Sima Qingshan left Beiluo City and headed south with his bookcase on his back, preparing to return to South County .
Tang Yimo could be considered his guide on this path of cultivation, but his relationship with the man was closer to that of one between good friends .
Tang Yimo was someone without many friends, but Sima Qingshan could be considered one .
On his way south, Sima Qingshan took in the scenic sights .
Because of the war, there were refugees on the move .
The majority of the refugees had left the capital city, and they needed to find a safe and stable place .
Sima Qingshan was among them . He had seen several of the refugees die due to poor nutrition and hunger while some due to cold exposure, merely freezing to death and left on the side of the road .
There was nothing much he could do in the face of such circumstances .
He could paint, but his paintings were still unreal after all .
Despite his paintings becoming almost lifelike, they were only real in form and not in substance .
For example, if he painted a steamed bun, this steamed bun would not fill anyone’s belly and satiate hunger . Because of this, he could only watch as these refugees starved to death .
Dressed in a shirt that had been patched, he continued painting during the journey to the south . The subject of his art was always the various states of his companions . The refugees underwent all sorts of emotions—some of them were tyrannical, some of them were cunning and crafty, but some of them were compassionate and warm .
A number of refugee children had seen Sima Qingshan’s paintings, but they were not particularly moved by them . They were more focused on whether they could stay warm and full, so poetry and paintings, among other things, didn’t pique their interest .
Using his pen, he sketched out an outline on the paper and then noticed the ink had gradually thinned out . On the state highway that was covered in snow, a lifelike refugee leaped up from the paper .
Vaguely, a sorrowful feeling started spreading in the air .
Sima Qingshan pocketed his pen . The person’s aura seemed to have condensed on this painting somewhat .
“I think I’ll call this one Painting of the Refugee . ”
Sima Qingshan took in a deep breath .
He recalled the scene on Beiluo Lake where he had asked Lu Fan .
That day, he had stood in the canoe with his clothes fluttering in the wind as he looked out at Lu Fan, who was leaning against the railing and listening to the snow fall . He had requested to join White Jade City, asking how to cultivate the Dao of painting .
Young Master Lu did nothing but wave his hands, not allowing him to join .
“White Jade City will not accept you . ”
“It’s a big world . What you can do is travel all over the world, and then perhaps you’ll reap some benefits and find something worth learning . ”
“The Dao of painting is unlike Sword Cultivation or Knife Cultivation in that it does not have an overwhelming power to destroy or to kill and maim . However, if you do manage to get somewhere with this, its power will not be second to either of those,” Lu Fan had said .
Underneath the falling snow, Sima Qingshan was in deep thought .
After that, he left Beiluo City and headed south .
He created the Painting of the Refugee today, and the Qi that had been simmering in his chest had surged forth in an instant .
He had barely crossed the threshold of the Internal Organs Realm before this, but now he had finished refining an organ .
“Dao of Painting in this Heaven and Earth . ”
There was a hint of a smile on Sima Qingshan’s face .
He looked at the refugees on the road .
He rolled up his painting and stepped into a small city nearby .
The snow continued falling all over the small city .
The sound of vendors calling for customers filled the streets . Although it was a small town, it had everything it could possibly need, and it seemed a lot more humane .
Sima Qingshan dusted the snow off his body . He found an empty spot in the streets of the small city . Putting down his bookcase, he retrieved the Painting of the Refugee that he had just finished .
He wanted to sell his painting .
The only thing a poor painter could do was to sell his paintings .
He put up his paintings on display for the entire day, but no one showed them any interest . Although quite a few people had gathered around and thought that the painting was extremely well done, they could not exactly put their finger on the reason . They could only point and comment, “This one’s nice . ”
Sima Qingshan was neither troubled nor anxious .
He would simply head to another city to continue selling his paintings if he could not sell them here .
A wealthy young lady with a red coat draped on her walked by the painting . Beside her, a servant girl held up a paper umbrella, keeping the snow off the young lady . The two of them squeezed through the crowd .
The young lady’s eyes were like the stars . Her eyelashes fluttered as she looked at the painting, her red lips pursed gently .
