Chapter 0: Prologue
It was a cold winter day as snow fell heavily from the sky, laying itself like a white blanket over the many trees within the innermost regions of the Northern Taiga in the continent of Chang'an.
The Northern Taiga was located in the Northern Territory, an administrative region of the Kingdom of Heping, and it occupied more than half of the Northern Territory. This cold, desolate forest was known as one of the deadliest regions within the entire Chang'an continent.
While the Northern Taiga was considered very dangerous, it was the core of the forest that was the most dangerous, and many came from far away to hunt on the outskirts of the forest. One would find many humans hunting beasts for their beast cores, skin, teeth, and horns as these were the parts of beasts that were highly prized. They would also search for treasures and herbs.
The deeper one went into the taiga, the more dangerous it became. All the weaker animals lived on the outskirts, but the core regions were places where not even the most skilled martial artists dared to venture. This was the place where Primordial Beasts resided.
While the outskirts were filled with noise from beasts and humans alike, the deeper parts of the Northern Taiga were eerily quiet.
It was next to the borders of this massive forest that the town of Lingyun was located. It was early morning, and the snow fell from the cloudy sky, blanketing the entire town, as the citizens awoke.
This was but another typical day in one of the towns bordering the Northern Taiga. People were going about their own business. The scent of breakfast wafted in the air as mercenaries said goodbye to their families and ventured towards the dangerous forest that loomed behind the city. Women would walk around with their children in tow while on their way to work or to deliver various goods.
While the town awoke, youths appeared from all the different houses and moved towards the outside of the city. They were headed towards a training field where three men were waiting for them.
These three men were large and burly. Their upper bodies were bare even though the ground was covered by more than a foot of snow, and scars adorned their suntanned skin.
Their eyes were alert and filled with vigilance as they observed the children who rushed towards them. The children were of varying ages; some were juvenile, while others were closer to adolescence. Some were excited and grouped together, while others walked on their own, dragging their feet behind them and looked anything but happy.
The young ones were the most excited, while the older kids all seemed much more casual and carefree.
The ones who were older all moved together to the training field and started to run around the training ground without anyone giving them instructions. From this one could see that they had done this many times before, and even those who were dragging their feet and felt unwillingness were now running as if their lives depended on it.
The juvenile children grouped together in front of the three men and all of them started whispering amongst each other, stealing glances at the men's scarred bodies and speaking with admiration.
One of these youths was Xue Wei, the son of the town's apothecary. He was around ten years old, and his face was filled with expectation as he looked at the three men. He looked at the men with big eyes filled with veneration.
"Don't just stand there, get in line!" One of the men called out with a loud and rough voice. His voice traveled across the entire training field, and although his words were not directed at the older group of youngsters, they all flinched when they heard it. The younger children, however, did not show any fear at all, and they hurried into lines after which they looked at these three men with respect, waiting for their orders.
"So, today’s the day all the new kids start training, huh?" One of the men said to the others as he looked at the disorderly children moving into lines. Despite what one would think, his eyes did not show any excitement. Instead, if one looked closely, the could see a certain sadness and pain.
"We keep on raising these children to become warriors, only to send them to the army where they will be ripped to shreds by Primordial Beasts, and those who survive are either crippled or become mercenaries to sustain themselves."
"What do you expect?" One of the other two men asked with a sour expression on his face. He furrowed his brow and placed his hands on his sides as he swept his eyes across the many children in front of him. "We are not from any major family or sect. We have no access to materials or resources; we don't even have access to proper cultivation techniques. All we have is the universal method that the kingdom has passed down to towns like ours, for the sake of training soldiers for their armies."
His voice was sour and filled with endless jealousy and regret. It was clear that he had experienced the vast difference there was between the poorer experts and the geniuses from the richer families and sects.
"The sixteen year old children will be sent to the army soon. We won't see more than a tenth of them ever again, and the rest will undoubtedly be scarred for life. Such a waste of life!" The third person spat on the ground. His face was twisted, but he knew as well as the other two that he had no other option than to just do as he had been told. He was a veteran of the army, and he got his salary every month by ensuring that these children became useable warriors.
"It is not all that bad," the first man chuckled. "Look at us. We found brothers in the army, and we managed to survive. It was a hellish time, but it also broadened our horizons. We finally realized that when you live in a small town like this, you are truly just a frog in a well."
