"This accursed place!"
Junior Leopard stood at the head of the stream with an ashen face, gazing out towards the swamp which lay before him. As he watched the rising mist soar over the swamp, he cursed in anger.
Today, he had put his Floating Technique into full swing, and had spent about six to eight hours doing a lap of the surrounding area. This was a means of surveying the area to help him find the medicinal herbs required by Xue Wuya, by getting a rough idea of the area's general layout. However, the clearer a picture he had of the area, the worse his mood became.
At the back of this place was the steep valley where Xue Wuya lived and trained in. At the right was a waterfall, and at the left was a dense forest; although the forest had a silence deep and ominous, the direction of where the little monster lived seemed less forbidding. But just half a kilometer beyond that were countless poisonous insects and terrible snakes. Although there were no evil beasts of formidable power here, and despite Junior Leopard's special spiritual instincts, there was still no way he could guarantee his safety in this place where venomous snakes were at his feet in every direction, and a ceiling of cobwebs spun by poisonous spiders was above his head at all times. After all he was no expert, and if it had not been for his quick thinking before, he would likely have already been digested as food inside the python's belly, or became the bodily fluids of poisonous spiders. The only way out was to follow the stream flowing forth from the waterfall. Junior Leopard had pressed on this way for about 5 kilometers, only for his way to be blocked by an enormous swamp which the stream he was followed flowed into.
The mist rising over the swamp was the same mist that Junior Leopard had seen when surveying the area in the daytime by the mouth of the cave. Every now and then the mist emitted a putrid odor; even the slightest whiff of this fragrance gave him a dizzy episode, so he dared not venture deeper into it.
"I cannot continue like this, all these roads are dead ends! Now let me think… the only place I can get into is that deep forest... oh, if only I could solve all my problems from inside there!" Junior Leopard said to himself. And with that, he turned and set out to delve into the old forest.
One day passed.
"Huh, this damned place really is not fit for human habitation… and it certainly lives up to the name 'Misty Mountain'!"
Deep in the forest, Junior Leopard put a hand out onto an ancient tree to support himself as his eyes vigilantly scanned his surroundings. His ears pricked up too, and his nerves braced themselves taut.
He had ventured about 10 kilometers deep into the woods and as far as the eye could see there was nothing but forest after forest, tree after tree, venomous creature after venomous creature.
Thankfully he was smart enough to use his special eyes to strip out all of the Yanfu Inner Strength out of the forest the day prior, otherwise his walk through the forest would not be such a walk through the park.
Damn it, it's already been two days! It'll be dark in only another 4 hours, and I've only found two Gall Orchids, and still no trace of the Wandering Flower or Rootless Grass… five days, where on earth can I find such things in only five days?!
Junior Leopard sighed and sat down beneath a tree to catch his breath.
As he prepared to use the Nine Dragons Heavenly Fire Technique, all he could see was a warm, pale red current gushing into his Dantian, and flowing towards each of his limbs and all of his bones. It flowed steadily, and after about an hour this red current had illuminated the path where the Nine Dragons Heavenly Fire Technique had pumped through his tendons and meridians.
Compared to others, Junior Leopard's practice of his Internal Qi had a big advantage — his Inner Vision.
Only when Internal Qi had reached a deep level of skill could Inner Vision be used; and at the same time, through practicing Inner Vision one could reach an intimate grasp of the circulation of Qi within their body, and gain a deeper understanding of the transformation of Internal Qi. Naturally, this would also mean that one's strength was greatly improved as well.
Junior Leopard's Internal Qi was not yet at that level, and was no match for his fantastical eyes — it was these which gave him a level of Inner Vision which was, in practice, no lower than that of a Level Nine master. So although his Internal Qi was nothing special, his knowledge of the essence of Internal Qi was far in advance of others of his age.
This understanding of Qi's essence was not something which could be explained orally or gotten from a book; it could only be known through direct experience.
"ThisNine Dragons Heavenly Fire Technique, combined with Xue Wuya's explanation is of great value… but I just can't develop my body to the right level!" Junior Leopard said to himself, feeling vexed. He was surprised to find himself thinking back to when he was a child in his previous life, and wishing that he could grow up faster.
The Internal Qi of the Nine Dragons Heavenly Fire was moisturizing his tendons, meridians, muscles and bones, and toughening them up, making them firm. This would enable them to have a greater capacity for Internal Qi; but as they were not yet fully grown, if he strengthened them recklessly now there was a risk that they would grow more slowly, or even that it would be difficult for them to develop at all. He thought of Nezha and the Red Boy, two classic examples of people who had never been able to grow up, and shuddered. Of course, this was not something that Junior Leopard had inferred himself, but rather something which was common knowledge in martial arts circles. It happened once every few years, usually within the larger schools and well-known families; places which had the greatest supply of medicines and potions, and people who were under the most pressure to flourish into dragons. One moment of carelessness, and it was all over for them; people becoming too strong too young and therefore ended up stunting their growth was one of this world's characteristics.
Junior Leopard did not want to become like this, and so when he was training he was extremely careful.
So, now he would only do one exercise each day. The transformation of Internal Qi using the Nine Dragons Heavenly Fire had its limits, and in fact martial arts skills in general all had a limit.
Because such skills had limits, he had no way to unleash his unique way of Yanfu Inner Strength Lightness Skill in all of its might; he would only end up as tired as he was now.