“There’s a strange charm about this painting…”
“Sir, how much are you selling this for?” asked the young lady with the red coat as she looked at Sima Qingshan .
Sima Qingshan looked at the young lady with a smile .
“A hundred taels . ”
Before the young lady could respond, the servant girl beside her expressed her astonishment .
“A hundred taels? You’re just a poor painter, and you think your paintings are worth a hundred taels? Who do you think you are?”
The crowd around them hissed as well .
A hundred taels… This painter was just crazy about money .
Did he know how much a hundred taels were?
This painter had probably never seen that many silver taels in his life, no?
“Don’t be rude, Xiao Hong,” the young lady chastised the servant girl swiftly .
The servant girl was angry . “You can’t let this poor painter scam you, Miss . ”
The young lady with the red coat paid no mind to the servant girl . She looked at Sima Qingshan, her pretty face red with the wind blowing at her . She said, “Sir, is this painting really a hundred taels?”
Sima Qingshan looked at the young lady . He could feel a surge of Spirit Qi from her inner core .
It was obvious this young lady was a cultivator…
A cultivator who had been born because of the transformation of Heaven and Earth .
Sima Qingshan shook his head, saying, “No . ”
The young lady was taken aback .
“This painting, it’s worth a thousand taels,” Sima Qingshan said again with a smile .
The servant girl beside the young lady was about to explode . Her anger continued boiling inside . Had this poor painter not seen a tael in his life?
He dared hike up the price of that rotten painting to a thousand taels?
What? Did he think this young lady was so gullible?!
The young lady bit her plump lips and said thoughtfully, “Xiao Hong, go find my father and prepare the taels . This painting… I have to have it . ”
The servant girl could not believe this .
However, the young lady’s determined gaze put the servant girl in her place, as her heart beat faster . She hurried off in the direction of the manor .
Sima Qingshan looked rather curious at young lady .
He smiled .
“Young lady, I was only joking with you just now . Since you’ve taken a liking to this painting, I’ll sell it to you for just ten taels . ”
Sima Qingshan stood up . He dusted the white snow off his body to reveal the patched shirt he was wearing .
The young lady with the red coat was stunned . Then, she smiled .
As if afraid that Sima Qingshan would go back on his word, the young lady retrieved ten silver taels from her servant girl and handed it over to Sima Qingshan .
And then she looked at him in anticipation .
Sima Qingshan rolled up the painting and handed it over to the young lady .
After he handed the painting over to the young lady, he bent down slightly and huddled near her and said, “When you look at this painting with your Spirit Qi, remember not to look at it for more than two hours… Otherwise, what you gain will not make up for what you will lose . ”
Sima Qingshan took special note to instruct the young lady .
The young lady was stunned…
Only to see that Sima Qingshan had already packed up his bookcase and disappeared into the snowy streets .
Vanishing into the crowd…
Sima Qingshan came to a stop in front of a steamed bun stall .
Sima Qingshan asked, “How about ten taels for 1,000 steamed buns? Would that do?”
The stall owner stared at him in shock . Ten taels? 1,000 steamed buns?
This man was a fool .
The stall owner hurriedly nodded .
And so Sima Qingshan handed the ten taels over to him .
“I’ll leave it to you then . ”
“Hand out the steamed buns to the refugees at the city gate tomorrow, one for each of them,” instructed Sima Qingshan .
After he said that, he snatched up the falling snow and waved it about in the air .
With the snow, he drew a pair of eyes with a stone-cold gaze that stayed suspended in the air . The eyes stared at the stall owner, sending chills running down his spine and terrifying him to no end .
By the time he snapped back to his senses, Sima Qingshan had already disappeared from where he had stood .
And those eyes that had been floating in the air had turned into snow water that dripped onto the ground .
Sima Qingshan knew what it was like to suffer, and he knew that ten taels were more than enough to move a person . He could not fully trust the stall owner’s conscience, so he had resorted to scaring him a little .
The next day .
Outside the city…
The stall owner had actually moved his stall . Bamboo steamers filled with piping hot steamed buns were distributed out of the city, and it had caused quite the storm in this peaceful little town .
