“Yan’er, are you alright? Did you have a bad dream?” Li Mo glanced at Yun Ruoyan’s tear-filled face with concern.
“I… I had a dream.”
“What dream?” This was the first time he had seen the usually stubborn Yun Ruoyan cry, and from a dream no less!
Yun Ruoyan shook her head, not answering Li Mo’s question. She closed her eyes and tried to think back to the scene, but she suddenly discovered that she was no longer able to recall Long Yin’s appearance. Everything else in her dream was crystal clear—the man’s attire, the pheasant he was carrying, Lin Yuemei’s large belly, the chirping of the birds—everything but the man’s face.
“I… I don’t remember!” Yun Ruoyan buried her head between her knees, feeling as though she had been consumed by a phantom pain.
“Yan’er, if you can’t remember, don’t force yourself to think about it.” Li Mo patted Yun Ruoyan’s shoulders in consolation. “It’s just a dream, so surely forgetting it isn’t a big deal.”
After a long moment, Yun Ruoyan finally lifted her head up. When she next looked at Li Mo, her eyes were clear and lucid, as if her momentary collapse hadn’t ever happened. If Li Mo had looked more closely, however, he would have been able to see a gray fog hidden in the depths of her eyes.
By the time Yun Ruoyan awoke, it was already bright outside. Zhuo Yifeng was likely waiting for them, so Li Mo and Yun Ruoyan quickly got dressed and prepared to head down into the forest once more.
Although they had both slept in the bird’s nest overnight, Li Mo’s hair and robe were both in perfect order. On the other hand, her appearance was barely acceptable for public scrutiny. After a whole day of travelling, and after her fight with the giant bull, her white academy outfit was somewhat filthy. She fervently hoped that there would be a nearby spring in which she could clean it.
Just then, a clear, melodious call rang out from beneath them, which Yun Ruoyan easily recognized as Mo’er. Although she couldn’t understand its chirps and calls, she could easily sense its flattering intent.
Li Mo shook his head and frowned. “This gluttonous bird…” As he brought the two of them down to the forest floor, Yun Ruoyan realized why it was calling out so loudly. Zhuo Yifeng had already begun preparing a fire, over which he was roasting thin slices of beef tongue.
Zhuo Yifeng turned around and waved at Yun Ruoyan before continuing to season the tender meat. A fragrant aroma began wafting out from the fire, causing Yun Ruoyan to salivate unconsciously.
Mo’er flapped its wings and chirped piteously as it hovered around Zhuo Yifeng.
“It really is a gluttonous bird…” Yun Ruoyan couldn’t help commenting on Mo’er’s antics.
After breakfast, she brought up the strange thundering noise she had heard in the middle of the night. Zhuo Yifeng, who had slept closer to the forest floor than Li Mo and Yun Ruoyan, told them that there was a large stampede of wild beasts near their present location. The beasts were massive in size, but based on their aura, Zhuo Yifeng judged that they were all low-ranked, less advanced than the giant bull that Yun Ruoyan had faced.
After breakfast, the trio continued progressing deeper into the forest. Along the way, they encountered quite a number of magical beasts, but most were still low-leveled. A few of the stronger beasts would occasionally challenge the three cultivators, but they were handily dealt with by Yun Ruoyan and Zhuo Yifeng.
Although these low-ranked beasts didn’t have a particularly advanced cultivation, however, they were so large that killing them took a significant toll on both Yun Ruoyan and Zhuo Yifeng. This slowed the group’s pace; after collecting a fire-attuned, a wood-attuned, and two wind-attuned beast cores, Li Mo motioned for them to retract their auras to proceed in stealth.
Because they had consumed so much spiritual energy, they decided to make camp in the evening. Yun Ruoyan and Zhuo Yifeng sat cross-legged in meditation while Li Mo guarded them.
Ever since becoming a peak seventh-rank blademaster, Yun Ruoyan’s spiritual vortex had doubled in size. She had separated it into two smaller vortices, one two-thirds the size and containing regular spiritual energy, and the other one-third the size and containing fire-attuned spiritual energy.
After absorbing spiritual energy from the air, gathering and refining it in her spiritual vortex, then splitting it into two streams, she slowly opened her eyes. By then, her surroundings had turned dark. Beside her, Zhuo Yifeng continued to cultivate.
Yun Ruoyan raised her left hand and stared at the wooden qilin beads, right by her ornate silver bracelet. Qiuqiu had mentioned to her that the seemingly ordinary beads were actually a treasure made from the core of a fire qilin, greatly enhancing its owner’s ability to generate fire-attuned spiritual energy.
The reason Yun Ruoyan’s pillmaster cultivation had progressed so rapidly was in large part due to its wondrous effect. She thumbed the beads, felt their warmth, and looked toward Li Mo’s back.