After catching his breath, Junior Leopard slowly opened his eyes, and quietly savored the feeling of the energy that he had used up gradually returned. He started thinking about his next step, and regretted that in his previous life he had not studied anything about survival outdoors. In this dense wood, he felt like a headless fly, darting to and fro, with no clear goal; and at the same time he was trying to evade the poisonous insects and wild beasts of the wood. All this was starting to really make him feel rather harassed.
He saw that the ground beneath him was darkened with moisture, and when his foot touched the ground he found that it had turned to mud. He raised his head to see some faint, miserable rays of light shining through the dense mass of branches and twigs. Junior Leopard raised his eyebrows. "This forest really is too dense… further on from here, perhaps gets no sunlight all year long, and so the ground is moist with the rotted leaves and branches accumulated over the years… who knows what is buried within, perhaps it is producing some kind of noxious gas… anyway, there can only be some kinds of moss growing in there, but it is medicinal herbs which I need. There cannot be any inside, and even if there are, there's no way that I can go any deeper in!"
He stood up, and just as he was preparing to continue his search elsewhere, his ears suddenly rang with the sound of two muffled thunderclaps. At first it was imperceptible, but then the sound of thunder grew louder and louder, and the faint miserable few rays of light that had been able to penetrate the forest disappeared. Junior Leopard suddenly had an ominous feeling, and indeed, after a brief respite, the thunder claps exploded; a sudden thunder clap one moment, then a slow rumbling the next, all echoing throughout the forest. The sound was cataclysmic, as though the mountain was collapsing the earth was cracking up; this cacophony entered Junior Leopard's ear and shook him to the core. And to make matters worse, great torrents of rain began lashing down; Junior Leopard was in a state of panic.
But he had common sense; he knew that, in this type of thunderstorm, hiding under a tree was the worst thing to do, especially the great big tall trees of this forest — they could all act as lightning rods. He dared not delay, and sprang into action, dashing towards the way out of the forest.
As he tore through the forest, some lightning bolts hit nearby trees. Electric flashes of light burst through the forest just by his feet — and although Junior Leopard's reflexes were fast, they were not fast enough and he was sent flying through the air. Luckily, most of the strength of the lightning had been absorbed by the ground; otherwise, Junior Leopard would certainly have been fried.
But as he lifted himself back up again, with thunder and lightning exploding over his head, he could no longer recognize the way.
My God, how can I have such bad luck? I've taken a wrong turn again!
He managed to keep a cool head. He only needed to keep heading in the direction where the trees seemed to grow sparser, that was sure to lead out; and then he just needed to follow the river, which was sure to lead him back to where he came. With this knowledge, he didn't stop to think too long; he chose the direction which seemed to be the right one then took off, paying no mind to the wind and rain around him.
The rain was relentless throughout the entire day, and Junior Leopard could not find a single place to shelter on his way. Eventually, just as it got dark, the sound of thunder began to grow fainter, and he seemed to be reaching higher ground. The trees in the forest became sparser and sparser, and the topography of the surrounding area was becoming clearer. Beneath his feet, water from a mountain spring occasionally rushed past. Just as he was traversing the west face of the mountain, all of a sudden the wind quietened, the rain stopped, the clouds dispersed, and the fog began to clear. A bright half-moon hung suspended in the sky, casting down a clear bright light which seemed to bathe the trees covering the mountain in a sleek glossy glow. Mountain springs were bursting forth all over, and the sound of water flowing over rocks merged with the sound of insects chirruping. It was an exceptionally beautiful and serene night scene.
"What a great location!" Even though Junior Leopard was now drenched from head to foot, he was in good spirits. And laying eyes on this beautiful scene, he could not help but come to a halt and sigh in admiration.
Just at that moment, he caught a glimpse of some purple grass growing by a crack in the cliff-face, swaying gently in the wind beneath the moonlight.
"Rootless Grass?" Seeing that familiar sight, Junior Leopard's heart skipped a beat from joy. This was just like the old saying, "you can wear out iron shoes searching far and wide, and then find it by sheer luck right by your side!" He had searched all day for this Rootless Grass, and had not expected to suddenly stumble across such a large clump. He set off towards it, but as he got towards the cliff-face he heard an awful groaning noise. Even though Junior Leopard did not lack any courage, hearing this awful sound in the deep wild forest made his blood run cold, and he looked all around him to see where it came from. But he could see only the majestic but eerie scenery around him with the lofty mountain peak towering in the background; and all he could hear was the sound of water rushing, merging together with the whispering of the wind through the pine trees. That awful sound seemed like it had come from the mountain gorge close to where the Rootless Grass was growing. His heart jumped, and he thought to himself of how, in legends, spiritual items were always guarded by strange beasts. That could have been the sound of some fearsome creature, and he could not be sure if he would be a match for it. But he did not dare to hesitate any longer; his black pupils emitted their pale red light, and in the red haze hidden black creases became visible. Then in a flash, he entered once again into that strange state.
Everything around him seemed to slowly come to life, and within a 1,000 foot radius he could see everything, large and small. And the blowing of the wind, the rushing of the water, the insects chirping, the sound of birds wings flapping, and the rhythm of animals breathing, all these arrived at his ears sounding crystal clear. In that moment, Junior Leopard had a strange feeling that all the creatures under heaven were in his hand.
"What a strange thing!" Finally, under the vision of Junior Leopard's strange eyes, that creature which had made such an awful noise appeared into his sight.
"Is that... a mud fish?"