"Look at these children; they look at us with veneration. They think we are true martial experts, yet we who have seen what a real martial artist is know the truth. We are in fact only cannon fodder!"
"Anyway, let’s go and welcome them. Tell them about the achievements of mankind and make them understand that their strength is needed!"
Having said this, the three men walked forward and looked at the many children that were standing in front of them, looking at their faces which were filled with expectation.
"Welcome everyone! You being here means that you wish to become a martial artist! That you wish to become a Warrior!" the first man called out, his voice reverberating in the air and his words causing the children to blaze with pride. They were to become Warriors!
“To cultivate is to become Warriors! The Warrior rank is split into Ordinary Warriors, Earth Warriors, Sky Warriors, and Heavenly Warriors. Each of these ranks are further split into nine layers.”
“We, the three Overseers of Lingyun town, have managed to cultivate to the first layer as an Earth Warriors. This is the result of all our hard work throughout our lives!”
“In the surrounding air is energy. This energy can be absorbed by the body and refined into Qi. When the energy is being refined, it will travel through your body before being stored in the dantian. At the very beginning, you can only absorb wisps of energy, but later these wisps will turn into a steady stream of Qi. As you absorb wisps of energy, the more of these wisps you can contain in your dantian, the more talented you are!”
Hearing this, Xue Wei clenched his fists. He had waited for this day ever since he was old enough to understand what it meant to be a cultivator, and he dreamed of the day he would become a true martial artist, slaughter Primordial Beasts, and save mankind!
"Now, listen closely. Many thousands of years ago, humans were nothing but livestock for the Primordial Beasts. We lived every day as slaves! But one day, the humans caused a revolt and overthrew the Primordial Beasts! We defeated them, slaughtered them, and took back the world which had been our prison for years. The remaining Primordial Beasts withdrew into the areas now known as danger regions, and no human cultivator dares to venture into them alone."
"The Northern Taiga here is one such danger region, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the Primordial Beasts never again leave their prisons!"
"They send beast horde after beast horde at our cities. They destroy our villages and kill our brothers and sisters! As long as these Primordial Beasts exist, we cannot live in safety!"
"Because of this, the entire continent of Chang'an has banded together. Every single youth is taught outstanding martial arts which have been provided to us by the king himself so that we will become warriors worthy of defending humanity! We will take our turn to fight the Primordial Beasts! We will gain complete victory so that our dear ones can sleep in peace at night!"
"Everyone come here and get a copy of the martial art you will be practicing. Read it and try to understand it before tomorrow when we will start training for real!"
Hearing these words, every child that was standing on the ground had faces red with excitement. This was the first time they would get to learn a cultivation technique, and all of them wished to become true martial artists, true experts that could fight toe to toe against these legendary Primordial Beasts that their parents warned them about at night.
While standing in line, Xue Wei shuddered. He finally understood that he was going to become a cultivator – he was going to fulfill his deepest desire!
While looking at the children with pity, the three men gave out the copies of the martial art and said a few encouraging words to them before they shifted their attention towards the older students.
"Don't slack off! Ten more rounds before we start the breathing exercises! Run till you are on the verge of collapsing, run till you faint if need be!" The first man yelled out with a stern voice, and although the children all sighed internally, they all yelled back in unison, "Yes, sir!"
The young children who had just gotten the copies of the technique did not stay on the training field. Instead, they all went back to the city once more, heading back to their respective homes with smiles on their faces. Today was the day that they were going to read their first cultivation technique and then they would be able to start cultivating.
As they arrived in town, Xue Wei was looking at the copy of the cultivation technique in his hands, and he was filled with excitement. So excited that he did not look where he was walking, and before noticing it, he walked straight into a large man.
Xue Wei instantly fell to the ground, and the cultivation technique he had just gained fell from his hand and landed on the ground next to him. Seeing that he had dropped it, the young boy did not panic but quickly picked it up before he stood up. He straightened his body and wiped the snow off his clothes.
"I apologize for walking into you, sir," he said as he raised his head and looked into the eyes of a tall, handsome man.
The man had long black hair which was tied up beautifully on top of his head. His eyes were as blue as the endless ocean, and his body was draped in a dazzling blue robe with silver embroidery.
