“It’s still alive!”
Zhao Feichen yelled and quickly backed away, but his sleeves were still torn by the Shelled Beast’s forelimbs.
Liu Li was stunned momentarily and immediately drew out the long whip from around her waist and flung it at the Shelled Beast, wrapping it securely around the body before crashing it heavily to the ground, exposing its abdomen that was without protection from the hard shell.
Yuan Qing’er held a dagger in her hand and thrust it into the Shelled Beast forcefully!
A liquid that carried the scent of green grass gushed out and the arthropods of the beast struggled wildly until it gradually slowed and stopped.
“Goodness, it can still attack without its head?”
Liu Li wiped the fine sweat from her forehead—she got that from fright.
Wang Xiu, “The nervous system of some beasts is not in the head but the abdomen instead.”
Zhao Feichen, “Is that the case with Shelled Beasts? I’ve never heard of it.”
He only knew that the Shelled Beast was the weakest among level-1 ferocious beasts. Once the head and body were separated, although they would not die immediately, they should have no strength to retaliate.
Yuan Qing’er pulled at her clothes soaked in the beast’s bodily fluids and felt like retching. “Shall we head to the creek over there? I feel terrible.”
Zhao Feichen said with a laugh, “It’s not stinky and even has a fragrance to it.”
Yuan Qing'er wrinkled her nose and looked at Liu Li pitifully. The latter said, “Don’t bully Qing’er. If you like it so much, why don’t you roll around with the carcass? I bet you’d smell very fragrant.”
Zhao Feichen, “…”
They continued their journey deeper into the realm and met several waves of beasts along the way.
The further they went, the stronger the ferocious beasts. Even if the beasts were level-1, they still struggled to cope.
“Let me rest for a bit!” Liu Li kept the whip, panted and collapsed. The carcass of a black ape sprawled next to her, half the fur burnt, the body covered with open wounds.
Yuan Qing’er quickly followed. “I… I need to rest too.”
Her clothes were stained with blood but she was not squeamish about it. Instead, she sat directly on the ground, allowing her skirt to be soaked in mud and blood.
The two youths did not object. Even they felt the strain.
Zhao Feichen, “Don’t you guys think…”
Liu Li, “What?”
Zhao Feichen was puzzled. Were level-1 ferocious beasts so strong? Or else, could it be that the ferocious beasts in the hidden realm were different? None of them came here before, so there was no way to compare. Maybe he thought too much about it.
Forget it, he would not talk about it now to avoid adding more stress to everyone.
“No, it’s nothing.”
Liu Li rolled her eyes at him.
Not long after that, however, they met another ice python.
The ice python was the weaker species among level-2 ferocious beasts. The strength was comparable to a level-1 or level-2 Qi Refining cultivator. Under normal circumstances, it would not be too difficult if the four worked together to deal with it, but they had been fighting frequently and Yuan Qing’er was even injured.
When the ice python was finally killed, all of them sensed the abnormality.
Zhao Feichen, “Don’t you think the creatures here are unusual?”
Yuan Qing’er was still catching her breath and treating her injuries, and could not help exclaiming, “Yes! The strength of that ice python is very abnormal! My cousin from the inner gates is already a level-3 Qi Refining cultivator and she’s not as powerful as that creature!”
Zhao Feichen, “Could it be a mutation in the hidden realm?”
Liu Li looked hesitant. “In that case, do we still continue?”
She looked at the forest in front of her. The green vines and trees shaded the sky and the sun, and faint damp lingered in the gloom. In the midst, there seemed to be a hint of death.
After all, people had died in the Mini-mountain hidden realm, albeit very rarely.
Wang Xiu, “If we stop here, it means we’d given up the opportunity to enter the inner gates.”
Zhao Feichen hardened his resolve. “Let’s go a bit further. Everyone must be extra cautious. If we really can't take it anymore, we will retreat.”
Suddenly, a loud roar came from the forest.
Everyone startled. Before they could react, a ferocious beast jumped out.
The creature looked like a leopard, the whole body pitch black, with six golden lines on the neck.
Zhao Feichen's pupils constricted sharply. "Six-striped Golden Sun Leopard!”
This was a strong contender among level-2 ferocious beasts. It should only appear in the heart of the hidden realm, so why did they run into it now?
The strength of a sun leopard was close to a level-4 Qi Refining cultivator. Normally, even if they could not defeat the opponent together, at least they could escape unscathed. However, with the prior doubts, everyone felt chills creeping up their spine for a while.
