The head of a vampire brigand flew off his shoulders, his fangs shattered. At the same time, a blood-colored demon core flew out of him.
That particular brigand had been a sixth phase energy arts expert.
Far from the city was a band of thousands of vampire brigands who had just returned from pillaging a village. As soon as Yang Qi, Li He, He Jili, Hua Yinhu and Liang Dong found them, they set upon them with no mercy.
It was the day after Yang Qi had become a Master of Energy.
Now he really was a ninth phase expert, and had the power of fifteen ancient megamammoths at his command. His true energy was now powerful enough that his attacks could damage mountains.
Instead of returning to the Demi-Immortal Institute, they continued to hunt vampire brigands in the northwestern plains.
After all, every brigand they killed meant more merit points in the end.
And with Yang Qi in the mix, the vampire brigands had no hope of fighting back.
The northwest was rife with numerous bands of brigands; the one that Chu Tiange had killed the night before was only one of many.
After his breakthrough, Yang Qi had rested for the night. Then, at dawn, he led the hunt. It had taken some work, but they eventually found a village several dozen kilometers out of the city that some brigands had sacked. From there, it had been an easy task to track the vampires down.
“Get over here! Snatch the Dragon; Sway the Crane!” True energy poured out of Hua Yinhu’s hand, smashing into a seventh phase vampire brigand, and then extracting the blood demon core from him.
Soon, the group of five had a ninth phase brigand surrounded, the leader of the band.
Despite being a Master of Energy, he wasn’t as strong as the brigand leader from the city before; apparently, he had just achieved his breakthrough. Looking around at his dead subordinates, he backed away, trying to use his true energy to defend himself against Yang Qi.
Yang Qi wasn’t in a hurry to kill him; instead, he wanted information. “Talk, you hellion. How many vampire brigands are in the northwest? Who’s your top leader? Is he a Lifeseizer?”
The brigand burst out into raucous laughter. “Just kill me!” he growled. “The exalted Wuxue will avenge my death! You just wait! We’re subordinates of the Hanging Mountain! We were created by one of the demon kings of the seventy-two grottos, the Blood Demon Grotto!” 
This was not Yang Qi’s first time hearing of matters such as this.
The first time had been back in the Blackcorpse Mountains, when his father revealed some of the truth of his mother to him.
That was when he came to know that his mother was actually an important person in the Hanging Mountain. She was not a human, but rather, one of the Demonfolk. And supposedly, the Hanging Mountain was actually another world.
And he had also heard of the demon kings of the seventy-two grottos before.
If even the lowest ranked among those grottos, the Blood Demon Grotto, could casually produce a huge force like this, it begged the question of what else the Hanging Mountain was capable of.
As Yang Qi tried to decide what to say next, a violent burst of energy suddenly rose up inside of the brigand leader, causing him to explode into a haze of blood.
Yang Qi leapt backward, waving his hand to summon a huge barrier to contain the explosion.
Within the barrier, blood splashed about everywhere.
“That was Grand Bloodshade Disintegration!” Li He blurted. ‘It’s used to kill oneself along with the enemy. When unleashed by a Master of Energy, the levels of deadly power are incredible. And yet, it couldn’t even break through that barrier Brother Yang Qi threw up? Just how strong is he?’
The longer this group of four was around Yang Qi, the more mysterious he seemed to them.
Yang Qi looked at the pearl-like demon core from the leader. “This is a high-quality core. We should be able to get quite a few merit points from this.”
“You’re right, Brother Yang,” Li He said. “That demon core is probably worth three merit points. It usually takes dozens or even hundreds of ordinary cores to get even a single merit point. And according to sect rules, only demon cores from the eighth phase and up can be exchanged. Do you want to rest for a bit? Or just keep on hunting? According to what we all just heard, the ultimate leader of these vampire brigands is someone they called the exalted Wuxue. He must be a Lifeseizer, otherwise Chu Tiange wouldn’t be involved.”
“Sure. By the way, I'm the newcomer here, so I don't know much about the Hanging Mountain. Considering how long you guys have been around, do you know anything about it?”
Up to this point, Liang Dong hadn’t said much. But apparently, he knew a lot about Demonfolk, as he provided the explanation. “According to the legends, it's a divine mountain created in primeval times by one of the Demonfolk’s invincible Great Sages. Supposedly, it exists beyond the heavens. The patriarchs of the Demonfolk live there, and the other Demonfolk who do live in the Rich-Lush Continent heed their commands, and view the place as a holy land. By that I mean the seventy-two demon kings and thirty-six devil lords, who lead a total of one hundred and eight major forces. As for those major forces, they are broken up into too many smaller factions to even count. The institutes of our land have tried to establish formal relations with the Hanging Mountain, but have never succeeded.”
None of it seemed very real to Yang Qi. “So the Hanging Mountain is basically mythological?”
It all seemed so vague and unreal that it made the idea of seeking out his mother seem like nothing but a fantasy.