Those deep blue eyes looked directly into Xue Wei's, and they instantly widened as they were filled with surprise and shock. Even so, he did not withdraw his gaze. Instead, it intensified over time.
"Kid, look where you are walking," a chuckle sounded from beside the handsome man, and Xue Wei's eyes were finally dragged from the deep blue eyes that seemed to gaze into his soul. He saw that an alluring woman was standing by his side. Her hair was silver like beautiful moonlight, and her eyes were also blue, but where the man had eyes the color of the deep ocean, this woman had light blue eyes that resembled ice.
When she saw Xue Wei's eyes, her brows furrowed slightly, and she looked as if she was deeply pondering something. Both she and the man were in deep thought as if running into Xue Wei had caused an earth-shattering revelation. Their change confused the young man greatly, and he decided to apologize once more thinking that they were very mad at him.
"I apologize for bumping into you; I was too preoccupied today as something good happened," Xue Wei said with a slight bow, and the man finally snapped out of whatever had caught his mind.
"Do not mind it; do not mind it at all," he said with a devilish smile on his handsome face. "We are travelers who have come to the taiga for a mission, but we seem to have gotten lost when we saw this small town, so we decided to stop for a few days and buy provisions."
"I see, then you should come to my father's medicinal house! We sell the best pills, pastes, and herbs that are needed for a trip to the Northern Taiga!" Xue Wei said excitedly.
Although the city had its own mercenaries who went to the outskirts of the taiga quite often, it was rare for travelers to stop by since Lingyun town was one of the smaller towns on the outskirts of the taiga. Most travelers would go to the bigger cities instead.
"Your father owns a medicinal house? Could it be that he is an alchemist?" The man asked curiously as he squatted down to look eye to eye with Xue Wei, but the young child just shook his head.
"Daddy is an apothecary! He can make pastes and is very proficient with raw medicinal herbs, but he cannot create medicinal pills." Pausing for a moment, the child smiled, showing two dimples on his cheeks like the very depiction of innocence. "But don't worry, father gets medicinal pills from the merchants so you can buy real medicinal pills at his shop too! You have to come visit!"
Hearing the eagerness in the child's voice, the handsome man looked into the eyes of this youngster and smiled mysteriously.
"Don't worry," he said as he gently patted the child on top of his head. "I will definitely make sure to come visit your shop. Now run along and do your chores," he laughed, and Xue Wei nodded his head, bowed slightly to the man and woman, and rushed back home.
"I have never seen anyone as beautiful as those two people," he mused to himself as he ran down the street towards his father's shop. "Maybe they are fairies! I’ve heard in legends that such beautiful people exist, but I never thought they were real!"
Thinking this, the small child just laughed to himself and thought no more about the encounter. Although they were beautiful, they were both real. Thus they could definitely not be fairies, but the child was still dreaming when he reached home, and his eyes were sparkling with excitement as he saw his father.
"You seem excited," his father commented when he saw Xue Wei coming inside the door. "Was it really that exciting to get the cultivation technique from those three old men?"
"Don't call them old men. You’re an old man!" Xue Wei laughed. "They are at least a decade younger than you, and they are real martial artists! They served in the army and returned as heroes. Aren't they amazing?"
Xue Wei's eyes glistened with excitement as he thought about this, but his father just laughed and shook his head.
"They are actually older than me. Older than me by quite a bit! But as you said, they are martial artists, and thus their life has been extended compared to normal people like myself. I can prolong my life with the use of herbs, but my youth will never return."
"Martial artists, on the other hand, are all able to prolong their lives. Those that are the same rank as our three old Overseers are able to live to be two hundred years old, double the lifespan of a normal person. And rumor has it that if you become strong enough, then one day you could even become immortal!"
Xue Wei had never before heard his father speak about martial artists, but he was filled with excitement. He nodded his head seriously, showing that he was listening to what was being said.
"I don't understand why you wish to become a cultivator, to be honest," Xue Wei's father said with a sigh. "I understand the allure of becoming a hero, but heroes usually die young. Geniuses fall from the skies as often as the rain, and I would never want to see you, my dear son, die an early death. Also when you enter the army at the sixteenth year of your birth, you will not become just common infantry like the others. Because of your background as an apothecary's son, you will become a member of the Medicinal Corps."
