As Wu Yu traversed the dense growth with his companions, he could not help but feel a pure sense of amazement from witnessing the majestic verdant peaks around him.
"The lands under the heavens are vast, my world view is too shallow," he mused to himself.
The woods spread out as far as the eye could see, and every tree sprouted tall and girthy. It seemed as though a single tree held enough wood to constitute a forest.
The group of them looked no different from a cluster of ants crawling within the Sky Region Forest.
Most of the trees had branches that spanned wide enough to support an entire village.
Even the underbrush and shrubbery grew densely thick and layered, obscuring one's vision to not more than ten zhang.
The lush greenery in front of them extended boundlessly.
Needless to say, countless strange critters called this fertile land home. Of these creatures, there were some who could evolve into demons, ruling small sections of the Sky Region Forest.
Still, the vast expanse of the Sky Region Forest meant that encountering one would be an unlikely scenario.
Feng Xueya and Lan Huayi had escorted the faction here. Their discrete movements ensured that no outsiders could have observed their actions thus far.
It was of utmost importance to guarantee the safety of Wu Yu and the other disciples for this plan to succeed.
In truth, it was because of the immeasurable Sky Region Forest that the surrounding mortal and immortal kingdoms had no exchanges between each other. As such, this piece of land by the East Sea was left uncharted.
It was already getting difficult to ascertain one's bearings a mere hour into the journey. Within the depths of the forest, the foliage was so thick that light could hardly get through, leaving many areas dark as twilight. The air was filled with the stench of rotting flora and fauna, contributing to the sense of heavy dampness in these remote locations.
"This is where we part," announced Feng Xueya as he and Lan Huayi turned to face the disciples.
Elder Shentu spoke reverently, "Sect Leader, Sect-Protector, the Bipo Mountain Range cannot survive without your presence. Leave the job to this old man and hurry back."
"Fine." There was no time to mince words.
"You lot, heed all instructions from Elder Shentu. Whoever disobeys him disobeys me, do you understand?" Feng Xueya left them with a stern look and a final warning.
The disciples nodded unanimously.
Speaking thus, Feng Xueya and Lan Huayi exchanged a glance before turning to depart.
It was only after their backs faced their disciples that both of their expressions softened to contain a mix of sadness and reluctance.
It was entirely possible that this farewell could be their final goodbye.
However, Wu Yu and the disciples could not see this.
Once Feng Xueya and Lan Huayi had disappeared from sight, Elder Shentu turned around, eyeing the remaining people. "Alright, from here onwards, you will follow me. We must move more quickly and stealthily. Inform me if anyone cannot keep the pace."
He lingered not a moment longer as he shot deeper into the forest, rapidly navigating within the thicket of brambles and branches.
"Keep up," commanded Night Wishes for Snow.
For safety reasons, he remained at the tail of the pack together with Lan Boli.
Lan Shuiyue was the slowest within the group, so their overall pace was set to match her capability.
The disciples further split into smaller sections with Wu Yu, Su Yanli, and Mo Shishu closely following Elder Shentu. A few paces behind, Zhao Changtian and Yi Qingfeng flanked Lan Shuiyue, constantly checking on her well-being. Last were the two disciples at the eight tier of Qi Condensation Realm.
At times, Wu Yu could sense Lan Shuiyue's eyes on his back. However, for the most part, they hurried on in silence.
Su Yanli exuded a fresh fragrance from beside him, taking his mind from the rot permeating the nether regions of the forest. Whenever he turned in her direction, he could see her unblemished porcelain profile amidst the darkness, with her locks and snowy robes dancing through the wind, truly a portrait of beauty.
"Wu Yu." Su Yanli suddenly called to him as they traveled.
"Senior Sister, what's the matter?"
Wu Yu snapped out from his daydream.
Su Yanli frowned as her eyes expressed a hint of doubt. "Something feels out of place, this feels too rushed. I know Master rather well; how is it that I have never heard about this acquaintance in the East Imperial Kingdom?"
Mo Shishu interjected, "You are overthinking, Junior Sister. Old Feng has lived a long life, it would only be natural that he has friends that we have no knowledge of. Now that the Heavenly Sword Sect is in dire straits, there is no choice but to seek assistance from friends, no matter how far away."
Mo Shishu's words made sense.
Wu Yu had been a core disciple for the least amount of time and was unfamiliar with Feng Xueya's past. A sudden thought hit him and he said, "Let's ask Elder Shentu."
The three of them quickened their pace and managed to catch up to Elder Shentu. Su Yanli carefully inquired, "Elder, what is the name of the person we are going to the East Imperial Kingdom to search for?"
Flustered, Elder Shentu remained silent for a few seconds before replying, "His name is Zhang… Zhenren."
All three of them had never heard of such a name before.
"Elder Shentu, how strong are the disciples of this Zhang Zhenren? Currently, we have no information on them at all; what chance do we have of winning?" asked Wu Yu.
Elder Shentu replied, "I heard that they are about the same level as you are, and there is definitely a chance of victory. Why else would we risk this journey to the East Imperial Kingdom? Set your minds at ease."
It seemed that he was unwilling to divulge too much, so asking further would not prove fruitful.
"Hurry on, we'll discuss the details when we reach a rest stop."
Wu Yu exchanged glances with his seniors, and they fell silent.
Moving at their current speed, it was only natural that they would get tired. In a little over half a day, Lan Shuiyue was nearing the limits of her stamina. Her breaths were ragged and she could no longer keep up. The others were about the same.
