He killed every last of the followers because he was afraid of future retaliation against the villagers. Of course, if he could stay here with them, he’d just let them come if they dared.
But he was leaving the Vast Mountains. So he had no choice but to annihilate them all. Each one of them appeared to hover around the seventh realm. Their power was enough to wipe out this and many other villages like this.
So Ling Xian had to kill them and get rid of any future threats. The mythical power of the Flame of Purity awarded them each with a swift death.
A gentle breeze danced across the air and dissipated the unmistakable odor of burnt corpses.
The villages had yet to snap out of this dream. They looked at Ling Xian, unable to move or speak. They were paralyzed. They were not paralyzed by fear, even though Ling Xian had just slaughtered more than a dozen men in cold blood. These villagers were men of nature. Their lives were intertwined with killing and being killed. So they understood.
To survive in the vast wilderness of the Vast Mountains, skills must be complemented by a killer instinct.
Backstabbing is almost customary in these mountains.
They were paralyzed by his grandeur, by the word ‘foundational’. This word hovered over them like a mountain. They couldn’t breathe. In this village, the most skilled cultivator was merely of the seventh realm. A foundational level cultivator was to them a myth, an immortal.
And how old was he?
Roughly the same age as Su Zi.
The villagers simply couldn’t believe this to be true. But they couldn’t dispute what they saw. Killing a ninth realm cultivator with a wave of his arm, how frightening?!
This was a feat only a foundational level cultivator could accomplish.
"Why, you don’t recognize me?"
Ling Xian responded to this stunned reception with a tender smile. His white robe danced with the wind, not tainted by a single drop of blood.
Perhaps it was the tender smile that rekindled the villagers’ memory. Their expressions softened, and their eyes sparkled. As they looked at this white-robed youth with a clearer perception, the air suddenly turned tense.
A foundational level cultivator was standing amongst them. Even if he was still the same youth they knew and loved, they couldn’t risk angering him with an over-exaggerated welcome reception.
This was true, especially for Su Zi. She knew Ling Xian was far out of her league. Now, they were never going to happen. She sighed softly and disappeared amongst the crowd.
The chain reaction that often accompanied growth. The higher one rises, the lonelier he becomes.
Ling Xian frowned as he noticed Su Zi’s disappearing shadow. He wanted to chase after her. But his legs felt as though they were rooted to the ground. Exhaling loudly, Ling Xian said, "Please, relax, I’m still the same person."
The air relaxed in an instant. The villagers burst into joy and rushed forward to greet him.
"Ha ha, I knew it. He won’t forget his roots even if he reached the completion level. He’ll be just as kind and caring as he’s always been. His attitude towards us will never change."
"Yes, indeed, always smiling, not a hint of haughtiness."
"Ok stop with the flattery. Let’s just thank Ling Xian first. If he hadn’t arrived in time, perhaps we’d be lying here as corpses by now."
"True, true, Ling Xian, come have dinner at my house. I’m the best cook here. I guarantee it’ll be the best meal you’ve ever had."
Ling Xian looked around at the chattering crowd. A soft feeling of warmth filled his heart. He pressed both hands down to gesture the villagers to be quiet then responded, "I thank you all for your warm hospitality. But tonight, I am going to visit the home of the mayor."
"That’s right, Ling Xian did indeed save the entire village, but he was here to save Su Zi. So, stop fighting with me," the village mayor echoed. His face was no longer pale. Evidently, he had already covered some of his lost energy.
The crowd nodded, some unwillingly. But this was the wish of both Ling Xian and the village mayor.
"Right, I recovered a bit of fate this time. It’s of little use to me, why don’t I leave it with the village." With a gentle swing of his arm, dozens of spiritual Dans appeared amidst the crowd. Suspended in midair, the Dans exuded a magnificent aura accompanied by a magical scent.
"My goodness, my eyes must be fooling me, so many Dans… must be worth a lot."
"Unbelievable, Ling Xian, where did you go? Such incredible rewards."
"Mother of God, there are at least 30 here. Can you feel the magical energy? Every Dan is worth a fortune. Each one is of at least the seventh realm."
The crowd went wild. It’s true they lived in close proximity to spiritual Dans of the wilderness. But each was guarded by a magical beast. The Villagers rarely have the opportunity to go near one.
Thus they were stunned by the count of Ling Xian’s batch.
