Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, and if you look away, it disappears.
Seven days were gone in the blink of an eye.
Next to the lake of sparkling cerulean, Ling Xian continued to meditate. He was surrounded by the swirls of magical Qi that became increasingly thicker, cloudier, and gloomier…
"Almost ready to emerge from the other side…"
Suddenly a thought flashed through his mind. Ling Xian turned his palms upside down, and his fingertips formed a unique pattern. Instantaneously, the thick, gloomy cloud that encircled his body morphed into a liquid stream and, through millions of pores, flooded into his body and invaded his muscles, his organs, and his bloodstream. His body was cleansed of impurities. Qi of the purest form now flowed through his veins.
As if the tranquility of the lake was suddenly disturbed by the dribbles of a fallen rock, Ling Xian's body was on the verge of breaking through. After seven days of fasting, he had surpassed the fifth-realm. With the last breath of Qi, he would achieve his goal of overtaking the sixth-realm.
This last drop was essential in igniting the volcanic powers his body has been building until this moment. It was a trigger; releasing a tsunami that would dissolve the gloomy cloud.
The calm surface of the cerulean lake erupted with a force so fierce waves after waves smashed into one another, sweeping up and raining down terrified creatures of the lake.
Ling Xian opened his eyes, and a flash of lightning swept through his field of vision.
A powerful sensation surged throughout his body, a power that was quickly intensifying.
I have reached the sixth-realm!
During the first phase of cultivator training, there is a total of nine realms. The sixth-realm signifies the point of no return that separates trainees from a true cultivator.
For those who are not particularly gifted, it would take years to reach this stage. Even somewhat gifted cultivators take awhile to achieve this stage.
Ling Jian, the somewhat gifted former Leader of the Ling Clan, reached the sixth-realm at the age of 16; after six full years of practice.
For Ling Xian, this process took a total of 17 days!
This news, if it were to become public, would send shockwaves throughout the world.
17 days to complete what very few had ever accomplished. How incredibly exceptional must he be?
Natural talent was always the most important.
"But there isn't enough time left. Even powers of the sixth-realm fall short of what I need to break into the Hidden Territory," Ling Xian muttered regretfully.
If people knew how unsatisfied he was with his achievement, they'd perhaps kill him.
Swinging his sleeves, Ling Xian fired an angry fireball towards an ancient tree not far ahead.
A flash of lightning pierced through the tree and sliced it in half.
"Amazing. Much better than before." Ling Xian smiled, satisfied with what he had achieved.
Suddenly, another thought entered his mind. Without hesitation, he disappeared from the Painting of the Nine Immortals, hurrying towards the Forest of Mount Qian.
Due to him gifting the Token of the Hidden Territory, which he had won at the martial arts competition to Ling Hu, Ling Xian could neither enter as a guest from the Ling Clan nor as a guest of honor.
He now has to hide and enter without being detected after everyone else arrived.
The Forest of Mount Qian is located near the northern edge of the City of Qing. This labyrinth of mountains, valleys, streams and forecasts is home to countless beasts and hideous creatures. It is also the training and hunting ground for students of various Clans.
On this occasion, the Forest was playing host to the Unveiling of the Hidden Territories, an event that occurred every five years.
As usual, the majority of the visiting crowd were passing cultivators attending the festivities for their own amusement. There are only 50 tokens of the Hidden Territory to be given out. Consequently, only 50 cultivators enjoy having the fortune bestowed upon them.
The hour was drawing near. Cultivators who already possessed their tokens have arrived. Gathered in smaller groups of three and five, each took his turn observing potential rivals scattered around.
Within these bustling groups, three were of particular interest.
They were members of the famed Clans.
Led by their clan leaders, members of the three clans exchanged looks of suspicion, provocation, and spark.
Ling Tian Qing was beginning to worry. He navigated through the crowd, carefully but unsuccessfully seeking the most gifted member to ever come from his clan.
He was searching for Ling Xian.
At first, when all members of the Ling Clan gathered to leave for the Hidden Territory, Ling Tian Qing thought Ling Xian had gone ahead of everyone. However, when the clan arrived at the destination, Ling Tian Qing realized that Ling Xian could not be found.
"What is he thinking? He's going to miss this!" Ling Tian Qing was growing increasingly anxious. He caught a man's shadow in the corner of his eye. However, just as he was about to let out a sigh of relief, he recognized that the man was not whom he was seeking.
