by how you are keeping your word right now, it seems to me like you are an honorable man. A person such as yourself must feel disgusted at using such a cheap method to secure a win. Am I right?"
"If your opponent was much stronger than you, then it would make sense that sealing them away would count as a victory. However, the strongest one on our side was just a mid-stage Spirit Manifestation spirit beast. You on the other hand, are a peak Spirit Manifestation cultivator."
"My cultivation dropped to mid Spirit Manifestation due to that girl who accompanied you."
"Still. Wouldn't an honorable man such as yourself prefer a heated battle with a worthy opponent over a situation like this? Release my friend." Yu Zhuwa's last words sounded more like a command rather than a suggestion.
For some unknown reason, Tao Kai found it very difficult to refute Yu Zhuwa. Even though Yu Zhuwa had offered nothing that would compel him to release Yin Hui, he felt obligated to do so.
"I should release his friend just because it would give me a decent fight? What kind of joke is this? I am an honorable man, but this is asking too much!"
"Yet, I feel obligated to do so. Why?! This boy isn't using any kind of spell or technique to move my mind either! I've already made sure of this using my spiritual sense! It's as if his voice itself possesses some kind of hidden authority that is compelling me to obey!"
Despite looking calm on the outside, Yu Zhuwa was actually very nervous. He had never tried using his unique persuasive abilities on someone much stronger than him. While his persuasion attempts had never failed before, he still felt uncertain.
His eyes shined as he saw Tao Kai take out the gourd and hold it out in front of him.
However, before he could reach out and take it, the gourd began to shake violently. The abnormal behavior of the gourd snapped Tao Kai out of his daze, and he immediately began to try and suppress the shaking.
"What is going on?!"
The cork popped open and large amounts of wind, coupled with strands of black smoke escaped from the gourd. The smoke gathered together and materialized back into Yin Hui and the black leopard.
"Brother Yin Hui!" Yu Zhuwa said happily.
Tao Kai's face turned pale at the sight of Yin Hui and the black leopard.
"How did you escape?! I didn't even release you yet!" Tao Kai shouted in disbelief.
Holding a small fan in his hand, Yin Hui fanned himself while looking at Tao Kai with a puzzled expression.
"You didn't release me yet? I released myself. What are you talking about?"
"How did you escape?!" Tao Kai asked aggressively.
Yin Hui pointed at the gourd.
"Seems like you weren't checking the capacity of that gourd after sealing me. From what I saw inside, each element has a specific limit to how much it can seal. All I had to do was produce enough wind to surpass that limit and free myself."
"I needed a lot of wind and none of my techniques actually produced new winds. Luckily, before we began our fight, I picked up quite a few of these."
Tao Kai's eyes widened. He had only now realized that Yin Hui was holding a small fan in his hand.
"Wind and Fire Fans! So that's how you produced enough wind to break out! You stole them off our soldiers when you massacred them!"
"That's right. By the time I generated enough wind to escape, I had already used up all the fans with the exception of this one. I also filled up your fire element as well, so you would not be able to stop me from doing this!" Yin Hui waved the fan and a barrage of crescent flames struck out at Tao Kai.
Considering how the Wind and Fire Fans were only Spirit Waking level weapons, they didn't do any damage to Tao Kai. However, the gourd was not as durable and burst into flames within his hands.
"Hmph. You may have destroyed the gourd, but what about it? With my armor on, not even your mid-stage Spirit Manifestation spirit beast will be able to harm me."
Putting the fan away, Yin Hui took out the duplicating daggers he obtained from the Spirit Manifestation cultivator back in the forest.
He imbued the daggers with spiritual energy and threw them all at once. The daggers multiplied as they soared through the air until a total of six hundred daggers were produced.
"Each of those daggers creates a hundred duplicates. However, it's power is proportionate to your cultivation. With your Spirit Waking cultivation, these daggers will only be a minor irritant!" Channeling his Spirit Manifestation cultivation into his fist, Tao Kai let out solid punch.
The strength behind this punch was so great that it created a shockwave with effects similar to that of the Wind Bullet. It deflected about a third of the daggers, while the remaining four hundred continued on course.
"What? how were they not all deflected?!"
Tao Kai raised his arms as he was bombarded with four hundred duplicating daggers.
"This is nothing! These daggers only possess peak Spirit Waking power at most! You can't possibly---"
All of a sudden, a piece of Tao Kai's armor cracked.
Then another, then another.
Once all four hundred daggers dropped to the ground, many holes could be found on Tao Kai's armor. His helmet was completely destroyed and his head was fully exposed.
"How is this possible? You are a peak Spirit Waking cultivator! How is your qi strong enough to pierce through my armor?!"
"You don't need to know why, especially when you are about to die!" Yin Hui reached back into his bag of holding and took out a bow. This was the exact same bow used against him by the three peak Spirit Waking cultivators at the gate.
Yin Hui pulled back on the bowstring and manifested an arrow using his qi. As he fired, the arrow multiplied until a flurry of them shot towards Tao Kai.
The bow's abilities were the same as the duplicating daggers, but were not limited to one use. Unfortunately, the power was also limited to peak Spirit Waking and would not change regardless of cultivation.
"This level of power is good enough. As long as I hit a part unprotected by the armor, it should deal a decisive hit."
Tao Kai moved like a seasoned martial artist, utilizing various stances and fluid movements as he repelled the arrows. Unlike the rest of his armor, the wristguards around his arms were completely undamaged. He revolved most of his defense around the wristguards and used them to deflect the majority of the arrows. As the final arrow soared towards him, he grabbed it and threw it back at Yin Hui. The black leopard saw this and caught the arrow before it could hit him.
Frowning, Yin Hui continued to shoot more arrows. He figured that Tao Kai would get tired eventually, and that was when he would strike.
"Enough of this." This time, Tao Kai did not dodge as the arrows sped towards him. Two long ethereal arms emerged from his shoulders and began to pick up the daggers that had fallen from earlier.
The ethereal arms formed by Tao Kai began to throw the daggers like rain during a storm. They had loss their duplicating abilities, but their power remained intact. The daggers easily cut through Yin Hui's flurry of arrows and moved to skewer him.
The black leopard roared and used it's body to protect Yin Hui from the incoming blades. It was still recovering from being sealed in the gourd and did not have the courage nor the strength to turn intangible. The leopard howled as it's body was continuously pierced by daggers.
"So this is the power of a Spirit Manifestation cultivator's ethereal spirit... While I've seen it before, facing it is an entirely different scenario. I guess I have no choice but to use my last resort then."
After blocking all four hundred daggers, the black leopard gave out and collapsed. Yin Hui took out a few medicinal pills and fed them to it.
"Thank you... Rest easy now, I'll make sure your effort was not wasted." Yin Hui said while patting the leopard on the back.
Once the black leopard's condition stabilized, it slowly made its way into Yin Hui's bag of holding. After it entered, Yin Hui took out a single item before walking over to face Tao Kai. This item, was the red stringed short sword that Su Jia gave him when they first met.
Tao Kai's eyes narrrowed.
"So you're finally going to use a weapon not stolen from my soldiers? I wonder what kind of treasure it is to give you the courage to face me like this."
"Yes, this is my final ace. Actually, I didn't know of its use until very recently. I learned the unique properties of this sword while slaughtering your guards. In its current state, this sword is no match for you, but with the right circumstances it can!"
Yin Hui raised the sword above his head and a loud hum reverberated throughout the castle. Suddenly, large torrents of blood burst through the rubble blocking both exits and converged upon the weapon.
The blade absorbed the blood like a bottomless pit and slowly began to turn red. As it did, an aura of power started to leak out, exerting a pressure that brought Tao Kai to his knees. Yu Zhuwa was affected as well. He clutched his head in pain as he slowly walked towards Yin Hui.
"Yu Zhuwa. Hide in my shadow and you should be okay. Since this pressure doesn't affect me, my shadow should also be unaffected!"
Yu Zhuwa nodded and merged with Yin Hui's shadow. Once he did, the crushing pressure was alleviated.
The pressure created by the red stringed sword was even felt outside. Sensing the disturbance, Tao Mu and Su Jia turned their heads towards the castle.
"What is this? No Spirit Manifestation or Spirit Waking cultivator could have this kind of pressure! What kind of treasure did you give your companions!"
"Beats me. Not even I know what goes on in that guys head. I just had a feeling that he would be a great ally for this siege."
After drinking the last drop of blood, the sword's blade was dyed a deep shade of crimson. The overbearing pressure was at its peak and Tao Kai was using all his strength just to prevent himself from collapsing.
The crimson sword flared with power and began to glow. Just by looking at the energy signatures, Tao Kai knew that all the blood the sword devoured was going to be released in one lethal attack. He retracted his ethereal spirit and clasped his palms together.