"I’m glad you like them. They are my gift to you. They can help elevate the position energy here and help with healing if one of you is injured." Ling Xian smiled brightly. He was genuinely touched by the warm reception and the visible gratitude he had received here.
These spiritual Dans were obtained after breaking through to the foundational level, and during the half-month he wandered and explored inside the Ruins. He mixed these Dans with gifts he received after being named the most skilled cultivator in the City of Qing.
He didn’t have much use for them. So why not gift them to the villagers. To them, these Dans were invaluable lifesavers.
"Ling Xian, are these… are these really for us?" A silver-haired elder asked in a trembling voice.
"Right, these spiritual Dans are worth a fortune."
Ling Xian threw them a smile and responded, "Correct, rest assured, I won’t go back on my word."
"Ha ha, very good. These Dans will enhance the positive energy of this village and help us become stronger."
"Exactly, perhaps many years later, we’ll have a foundational level cultivator of our own."
"But more importantly, these Dans will save lives."
The crowd of villagers celebrated. Some elderly villagers quietly shed tears of gratitude.
To them, Ling Xian had not merely given them spiritual Dans that could elevate one’s speed of development as a cultivator, but a second chance at life.
How could they not cry out of joy?
Seeing that the villagers had sunk back into jubilation, Ling Xian signaled again for them to quiet down. He smiled and continued, "Ok, let’s put these spiritual Dans away. I’ll check on Su Zi now. We’ll catch up later."
He backed up through the crowd as he talked. Soon, he arrived at the house of the mayor, located right next to a quiet stream.
Su Zi sat on top of a giant rock, face inside her palms. She watched the water in silence, deep in thought.
"I will soon leave here. I came back this time to bid you farewell." Ling Xian walked up to the girl and sat next to her. He sighed as he sat down.
"I know. When you revealed your foundational powers, I knew you’d be leaving us very soon." Su Zi felt her heart ache, but went on and feigned disinterest. She let out a bright smile, albeit with difficulty, and continued, "That’s for the best. Your world is the outside world. That world will allow you to expand your wings and conquer the nine Heavens."
"I’m grateful that you understand. I will always be an outsider." Ling Xian’s heart sank deeper into his gut. The relationship between him and Su Zi was complicated, not quite a relationship between siblings, but not a complete friendship either. After two months together, Ling Xian had developed feelings of attraction for her. If not for the other woman who continued to tug on his heartstrings, Ling Xian could perhaps return Su Zi’s affections.
So for now, this had to be dealt with, cleanly and swiftly.
Letting these feelings simmer and stew could only result in pain for both of them.
"Right, you and I belong to two different worlds, why force ourselves to be together?" Su Zi whispered as she held back tears. Then she asked, "Can you tell me where you’re going?"
"House of Wan Jian," Ling Xian responded.
"Ok, I’ll remember it. If one day I leave the Vast Mountains looking for you, don’t be a stranger," Su Zi said wishfully, carving the name Wan Jian onto her heart.
Seeing that Su Zi was smiling, Ling Xian let out a sigh of relief and replied, "Rest assured. You are my little sister, how could I ever see you as a stranger?"
"Good, if you see me as a sister, I shall give you a gift for saving my life. Would you accept?" Su Zi beamed forcibly. A shadow of disappointment flashed across her eyes but vanished instantly.
"I dare not refuse!"
Ling Xian beamed back. The decade spent inside the Fantasy Territory had taught Ling Xian much about life, but not about matters of the heart. Hence, he failed to detect Su Zi’s disappointment.
"You said it, not me."
Su Zi stood slowly, then, with a speed that exceeded lightning, she bent over. Before Ling Xian could react, he saw her lips approach and felt a deep, fervent kiss planted on his cheek. His eyes remained wide open the entire time. As her face pulled away, she turned to leave without a backward glance.
Two fresh streams of tears rained down her cheeks.
Unfortunately, Ling Xian had been completed stunned and would not see her cry.
After a long moment of daze and confusion, Ling Xian finally recovered. Softly touching the spot where Su Zi kissed him, Ling Xian sighed, longingly but haplessly.
"Can’t keep what needs to be severed. It messes up everything."
With the bitter smile still visible on his face, Ling Xian disappeared into a stream of light and dashed towards the center of the Vast Mountains.
But in his haste, Ling Xian failed to notice that Su Zi had reappeared behind him and followed him toward his destination.