The purple pupils of the leopard stared at them, slowly approaching with graceful steps, a threatening low growl from its throat.
Zhao Feichen tried his best to calm down and whispered, “Look for the right time and flee separately.”
However, as soon as his voice fell, the forefront of the leopard lowered and it pounced at them in one powerful leap!
Zhao Feichen rushed forward reflexively and tried to block the attack with his sword. The leopard’s claws slashed on the long sword, making a harsh grinding sound. The power of that swipe was so great that Zhao Feichen’s sword hand could not stop trembling. Just as he was unable to resist it any longer, a whip lashed on the beast’s body.
The sun leopard roared in pain. It turned around, bit the whip, and pulled Liu Li in front of it. Yuan Qing'er tried to grab hold of Liu Li while Wang Xiu quickly released a spell to attack the beast.
Nevertheless, the movements of the leopard were extremely fast. It rolled sideways and dodged the magical attack, turned around, and swiped with its claws. Liu Li, who had just taken a few steps, had her heart gouged out from her back!
Warm blood sprayed on Yuan Qing’er’s face. She was stunned silly on the spot, vaguely heard a flustered voice yelling ‘Be careful!’ in her ears, and felt a sharp pain on her abdomen. A bloody mist floated in front of her eyes, and then… nothing…
At the sight of Liu Li and Yuan Qing’er dying in just a blink of an eye, Zhao Feichen’s mind went blank and he thrust his sword out with a loud shout. Perhaps the anger raised his potential, but the intensity of the sword made the leopard pause in its tracks, and the tip of the sword plunged directly into its eyes.
Wang Xiu was also shocked and angry. No matter how withdrawn he was, the two girls were acquainted with him for many years, so how could he not be upset? Wang Xiu activated his spiritual power and the long sword seemed to turn into a fire snake, leaving a burnt black mark on the leopard.
The leopard suffered serious injuries and rolled over in pain, and was completely enraged.
Very soon, the two youths and the leopard locked in battle.
Zhao Feichen and Wang Xiu often exchanged pointers when they were at the outer gates. In addition to the emotional excitement at the moment, their sword techniques were wielded at will and complemented each other seamlessly, and they fought evenly with the injured leopard.
Unfortunately, this did not bring them victory. The spiritual energy in their bodies was on the verge of exhaustion, and gradually they could not keep it up any longer. Wang Xiu even suffered a huge wound at his waist because he could not dodge in time, fresh blood gushing out.
The leopard swept its tail on Zhao Feichen’s sword. The latter had exhausted too much energy and accidentally let go of his sword. He stunned momentarily and saw the leopard’s claw lunge at his face.
He was doomed.
This idea floated in Zhao Feichen’s mind but he did not feel any fear. He was so calm that he was surprised.
Suddenly, he heard Wang Xiu exclaim.
At that moment, everything in front of him became a slow-motion picture, like a fragment that deviated from the law of time and slowly swept across his eyes.
He saw Wang Xiu’s crazed expression, half his face covered in blood. He flexed his legs and leaped high, holding the sword upside-down, trying to pierce through the back of the leopard.
However, the leopard just twisted its body and dodged the attack. At that time, its claws were less than an inch away from Zhao Feichen.
But the beast never would have thought that Wang Xiu's objective was not to stab it.
The attack failed, Wang Xiu abandoned the long sword decisively and a flame burst from his hands. Taking advantage of the leopard’s temporary lax after its successful evasion, he changed direction in mid-air with a twist of his shoulders, and suddenly pounced on the leopard with a loud shout, “Get the f*ck away now… argh!”
Zhao Feichen was startled and jolted back to his senses. He understood instantaneously—Wang Xiu had been grievously injured and knew that he could not escape, so he sacrificed himself to give Zhao Feichen the chance to save himself.
He watched helplessly as the leopard turned its head and bit down on Wang Xiu’s arm. Wang Xiu hugged the beast tightly and his whole body burst into flames.
He could no longer bear to look at it.
Zhao Feichen rushed to the place where his long sword fell, picked it up, turned around, and ran.
The roars of the beast and Wang Xiu’s screams rang in his ears. Gradually, only the sounds of the wind and his whimpers that could no longer be restrained were heard.
Why did he cultivate? Why must he go through such an experience? Wasn’t it enough for him just to be a normal mortal?