"It seems like this is the end for me. Congratulations, the victory is yours." Even in defeat, Tao Kai did not lash out or act bitter. His opponent was stronger and that was all there was to it.
"Forgive me father. Forgive me people of the Tang Clan. While I may not live to see the final battle, I wish you all the best."
Hiding within Yin Hui's shadow, Yu Zhuwa felt a twinge of sadness as he heard Tao Kai's last words. To him, Tao Kai was not a bad person. He was honorable, loyal, and acted in a honest and straightforward manner. If they weren't on opposite sides, Yu Zhuwa thought they could've become great friends and allies.
As the sword's energy reached its peak, Yin Hui stared at Tao Kai with a cold expression.
"Death to all those with the surname Tao. Out of consideration for your honorable nature, I will ensure your father joins you as soon as possible. That will be my pity towards you."
Tao Kai let out a grim smile. He could feel the hatred within Yin Hui's voice. The boy had an irreconcilable grudge with his Tao Clan that he would never live to understand. He ignored the obvious insult to injury and lowered his head.
The blood stored within the sword erupted into a massive pillar of red energy. This enormous ray of energy spanned the entire castle and disintegrated everything in its path, with the exception of Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
All the cultivators who were outside and spared from the destruction looked over in shock as the entire fortress was replaced with a pillar of red.
Horror could be seen in Tao Mu's eyes and he stumbled backwards in disbelief. Su Jia had a similar reaction. She knew that Yin Hui was cunning, but she never suspected he was hiding something like this from her.
"Blood Sacrifice Sword!!" Tao Mu shouted.
All that was left after Yin Hui's attack was a giant crater where the outpost once stood. The sword had turned back to its normal steel color and no longer possessed the frightening aura it had earlier.
Yin Hui felt completely drained after the attack. He put the sword back into his bag of holding and popped a large amount of medicinal pills into his mouth. Yu Zhuwa emerged from his shadow and looked visibly shaken.
"Big brother Yin Hui... Are you okay? That last attack was.... Devastating..."
"Yeah, I think my body is going numb. Those medicinal pills were enough to keep me conscious, but I still feel exhausted. Can you open my bag of holding again and take out the black leopard?"
Yu Zhuwa unwrapped the string of Yin Hui's bag of holding and the black leopard appeared. It was still covered in daggers, but had recovered enough to move.
"That attack must have come from those two over there!"
"They're injured! Let's get them before they have a chance to recover!" Replacing their fear with anger, the several hundred guards that were not affected by the blast charged towards Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
Gritting her teeth, Su Jia prepared to activate the formation she had constructed prior to the invasion. While Tao Mu was still alive, she estimated that she would be able to hold him off long enough for it to take out the remaining soldiers.
However before she could activate it, Tao Mu's qiang stabbed her in the wrist.
"Agh!" Su Jia groaned.
Tao Mu looked at her with a serious expression on his face. In the span of a few hours, he had already lost so much. His eyes were cold and there was a hint of fury behind them.
"This is my second virtue, precision! It isn't as simple as controlling my weapon using qi. Instead, the qiang and I have become one. The weapon has my eyes and will now hit exactly the way I want it to."
"I have hit one of the main qi points in your arm. Not only will it severely impact the effectiveness of your spells, but it will also take much longer to heal even with your virtue of hot-bloodedness."
Tao Mu remotely retracted his qiang and sent it back to his hand. As soon as the spear left, the wound on Su Jia's arm began to close. However, the damaged qi point remained in critical condition.
"My patience is at its end, but for giving me such a good time. I will use my full power to finish you off."
A powerful pressure filled the area as Tao Mu's cultivation increased many times over. If one were to compare his strength now to how he was at the start of their fight, it would be like an infant facing an adult.
While Su Jia's virtue of hot-bloodedness was enough for her to feel confident in contending against Tao Mu's two virtues, this changed when Tao Mu released his full power.
Su Jia didn't even know when Tao Mu left the ground and appeared in front of her. He stared at her as if she were a toy that he had just lost interest in. Raising his finger, he pointed at Su Jia.
When Tao Mu said the word 'slow', Su Jia's body trembled. Her body started to stiffen and she began to feel sluggish.
"This is vice...! You're a Vice Taming cultivator!" Even her mouth movements became delayed.
"That's right. Did you really think the overseer of an outpost and a clan elder of one of the Tang Clan's most trusted allies would be that weak? I am Tao Mu! A Vice Taming cultivator with three vices!"
"The virtues and vices a cultivator chooses are linked. When one establishes a virtue, they will become subject to the corresponding vice. For example my virtue of speed. If I overuse the virtue too much, I will be afflicted with the exhaustion you are experiencing right now."
"Raaa!" Su His energy flared as she lunged at Tao Mu. Tao Mu easily dodged the attack and delivered a swift chop to her collarbone, causing her to lose her balance slightly.
"It seems your backlash has already started. Since your virtue is hot-bloodedness, I can guess that your corresponding vice must be recklessness."
Su Jia glared at Tao Mu like a hungry animal. If she wasn't afflicted by the slow, she would have already charged after him again.
"For Virtue Seeking cultivators, virtues are their greatest strength and weakness. However, once you reach Vice Taming, you can learn to control those vices and remove the backlash. After removing the backlash, the vice is considered tamed and can be used against your opponents!"
Extending his finger to Su Jia again, Tao Mu released his remaining vices.
Su Jia's body trembled once more. Her vision began to blur and her thoughts became scrambled.
Tao Mu's qiang vibrated as he imbued the weapon with the power of virtue.
"My final vice is daze. With that being the case, it is quite easy to guess my final virtue."
Positioning himself into a lunging stance, Tao Mu concentrated the strength of his final virtue into his qiang.
"The opposite of daze is focus! With this one strike imbued with my virtue of focus, I will shatter your body and soul! Then I will go after that brat who destroyed my castle!" Tao Mu thrusted his qiang with so much force that it seemed like even a mountain would crumble from it's strike.
Unfortunately, Su Jia was still afflicted by Tao Mu's vices and her senses were in complete disarray. How could she prepare a defense if she didn't even know the strike was coming?
"Stop." An elderly voice called out.
The voice was neither stern nor commanding. However, it contained an air of power and authority that made Tao Mu stop his strike mere inches from Su Jia's chest.
Tao Mu turned around to see an elderly man with hair as white as his standing with his hands behind his back. The man wore a pristine white robe with a grey sash that contained a crest with the surname Yan written on it.
"I should've known... How could a talented genius survive this long with such a reckless personality, and also remain relatively unknown? I knew she served the Yan's interests, but I didn't expect her backing to be the Yan Clan themselves."
Behind the old man were seven others who looked to be in their late teens or early twenties. They all stood attentively and silently, as if they were mere servants awaiting a command.
"Step away from my granddaughter." The old man calmly flew towards Tao Mu and Su Jia.
"Slow! Disorient! Daze!"
Tao Mu immediately cast all three of his vices on the approaching old man. Then, with strength that surpassed his earlier strike against Su Jia, threw his qiang towards him.
The old man snorted. He waved his hand and a faint barrier that could barely be seen formed in front of him. Three thuds could he heard shortly after, which could only be from the three vices Tao Mu shot at him.
Next was the qiang, however, it too was easily stopped by the old man who grabbed it with a single hand.
"Courting death." Imbuing the qiang with his own spiritual energy, the old man severed Tao Mu's connection with his own weapon.
This alone revealed the massive disparity in power between the old man and Tao Mu. To remove Tao Mu's virtues from his weapon, especially his virtue of precision which merged a part of him with the weapon itself, showed just how strong he truly was.
With the qiang under his control, the old man threw it back at Tao Mu using twice the strength used against himself.
The qiang impaled Tao Mu with so much force that it shattered into pieces along with his soul. His body then exploded into a mist of blood, which was dispersed by a gust of wind produced by the seven cultivators who accompanied the old man.
After killing Tao Mu, the old man flew towards Su Jia and put his hand on her forehead. Su Jia felt a gentle warmth enter her body as her thoughts cleared and her senses were restored.
When she saw the old man before her, Su Jia's face reddened.
Su Jia's grandfather flicked her forehead.
"Causing trouble again are we? This time you really went too far! Challenging a peak Vice Taming cultivator on your own?! If I hadn't gotten your soul message and came here myself, you would've been killed!" He said sternly.
"Hehe... Well... All of this was for the sake of the clan wasn't it?" Su Jia said bashfully.
The old man flicked her forehead with even greater strength.
"For the sake of the clan my ass. Going against the other elders orders, running off on your own, and nearly getting killed is all going to benefit us right? Don't forget you are one of the clan's hidden geniuses. We want as few people to know about you as possible."