The refugees who had been suffering because of the cold and the hunger were all gathered outside the city gates . Some of them were so elated they cried .
In the distance, Sima Qingshan smiled .
He turned around and hiked his bookcase up higher on his back . His patched shirt fluttered in the wind as he swayed and disappeared on the state highway .
Below the gate tower, the young lady with the red coat gripped the scroll . Without anyone noticing, she looked at Sima Qingshan’s disappearing silhouette, her eyelashes fluttering .
Sima Qingshan headed south toward Nanjiang City .
Every time he passed a city, he would finish a painting and sell it .
But he was never as lucky as he had been on that first day .
For three days in a row, he had not managed to sell a single painting . Everyone thought he was a lunatic .
Would paintings fill an empty stomach in these troubled times?
Obviously not .
Although Sima Qingshan’s paintings were only selling for ten taels, the average person would not be able to afford to spend this much .
On the fourth day…
Sima Qingshan had been preparing to pack his things up when…
A familiar voice rang out from behind him .
“Is this still for sale, sir?”
It was a warm voice, one that was a little gentle . Sima Qingshan was astonished, so he turned around, only to see the familiar young lady with the red coat who looked at him with pursed lips .
The young lady flushed . She raised the Painting of the Refugee she had in her grip . “I spoke with my father . I told him that I’d be leaving to learn this art as your disciple and will return once I’ve learned it . ”
“I really like your paintings, sir . Would you accept me as your disciple?” asked the young lady .
Sima Qingshan was astounded, but he shook his head .
This young lady… She probably snuck out, huh?
What family would let their precious daughter travel all over the world and study painting during such times as these?
“Hurry on and go home . Your father must be anxious,” Sima Qingshan said .
The young lady felt disappointed, but she did not push her request . Instead, she bought the painting and then turned to leave .
Sima Qingshan used the ten silver taels he earned to help the refugees again . It was not much, but he did as much as he could .
He continued doing that day after day .
Every time Sima Qingshan would sell his paintings, the young lady would appear with her red coat . She would stubbornly ask him whether he could accept her as his disciple .
Sima Qingshan rejected her every time .
“I’m just a poor painter . All I know is to make these paintings . What right do I have to accept you as my disciple?”
The young lady never forced him, not once . She would leave after buying the painting .
Time and time again, Sima Qingshan would enter the city, and the young lady would appear .
On this day…
He heard the jarring sound of horses’ hooves outside the city, as well as the war cries that pierced the air .
Sima Qingshan frowned . He collected his scrolls and walked out of the city and looked out to see bandits on horses charging toward the refugees and the young lady with her red coat . She frowned in anger, her Spirit Qi swirling around . Casting aside her red coat, she confronted the bandits head-on .
Sima Qingshan could not help but smile .
“That girl, how bold of her . ”
He retrieved a brush .
The bandits, on hoseback, charged forward . The horses kicked up a flurry of snow, sending it flying everywhere like grains of rice .
The young lady’s pretty face was ashen . Yes, she was afraid .
She assured herself that she was a cultivator, and cultivators could handle a hundred people and that she could do this .
The leader of the bandits had a cruel smile on his face . He brandished a saber and waved it in the air, ready to strike at the young lady .
The young lady heard a gentle voice drifting toward her from behind .
“Would you like to buy a painting, young lady?”
The young lady shivered .
With one swing of the saber, a lock of her ink-black hair was chopped off . As the hair drifted in the wind, the saber and the horde of bandits alike, as if erased from a painting by somebody…
Leaving only dozens of horses that were trotting back and forth in the snow, unsure what to do .
The young lady’s eyes were wide with shock .
She turned around, only to see Sima Qingshan smiling at her with a brush in his grip .
He handed her a scroll painting .
She accepted it unknowingly . When she unrolled it, she saw that in the painting… there was a beautiful young lady, one who looked like a work of art, one who smiled radiantly .
The young lady pursed her lips . There was a gentle curve to her eyebrows .
“Sima Qingshan of Hua Sect . ”
Sima Qingshan smiled . “Would you care to join the sect, Miss?”
Lu Fan had not been aware of the founding of Hua Sect .
