“What?!” the long-faced guard shouted in shock. He found that the scarlet light emanating from Yun Ruoyan seemed to possess an unusual suction, one that prevented his spear from moving forward and coming in contact with Yun Ruoyan’s body. When he tried to pull the spear away, it still remained immobile; even when he tried to let go of the spear and leave, he found that he couldn’t remove his hands from the spear.
He was trapped right against Yun Ruoyan’s prone body, unable to take a single step.
At the same time, Yun Ruoyan was experiencing a dramatic change in her body. A manual appeared in her mind’s eye, the Dragon’s Art technique that Li Mo had shown her. In her possession was another similar manual, but one without any words.
That manual also appeared in her mind. It flipped open of its own accord, revealing a series of blank pages. Just as Yun Ruoyan looked at the book in confusion, the pages began to fill with words. Yun Ruoyan read them carefully to find that they were the contents of the Dragon’s Art technique she had read, transcribed faithfully to the last stroke. The abstruse, almost incomprehensible technique became crystal clear in a matter of moments.
“This is the highest-ranked technique of the demonic dragon clan, and what you’re seeing now is the portion of the manual that you’ve read before, relevant for cultivating spiritual energy,” the demonic eye began. “Initially, this technique would have been imparted to you only after you became a sword saint, but given your predicament, I’ve left you a wisp of demonic dragon aura to help you understand it now.”
Yun Ruoyan felt a warmth suffuse her entire body, and her numb body finally regained sensation.
“Child, live well,” the demonic eye murmured, then vanished for good.
The long-faced guard was still desperately trying to pull out his spear. Suddenly, the scarlet light vanished just as he pulled, and he stumbled back from his own momentum.
By the time he righted himself, Yun Ruoyan had already stood up. Her entire body was wrapped up in a faint red glow, and the demonic dragon aura was rapidly healing her injuries. Even the gruesome wound on her chest had scabbed over, and her mutilated skin had been covered by small, smooth black scales.
Her face, forehead, wrists, and legs—where she bled, these scales stemmed the bleeding.
“You… what sort of wretched monster are you?!” the long-faced guard yelled out.
“I’m not a monster.” Yun Ruoyan opened her eyes, which had likewise turned blood red. “I’m not a monster, but a human, a human who specializes in killing monsters like you!”
“Scarlet Eye! Return!” Yun Ruoyan extended her right hand. The Scarlet Eye, which lay on the ground in the distance, glowed with a scintillating light and flew back to Yun Ruoyan’s hand like a comet.
“No matter what sort of monster you are, I’ll kill you today!” The long-faced guard thrust at Yun Ruoyan with his spear again.
Yun Ruoyan flicked her wrist, conjuring a fiery-red whip from thin air. Like a snake, it wrapped around the guard’s spear and turned it a bright red. The scorching heat forced the long-faced guard to drop the spear, at which time he immediately summoned his spiritual sword. A red light flashed underneath his feet as he flew into the air, turning tail and running.
Yun Ruoyan pointed a finger at the guard’s back, and the whip in her hands launched the spear at the guard as though it were a javelin.
“Argh!” Yun Ruoyan watched the guard stumble, then fall. The spear had cleanly pierced his chest, and he had stopped breathing before he hit the ground.
The red light slowly vanished from Yun Ruoyan’s body, and her pupils returned to their original color. She immediately sat down cross-legged and began to meditate according to the manual in her mind’s eye…
After Li Mo killed Pi Qiu and Pi Huo, then tossed their corpses into a pond in the manor, he returned to the coal cellar and went back to sleep. When the skies brightened, Lin Qingchen came to visit Li Mo and to help tend to his wounds. Over the last few days, Li Mo had been beaten daily, and the guards had gotten used to Lin Qingchen’s walking to his shack with ointment and medicine. At the same time, she would also be able to pass vital information to him.
“Master Mo,” Lin Qingchen began, as she applied medicine on his face and arms. “This morning, Qingxue and Zhuo Yifeng were taken away.”
Li Mo frowned. “Do you know where to?”
“According to the servants of the manor, they were brought away to a spirit crystal vein, but I don’t know which one.”
“I understand. Prepare to leave this manor; we’ll be escaping within a few days.”
That night, just like many previous nights, Li Mo darted out of the cellar, dodged the layers of guards stationed around his cellar and the manor at large, and drifted toward the prisons that were his target for tonight’s excursion. The first prison was empty, and, while the second prison contained someone, it wasn’t Qin Feng.
Could Qin Feng have been sent away from the Pi manor, perhaps also as a laborer in a spirit crystal mine? Li Mo entertained this possibility and thought it more and more likely, so he decided to leave with Lin Qingchen on the spot. Because of his prior notice, Lin Qingchen wasn’t surprised when he suddenly showed up at night, and they immediately made to leave.