"Don't worry, I always use a fake name whenever I do things like this. Right now my two companions, Li Feng and Xiao Yu, know me as Su Jia. Oh right, I better activate that restriction formation for them right now."
Back at the crater where Tao Mu's castle once stood, Yu Zhuwa was on his last legs. He was surrounded by three mid-stage Spirit Waking cultivators and was running low on qi. On the other hand, Yin Hui was still recovering on top of the black leopard, who was using all of it's energy to maintain it's intangible smoke form.
"Tire them out, but don't kill them! We need to make them pay for what they did to the castle!"
The hundreds of soldiers that surrounded Yin Hui, Yu Zhuwa, and the black leopard were all mid Spirit Waking and below. Therefore, they were completely oblivious to the fact that Tao Mu had already died.
Suddenly, flashes of yellow emerged from the ground and turned into chains that wrapped around every single cultivator, with the exception of Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"We're stuck! Is this a restriction formation? When did they have time to activate it?"
Yu Zhuwa turned towards Yin Hui who had put away the black leopard and materialized back into his normal form.
"It looks like sister Su Jia has won." Yu Zhuwa exhaled.
While Yu Zhuwa was relieved that the battle was over, Yin Hui was not as relaxed.
"Yu Zhuwa, we've completed our side of the deal, grab onto me."
Confused as to why Yin Hui was in such a rush, Yu Zhuwa hesitated for a second before climbing onto Yin Hui's back.
Popping the best medicinal pills he could find in his bag of holding, Yin Hui flew at the fastest speed he could muster towards the border wall.
Yellow chains shot out of the ground and went after Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"I knew it." Yin Hui said grimly. While recovering, he was spectating the battle between Su Jia and Tao Mu with his spiritual sense. He saw the arrival of the old man and knew that Su Jia was actually a member of the Yan Clan.
Watching Yin Hui being chased by the chains formed by the formation, Su Jia turned to her grandfather.
"Grandfather, what are you doing?! I made a Dao Oath to let them go free! Release your hold over the formation!"
"You let them go, but I did not. On the way here, I saw a massive pillar of red energy soar into the sky. That boy possesses a Blood Sacrifice Sword. A treasure like that will be very useful in our war against the Tang. He will submit to us or perish. Letting someone with that kind of weapon roam free is far too dangerous."
Suddenly, yellow chains erupted from the ground beneath the old man and his seven companions feet. They wrapped around them tightly and restricted their movements.
It only took a moment for the old man to break free of the chains, but it was enough for him to lose track of Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"What a clever young man... You were careless my child. It looks like he tampered with your formation without you even knowing it."
Su Jia recalled how Yin Hui was acting very strangely when she first showed him the formation. She let out a bitter smile when she realized that she had been a part of Yin Hui's schemes once again.
"You're right grandpa, he is a clever one... I must admit, that man is always full of surprises..."
Unlike the Tang Province, the Storm Province did not have any cultivators positioned near the border. That was because their side of the border was already naturally protected by the environment.
Flight, the primary method of transportation for cultivators, was useless here. That was because the first three hundred kilometers into the Storm Province was ravaged with extremely dangerous storms. Lightning would constantly fall and the bolts were strong enough to kill all those below Virtue Seeking.
Traveling by ground was difficult as well, as the landscape itself was merely a barren wasteland. The few sources of food and water were guarded by powerful spirit beasts, and rogue cultivators roamed about looking for travelers to prey upon.
Unfortunately, despite the risks, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa had no choice but to travel by foot.
"That was a close one. If that bolt of lightning didn't descend on those three Virtue Seeking cultivators in the middle of their technique, we would've died!" Yu Zhuwa said.
"Mmm. It didn't kill them, but they were injured enough that we had time to take their bags of holding and escape."
Within hours of entering the Storm Province, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa had already run into a band of rogue cultivators. These cultivators were all early Virtue Seeking and were much stronger than them.
Seeing no way of winning in a direct fight, Yin Hui took the battle to the sky. The battle changed into a contest of survival in which he ultimately won. He didn't even bother to finish off his injured enemies and simply left with their bags of holding.
After an entire day of traveling, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa set up camp in an empty cave they found.
Using the medicine found in the bags of holding, Yin Hui took out the black leopard and began to tend to it's injuries. He removed each dagger one by one and mended it's wounds with great care. Yin Hui spared no effort in trying to make the treatment as painless as possible. If it wasn't for the black leopard, he might have not even survived Coiling Pass. He lamented the loss of the other leopards, but knew that there was nothing he could do about it now.
Once every wound was patched up, Yin Hui took out a few medicinal pills and fed them to the leopard. At this point, he only had ten pills left and had to be very careful with their usage.
Yu Zhuwa came over at sat beside Yin Hui.
"I still can't get over the fact that sister Su Jia would actually betray us last minute like that!" Yu Zhuwa bitterly said.
"I didn't feel any fluctuation in the Dao Oath when we were attacked. So it's safe to assume the change in the formation was not caused by her."
"Then who was it?" Yu Zhuwa had not manifested his spiritual sense yet, so he was not aware of what happened between Su Jia and the overseer.
"Her grandfather." Yin Hui said quietly.
"Grandfather?! Su Jia got help from her grandfather?"
"Su Jia was hiding things from us as well. Turns out her grandfather is an elder of the Yan Clan and she is one of their top geniuses."
Yu Zhuwa could not keep still after hearing this.
"Yan Clan?! The main enemy of the Tang?! No way!"
Yin Hui nodded slightly. He was sweating a bit from just recalling the events back at the outpost. What he didn't tell Yu Zhuwa was that when he was spectating the fight, he felt like Su Jia's grandfather was watching him as well. Under her grandfather's gaze, Yin Hui felt completely transparent. While he was sure he did not know about him being an escaped slave from the Tang Clan, he definitely noticed that he had a fiend body.
"Su Jia's grandfather is powerful. That overseer was a Vice Taming cultivator and he was defeated with a single move."
Yu Zhuwa's expression sank.
"Do you think we will ever get to go home then...?"
Putting his hand on Yu Zhuwa's shoulder, Yin Hui let out a faint smile.
"Don't worry, now that we are here, we are going to focus on getting stronger. We will get so powerful that no one in the Tang Province will be able to stop us. When that happens, we can return home without worries."
"Yeah... Let's get out of this place as soon as possible and get to the Striking Thunder Sect..." Yu Zhuwa sobbed slightly.
Back in the capital of the Tang Province, Tang Jiao was in a very pitiful state. He was dressed in rags, his face was swollen from what seemed like many beatings, and all his hair was gone.
Currently on all fours, he was carrying a haughty-looking, but beautiful girl on his back. She stared down at Tang Jiao's figure with her black phoenix like eyes in disgust.
"I didn't say stop moving did I?! Keep going! All the way to the main gate! Lord Clan Head said we could do whatever we want to you to appease our frustrations, but why did you come to me so late?!" She dug her heel into an open wound on Tang Jiao's neck and twisted it.
Tang Jiao bit his lip to divert the pain and started to crawl.
As the two of them slowly moved throughout the capital, they attracted the attention of both the younger and older generations of the Tang Clan.
"Isn't that the eldest son of the clan head? Tang Jiao?" A member of the younger generation asked.
"I heard one of his lackey's was killed by a mortal slave. How embarrassing, a cultivator being taken out by a mortal?" Another adolescent said.
"Haha! I know right? I heard the slave beat him and his younger brother shortly afterwards and escaped! The younger brother was beaten so badly that he was even hospitalized! No wonder Lord Clan Head is so bitter nowadays. In addition to the upcoming war against the Yan, he has to deal with his pathetic sons!"
"Still, young master Tang Li may be pathetic, but at least he has a decent character. On the other hand, this Tang Jiao is as rotten as feces. Despite barely being considered a genius, he acts arrogantly and bullies the younger generation with his royal status."
"Lord Clan Head has decreed that Tang Jiao owes every single member of the younger generation a single request. It seems that karma has finally come full circle for him. As usual, lady Tang Mei is as ruthless as ever."
"Tang Jiao bullied me once during a drunken stupor. He stole my treasures and injured me greatly. After he sobered up, I confronted him about it and he merely laughed and beat me again. I can't wait to settle the score with him!"
The two clan members were intentionally speaking in a voice that was quiet, yet loud enough for Tang Jiao to hear. Veins bulged out of his face in anger.
[Yin Hui... I'll make you pay! When I get my hands on you, Hell will be but a mercy!]
"Just you wait! Once I have fulfilled all these ridiculous requests, I will come for every single one of you!" He snarled at the gossiping clan members.
"You still have enough strength to bark?! Settle down!" Tang Mei released her oppressive might, immediately subduing Tang Jiao.