"But father, I want to learn martial arts!" Xue Wei said pleadingly. The two of them had often discussed the same thing, but neither truly wished to give up. It was just that Xue Wei's father had backed down enough to allow him to go and pick up the cultivation technique and study it. As for whether or not he could truly become a martial artist, no one could tell. The road a martial artist tread was simply too long.
Sighing, Xue Wei's father shook his head and waved his hand, "I need to look after the shop. Why don't you go to your room and study this martial art you received?" he said with a tired voice, but Xue Wei, who was caught up in his excitement, did not notice his father’s tiredness and just ran out of the room to the back of the shop where their living quarters were located.
Xue Wei ran to his room and sat down on his bed. His hands were shaking from excitement, and a silly grin was on his lips. He could not contain his excitement, and he instantly opened the copy of the cultivation technique and started to read.
The martial art described inside was very simple. It explained how to breathe and which route the energy should flow through one's body so that it could be refined before one stored it in their dantian.
Xue Wei read through the entire technique, not skipping even a word. He read it time and time again until he understood it by heart, and it was only then that he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
He sat down in a lotus position and closed his eyes. Breathing heavily, he absorbed the surrounding energy into his body. He could feel a slight golden wisp of energy enter his body, and he instantly started to rotate it in accordance with the way the book had described.
As he rotated it through his body, he felt how pure energy was, but moments after, as the energy reached his dantian, it all dissipated through his body as if his dantian could not accommodate it.
Shock, disappointment, and disbelief filled Xue Wei's face. He had read that the amount of the energy that stayed in one’s dantian depended on how talented they were, but to have all of it leave and not even a tiny bit remain truly left Xue Wei dumbfounded.
Thinking that he might have done it wrong, Xue Wei decided to try once more. But after trying time and time again, he obtained the same result.
"I better ask father!" he said to himself as he went towards the front of the shop. As he walked out of his room, his heart was trembling from shock. He felt how his dreams were on the verge of shattering, and he was tearing up but forced the tears to stay in his eyes and not overflow.
Xue Wei was only ten years old. He had expected to be a talent only seen once a generation. He expected that he was a true master and would become a real martial artist! But he could see the truth before him! So far it seemed as if he was worse than trash at cultivating. He could see that his talents were so poor that he still might be a once in a generation cultivator, just not in the way he wished!
Grumbling and feeling down, Xue Wei went towards the front of their store, but a frown took hold on his face on the way over. He was almost at the front, and as he reached it, a metallic scent filled his nostrils.
"Is father dealing with corpse grass or blood ginseng?" he wondered as he opened the door. But the moment he opened it, he froze.
In front of him was his father, but he seemed strange. Something was impaled through his chest. The more Xue Wei looked, the more horrified he became. He dropped the cultivation technique to the floor, his eyes widened in shock, and his mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out.
Right now, a long arm covered with azure scales and spikes had been thrust through his father's chest; the metallic scent came from the blood which was oozing out like water from a broken fountain. The azure-scaled hand had small streams of blood flowing off the scales, giving the otherwise beautiful scales a menacing appearance.
The moment Xue Wei opened the door, his father turned his head. His eyes misted over, and a trail of blood could be seen running down the corner of his mouth. Blood frothed at his mouth as he opened it.
"Run... Little Wei... Run!" he whispered with what little strength he had left before his eyes were completely devoid of all life.
"Father! Father!" Although he had been told to run, Xue Wei's legs went soft, and they collapsed beneath him. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he started bawling out loud as he slowly climbed towards his father's corpse that was still hanging on the scaled arm.
The arm was suddenly swung to the side, and the corpse of his father was flung into the wall. Blood sprayed everywhere and the sound of bones breaking made Xue Wei scream out and feel nauseous. As he reached his father's side, he saw a large hole in his chest where he had been impaled. With trembling fingers, he touched his father's still warm face that was splashed with blood and frozen in fear.
A sound came from footsteps that moved towards him, and finally, Xue Wei looked at the arm that had killed his father and was about to kill him as well.
The arm that was covered in azure scales and spikes slowly changed from the arm of a demon to the arm of a normal human. Even the sleeve of a robe appeared on this arm, a robe that seemed very familiar to the young child. His eyes followed up the rest of the robe till his eyes landed on the face of the handsome young man he had seen earlier that day.