The first time she had met him, Yun Ruoyan was still an ugly girl. She was disliked by her father and unloved by her grandmother, and all she had was a poisoned body and the vengeance she carried over from her past life.
Now, she had cousins who were as close as siblings, close friends, and a man who truly seemed to care for her. Despite the as-yet unresolved mysteries still filling her heart and mind, despite her somewhat uncomfortable surroundings, Yun Ruoyan felt a sudden peace and happiness envelop her.
Sensing her gaze, Li Mo turned back to face Yun Ruoyan. “Yan’er, how are your reserves?”
“I’m completely recovered, and I feel like I can kill two magical beasts back to back right now!”
Li Mo smiled back and was just about to say something when a sudden shout interrupted their conversation. “Is anyone around? Help, help!”
Li Mo and Yun Ruoyan frowned: the shout came from none other than Guan Ruliu. She had formed a team with two other students from the southern college, neither of whom was weak. Both of them were peak sixth-rank cultivators, and Guan Ruliu herself was a peak seventh-rank blademaster. She had been learning an external spiritual technique for over a year, and she was far stronger than Yun Ruoyan and Zhuo Yifeng.
Based on their combat abilities, their group should have been safe as long as they didn’t venture into the depths of the forest. What could she have encountered to cause her to shout for help?
“Who’s that?” Zhuo Yifeng had woken up from his cultivation.
“It’s Senior Sister Guan! We have to go over and take a look.” Yun Ruoyan stood up and immediately dashed over, quickly followed by Li Mo and Zhuo Yifeng.
The trio followed the shouts to a miasmic, swampy area about a thousand feet away. Before they could approach, Li Mo frowned and motioned for Zhuo Yifeng and Yun Ruoyan to temporarily hold their breaths and to allow spiritual energy to circulate through their body instead.
Zhuo Yifeng frowned. “This doesn’t look natural. It feels artificial, as if someone deliberately constructed such an environment.”
Zhuo Yifeng had been in and out of forests since his birth, and he was very familiar with miasma. Natural miasma was often quite dense with water vapor, but the fetid air that hung around the trio was extremely dry.
“This is indeed manmade. Be careful!” Yun Ruoyan whispered, lowering her voice.
Although Li Mo didn’t say anything, he raised an eyebrow in disapproval. Before they had set out on the expedition, he had warned all the students that this expedition was meant for advancing their cultivation and increasing their combat experience. As a result, they were forbidden from attacking other students.
The reason he had divided the students into groups of three and tried to avoid putting students who had bad blood with each other together was exactly to prevent this sort of situation—but someone had clearly, flagrantly, disobeyed his command!
“Senior Sister Guan, where are you?” Yun Ruoyan called out.
“Yun Ruoyan, I’m over here! Please, come save us quickly!” Guan Ruliu’s voice was weak and thin, as if she had been sapped of all her spiritual energy.
“We’re coming!” Yun Ruoyan replied, then headed deeper within the miasma with Zhuo Yifeng and Li Mo. They finally spotted Guan Ruliu where the miasma was so thick that it was dyeing the air in shades of purple, green, and brown: she had been bound in midair by a great tangle of vines.
Night was approaching, and the darkened, engorged vines looked particularly sinister and eerie in the fading light.
“Senior Sister Guan, what happened?!” Yun Ruoyan exclaimed. She tried to step closer to her, but found that the path forward was completely covered in vines.
Zhuo Yifeng nocked an arrow and prepared to shoot, but he didn’t dare make a sudden move without understanding the situation fully.
“I… I’m fine, for the moment,” Guan Ruliu replied powerlessly. “But my two junior brothers were both swallowed up by these vines.”
Yun Ruoyan couldn’t see any sign of a body on the ground littered with vines. Those two students were both from the southern college, and they had been quite friendly to Yun Ruoyan. Given this connection, she really was quite worried about them.
In the end, she turned toward Li Mo. “What do we do now?”
“Stay here.” Green sword aura flashed at Li Mo’s feet, and he soared toward Guan Ruliu from the air. He extended two fingers and concentrated spiritual energy near their tip. With a white flash, the vines holding Guan Ruliu up broke, and she landed in Li Mo’s grasp.
“Master Mo!” The fatigued Guan Ruliu seemed to relax as soon as she was freed from the vines’ embrace. Just then, however, something unexpected happened!
“Li Mo, be careful!” Yun Ruoyan screamed. Behind and all around Li Mo, under his feet, around his arms, above his head, countless vines seemed to rear their heads at Li Mo as though they were poisonous snakes, ready to strike at Li Mo at any moment...Previous Chapter Next Chapter