"It seems I was being too soft on you. I'm still angry, and hearing you speak is making my mood even worse."
Unsatisfied with the amount of pain Tang Jiao was experiencing, Tang Mei decided to push things even further. Manifesting a pair of chains made of her own qi, she wrapped them around his neck tightly. After, she added a flame spell that would constantly burn him whenever she felt like it.
"Aaagh!" Tang Jiao screamed in pain as his throat was seared. He tried to force the chains off of him, but no matter how hard he pulled they would not budge.
Unlike Tang Jiao, Tang Mei was one of the Tang Clan's true chosen. Despite being three years younger than him, her ethereal spirit had already reached the complete body stage. With such a massive gap in their cultivations and stripped of his royal protection, he was at Tang Mei's mercy.
"You had quite a few treasures stored up in that palace of yours that I had my eye on! I was going to have you give them to me, but they've already been taken away! Who did you fear more that would make you fulfill their request before mine?!" She demanded while pulling hard on Tang Jiao's leash.
Tang Jiao tried to respond, but all that came out were choking sounds.
"Tang... Zhi... lei..." Tang Jiao knees gave out after saying the name.
"Tang Zhilei..." Upon hearing the name, Tang Mei's expression went dark. She loosened her hold on Tang Jiao's leash, allowing him to breathe again.
"Get up! You're making my hair touch the ground!" As Tang Jiao struggled to get back into his original position, Tang Mei swung her gorgeous long black hair around, slapping him in the face in the process.
Pondering for a moment, her face became stern and she tugged on Tang Jiao's leash once more.
"We are going to Zhilei's palace! After our business is concluded I'll let you go!"
Cold sweat began to form on Tang Jiao's forehead.
"We are going to Tang Zhilei's residence...?" Earlier, Tang Jiao's face was painted with pain and anger. Now, all that could be seen was fear.
If one were to ask who the Tang Clan's greatest talent was, it would be undeniably be Tang Zhilei. At the age of eight, he embarked on the path of cultivation. In that same year, he completed a perfect cleansing and became a Spirit Waking cultivator. Four years later, he formed his dao and manifested his ethereal spirit.
Everyone expected Tang Zhilei to complete his ethereal spirit immediately, but for some reason he decided to take his time. It took six years for him to complete his ethereal spirit, much to the confusion of many. While forming a complete ethereal spirit in six years still classified one as a genius, many had higher expectations for the young prodigy. However, he shocked everyone once again when he broke through the virtue and vice realms in the span of twelve years!
The virtue and vice realms were the stages that separated the pseudo cultivators from the true cultivators. With the exception of certain geniuses, most cultivators in this realm were old men or those reaching their late middle-ages.
This was why Tang Zhilei was held in such high regard by not just the Tang Clan, but the entire Tang Province. Just reaching his thirties, he had already tamed two of his vices and was a hairs breadth away from mastering the third. Even the Clan Head gave him special treatment, bestowing upon him status equal to that of royalty.
Tang Mei had a gloomy expression on her face as Tang Jiao crawled towards Tang Zhilei's palace. Unlike the rest of the chosen who resided in luxurious palaces in the most scenic areas of the capital, Tang Zhilei lived near a dark and desolate mountain that isolated himself from the rest of the clan. This mountain was located behind the main palace and was solely inhabited by him.
As the two approached the steps of Tang Zhilei's palace, Tang Jiao stopped his advance.
"What are you doing? This isn't the first time you've come here. What's the problem with seeing him one more time? Ah, forget it. I'll walk in myself." Tang Mei got off Tang Jiao's back and walked up the stairs towards the palace doors. She pulled the chain around Tang Jiao's neck, forcing him to follow closely behind her.
With the exception of the lanterns dimly lighting the area, the entire mountain was dark and murky. While Tang Zhilei's palace looked quite clean and well-kept, it radiated a sense of dread that filled the atmosphere. It didn't feel like the residence of a talented genius, but the lair of a powerful demon that could not be provoked!
Once they reached the doors, Tang Mei clasped her hands and lowered her head.
"Brother Zhilei! This junior sister Tang Mei has something to discuss with you!"
After a brief moment, the doors opened and black smoke escaped from the widening crevice. It filled the air with a thick smell of incense mixed with the iron-like stench of blood.
"I am in the meditation chamber on the top floor. You and the young lord may come see me. I'll disable the defensive formations." The message was transmitted directly into Tang Mei and Tang Jiao's minds through spiritual sense.
The interior of the palace was pitch black. Nothing could be seen except the faint outline of stairs that led to the upper levels.
As the two of them went up the steps, they heard faint screams that grew louder with every floor they passed.
"What does he do in this place? Why is every floor filled with these miserable cries?" Tang Mei wondered.
While the Tang Clan's chosen were all fairly acquainted with each other, Tang Zhilei was an exception. Even the most talented geniuses did not know much about him, other than the rumors of his tremendous power.
There was once a clan member who thought Tang Zhilei was merely a figurehead set up by the Clan Head to inspire the other chosen. He ventured off to his residence and openly challenged him to a duel. No one knew the details of the confrontation, but the challenger was never seen again. Seeing that the Clan Head did not pursue the incident, no one dared to challenge Tang Zhilei ever again.
[I should not have come back. Especially not with Tang Mei. If she ends up angering Lord Zhilei, I will suffer greatly.]
At the age of thirty, Tang Zhilei was still considered a member of the younger generation since he did not reach his middle ages yet. Out of respect, as well as a great deal of fear, Tang Jiao carried out the punishment set by his father starting with him.
When Tang Jiao came previously, the screams were present then as well. At the time, he tried to use his spiritual sense to investigate the cause, but couldn't detect anything. Whatever the cause of the screams, Tang Zhilei clearly did not want him to know about it.
Reaching the top floor, Tang Mei opened the door to the meditation chamber and the figure of a young man could be seen sitting in front of a purple flame.
"Welcome Junior Sister Mei, it has been a while. The same goes for you too young master Tang Jiao. It is my honor to see the future successor of the Tang Clan a second time." Tang Zhilei said with his back still turned.
His voice was deep and powerful, but there was also a slight hiss in his tone, similar to that of a snake.
Tang Jiao immediately got on his knees and bowed before Tang Zhilei, but Tang Mei stood firm.
"You took all of this loser's treasures when he came to you did you not? Some of the treasures he possessed were of great value to me! I don't care what your status in the clan is or your power. I want a share of those treasures!" She said stalwartly.
"Haha..." Tang Zhilei let out a crooked smile and turned to face the two visitors.
Even with the poor lighting in the room, Tang Zhilei's features were extremely defined and visible. His face was similar to that of a snake, and he had long black hair that extended halfway down his back. However, what stood out the most was his unnaturally pale skin and crimson eyes. If snake was the first word people would use to describe his appearance, the second one would undoubtly be demon.
While handsome in all aspects, Tang Jiao noticed that Tang Zhilei looked slightly different since the last time he came. During his previous visit the day before, Tang Zhilei did not have the slight snake-like features he had right now. Even though his skin and eye colors were the same, he had the face of an ordinary human. Though it was barely noticeable, Tang Jiao found it odd that his appearance would change at all in such a short amount of time.
"Xiao Mei, unlike the other chosen, you are strong-willed and fearless. That is why I have a much more favorable impression of you compared to the rest of the so called geniuses of the clan. Because of that, I'll offer you one treasure of your choosing. Which treasure do you want? A treasure to help fuse your ethereal spirit into your body and break into Virtue Seeking? Life-saving protection?"
"I want... The Twin Orchids."
Tang Zhilei frowned when he heard Tang Mei's choice.
"How boring." He said with a displeased tone.
Tang Jiao's eyes widened when Tang Mei said she wanted the Twin Orchids.
Out of all the treasures he had accumulated, the Twin Orchids could hardly be considered anything special. It was a defensive treasure for cultivation couples and its power depended on the strength of the bond between the two who possessed them. The ones holding the flowers needed to be in perfect sync and even the slightest waver in love could weaken the defensive properties of the orchids drastically.
Tang Zhilei waved his hand and two elegant pink orchids the size of a thumb flew into Tang Mei's open palms. She looked at them with affection before putting them into her bag of holding.
"May I ask which dashing soul has caught your eye Xiao Mei...?"
A cold shiver went up Tang Jiao's back when he heard the word 'soul'. Whoever this person was, it seemed like they had already made an enemy of Tang Zhilei. This didn't seem to be out of jealousy either. Tang Jiao felt no love coming from Tang Zhilei's voice.
"Love is only a temporary satisfaction Xiao Mei. I do not wish to see you lose your great inner strength for something so trivial. Tell me who this person is and you will remain the true beauty you currently are."