By this time, it was almost dawn. Li Mo and Lin Qingchen were walking toward the wall of the manor; although in principle Lin Qingchen could fly them both on her sword, the manor was filled with all sorts of talented cultivators, and they didn’t dare take the risk.
Just as they avoided a troop of patrolling guards and were about to approach the wall, the quiet manor began to bustle with activity. “Lord Pi and Young Master Pi are returning, so make sure you’re all alert and attentive!” the leader of the guards shouted. “Even a mosquito won’t be allowed to fly freely!”
“Yes, sir!” the guards chorused.
Li Mo frowned. By then, the sky was already bright, and it would be extremely difficult for the two of them to escape under the watchful eye of so many guards.
“Master Mo, should we escape tonight instead?” Lin Qingchen suggested.
Li Mo nodded. The moment he returned to the coal cellar, a guard came by to escort him to a reception chamber, where three men were seated. On the right was Pi Yang, on the left was Pi Batian, and sitting in the middle, in the seat of honor, was undoubtedly the head of the Pi family, Lord Pi Yan. 
What surprised Li Mo was that Pi Yan and Pi Batian looked as though they had been carved from the same mold; the only difference between them was that Pi Batian was dressed in bright red, and Pi Yan in dark red.
“You’re the groundhog who burrowed your way into my hunting grounds?” Pi Yan stared coolly at Li Mo, who had completely retracted his aura and hidden his cultivation on the way to the chamber. Pi Batian had spoken to him early that morning about Li Mo, claiming that he was the most advanced of the groundhogs that he had ever seen.
Even without access to spirit crystals, he had already achieved the realm of a sword saint at such a young age. If spirit crystals were available to him, his rate of advancement would undoubtedly advance precipitously. Li Mo possessed an incredible, frightening talent for cultivation—so if the Pi family couldn’t make him an asset, they would kill him before he could develop into an enemy.
Li Mo didn’t speak. He stared coldly at Pi Yan, unable to discern the true depths of his cultivation. Pi Batian’s a second-rank sword saint, so this Pi Yan must be even farther along the path of cultivation than he is. At least a third-rank sword saint, maybe even higher…
By this point, Lin Qingchen had also been brought into the great hall. She stood right by Li Mo’s side.
“I heard you lost your cultivation?” Pi Yan stood up and walked to Li Mo’s side.
“I don’t believe you.” The moment he spoke, he punched at Li Mo’s chest, causing him to stagger back and spit a mouthful of blood out of his chest. Before Li Mo could straighten up, Pi Yan strode forward with another fist, cocked at Li Mo’s brain. A visible glow of spiritual energy surrounded the first; if it landed, Li Mo would likely die on the spot.
However, Li Mo seemed to show no intention of fighting back, and Pi Yan’s fist ultimately stopped mere centimeters from his head.
“Heh.” Pi Yan retracted his fist and turned to Lin Qingchen, then pointed at Li Mo. “Who’s he to you?”
“My instructor,” Lin Qingchen responded.
Pi Yan caught her neck in a vice-like grip, slowly clenching his palm into a fist. Lin Qingchen’s breathing grew strained and her face turned a shocking red, as though she would be choked to death on the spot.
“Hold it!” Li Mo bellowed.
“Save her, or she dies. After all, she’s worthless to me,” Pi Yan replied coolly.
Li Mo shot a row of icicles at Pi Yan.
“You really were faking it!” Pi Yang called out in shock, standing up.
Li Mo knew that this was all a test, but he couldn’t simply disregard Lin Qingchen. After all, she was one of Yun Ruoyan’s most prized relatives.
Pi Yan easily blocked the attack with a wave of his sleeve. Li Mo took the opportunity to dart to his side, conjured up a sword of ice, and thrust it toward his chest, one that Pi Yan somehow managed to catch, then break, with his bare hands. Before Li Mo could react, he had stabbed his shoulder with a broken-off fragment of the sword. Then, he slammed Li Mo in the chest, causing him to spit out another mouthful of blood. His legs turned unsteady, and he fell to the ground.
All of this happened in the blink of an eye, and even Lin Qingchen, who was standing right by their side, couldn’t clearly see what was going on.
Pi Yan let go of Lin Qingchen and returned to his seat. Lin Qingchen slumped as she panted for breath.
“Not only is this groundhog sly and crafty, he seems rather firm and determined,” Pi Yan idly commented to his eldest son. “It won’t be easy to force him to submit to you.”
“Father, if it were easy, it wouldn’t interest me.” Pi Batian glanced at the heavily wounded Li Mo, a spark of interest flashing in his eyes.