To think of it, he was in fact the son of a high-ranking official. Born wealthy, he lived lavishly for 13 years and fortunately passed the entrance examination of Frostcloud Sect. In the envious gaze of others, he became a disciple of the outer gates.
He still remembered that Wang Xiu joined the sect on the same day as him and he was also the first fellow disciple he knew. At that time, he only felt that this person was dressed in shabby clothes, had a gloomy temperament, and behaved crudely. He also heard that he came from a peasant family and felt contempt for him.
However, due to his etiquette and upbringing, he instinctively felt that he should take care of the other party. Wang Xiu did not respond to his gestures at first, but he was unperturbed. Later, there was one time when Wang Xiu offended a Shixiong from the outer gates and was confined in the dormitory while being bullied. Out of loyalty, he accompanied the other party and was beaten up too. Although he regretted his actions afterward, he incidentally melted the block of ice that was Wang Xiu.
After that, both of them were ostracized for a long time. Wang Xiu was fine with it, but how could Zhao Feichen tolerate such treatment? Whenever he felt that he could no longer persevere, he would always think to himself—how good it would be if he didn’t get himself involved at that time.
Despite that, when he recalled the situation where Wang Xiu cowered in the corner as he received the beating, he felt dominated by an inexplicable emotion. If time could really turn back, he would most probably still do the same thing.
The days of hardship continued until he accidentally befriended Liu Li and Yuan Qing’er. The latter had a cousin in the inner gates who acted as their backer, so those who used to bully them had no choice but to give up, and the two of them could finally cultivate in peace.
Unexpectedly, Wang Xiu, whom he had never looked highly upon, cultivated at a progress much faster compared to him. Not only did he take the lead in Body Forging stage, but he also guided Qi into the body first, and now his cultivation base also better than his.
Initially, he felt a little jealous. Their cultivation talents were comparable, but the conditions of his family were much better and his cultivation foundation stronger. Under normal circumstances, he should be more outstanding! Fortunately, Wang Xiu was never selfish with his knowledge. Although he was not talkative, he always tried his best to help him. Over time, he gradually got used to this strange friendship filled the gratitude and a tinge of jealousy.
He had imagined that he would enter the inner gates with Wang Xiu. And ten years later, Liu Li and Yuan Qing’er would also enter the inner gates, and the four of them would be together again.
In just one day, why was he the only person left in this world?
Why did the sect not rescue them? Why did the patriarch not save them? Were the lives of outer gates disciples equivalent to lowly ants?
At this very moment, he developed a strong resentment towards the sect for the first time.
Zhao Feichen was tired from running and stopped at some point.
In the evening, a light drizzle suddenly started in the Mini-mountain hidden realm. For the first time, Zhao Feichen knew that rain could fall in the hidden realm.
He found a cave and hid all night. He knew in his heart that a major accident must have occurred during this inner gates selection process.
The next day, he retraced his footsteps, trying to return to the teleportation formation as soon as possible.
After a night of rest, Zhao Feichen’s spiritual energy recovered a little, but the ferocious beasts in the hidden realm were really terrifying. He could only avoid them carefully, and fortunately never encountered any along the way.
However, when he thought of the deaths of his friends and their bodies that he failed to collect, he was filled with shame and agony, but he could only try his best to endure it.
After walking for almost half a day, he suddenly heard sounds of fighting.
Zhao Feichen hesitated for a moment but still decided to sneak over for a look in the end.
From a distance, he saw three outer gates disciples fighting with a Lunar Eagle. The eagle had actually developed some wisdom and knew how to use little strategies to separate the three people. Besides, its strength was much higher. Even though the trio tried their best, they gradually fell into a disadvantage.
The hatred in Zhao Feichen's heart rose sharply. He approached quietly, mobilized all the spiritual energy in his body, and launched a sneak attack.
The Lunar Eagle did not expect someone else nearby and accidentally injured its left wing. It spotted Zhao Feichen and turned to him angrily in retaliation, but when the other three disciples saw that it was injured, they immediately besieged it. Zhao Feichen also rushed to help, and under the attack of four people, the eagle finally showed signs of decline.
It tried to escape but its injured wing flew weakly and was quickly overtaken.
After fighting for another short while, the eagle was hit by two spells at the same time. It fell in midair, Zhao Feichen's sword pierced through its heart, and the fight was over.
After the ordeal, they collapsed to the ground, panting for breath.