"Forgive me Brother Zhilei. I cannot disclose that information to you. I believe we have disturbed your meditation enough already. We will be on our way." Tang Mei gave a quick bow before leaving the palace with Tang Jiao.
Tang Zhilei stared at Tang Mei coldly as the two of them left. Afterwards, he let out a scoff.
"Tch... Seems like all of the chosen really are just trash. I really thought you were different Tang Mei. Unfortunate..."
Upon returning to the main area of the capital, Tang Mei released Tang Jiao.
"Alright loser, you're free to go. One warning though. If you tell anyone what happened at Zhilei's palace, what you experienced today will be heaven compared to what I'll do to you next."
"Yes..." No matter what he was in the past, the current Tang Jiao was nothing. Before someone like Tang Mei who was above him in all aspects, all he could do was lower his head.
After dealing with Tang Mei, Tang Jiao had no more energy to fulfill any additional requests. He returned to his palace to find a messenger waiting at his front door.
"Sigh... I'm only taking a short break. At first light on the next day, I'll head back out and continue fulfilling the requests of the younger generation." Tang Jiao said as he approached the messenger.
"Young master Tang Jiao, that's not what I'm here for."
"Your father wants to see you. There is news about a missing slave---" Before the messenger could finish the sentence, Tang Jiao was already on his way to the main palace.
[No matter what kind of news it is, if it concerns Yin Hui, I don't care if I have to go through hell to hear it!]
This time the messenger let out a sigh.
"Apparently, the slave boy has evaded young master's Tang Li and Tang Bian. Not only that, but a squad of peak Spirit Manifestation cultivators have been killed as well. Right now, Lord Clan Head is furious and is deciding their punishment. I hope he knows what he's rushing into..."
"So not only did the slave brat escape, but all the Spirit Manifestation cultivators that came with you died as well?" The Clan Head said with restrained anger.
Before him, Tang Li and Tang Bian knelt with their heads down.
"My deepest apologies Lord Clan Head. The Scattered Leaves Chief was stronger then we anticipated. We did not expect her cultivation to be in the Virtue Seeking realm."
"For your sake she better be dead..."
Even though the odds of defeating a Virtue Seeking cultivator without another of equal power was extremely slim, the clan head did not care.
While he may not kill Tang Li for this failure, the same could not be said with Tang Bian.
It wasn't a matter of being fair. As the patriarch of the clan, he had absolute authority to determine what was fair and what was not.
"Yes, my lord. I had a sliver of my father's spiritual sense on me at the time. With that, I was able to use defeat the Village Chief."
"What a coincidence..." The Clan Head responded as if he expected that kind of answer.
"As for Yin Hui. I believe his objective is to leave the province. However, since his cultivation is so low, there's no chance that he will get past any of the borders. Even if he goes for the weakest border, he will need to get through Coiling Pass which will lead to his death without us needing to do anything.
"Very well. Given the fact that you managed to fulfill your secondary objective I will be lenient. Tang Bian, you are sentenced to five years on the front lines. Until your time has been served, you are unable to take a single step into the capital."
"Yes Lord Clan Head." He replied solemnly.
The clan head then turned his head towards Tang Li.
"You on the other hand, will not get off so easy. To think my son is so incapable that a slave who just started cultivating could evade him. No, I think you merely have your loyalties mixed up. With that being the case---"
The doors opened and a glittering ball of light sped into the throne room. Stopping before the clan head, the light subsided and revealed a severely injured man.
"Who dares to interrupt---" Before the clan head could finish speaking, the sound of another person approaching echoed from outside.
Tang Jiao came in shortly after. He moved to where Tang Li and Tang Bian were positioned and dropped to his knees.
"Father! I heard there is news about Yin Hui! Please allow me to hear as well!"
"Tang Jiao... Is this your doing..." The clan head's face was white with anger. Not only was he just getting over Tang Bian and Tang Li's failure, but now Tang Jiao and an injured man had just barged into his throne room without authorization. Were it anyone else, they would have been immediately executed for showing such disrespect.
Half-conscious, the injured man stumbled to his feet. His eyes swept around the room briefly and widened when he saw the old man standing in front of him. He immediately sobered and kneeled before the clan head with his hands clasped.
"Your excellency Tang! Forgive this intrusion! I am Tao Kai of the Eastern Outpost! The outpost has been destroyed due to the efforts of three extraordinary individuals of the younger generation. Furthermore, my father Tao Mu has also been killed in a battle with an elder of the Yan Clan!"
Tao Mu treasured his son dearly and planned for the worst case scenario when he was informed of the attack by Tao Kai. Within the medicinal pill that he took was a life saving spell that would instantly transport him to the Tang capital if his life was ever in danger.
It also contained a memory link that would share all of Tao Mu memories with Tao Kai starting from when he took the pill. That was why he knew of his father's death and the arrival of the members of the Yan Clan.
"Tell me... What were these three individuals like?" He asked quietly.
"One was a girl who seemed to be in her late teens or early twenties. The other two were young boys of about twelve and fifteen. The girl is a terrifying genius, already possessing the power of Virtue Seeking. Apparently she is the granddaughter of one of the Yan's elders."
"As for the two boys. The younger one possesses a strange ability when it comes to talking. It seems like has the power to convince anyone to do just about anything even in the heat of battle."
"The older one is even more special. He has long black hair, purple eyes and radiates a demonic aura. Not only that, but he possesses what my father believes to be a Blood Sacrifice Sword!"
"Fortunately, those two don't seemed to be affiliated with the Yan as they intended to head to the Storm Province after the invasion. They should be long gone by now and will likely not be a factor in the upcoming war against the---"
The clan head pointed a finger towards Tao Kai, who was instantly reduced to a pool of blood without even being given a chance to scream. Waving his hand, the blood gathered and flew into a large bowl beside his throne.
Afterwards, the clan head shot an ice cold glare at Tang Bian, who's face was frozen in fear.
This was the first time in his life that he had ever miscalculated to such a degree. Even now, Tang Bian found it hard to believe that Yin Hui was able to enlist the help of the Yan Clan to help him escape the province.
Tang Jiao was panicking as well. At this moment, he wished he was back on all fours as Tang Mei's personal mount.
On the other hand, Tang Li merely knelt silently with a complex expression on his face.
"Lord Clan Head! Please wait! I--"
Tang Bian's voice was cut as the clan head lifted him into the air by the throat. Using his spiritual sense, the clan head went through Tang Bian's memories until he found a person that matched Tao Kai's description.
"So this is the slave we are looking for."
The entire time the clan head was searching his memories, Tang Bian never stopped screaming. Every cell in his brain felt like it was being melted in a vat of lava. If given time to prepare and done gradually, searching through a person's memory using spiritual sense was painless. However, the clan head was not in a merciful mood and drove his spiritual sense into Tang Bian like a knife cutting grass.
After five whole minutes, the clan head loosened his grip on Tang Bian's neck and dropped his body to the ground. He had already gotten the information he needed within the first few seconds of searching, but intentionally made Tang Bian suffer due to his miscalculations.
"Words cannot describe the anger I am currently feeling. Not only has one slave caused us so much trouble, but the son of my Tang Clan's greatest tactician and my own children could not stop him. Should I be laughing or should I be crying?"
The clan head walked towards his throne and took a seat.
"Tang Jiao! You are waived of your previous sentence! Instead, you and Tang Bian are banished! Not just from the capital, but from the clan and province as well! Also, neither of you are to take any of your belongings, save the clothes on your back. Your banishment will hold until you bring me this Yin Hui's corpse!"
Tang Jiao paused for a moment. However, seeing his father's current mood he let out a sigh and picked up Tang Bian's trembling body.
Turning towards Tang Li, a small black flame ignited on the tip of the clan head's finger.
"You are also banished. The conditions are the same, but you will also have this."
Tang Li grunted as his father shot the black flame into his chest. The flame passed through effortlessly and dug itself deep into Tang Li's heart.
"I know you did not give your full effort the last time I sent you to capture that brat. Since you didn't obey me when I asked nicely, I'll just have to force you."
"If you are to ever encounter that boy during your banishment, the flame will know. When that happens, it will activate and slowly begin to kill you unless you attack him. Also, to motivate you further, I have an imposed a ten year time limit. Regardless of your intentions, if I don't remove the spell after ten years your life ends."
"All this fuss over a slave possibly holding the secrets to an old legend. I can see how the Yan Clan has become such a threat. Unlike us, they are living in the now while we are busy chasing the past." Tang Li mocked.
"Silence!" The clan head activated the flame within Tang Li's heart.
Falling to the ground, Tang Li clutched his chest in pain as he tried to resist the burning within his heart.
"There is plenty of evidence already that this inheritance is no mere legend. Destroying one of the eastern outposts? Obtaining a Blood Sacrifice Sword? It has only been a couple months and this boy has already caused so much trouble!"
