At the peak of the tallest mount inside the Hidden Territory, the cloud thickened. Bone-chilling wind billowed across the sky.
An cultivator and a snake faced off against each other; for life and death.
With all its might, the Xuan Ming Snake curled up in fear against a giant rock. The rock provided the last place of refuge.
Standing in his dark traveling cloak, his long hair danced in the wind. Ling Xian was surrounded by the silvery flames that sheltered him from the snake's dark, poisonous venom.
The Flame of Purity.
A magical flame that melts evil, impenetrable by any poison known to men, and the antidote to the deadliest of venoms.
How can a few drops of venom from a simple snake hurt him?
"To others, your venom would mean certain death, but unfortunately for you, I'm unlike the others." Ling Xian firmly gazed back at the snake. Slowly, he extended his right hand. A soft white slither of fume leaped out of his palm, rapidly heated the air around them, and expanded threateningly towards the snake.
With a flick of a finger, the spark pounced on the snake. A flash of lightning trailed behind the tiny flame and, like a razor, drew a circle around the snake's hiding place, entrapping it inside a ball of fire.
An invisible prison.
The snake hissed desperately, thrashing his tail against the flame. The creature struggled frantically as the fire began to consume his flesh. There is no way out.
The flame would not relent. The flying sparks continued to ignite different areas of the snake's body. The magnificent patterns of its skin began to brittle and melt off. With each fallen piece, the snake would let out a horrifying scream.
The Flame of Purity is not only essential in the brewing of the Dans but also a deadly tool in battle. The heat it generates is enough to melt any opponent, man or beast.
"Damned human! I shall kill you!"
The Xuan Ming Snake cried in agony. With that was left of its powers, the snake twisted its tail, lifted the enormous rock, and hurled it at Ling Xian.
"Let it come!" Ling Xian shouted. He dug his feet into the earth and launched himself into the air. A blinding laser beam burst out of his fist and shot head on towards the flying rock.
A thunderous noise broke the wind as the gargantuan rock shattered into a million pieces.
Ling Xian steamrolled ahead, showing no signs of backing down.
Transporting directing into the path of the snake, Ling Xian lifted his right leg and, without a hint of mercy, stomped onto the head of the beast.
This was not merely an act of aggression. He was going in for the kill.
The pupils of the great snake contracted. There was no time to flee. The only way to cheat death was to fight back with everything it had left. The snake tucked in its tail and, in a desperate attempt to defend itself, unleashed it into Ling Xian's leg.
The limb of a human against a 10-feet long tail of a beast. Their spectacular midair collision sent rocks flying and the earth crumbling.
The forces of Ling Xian's attack were beyond the powers of any ordinary human, yet against the massive attacking force of a giant snake, the match was more or less an even one.
"Haha, I am not that easily defeated!" Laughed the Xuan Ming Snaked, its killer instincts once again transpired through its bright, enormous pupils.
Ling Xian paused a moment, and then calmly summoned all the powers he could to reignite the Flame of Purity. The Xuan Ming Snake shrieked in pain. The flame had penetrated every inch of the snake's flesh, burning it from the inside and melting its devilish powers.
"Here's my chance!"
Ling Xian decided it was now or never. The snake had lost all will to fight back. Again, he lifted his right leg, aimed at the great snake's head, and stomped.
It was as if the leg was bounded by metal and steel. As it came down, blood spattered everywhere.
"AAAAAHHHHHHH…" the Xuan Ming Snake screamed in agony, and its body shook violently.
Ling Xian persisted. He lifted his left hand and pinned down on the great snake's head.
The earth roared. Mountaintops exploded into nothingness.
"I'm going to make a snake stew out of you today!" Ling Xian tightened his fists, taken over by an outpouring of anger, and pounced on the snake. Punches raining down from every side.
Ling Xian had taken great offense to the condescending glance he thought he had received from the Bare Winged Crane. Although he knew he was no match for the crane, this snake, well, the snake paid him a visit at a bad time. The snake deserved everything it got.
It was not a good day for the Xuan Ming Snake. A human prey like Ling Xian should have been an easy battle. Yet now, the snake found itself under the loathly human's grip.
It was only fair. The snake's venom was no match for the Flame of Purity.
"Ah, ah, stop. Please, please, spare me. I didn't recognize you and your powers, please spare my life," the Xuan Ming Snake pleaded.
"Too late," Ling Xian replied, unmoved. His punches continued to rain down on the snake, splitting more skin with each blow and revealed the flesh and blood underneath.