Although Wu Yu was only at the fourth tier of Qi Condensation Realm, his recovery rate was extremely high. His flesh and muscles, along with his mental endurance, were extremely robust and evidently greater than that of Mo Shishu and the rest.
"We will take a rest atop this tree."
The sky was nearly dark when Elder Shentu picked a giant tree with a massive trunk. Each of the disciples chose their own branch, and Lan Shuiyue's gang immediately went to recuperate. Night Wishes for Snow and Lan Boli disappeared up a branch together.
Wu Yu followed his two seniors to Elder Shentu's location.
Upon seeing their arrival, Elder Shentu spoke first. "In truth, I do not know much more. All I was given was the location of the East Imperial Kingdom and the instruction to find Zhang Zhenren. As long as we abide by his rules and defeat his disciples, he will follow us back to the Bipo Mountain Range. That is all Sect Leader told me."
Since he had made it clear, there was no point in Wu Yu questioning him further.
"Elder, get some rest. We will take our leave."
As they leapt onto a separate tree branch, Su Yanli and Mo Shishu hurriedly began to focus on recuperating, while Wu Yu wandered further down to a more secluded spot. Originally, he had wanted to resume cultivating the Inner Vajra Buddha, but he had decided against it as the process was too flashy and could be easily spotted. As such, he settled down like the other disciples, absorbing the surrounding spiritual qi to regenerate his own spiritual power.
He still felt foggy about the entire situation as there had been no time for him to reflect. He was already in the thick of things.
Wu Yu gazed towards the west, where he surmised the East Imperial Kingdom would lie.
"Onyx & Pearl Dao Sword."
He retrieved the Onyx & Pearl Dao Sword, curiously inspecting and running his hands over the specimen for a while.
"Elder Senior Brother told me that this Onyx & Pearl Dao Sword is on par with Elder Shentu's Demon Fishing Rod in terms of value. I would never have thought that Master would care for me so greatly."
He felt ashamed that he had not achieved anything significant enough in his time as a personal disciple of Feng Xueya to warrant receiving such a treasure.
"It is said that the Onyx & Pearl Dao Sword is only one step away from a spiritual immortal treasure. Elder Senior Brother said that there are only two spiritual immortal treasures within the Heavenly Sword Sect, namely Master and Lan Huayi's personal weapons.
"Spiritual immortal treasures and Jindan dao techniques are several times more powerful than regular immortal treasures and dao techniques. I wonder when I will be able to possess them! I have heard that those spiritual immortal treasures can even recognize their owners, and are unable to be utilized by anyone else."
Within the dark of night, his thoughts ran wild.
Around midnight, he suddenly heard the sound of movement.
He opened his eyes as his heartbeat quickened. This was not the Heavenly Sword Sect but the wilderness. Who knew what manner of demons resided here.
Just as Wu Yu became aware of the presence, a bolt of golden light flashed from above him and a male voice rang out. It was Night Wishes for Snow as he plummeted towards the ground, followed closely by Lan Boli.
An unidentified voice hollered.
Wu Yu was shocked!
They were on a clandestine operation, and encountering demons could be disastrous. What if the demons had contact with the outside world and news of them was leaked?
Luckily, Wu Yu was just being oversensitive. This was not a particularly strong demon, and it had been caught a moment after it appeared.
When Wu Yu landed on the forest floor, he saw a large humanoid form caught within the lines of Elder Shentu's Demon Fishing Rod. It was a being about two zhang tall. It was made entirely out of granite and even had patches of moss growing on its body.
"It's a Granite Golem."
Wu Yu could see it clearly now.
"Where spiritual qi is dense for long periods of time, anything on earth can become a demon. Besides birds, insects, mammals, and fish, even rocks and trees may become demons, though the chances are rare."
The granite golem had gained sentience but had not fully evolved into a human form as its arms, legs and skull were formed from rough clusters of boulders. Its head possessed eyes, a nose, and a mouth, the latter of which it used to wail and grovel. "Heavenly Immortals, oh Heavenly Immortals! This lowly demon has unwittingly passed by and roused the ire of you esteemed Heavenly Immortals. Please spare my humble life!"
At this point, all the disciples had descended and surrounded the granite golem on all sides.
"It's a demon that doesn't even have a demon essence, just end its existence." Lan Shuiyue's experience at the Valley of Immortal Fate had changed her and instilled in her a deep seated hatred for all demons. A simple granite golem was no exception.
At her words, Lan Boli drew her sword.
"Wah! Venerable Heavenly Immortals, this ignoble demon spends all day in these woods and has never gone out to hurt anyone. I have not committed a single evil act before, I beg of you not to kill me!"
The granite golem trembled in terror as it sobbed violently.
Night Wishes for Snow gently pushed the blade of Lan Boli's sword away, saying, "This lower class of demon is fairly common and are mostly kindhearted, let us spare this one."
"No way, it is impossible to read a man's heart, let alone a demon's. If it were to divulge our location, we could all die." Lan Boli was also intimidating when she wanted to be, and even Night Wishes for Snow could not stop her this time. With a flash of her blade, the granite golem was reduced to rubble on the floor.
It was over.
"Alright then," Night Wishes for Snow begrudgingly replied before leaving. Lan Boli did not follow his direction.
"They seem to be at loggerheads?" Even Wu Yu could guess as much.
However, everyone else did not take this to heart, as lovers' tiffs were a common occurrence. The next day, they resumed their expedition.
Two more days passed.
This day, Elder Shentu abruptly stopped in his tracks as his gaze scanned the sky.
All he could see were flickers of lightning.