"Get out! I want you three out of the capital by first light of the next day. Don't even think about hiding out somewhere in the outskirts either. If you do, I will personally come end your lives myself
Thundercloud was the largest settlement in the Storm Province. It was the province's capital and home to the Striking Thunder Sect.
Like the Tang Capital, Thundercloud was built on top of a massive qi reservoir. However, unlike the Tang, the city was not solely inhabited by members of a single clan.
Members of the Striking Thunder Sect came from a variety of backgrounds. The sect was not prejudiced towards those of lower status and allowed anyone in as long as they possessed talent.
While ninety percent of Thundercloud's population was comprised of cultivators, the remaining ten was filled with mortals. Even as a mortal, living near a qi reservoir had it's benefits. Though they did not benefit the same way cultivators did, the mortals of Thundercloud were stronger, faster, and smarter then most other mortals due to constantly being exposed to the energies of the qi reservoir.
Outside the main gate of the city, a young man wearing a white robe stood at attention as two figures walked towards him.
One of the figures was a youth with a dark and terrifying appearance. He had long black hair, violet eyes, slightly pale skin, and radiated a menacing aura that sent shivers up his spine.
Shifting his gaze onto the second figure, the white robed man's eyes relaxed slightly.
Beside the intimidating youth was a young boy who seemed to have not even reached his teens yet. The boy had a carefree smile and a warm expression that would put the hearts of most people at ease.
The white-robed man subtly released his spiritual sense to gauge the strength of the two visitors. However, before his spiritual sense could analyze them, it dissipated as if it were canceled out by some external force.
[[Damn! It must have been that scary looking fellow. To detect my spiritual sense and then negate it without any flare in spiritual pressure. What is his cultivation?]
"You two! Identify yourselves! Judging by your appearances, you seem to be cultivators, but I do not recall seeing your faces before! State your business!"
Yin Hui walked toward the white-robed man until he was only half a meter away from him. While the man felt slightly intimidated, he did not show it and kept a stern front.
[From what I've learned from the other settlements on the way here, Thundercloud is the capital of the Storm Province. The Striking Thunder Sect is its ruler and every cultivator in the city is a member.]
When the white-robed man released his spiritual sense earlier, Yin Hui intercepted it with his own spiritual sense. He couldn't afford to let anyone scan him with their sense regardless of who they were. If anyone were to find out about his fiend body, he would be branded as a demonic cultivator and swiftly executed.
Until he was strong enough to protect himself, he had to tread with maximum caution.
[By my estimate, this man is only a peak Spirit Waking cultivator. There is no way the Striking Thunder Sect would only leave a person of this level guarding one of the gates. There must be a powerful expert nearby who has yet to reveal themselves.]
"Greetings brother. My name is Yang Xiang and this is my younger brother Yang Yu. We come from a small town in the outskirts and wish to join the Striking Thunder Sect." Yin Hui clasped his hands respectfully.
"I see... More hopefuls from the outskirts desiring to test their luck in the entrance test. However! You should know the fee for new travelers entering the city is a thousand qi crystals each!"
"A thousand qi crystals? You have got to be joking. Even mortals visit this city. How would the general entrance fee be a thousand qi crystals?"
"I'm sorry, but those are the rules. The fee is dependent on the person entering. Even mortals would need to take out a sack of gold just to get through the gate. As for cultivators, a thousand qi crystals is already considered cheap. Usually the price is five hundred more than that."
[Country bumpkins... While there is a fee to enter the city, it only applies to merchants looking to start a business in the city. Normal travelers, especially cultivators hoping to join the sect don't have to pay anything!]
Yu Zhuwa pulled Yin Hui to the side and whispered into his ear.
"Big brother, this guy is definitely lying. He probably is just taking advantage of us because we said we're from the outskirts."
"Then what should we do about it? We can't force our way through him. The Striking Thunder Sect is bound to have someone much stronger than this guy watching from afar. If we cause trouble now, it will only hurt our chances of getting in."
Yin Hui considered showing the man Yu Mingxi's medallion and informing him about his search for Master Tempest, but in the end decided not to. The man at the gate did not seem to be a very high ranking member of the sect given his cultivation. So even if Yin Hui showed the medallion, there was no guarantee that it would help.
Just as Yin Hui was about to take out treasures to substitute for qi crystals, Yu Zhuwa stopped him.
"Don't worry, I'll handle this." He said with a smile.
After a few minutes, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa were inside Thundercloud.
"Heh, that was easy. In the span of a few minutes, we went from a fee of a thousand spirit stones each, to gaining free entry in addition to a map of the city!" Yu Zhuwa laughed.
"You sure have a way with words... In your previous life you must've been an infamous swindler." Yin Hui joked.
"No idea! I just know that from the moment I was born, I had a natural knack for persuasion and talking! That's why even though I was an orphan from birth, I've never gone hungry or lacked shelter once!"
"Didn't you say that this skill also had a backlash?"
Yu Zhuwa looked down on the ground in embarrassment while scratching his head.
"Well yeah... Normally my clumsiness negates whatever fortune I've obtained shortly after. Even if it doesn't, there is usually some kind of consequence that follows eventually. However! It's never put me or anyone else in serious jeopardy before!"
Yin Hui let out a sigh. He'd already experienced the ups and downs of Yu Zhuwa's 'golden tongue' before, and so far, what he said was true.
"Let's hope it stays that way... In the meantime, let's check out the city for a bit. We are planning to stay here long term, so might as well get used to the area before we attempt to join the sect."
Around seventy percent of Thundercloud's land was used exclusively by the Striking Thunder Sect. Despite the rest of the population owning only the remaining thirty percent, this was not an issue at all. Even though there were about a million mortals living in the city, they only took up about twenty percent.
The Striking Thunder Sect was quite benevolent towards the mortals and never made any attempts to seize the unused land from them. No one knew the reason for this behavior, but many of the other provinces saw it as a sign of incapability and weakness.
It was a sunny afternoon and the main market district was crowded with people. The district was cut into two halves, one half belonging to the mortals and the other to the immortals.
Moving straight to the immortal section of the market district, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa began to browse the various shops and stalls. The market was very loud as many vendors were shouting offers to attract customers.
"Spirit pills! Two hundred qi crystals each! Guaranteed to boost your absorption of qi threefold with a single pill!"
"Flying swords of varying qualities! Priced one thousand to ten thousand in price! A necessity for an experienced cultivator!"
"Viewing Mirrors! Two thousand five hundred qi crystals each! Though you may think this is a scam, these mirrors have been imbued with a spell that will allow you to gaze upon beauties unobstructed and unseen!"
After pushing past the crowd of people lining up at the Viewing Mirror booth, Yin Hui saw a small stall that was isolated from most of the others.
There were no other stalls around it and the owner was not making any sales pitches to attract customers like the others. Instead, the owner, who was an elderly man with a head full of grey hair, simply sat in a wooden chair with his eyes closed as if he were in deep meditation.
Nothing on the old man's display were very eye-catching or appealing. There were swords, furnaces, and other various trinkets. However, everything looked quite old and rustic. Curious, Yin Hui decided to take a closer look.
"Greetings senior, your stall has caught my attention. Do you have any recommendations or featured items for sale?"
The old man did not open his eyes, but he seemed to acknowledge Yin Hui's presence.
"A thousand qi crystals for an appraisal. If you are deemed worthy of an item, I will give it to you free of charge. If not then you must leave."
Yu Zhuwa, who had just caught up gasped when he heard the old man's statement. Quickly scanning the spread of dusty items, Yu Zhuwa looked at the old man with disgust.
"A thousand crystals for potentially nothing? Are you trying to scam my brother old man?"
"Either give me the crystals or leave. My goal is not to make a sale, but to find these treasures a new owner. The only reason I require crystals is to replenish my energy after each appraisal."
"All of these items you're selling look like junk! Your entire collection probably isn't even worth a thousand qi crystals!"
Yin Hui held Yu Zhuwa back and gestured in apology.
"Forgive my younger brother senior. I believe your words. Your personal temperament and the way you set up your stall is enough to convince me you are telling the truth. I do not have a thousand qi crystals, but I can give you treasures of my own that add up to the fee's price."
Reaching into his bag of holding, Yin Hui dropped a large assortment of weapons and accessories he had plundered back in the wastelands.
The shopkeeper frowned at the collection of equipment before him. While the items Yin Hui offered were definitely equivalent to a thousand qi crystals, he still had to sell them first.
"Hmph... Instead of payment, this is just giving me more work. How about this? I will appraise you and if you are acknowledged by any of my treasures then I will accept these. If not, you will have to pay me twofold in qi crystals."
Yu Zhuwa smashed his fist against the old man's table.
