Chapter 237 – The Heart of the Forest
Dark shadows pervaded the forest as the sheer density of the canopy blocked the sunlight, and the earthy scents of plant life saturated the damp air.
This place already seemed to resemble the intermediate level. Only Tang Wulin had set foot there before, and it had been an unforgettable experience in which he first bore witness to Wu Zhangkong’s overwhelming power. Thousand-year and ten-thousand-year soul beasts had fallen one after the other before him, dropping like flies.
“Stay alert, everyone. The foliage limits my wind birds’ vision,” Gu Yue warned in a low voice.
Tang Wulin slowed his pace. It was unwise to rush forward in this environment.
“Captain, do you think we can cross into the intermediate level if we venture deep enough?” Xu Xiaoyan asked.
Tang Wulin shook his head. “I don’t know. Teacher Wu never spoke about it.”
“It’s possible,” Gu Yue interjected.
“Really?” Tang Wulin turned to her.
Gu Yue nodded. “Every level of the spirit ascension platform is connected. It’s possible to enter the intermediate level from here as long as you’re strong enough. However, a powerful soul beast guards the barrier between levels. Only after defeating it can we cross over. Unfortunately, I think this will be difficult for us, much less ordinary soul masters. The guardian is the reason why very few people can cross between levels.”
As a member of the Spirit Pagoda, Gu Yue had access to information unknown to outsiders.
Excitement bubbled within Xie Xie. “Let’s give a try then. Maybe we can enter the intermediate level this time.”
A wry smile appeared on Tang Wulin’s lips. “I don’t think it’ll be that easy.”
He could still recall how terrifying the soul beasts in the intermediate level were. The Blazing Demon Lion King was nothing when compared to any random beast from that level. Aside from that, the Spirit Pagoda would have definitely installed preventative measures to keep people from crossing the borders between levels. Tang Wulin and the others would face great resistance if they tried to do so.
“Let’s try.” For once, Gu Yue agreed with Xie Xie.
As of late, soul beasts rarely appeared before them. This lack of beasts, as well as the silence that came with it, only served to magnify the gloom of the forest. An eerie calm descended on this thriving forest.
Tang Wulin knew from experience that they had entered the domain of a powerful soul beast, and since not a single sound could be heard, it was probably far more powerful than the Blazing Demon Lion King.
There was only one other situation they had encountered these circumstances before.
“Xie Xie, do you remember the first time we came to the rebellion spirit ascension platform?” Tang Wulin quietly asked.
“Of course!” Xie Xie said. “Our luck was pretty good that time and we were able to absorb a bunch of energy thanks to the Man-Faced Demon Spider. That was also the first time you evolved your spirit soul.”
“In that case, do you remember how you were killed?” Tang Wulin asked.
A cold shiver ran down Xie Xie’s spine. He understood where Tang Wulin’s thoughts were travelling to. His voice trembled as he spoke. “Are you saying that this place is…”
Tang Wulin forced out a bitter laugh. “I’m getting a similar vibe. Hopefully, I’m wrong.”
Xie Xie subconsciously drew closer to Tang Wulin, fear surfacing in his eyes. He could never forget the chilling sensation of being chopped to pieces during their first adventure in the rebellion spirit ascension platform. He had been plagued with nightmares and dread for an entire month after that.
They hadn’t come across that particular soul beast in the past few years, but the terrifying memory still hadn’t left Xie Xie.
“Are you saying…?” Gu Yue’s voice trailed off.
Her expression became grim when Tang Wulin nodded.
Dusk seemed to gather in their surroundings and an unseen pressure weighed down on them. Xie Xie’s palms were sweaty and his breathing became haggard.
“How about we take another route?” Xie Xie asked meekly.
Tang Wulin’s voice was stern. “There are some things that we can’t run from. If you don’t gather the courage to face the beast, then it will haunt you forever. Only by prevailing over it will you be able to advance further and become even more powerful.”
Xie Xie made a bitter face. “That’s easy to say, but—”
Tang Wulin suddenly threw out his arms to stop everyone in their tracks. His eyes narrowed as he tried to make out what lay beyond the trees in front of them.
Tang Wulin’s connection to plants due to his Bluesilver Grass meant that his perception was the keenest in the forest amongst his group and he could sense what others could not; for example, he could sense the fear of the surrounding plants.
“Come out!” he growled.
As if working in tandem with Tang Wulin, Gu Yue summoned a fireball and tossed it in the direction of his gaze.
The fireball surged into the depths of the forest, exploding midair when a blur of motion attacked it.
A majestic figure emerged from the shadows, and Xie Xie sucked in a deep breath. Fear gripped his body, his daggers trembling in his hands.
Over three meters in height, the figure towered over them. Dark-gold fur covered its body and it had a pair of indifferent and ruthless eyes. Most alarming of all, however, were its gigantic arms. They were thick and solid, each sporting meter-long claws that were dark-gold. Faint hissing sounds could be heard whenever it slashed at the air.
Tang Wulin’s pupils contracted. “The Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear!”
If they were to choose a single soul beast that they absolutely didn’t want to encounter, it would be the Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear.
Tang Wulin had witnessed an entire pride of Blazing Demon Lions prostrate themselves before it like kittens during their first encounter. It was also the first time his golden dragon claw had been defeated.
That memory had been carved into both his and Xie Xie’s hearts.
In the past three years, they had yet to encounter it again. As a result, they had nearly forgotten about it… until today.
Be it offense, defense, or speed, the Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear excelled in everything. Its explosive power dominated both close quarters and long range combat.
Even among other peak-level soul beasts, it stood a step above them. It was a frightening soul beast that could even contend with dragons!
Crimson bloodthirst seeped into the Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear’s cold eyes as it stared at them. It advanced toward them step by step, its body starting to faintly glow.
“I’m the vanguard,” Tang Wulin said. ”You guys assist me. If I’m defeated, exit immediately.”
Tang Wulin strode forward as he spoke, his head held high. He started slow, but gradually he began to run, then he was soon charging forward courageously!
Shame settled into Xie Xie’s heart as he stared at Tang Wulin’s valiant figure. Every time danger rear’s its head, he’s the one charging in. No! This time won’t be the same!
Xie Xie dashed to the side, suddenly moving at a high speed.
An ice wheel arced through the air toward the bear while simultaneously, the elements in the air grew increasingly frenzied and started to gather together.
At long last, class zero came to face its greatest opponent yet.
Tang Wulin continued to close the distance between the him and the Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear, yet the soul beast came to an abrupt halt.
The ice wheel struck the bear’s head, but it didn’t even blink as icy air descended upon its body and covered it in a layer of frost.
With a booming roar, the bear brandished its claws to swipe at Tang Wulin. The ice wheel’s restraining effect was nothing to it.
Tang Wulin’s right hand transformed into the golden dragon claw and he swung at the bear. He may not have been its match three years ago, but he was different now.
A metallic crash tore through the air. Tang Wulin staggered back seven steps before steadying himself.
During his first clash with a hundred-year Duskgold Dreadclaw Bear, he had been sent flying.
He looked at his claw. It was undamaged, but he had felt a sudden spike in soul power consumption during the clash.