"Why?! Why did you kill father?!" he cried out, and suddenly strength came back to his legs as he charged at the handsome man.
Not only him, but the noise had also caused others outside to notice that something was happening within the medicinal shop.
A group of mercenaries broke inside, and they were instantly met by the scent of blood, and their faces turned pale when they looked around.
The person the whole village looked to when they were wounded, the one who provided them with pills and pastes, laid dead upon the ground, and he had died a miserable death.
The only two people left was a handsome man and the apothecary's child. A child who had tears all over his face; his eyes were listless, and his body was trembling as he was being held softly in the embrace of the unknown man.
"You!" the first mercenary called out before he brandished his weapon and rushed into the store, but the unknown man did not as much as look at him. All he did was look at Xue Wei, whom he had captured in his arms, and he said something which no one could hear.
Moments after, the child collapsed. His eyes were closed, and his body limp as he lost consciousness.
A soft expression was in the man’s eyes as he looked down at the collapsed child in his arms, while the woman who had previously followed behind him appeared at the door, her entire body covered in blood.
"Oh, there are a few survivors!" she exclaimed excitedly as she saw the mercenaries charge at the unknown man. Moments after, their bodies exploded from the sheer pressure the woman released. Blood sprayed everywhere, but when it was about to hit the handsome man and the child, it was blocked by an invisible force.
"Did you have to kill everyone?" the man asked with a sigh, and the icy woman nodded her head. Her laughter that was as cold as a winter night rang through the town. "You should be happy. Now the Primordial Beasts from the Northern Taiga will be blamed, and no one will notice that a small child has vanished."
"Have you not followed me for long enough?" The man asked, but the woman just laughed once more, ignoring the question, so all he could do was sigh.
"Although I did not get what I was looking for, I did manage to find something just as precious." A doting expression was evident in the eyes of the handsome man as he looked at the child in his arms, but his expression quickly turned dark as he looked at the woman once more.
"I will return to the family five years from now," he said with cold eyes and a voice filled with hostility. "But if anyone tries to interfere with me in the next five years, I will kill them without hesitation, even if they are from my family," he sneered, and the woman bowed deeply before the space around her twisted slightly. She took a step forward, vanishing the very moment she did so. Had any of the martial artists of Lingyun town seen this, they would have been unable to comprehend what had just happened.
The handsome man took a glance at the town once more and sighed. Everywhere he looked, blood flowed in rivulets down the streets. The people living here had all died. Their bodies had exploded, and no one was left with a complete body.
Not only had the grown-ups died extremely tragically, but every single child suffered the same fate as well. Seeing this, the man's face turned dark with anger. But he could do nothing to save them; instead, he just shook his head before he too caused ripples to appear around him before vanishing without a trace.
Not long after, a group of mercenaries appeared on the outskirts of town. All of them were joking with one another about the bountiful harvest they had gained from their trip to the outskirts of the Northern Taiga.
Their ecstatic expressions all changed the moment they noticed a distinctive scent. A scent that these mercenaries were all too familiar with – the scent of blood!
As they entered the city, their eyes turned lifeless and fearful. They all had family within Lingyun town, and when they saw the scenes in front of them, all of them rushed to see if their own family had survived, but the further into the town they went, the more horrified they became.
The entire city had been destroyed. Every single being was dead, and no matter how much they searched, they found no survivors.
The mercenaries were filled with sadness. Their loved ones had died, their families had been slaughtered, and they quickly rushed out of the town and hurried to the closest city with the information. A short while later, the Town of Lingyun was considered a town of the dead.
The authorities all assumed that this mass slaughter was just the work of Primordial Beasts from deep within the taiga that had decided to come out of the depths of the forest for a stroll. Everyone just assumed that the Primordial Beasts just happened to come across the small town of Lingyun and killed everyone in sight.
It was known as one of the most devastating attacks in the proximity of the Northern Taiga in recent times, and the rumor about Lingyun Town started to spread throughout the entire continent of Chang'an. It was simply too rare that the Primordial Beasts struck so violently.
While the rumors about Lingyun spread everywhere, far away from the Northern Taiga, in the southern area of the Kingdom of Heping, a handsome young man with a child in his arms appeared.