"Are you out of your mind old man? What kind of deception are you trying to pull on us? Brother lets go! We don't need to deal with this." Yu Zhuwa began to walk away, but stopped when he found out that Yin Hui was not following.
"Yang Yu. I have a feeling that this senior has an item that will be very useful to me. Please be patient."
Yu Zhuwa shook his head and let out a small sigh.
"Alright... If you feel like its a good idea, then I won't stop you..."
Yin Hui turned back towards the shopkeeper and nodded. The old man pulled out another wooden chair and gestured for Yin Hui to sit.
Waving his hand, the shopkeeper formed a thin barrier around his entire stand. With this barrier, any actions that occurred inside would be hard to detect unless one was focusing specifically on them like Yu Zhuwa. The barrier also muffled the sound outside as well, so much that Yin Hui felt like they were the only two on the street.
"For the appraisal to begin I need complete concentration. Now that all the distractions have been taken care of we can start."
Yin Hui gave a short nod. At this point, he firmly believed that the old man was no con. Using his spiritual sense, he discovered that the barrier was composed entirely of true qi. True qi was the core of the Spirit Manifestation realm and every cultivator in it treated each strand as if it were a priceless treasure. Seeing the old man use some so casually without hesitation could only mean that the old man was at least in the Virtue Seeking realm.
The various antiques on display started to glow white with different degrees of intensity.
"If you are fated with one of these treasures, the glow will change from white to red. However, if none of them turn red in the next ten minutes then it means you are not fated for any of them."
Immediately the old man said this, one of the antiques turned red. It was a cracked helmet with a ruby imbedded at the forehead.
The power emanating from the helmet shocked Yin Hui. He felt that if he put it on, even an attack backed up with Tao Kai's full cultivation would not be enough to faze him.
"The appraisal has just started so don't be hasty. There may be a better treasure that has yet to reveal itself."
Just like the shopkeeper said, another treasured turned red shortly after. This time it was a dusty sword that seemed to be made entirely of jade.
"Interesting. You may have some potential after all. The Emerald Saber is one of the higher level treasures here. It's full destructive power is so great that it has tasted the blood of an Immortal Treading cultivator."
Suddenly, the table cracked and two more treasures emitted a bright crimson glow. This time the items were an ordinary looking wine gourd and a pendant with a tiger on it.
The old man's eyes widened when he saw the two newest options.
"Earthen Dew Gourd and the Tiger Pendant! Kid! Forget slaying an Immortal Treading cultivator! You have the potential to become one!"
As the appraisal continued more and more of the old man's antiques would begin to glow red.
"Hmm odd, why are these lower level treasures reacting to you now? It doesn't make sense for them to acknowledge you after the higher ones. Wait what?!"
As the ten minutes neared it's end, the number of treasures which converted increased exponentially. Soon, every single item the old man had in his stall was shining with a luminous bloody red.
The old man collapsed in his chair after the appraisal ended. Sweat dripped down his neck as he stared at the young man before him.
Yin Hui stared at the various antiques that had supposedly chosen him. Strangely, despite what the old man said, he personally did not feel a connection to any of them.
"Senior, I don't mean to be rude, but I feel like none of these treasures suit me."
"Don't act smart with me! None of these treasures suit you? Preposterous! Some of these treasures have the potential to turn you into an Earth Immortal!" The old man shouted. His expression was a mix of anger and shock.
Yin Hui clasped his hands and lowered his head.
"I apologise for offending you senior, but that's not what I meant. While I do not feel any particular connection to these treasures, I do sense that there is something here that is fated with me."
During the appraisal, Yin Hui noticed that the items with the strongest connection to him were items that had traces of demonic qi. Spreading his sense around the shop, he found one item that was particularly high with demonic qi moreso than all the others.
"Senior, may I have that treasure?"
Yin Hui pointed to a round red jade that was displayed in an obscure position on the top shelf of the stall.
Almost as if it had been called, the red jade broke through it's container and flew towards Yin Hui. It penetrated through his body as if it were incorporeal and his body began to glow bright red.
Yin Hui felt a rush of warmth as the energies within the jade coursed through him. He felt it overlap with the demonic qi composing his fiend body, masking it in a way that even spiritual sense would not be able to see through it.
[This jade... It has completely masked all traces of demonic energy within me. I feel like even if Su Jia's grandfather used his spiritual sense on me right now, he wouldn't detect anything. How does this old man have a treasure like this?]
When Yin Hui looked back at the old man, he saw that he was now kneeling at his feet.
"Senior? Why are you kneeling?"
"I am merely paying my respects to someone who will become a significant figure in the future someday." The shopkeeper said with deep respect.
"This treasure... It is exactly what I need at the moment. May I have your name? In the future, I will pay you back tenfold for it."
"You may address me as Hei Pu, young master. Please do not worry about payment, it is not my place to accept any from someone like you. The one who possesses the red jade is protected from the eyes of all. Even an Earth Immortal would not be able to see through you. It may not have any uses combat wise, but being untraceable has its uses."
Yin Hui gave a deep bow towards the old man.
"Thank you, sir. I'll try to live up to the expectations you have of me."
"Before you go, may you give me the honor of telling me your name young master?" Hei Pi asked respectfully.
"I will remember it."
Smiling, the Hei Pu snapped his fingers and the barrier around them dissipated.
Yu Zhuwa, who saw everything, stood silently with shock on his face. While he did not hear what was said inside, the flashes of red and faint pressure that leaked from the barrier was enough to baffle him.
"Brother Yang Xiang! What happened in there?"
"Your senior brother has just received a massive fortune. We can now focus all our efforts on joining the Striking Thunder Sect."
Yin Hui gave one last respectful bow to Hei Pu before walking away with Yu Zhuwa.
As soon as they left, a wide grin appeared on Hei Pu's face. All the antiques around him blurred and turned into identical white spheres.
[One signifies potential. Five represents a trace. The more spheres that activate, the more pure the individual. This boy triggered all of them and was even selected by the the red jade!]
[Yang Xiang... To think I would find the one the lord was looking for during a mere scouting. However, he has yet to mature. Right now, he is far too weak to be off any use to his lordship. Regardless, I must report this to him as soon as possible!]
With all the commotion that was happening around the market district, no one noticed Hei Pu and his stall melding away into the shadows.
[Grow and become strong young master. Once you are ready, you shall be presented before the lord. The Striking Thunder Sect is not where your true destiny lies.]
"Interesting... So it seems I have a little mole in my city."
Just as Hei Pu was about to completely fade away, a telepathic message entered his mind. This message was sent using spiritual sense, and whoever was sending it was so powerful that their voice alone paralyzed his whole body.
"So I assume you witnessed everything then. Just so you know, I am indeed one of the Hei Pu. With your cultivation, surely you are someone who knows the consequences of killing one."
"Of course I am aware. However, who said I was going to kill you?"
"Gak..." Suddenly, Hei Pu felt his head begin to ache. The aching intensified quickly until it felt like a thousand swords were penetrating it. He then immediately set up the same barrier he used during the appraisal before shrieking in agony over the pain.
"While I may not be able to kill you, I can still reset your progress back by erasing all your recent memories." The voice said cooly.
"Heh heh heh... I know who you are now. Unfortunately, even you won't be able to touch a single memory contained within this head of mine. That is because I have the protection of my master!"
Both of Hei Pu's eyes turned red and a red cross appeared on his forehead. An enormous pressure erupted from his body that repelled and nearly dispersed the spiritual sense that was trying to erase his memory. Afterwards, his body dissolved into multiple black sprites that dove into nearest shadow, vanishing completely.
"He really is worthy of being the ruler of the strongest province. Even if I came here personally, I would need to spend some effort trying to release the spell protecting that Hei Pu's mind. Now that he is gone, what should I do with the boy they are so interested in?"
The strand of spiritual sense flew into the sky and focused on the strolling Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa.
"Clearly this boy has some value to the Hei Pu and their lord, but in what way? Is there something in his body that they need? I didn't take the time to analyze the boy before that red jade entered his body so I can no longer find out. He wants to join the Striking Thunder Sect so I see no reason to interfere now. If he is capable and makes it pass the entrance exam, I will have plenty of time to question him then."
After watching the two for a few more minutes, the strand of spiritual sense faded away like a dying flame.
"Who was that old man big brother?" Yu Zhuwa asked.
"I'm not sure. All I know for certain is that he knows I cultivate some kind of demonic art. During the appraisal, I felt my demonic qi react with some of the treasures in his possession."
"What?! What do we do now? If others find out, then won't you be in danger?"
"If my speculations are correct, Hei Pu is a demonic cultivator as well."