"No use," thought the snake. It quickly changed tactics. "Stop, please! I surrender, please! I will willingly serve you. Let me serve you. Have me as your pet, as your servant."
"My pet?" Ling Xian hesitated, not the worst idea. The Xuan Ming Snake is a powerful creature. If it were not for the Flame of Purity, perhaps he would have been the one begging for his life.
The Hidden Territory is full of threats, unexpected and deadly. However, the Territory is home to this snake. It could help him navigate in the wildness, protect him from other wild beasts and fight alongside him against other competing cultivators.
"I don't need you to surrender," Ling Xian responded coldly. Although deep down, he rather fancied the snake's suggestion. "I hear all you beasts that live here have these unique elements inside your bodies. If I kill you, your powers will become mine. So I think I should do that."
The snake recoiled in sheer panic, its enormous eyes turned misty. "No, please don't kill me. Yes, my body has the elements you speak of, but I can better serve you alive!"
"Oh? Better alive? Let's hear it then." Ling Xian beamed in excitement. He meant to frighten the snake a little, but now he was interested in what the creature could potentially offer.
"Not long after I was born, my mother died protecting me during a battle with a giant bird. I managed to escape and by accident, ended up in this mysterious place. Inside, the place was surrounded by this magical aura, this spectra of nine bright shades of pink, neon, gold… and the Qi of Ying and Yang. The moment I stepped inside, I felt as though thousands of magical powers effectuated me. As if I was sinking into a swamp, unable to…" The Xuan Ming Snake descended into its own memories, rambling on about something Ling Xian could not get his head around.
"Shut it! Mouth full of verbal diarrhea! Skip to what I want to hear," Ling Xian demanded.
The Xuan Ming Snake quivered. He stopped rambling immediately and then blurted…
"I know this place where you can find a rare treasure."
"Why didn't you start with that? Mouth full of useless nonsense." Ling Xian nodded in satisfaction. "If you speak the truth, this treasure must be exceptionally rare. Which means the location will be well guarded and dangerous."
"Yes, yes, yes! You're absolutely right, Master." The Xuan Ming Snake was indeed a crafty flatterer without a single backbone.
"Did I say you could call me Master?" Ling Xian glared at the snake. "Have you read any of the novels from the cultivation community? Only cats, foxes, and those adorable, smart, and delicate animals make good pets. Look at you, humongous head, greasy body, and hideous face. What do I need you for? Scaring children?"
"Yes, yes, yes, Master. You, you're handsome, brave, exceptional…" The snake went on.
"Stop. Go back to telling me about that place you speak of. If there is indeed a treasure, then I will spare your life, and perhaps even reward you." Ling Xian observed the snake. "What a boneless creature." He thought to himself. "Are there no honorable beasts around?"
"Yes, Master." Seeing that Ling Xian didn't correct it a second time and promised that he won't kill it, the snake breathed a sigh of relief. "Like I said, once you step inside, you'll become trapped. A powerful force will restrain your body, and you won't be able to move."
Ling Xian frowned. "When you went in there, did you go in like this?"
The snake understood what Ling Xian was asking. "It doesn't matter. In the beginning I also believed that perhaps I was weak. However, when I revisited the place after I obtained my powers, I was trapped again. My powers were of no use to me."
"Hmm…" Ling Xian pondered. "How far is it from here? How dangerous is the journey? Tell me everything. If you lie, I will make a stew out of you."
"Not far. Two days nonstop at my speed," Imagining himself as snake stew, the creature shivered. "We will pass territories that belong to many different beasts. Though you do not need to worry, most of them are scared of me. I can protect you. But…"
"But what? Don't hold anything back," Ling Xian demanded.
"On this journey, we will encounter three beasts. They are enemies of mine, and they are immune to my venom. Of course, they are no match for you." The snake continued, treading carefully. "However, we will also encounter one beast of the eighth-realm."
A beast of the eighth-realm?
Ling Xian's heart sank. The Bare Winged Crane served as a warning to the dangers ahead. However, recalling the place of magical aura and of the Qi of Ying and Yang, his curiosity got the better of him. "Take me there. Just be careful."
"Alright then, Master, come onto my back, and I'll take you down the mountain."
"En… slowly," Ling Xian reminded the snake and climbed onto its back.
The Xuan Ming Snake took one deep breath, stretched his massive body, and slithered down the mountain.