Ling Hu scratched his head, embarrassed. "Leader Ling, my brother, Ling Xian, he gave me his Token."
"What?!" Ling Tian Qing bellowed. "You mean to say he's leaving this chance to you?"
"He…" Ling Hu stuttered, frightened by the most powerful man of his Clan. "My brother told me he had another one."
"Oh, then you can go in. Remember, stay together, and don't stray. You're not ready to do this on your own." Ling Tian Qing did not pursue this matter.
Ling Xian was the most gifted and most valued member of the clan at this moment. There was no reason to embarrass his brother so publically.
"Thank you, Leader."
Ling Hu's face lit up with relief and excitement. Getting permission from the Clan Leader to enter the Hidden Territory was his biggest concern. He fully understood why he was granted permission. "He, my brother soared to fame overnight. If it weren't for him, the Clan Leader would have confiscated my Token at once," Ling Hu celebrated quietly under his breath.
The unveiling was due to begin shortly. The Clan Leader from the Fang Clan arrived to greet Ling Tian Qing. Eyeing the line of students behind him, Leader Fang ridiculed, "the Ling Clan is in decline I see. Look at your students, sixth-realm at best. Aren't you afraid they'll die in there?"
"This is not of your concern," Ling Tian Qing responded with a smile. "How does Revitalization Dan taste? 60,000 spiritual stones. Your wealth is truly commendable!"
The salt had hit the wound, and Leader Fang's face darkened at once.
Throwing a deathly glare towards Ling Tian Qing, he replied, "That is not your concern. The Fang Clan doesn't have much, only many stones to spare. I like spending. Perhaps you could outbid me next time."
"Oh, I dare not compete," Ling Tian Qing sneered. "Leader Fang, let's be blunt. You have ordered your students to ambush mine inside the Hidden Territory. Why don't you try a new strategy this time around?"
"I'll tell you something else then." Leader Fang let out a mysterious grin. Putting his lips close to Ling Tian Qing's ear, he whispered, "this time, we have a genius of the seventh-realm."
Ling Tian Qing had turned ghost white. A seventh Qi level cultivator… he could kill every member of the Ling Clan if he so desired.
Frowning, Ling Tian Qing felt a hint of panic.
"What do you think of that?" Leader Fang laughed out loud. Nothing gave me more satisfaction than watching his longtime rival taken over by fear.
"Seventh-realm, so what? You must have heard of the genius of the Ling Clan. I cannot wait for him to chop the head off of your so-called genius." Ling Tian Qing fought back.
"Hmm… we shall see." However, he had heard of the genius. The entire community had been discussing nonstop for days.
[This is bad. Ling Xian has only reached Qi level of five and my little sister has only overtaken the sixth, are they good enough to stop the Fang kid?] Ling Tian Qing was becoming increasingly agitated, and unsure of how to proceed. [These cultivators are the best of the Ling Clan. They are the future. If they died here, what will become of the Clan? Though if we turned back now, we would become the laughing stock of the entire community.]
Ling Tian Qing went back and forth for awhile but failed to arrive at a decision. All he could hope for now was for Ling Xian to appear and somehow work another miracle.
The moment arrived at the stroke of noon.
Along the parameters of the Forest of Mount Qian, a faint glow appeared on the horizon. The glow thickened and morphed into a splendid rainbow surrounded by a dazzling spectrum of lights. It floated quietly towards a mesmerized crowd, covering it under a magnificent veil.
A magical aura, a serene sign from heaven and earth, signaling the vicissitude of life.
Streaks of blinding flashes rained down near where the crowd gathered and twirled in the air to form a black hole. The hole continued to expand until a door appeared.
"The Hidden Territory has been unveiled. Anyone with a Token must enter at once. Remember, you may only stay inside for one month. Any longer, you will be killed by the forces inside. You will lie inside for all eternity, and never to come back to this world."
An icy voice rang through the crowd.
The soul of the Hidden Territory is calling!
Every competitor's gaze fell fixated on the door of the Hidden Territory. Without waiting for a signal from their Clan Leaders, the students dashed for the opening and disappeared behind the darkness.
In there, they will face their fate!
Perhaps worldly riches, perhaps priceless artifacts, or perhaps powerful spells.
Everything they had hoped for was waiting for them inside the Hidden Territory.