“For all intents and purposes, yes.” At this point, Liang Dong shifted the topic of conversation. “Yang Qi, when you defeated Song Haishan yesterday, your true energy was incomparably mighty. Did you really use the power of an airmastery plant? I’ve heard that airmastery plants come from the Hanging Mountain.”
Yang Qi smiled. “Someone in my clan got one for me. And I was also struck by lightning, which helped me to absorb it.”
“You really got lucky, Brother Yang,” Li He said. “Well, now that you’re a Master of Energy, we can kill more of these vampire brigands and get even more merit points. If we can become outer campus students, then we can finally cultivate some of the institute’s best techniques. I’ve been wanting to become a Master of Energy for as long as I can remember.”
“Don’t even worry about it,” Yang Qi said, clasping Li He on the shoulder. “When my energy arts are strong enough, I’ll do everything I can to help you.”
“You’re a real brother,” Li He said, smiling. “If you ever need help with anything, you just come looking for me. Although, considering how profound your cultivation base is, I doubt I’ll ever be of much help.”
“You never know,” Yang Qi said. “I heard you’re actually from a powerful group in the Sage Ancestor Dynasty, is that right? Nobility or something? My clan is from a remote place called Yanhaven. War is coming their way, and I’m not sure if they’re strong enough to survive. Maybe you can help me move my clan closer to the Sage Ancestor Dynasty itself?”
“I’ll do everything I can to help.” Looking a bit nervous, he continued, “But don’t forget, although my clan is powerful, I rank really low. My words don’t carry much weight.”
Yang Qi chuckled. “Just wait until you’re a Master of Energy. Then your words will carry weight. And I'm not asking you to do anything right away. I’ll only need help if they reach the point where they can’t take care of themselves. Right now, they’re in a golden age of sorts, high-spirited and full of mettle. Here.” He sent a tiny seed of true energy into Li He’s sea of energy. “Absorb that true energy seed, and it might help you become a Master of Energy more quickly.”
The other three students looked on enviously, but refrained from saying anything. After all, it was no easy task to do what Yang Qi was doing.
Yang Qi looked over and could tell what they were thinking. “What, you three brothers also want some true energy?”
“Brother Yang Qi, your energy arts are profound. Any help you could provide would be amazing, and we would be eternally grateful. From now on, matters of the Yang Clan will be our responsibility. We’ll share both honor and disgrace with you.”
“Excellent. Considering everything we've been through, we’re all brothers now. Listen, I know it’s not the custom, but how about I help you increase your cultivation bases? The time has come for you to make a name for yourselves in the institute! Who says freshman students are useless? In fact, why don't we formalize our friendship and form a campus society?”
In the Demi-Immortal Institute, it was common for students to form campus societies, which could eventually turn into major forces.
Although the official rules stated that the students of the institute were supposed to be united, the truth was that relationship networks were both complicated and very important. Anyone who wanted to succeed needed to be in a campus society. After all, that was one of the best ways to get access to precious cultivation resources.
“Agreed!” Liang Dong said. “Let’s form our own society. And you have to be our leader, Brother Yang Qi. Right now, the most powerful society in our institute is the Crown Prince Society. Some of the other powerful societies are the Divine Ability Society, the Truth and Reason Society, the Five Lightnings Society, the Moonfire Society and the Gentlemen’s Society. We’ll start from the very bottom and work our way up. And eventually, we’ll rock the world and do amazing things.”
“Oh? I didn’t know there were so many groups in the institute.” Although he had been in the Demi-Immortal Institute for a while now, he was still very low-ranking, and hadn’t spent much time with others.
“Yeah, Chu Tiange is from the Crown Prince Society, that's why he’s so overbearing. Even some of the professors are scared of him.”
“I heard that the leader of the Crown Prince Society, the mysterious and enigmatic Crown Prince, is actually a holy neophyte within the institution.”
“They’re so strong! Think about it, you have to be a Lifeseizer to become an elite student, and above them are the conclave students. Can you even imagine what a holy neophyte is like?”
“Alright, but what should we call ourselves?” Yang Qi said, turning his eyes up in thought.
“You know, there’s a maxim in the Demi-Immortal Institute. It says ‘sage inside, monarch outside’. Powerful experts are sages, almighty beings are monarchs. Cultivate the morality of a sage on the inside, and the might of a monarch on the outside! If you're strong, you can protect the common people and the nation, and can earn the devotion of countless people. Be wise and sagacious. Appoint the best and brightest to serve you, and cater to their abilities. If you do these things, you will earn the sincere respect and admiration of the masses. Why don’t we call ourselves the Sage Monarch Society?”
“Sage inside, monarch outside….” Yang Qi murmured, thinking about the profound nature of the words. After a moment, he smiled. “Alright. The five of us are the Sage Monarch Society. Let’s hope that we can make a name for ourselves! I accept the nomination to be the first leader, and all of you will be the first council of chief elders!”
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