"For now Hei Pu is not an enemy, but a benefactor. As long as it stays that way, I will pay his kindness back tenfold once I get the chance. This red jade he gave me has the ability to conceal all the demonic qi in my body. Thanks to it, my body is now indistinguishable from any other cultivator's. Even if Su Jia's grandfather were to use his spiritual sense on me right now, he would see nothing."
"I trust you... However, I still think that the old man has something he hasn't told you." Yu Zhuwa was still extremely skeptic about Hei Pu. He didn't know exactly what, but he felt like he was not someone to be trusted.
"Everyone has their secrets and motives. If Hei Pu turns out to be an enemy, then we will deal with it then. In our current state, we need to make use of every weapon possible, even if it is a double edged sword. Come on. It's time for us to head to the front gate of the Striking Thunder Sect."
"H-hey you!" A voice shouted from behind.
Hearing that the voice was directed at them, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa turned around. Behind them was an elderly man with one arm and a head white hair. He wore noticeably expensive silk robes, but radiated no air of class due to how sloppily they were draped around his body.
Seeing that he got their attention, the old man pointed a wobbily finger towards Yin Hui.
"Y-you! The brat with t-the fierce look on his f-face! I s-saw you at that s-s-shady booth a f-few blocks down! Your a d-demonic c-c-cultivator!"
Yin Hui's heart tensed, but he didn't display an ounce of panic. The old man had a dazed look in his eye, which made it painfully obvious that he was drunk. Even if he had seen what transpired at the booth, he would most likely forget it the next day.
"Sir, I don't know what you're talking about. You must have had too many drinks and need to rest. Come let me help you find a bench." As Yin Hui attempted to grab the old man's hand, the old man slapped it away.
"Don't t-t-touch me d-demon! S-somebody call the S-striking S-s-sect..." Before the old man could finish, he lost his balance and passed out flat on his back.
The other people browsing the market turned their heads briefly towards Yin Hui and the old man, but looked away shortly after. They clearly did not believe the old man and thought he was just some drunk lunatic.
Yin Hui let out a sigh of relief. He told Yu Zhuwa to go on ahead and wrapped the old man's sole arm around his shoulder. Bringing him to a bench outside the market district, he scanned the drunken senior with his spiritual sense.
"I don't detect any spiritual energy so he must be a mortal. That's good. Since that is the case, it is likely he doesn't even know what a demonic cultivator really is."
Just as he was about to leave, Yin Hui noticed a small mirror that fell out of the old man's robes. When he picked it up, he discovered that it looked exactly like the popular Viewing Mirrors that were being sold back at the market.
Yin Hui looked at the unconscious old man with an expression of disappointment.
"Why am I not surprised... Well, it's not my place to judge so I guess I'll just give it back to him."
As Yin Hui leaned in to place the mirror within the folds of the old man's robes, the old man's eyes suddenly shot open. He grabbed Yin Hui's arm with a firm grip and had a vicious expression on his face.
"So! Not only are you a demonic cultivator, but you're also a thief! Well, you messed with the wrong old man this time punk! For I am going to---Gak!"
The old man passed out once more as Yin Hui delivered a swift chop to the back of his neck.
"Alright, that's enough of that. Hopefully, by the time you wake up you will have calmed down and forgotten everything."
An enormous crowd of people were gathered together at the front gate of the Striking Thunder Sect. All of them were cultivators of the younger generation, with the oldest ones being in their late twenties.
They chatted amongst themselves, bragging about their past exploits and how they were the most talented cultivators in their respective villages.
"Hmph, I assure you all. During the aptitude test, my score will not just warrant me a pass, but an immediate designation as a core disciple." One youth declared.
The cultivator beside him let out a snort of contempt.
"With just you? I am the number one genius of the Amethyst Pavilion. My talent is so great that I bet I will receive personal instruction by one of the elders!"
The Striking Thunder Sect was always looking for new disciples. With their vast resources and large population, applicants did not have to wait long to be evaluated.
While securing an evaluation was quite easy, getting in was another story. There were three ways an applicant could get accepted. The first was to pass the aptitude test. This involved completing a series of simple challenges that would be graded by an elder to measure the degree of talent in the individual.
If one did not meet the required level of talent, then the second option was to challenge one of the listed disciples. The disciples on the list ranged from early Spirit Waking to peak Spirit Manifestation, and were also ordered by age.
To challenge a disciple, there were two conditions. The first was that you could not challenge a disciple with lower cultivation than you. The second was that the disciple could not be younger. Often, hopefuls who chose this method were at a huge disadvantage. This was because although they could fight against an opponent of equal cultivation, they would still be outmatched by the various skills that were at the disposal of one trained by the sect.
The final method of entry was to have a cultivation base of Virtue Seeking and above. This was a given as reaching the Virtue Seeking stage was already a mark of talent in itself, so cultivators of this rank were always welcome.
Every year, the Striking Thunder Sect would receive thousands of applicants. However, the amount of people who would actually make it in never exceeded fifty.
Yin Hui spotted Yu Zhuwa amongst the crowd near the gate and walked over to him.
"Done tending to the elderly?" Yu Zhuwa smiled.
"Yeah. Did you find out when the evaluations start?"
"Apparently they're going to start anytime now. I'm kind of nervous though. From the way these guys are talking, it looks we have some pretty fierce competition."
Yin Hui shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't worry about it too much. In my experience, those who talk too much are usually more bark than bite. Besides, the sect does not have a limit on how many can pass. It's just whether you are able to pass."
"I guess so."
Silence followed as the sound of the gong entered the ears of all the cultivators waiting to be evaluated. After the ringing subsided, the gates began to open, and a man who looked to be reaching his senior years stood at the doorway.
The man's hair was a mix of dull black and concrete grey. He wore a dark yellow robe and had a constant expression of dissatisfaction on his face.
All the cultivators outside, including Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa, clasped their hands and bowed towards the aging man.
"Greetings senior!" They shouted in unison.
"Hmph. At least you hopefuls have decent respect... I am Mo Gang! An elder of the Striking Thunder Sect and your evaluator! All of you will follow me into the main courtyard! Anyone who is dawdles or wanders elsewhere will lose their qualifications and be immediately removed from the Sect!"
As Mo Gang walked back into the sect, the prospective disciples began to follow in an orderly fashion.
The main courtyard was enormous, easily capable of containing the hundreds of applicants that had just entered the grounds. Crystals balls which were perched on top of stands could be seen spread throughout the entire area.
Mo Gang flew a few feet above the center of the courtyard and projected his voice towards the applicants.
"The first stage of the aptitude test is to gauge your inherent talent! Each of you will put your hand on top of one of the crystal balls and allow it to assess your soul. A color will then emerge which represents your level of talent."
"In ascending order, the colors are green, yellow, orange, red, blue, and violet. In order to qualify for the next test, you must have a talent level of red or above."
"That's bullshit!" One of the prospects shouted.
The other applicants turned around and stared at the outspoken cultivator in confusion.
"My cousin took the test last year! He said a passing mark was to make the crystal ball turn orange, not red! In fact, a grade of red represents a genius who has the potential to become a core disciple of the sect! Why are the standards so much higher this year?!"
Unfazed by the cultivator's outburst, Mo Gang descended from his position and put himself face to face with the protesting applicant.
"Do you feel that the test is unfair?" He asked as he stood mere centimeters from the prospect's face.
The protester, who was a young man of around eighteen years, began to sweat as Mo Gang stared into his eyes.
"Yes..." He responded nervously.
"Do you also think that your talent is not enough to produce the color needed to grant you the passing mark I have established?"
"Well... I'm not entirely sure, but what I'm trying to say is---"
Before the young man could finish, Mo Gang delivered a hard palm toward his chest. The young cultivator fell to his knees and coughed out a large mouthful of blood. Immediately after, Mo Gang picked him up by his collar and threw him out of the sect like a hurled pebble.
"There are two types of people the Striking Thunder Sect does not need! Those without talent and those who clearly intend to join the sect for the sake of relishing in its status! If you want to become a member of this sect, you must show that your acceptance will not be putting the sect at a loss! If anyone else has any objections I will be more than happy to send you off in the same manner as that piece of trash! Now the rest of you hurry up and pick a station! The evaluations will begin shortly!"
"Yes elder!" The remaining applicants spent no more time dwelling on what had just happened to their fellow hopeful. They began to spread throughout the courtyard, gradually filling in the empty spots that contained a crystal ball.
As Yin Hui strolled around the courtyard trying to find himself a crystal ball, he noticed that some hopefuls chose the first available spot they could find, while others took their time.
[Strange... Why are some of them analyzing the crystal balls so meticulously? It's almost as if they are looking for something...]
Suddenly, a peculiar thought crossed Yin Hui's mind. He spread his spiritual sense over one of the crystal balls and after analyzing the ball carefully everything was made clear.
[So this indeed was the case.]