“Thank, thank you.” A young man looked at Zhao Feichen and said, “I recognize you. Aren’t you with Yuan Qing’er and the others?”
Zhao Feichen’s eyes welled up again, his face unable to hide his grief, and he recounted his experience.
They fell silent after hearing this. After a long while, the young man stabbed his sword into the ground fiercely and said sadly, “We also encountered danger and decided to return. Initially, there were seven of us, but now… alas!”
Everyone rested for a while and continued on the road.
Along the way, they occasionally came across some low-level ferocious beasts. Fortunately, the nearer they got to the entrance, the weaker the combative power of the beasts. Otherwise, they were likely to perish halfway.
Even so, when they finally reached the teleportation array, everyone was exhausted and could hardly stand on their feet.
At one glance, many outer gates disciples had gathered here, most of them in a state of dishevel, expressions full of fluster and uncertainty. Hearing the abnormal movement, they looked over cautiously. When they noticed them, all of them heaved a sigh of relief.
No matter how courageous a person was, they were already at the brink of fatigue.
Zhao Feichen found an open space to sit down and had no desire to interact with anyone.
Some people next to him were injured and groaned in pain, and sounds of weeping constantly came from the crowd. Everyone was shrouded in sorrow, but they were helpless and could only wait for the teleportation formation to reactivate.
Outside the Mini-mountain hidden realm, Jing Yue looked up at the sky. “It’s time. Activate the formation.”
Behind him, the eyes of two enforcers flickered, unbeknownst of what they were up to.
A glowing curtain of light rose from the teleportation array and silhouettes of people gradually appeared.
About a dozen people dashed out of the formation. They were momentarily stunned as the realization of their survival kicked in. After that, they looked towards Jing Yue and a trace of resentment flashed through their eyes.
One of them was Zhao Feichen. He approached Jing Yue, fell to his knees, and wailed, “Laozu, something happened to the hidden realm…”
Then, he sobbed miserably and could not speak anymore.
“What did you say?” An enforcer involved in the treachery deliberately chastised loudly.
Another disciple said in a panic, “The hidden realm mutated. Many people died!”
He quickly explained what he had seen, and everyone gradually pieced together the actual scenario from his chaotic and confusing description.
Everyone was shocked and turned towards Jing Yue in unison.
At this time, many people continued to come out of the teleportation formation. The sadness and fear in their hearts were indescribable. They could not help but complain about the sect’s indifferent attitude and felt deeply aggrieved. At this moment, they could hardly contain their anger towards Jing Yue.
Due to the other party’s elevated status, however, no one dared to criticize him but only glared at him with reddened eyes.
The two enforcers who were involved felt very guilty. They just wanted to create a little accident. Once something happened in the hidden realm, people on the outside could sense it and send reinforcements in time. In this way, no major loss would be suffered during the selection process, but as the person-in-charge, Jing Yue was ultimately responsible for the blunder and would have no face to remain in the inner gates any longer.
The glitch was, they waited outside for two days and one night but nothing went amiss. It was not until the disciples came out that they finally realized the situation was so serious.
The two of them were secretly terrified, but after thinking about it, they had already arranged a scapegoat for this incident. Besides, now that they were caught between a rock and a hard place, they had to bite the bullet and continue.
One person said, “Laozu! This has never happened during the inner gates selection process before! It’s our oversight. Please punish us!”
His expression was solemn and his tone distressed, but he was secretly gleeful. He was a lowly enforcer while Jing Yue was the person in charge of the selection process. If he was guilty, would Jing Yue’s sin be any less?
As Jing Yue did not react, the other enforcer also fanned the flames. “Since the matter has come to this, we should quickly enter the hidden realm to investigate. But the ferocious beasts in the realm have gone feral and might hurt Laozu. Why don’t Laozu wait outside while we check out the situation?”
He intended to imply that Jing Yue’s cultivation was low and he was still young, and that was why he acted impulsively and incautiously which caused the great catastrophe now.
Of course, he also wanted to take the opportunity to incite disparity—at the same low cultivation base, the Laozu was supreme and noble and must not come to any harm, while ordinary disciples could be sacrificed indiscriminately.
However, Jing Yue said, “Don’t be impatient. Let’s wait a little while longer.”
Author’s Notes: Mini-theater
Jing-jing: Don’t be impatient. Let’s wait a little while longer.
Ji-ji: I hear the prelude to showing off.