He sat on the second floor of White Jade City Pavilion . A slight breeze blew by, and the snowflakes that had once covered the skies had long dissipated .
Before his eyes, the system reminders flowed in ceaselessly .
[“Great oaks from acorns grow . Congratulations on reaching Level 4 of Qi Refining . You have accumulated 10,000 wisps of Spirit Qi and will be rewarded with Phoenix Feather Sword x2 and 10 random Spirit Weeds . ]
[“You have reached Level 4 of Qi Refining . The range of Spirit Qi will be expanded, autorecovery ability will be strengthened (Spirit Qi, Soul Strength, and Physique Strength), and you will obtain Thunder Movement Technique, the movement technique . ]
[“Reminder: You have accumulated 10,000 wisps of Spirit Qi and are now able to condense it into Spirit Fluid . 10,000 wisps of Spirit Qi can be condensed into one drop of Spirit Fluid . ”]
The system reminders swayed incessantly in front of Lu Fan’s eyes, leaving him a little dumbfounded…
Because the change this time was a little more substantial—at the very least, Lu Fan thought it had been massive .
“10,000 wisps of Spirit Qi can be condensed into one drop of Spirit Fluid?” Lu Fan muttered .
What was this Spirit Fluid?
As its name suggested, it was probably liquefied Spirit Qi, but it was different from Spirit Stones . Lu Fan learned the technique to create Spirit Stones when he had broken through to Level 3 of Qi Refining, but…
All the Spirit Stone did was to direct Spirit Qi into some jade or other ores that could hold Spirit Qi .
An ore of slightly better quality would be likely able to store 10 wisps of Spirit Qi .
Sprit Fluid, on the other hand, was able to contain 10,000 wisps of Spirit Qi in a single drop .
Lu Fan’s jaw fell . There was no question about this—Spirit Fluid was the absolute best resource for a cultivator .
With Spirit Fluid, the speed at which he could produce top-class cultivators would significantly be increased .
Besides, it was not just Lu Fan’s Spirit Qi reserves that the Spirit Qi would turn into Spirit Fluid .
Lu Fan could even turn the Spirit Qi in the air into Spirit Fluid!
This way, Lu Fan would be able to save a lot of Spirit Qi .
His Spiritual Sense surged . Lu Fan raised a hand and snatched at the void .
In an instance, the Spirit Qi had morphed into a giant swirl and gathered in the palm of Lu Fan’s hand, compressing without stopping .
It turned into a perfectly spherical, crystal-clear, azure… teardrop-like Spirit Fluid .
He was able to harness an extremely powerful strength from the drop of Spirit Fluid . With his Spiritual Sense, Lu Fan… could even cause it to detonate!
Was it because the concentration of Spirit Qi was too high?
Lu Fan smiled .
Aside from the Spirit Fluid, he had also obtained quite a few other rewards .
The one that shocked Lu Fan the most was…
A familiar reward—Phoenix Feather Sword x2
This stunned Lu Fan .
His consciousness surged .
A wave of profound meaning spread . There was a terrifying roar, and then the void tore open .
Two pitch-black openings were filled with exceedingly terrible pressure . There was the sound of a Phoenix’s cry cutting through the air, loud and clear .
Two Phoenix Feather Swords with red blades floated to Lu Fan’s side . They had no hilt either; much like the tail feathers of a Phoenix, they radiated fire and sharpness .
Lu Fan looked at three Phoenix Feather Swords and could not help but be speechless .
This was the pace he was going to replace his Thousand Blades Chair with the Phoenix Feather Chair?
But he also remembered that when the Phoenix Feather Sword had been introduced before, their description had the “Incomplete” suffix . Now, Lu Fan was rather curious as to how many Phoenix Feather Swords there were in total .
If a single Phoenix Feather Sword on its own was already a Heaven Level High Grade item, he did not dare imagine the level of all the Phoenix Feather Swords when they were gathered together .
He was filled with an inexplicable sense of expectation one might have when they were collecting cards .
Just as Lu Fan completed the inspection of his rewards…
The crowd that had been stunned by the thunder had finally stepped over to Beiluo Lake . They were all filled with concern as they flew toward White Jade City Pavilion .