A cerulean lake floats quietly in the valleys of this mountain range.
The lake is hidden away, surrounded by a bone-chilling layer of air, difficult to penetrate for the average practicing cultivator. However, for Ling Xian, this was hardly an obstacle.
At this moment, Ling Xian and the Xuan Ming Snake were advancing deeper into the lake.
Upon exiting the Painting of the Nine Immortals, Ling Xian did not return to the cave but went looking for the Xuan Ming Snake instead. He demanded that the Snake leads him to the Territory within the Territory. This is the scene that depicts this journey.
The water was near freezing temperature. Ling Xian was advancing with difficulty. The journey had been made even more treacherous by the minor beasts that attacked at random. Being a cultivator of the sixth realm, Ling Xian was able to survive solely on air and Qi. Similarly, he could breathe with ease under water.
"Xuan Ming Snake, you are certain the secret location is beneath here?" Ling Xian summoned a protective layer of air which surrounded him to prevent him from drowning.
"Yes, Master, I'm certain it's down here." The Snake nodded, not daring to delay a minute.
Ling Xian nodded, split the water and continued downwards.
Soon after, the human and his snake companion arrived at the deepest point of the lake.
Not far ahead of them appeared a black vortex that radiated a magical aura, just as the Snake had described, spectra of nine bright shades of pink, neon, gold, and the Qi of Yin and Yang. The vortex was completed separated from the surrounding water.
"Master, it's here." A mixture of greed and fear flashed across the Snake's large pupils.
"It's here indeed, just as you described." Ling Xian observed the vortex with curiosity. The spectra of nine bright shades of pink, neon, and gold, the Qi of Yin and Yang, all characteristics of a Territory within a Territory, a space filled with wonder and terror.
His fate awaited him. How could he contain his excitement?
"Master, ah, I shall wait outside, be careful." The Snake was terrified of this place. His curiosity wasn't worth the price of his life.
"You can't wait for me to die in there and then go back to being the King Snake, continuing your reign of terror," Ling Xian mocked him with an unreadable expression.
The Xuan Ming Snake shivered at these words then responded in a pitiful voice, "Master, I've been wronged. I am forever loyal to you. I would never curse you to die."
"Oh do stop whining, get out of here." Ling Xian waved his hand impatiently. Suddenly remembering that Lin Qing Yi was still in the cave, he added, "That woman, if she wishes to leave, let her."
"Yes, Master." The Snake replied with haste and swam away without looking back.
"Nice and quiet now." Ling Xian flicked his finger and let out a sharp light. The light reached the peripheral of the vortex and was immediately incinerated.
"No wonder the Snake was afraid, the forces are indeed powerful." Ling Xian pondered for a moment then muttered a spell. Instantly, a gargantuan hand emerged from behind him, bringing a giant wave forward and aimed it at the black vortex.
The water boiled in anger, stirring up a giant wave which came crashing down.
The hand tightened its grip on the dark vortex. But despite its best efforts, the vortex remained as firm as a mountain.
"Hm…" Ling Xian was beyond puzzled by this revelation. Just as he was on the verge of releasing the power of the Eyes of Execution, an internal force burst out of his pore, morphed into the shape of a huge hammer, and bolted down on the vortex.
The waves upon waves of neutralizing forces finally broke down the sub-Territory's barriers. The collision created an enormous magnetic field. Before Ling Xian could react, he found himself sucked into the vortex's dark unknowns.
The sub-Territory was submerged under a cloud dust. Inside it was neither day nor night, devoid of directions, devoid of sound, devoid of life.
[Be careful, you've entered the Territory within the Territory,] Liao Cang Xiong's warning rang near Ling Xian's ears. To help Ling Xian gain entry, he had directed much of his power towards forcibly destroying the barriers to entry. Now, his voice was weak.
Ling Xian was overcome with gratitude. He hurried to ask, [Master, are you alright?]
"Yes." Liao Cang Xiong responded softly then reminded him again, [From now on, be extra careful. Everything here can be of danger to your life. I have used too much power to help you gain entry. From now on, you are on your own.]
[Rest assured, Master, I will walk out of here alive and as a changed man.] Ling Xian nodded in confidence.
[Good, then I shall go rest and wait for your return.] Liao Cang Xiong went silent.
Ling Xian was alone. He turned left, then right. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Just as he felt unsure how to proceed, a cold, lifeless voice sounded.
"Welcome to the Territory within a Territory, Adventurer."
"Who's there?" Ling Xian was startled but immediately regained his composure. He has heard this voice once before, inside the Hidden Territory.
"Don't be alarmed. Since you are the first one to enter this sub-Territory, I will gift you with some fortunes," the voice continued.
"What is it you mean to gift me?" Ling Xian was suddenly interested.
"Allow you to return, to the world from which you came from." The voice deepened.
"Go back?" Ling Xian was infuriated. He had arrived here after overcoming unimaginable obstacles. His Master spent most of his powers assisting his entry. Not in a million years would he turn back now. "You are mocking me!"
"No. I am not mocking you. Think carefully. Every beast inside the Hidden Territory has been given your Kill Order. Returning you to your world, I am saving your life. You don't think this is fortune enough? What fortune is greater than life itself?" The voice reasoned.
Ling Xian frowned. Something felt off, but he couldn't object. Everything the voice had said was true. To return him back to the outside world would indeed save his life.
"And if I do not accept, then what?" Ling Xian was not about to give up without a fight.
"That's not possible. In my world, no life can go against what I have planned for them. If I want you to go home, you will go home."
The voice echoed through Ling Xian's body and mind. Suddenly, he felt his body becoming spellbound by a supernatural force, followed by a disorienting spell of dizziness that mimicked the powers of time and space travel.
The next second.
Ling Xian reappeared in the Forest of Mount Qian.
A gentle wind touched his hair and numbed his mind.
"He…he actually returned me to the real world. But why does something feel off?"
Ling Xian frowned hard, but after much contemplating, could not make sense of anything. Finally, he accepted his fortune in a hapless smile. "Well, since I'm back, there is no point pursuing. It's a shame that all the anticipation went to waste, but I'm still alive."
Ling Xian was finally able to relax. Guided by the familiar clouds, he meandered home.
Half a month later, other students of the Ling Clan came home after safely exiting the Hidden Territory. Making good on his pact, Ling Xian drank with them until he passed out.
He blacked out.
The period that followed proved to be incredibly dull. Aside from his daily practice and meditation, Ling Xian would occasionally wander into the Forest of Mount Qian and practice combat with the beasts of the Forest.
The seasons arrived in secret and left in silence. In the blink of an eye, a year had passed.
Within the year, Ling Xian had reached the ninth realm of alchemy, one short of the Foundational level. However, he did not wish to break through to the Foundational yet. He wanted to perfect his skills within the mythical tenth realm before advancing.
At this exact time, an event that shocked the City of Qing occurred.
Amongst the three Clans in the City, two had joined forces to seek the destruction of the Ling Clan. Caught off guard by the sudden emergence of a strong enemy, the Ling Clan was forced to build up defenses and confront the dangers as they came.
The Ling Clan was strong at its core. However, when confronted with the power of two mighty Clans, the Lings only managed to last one day before their home base was breached.
A massacre of biblical proportions ensued.
The Ling Clan perished in the massacre, the bones of its members laid bare underneath mountains of mutilated corpses. Rivers turned to blood.
Ling Xian survived through the protection of the Clan Elder who fought to the death to spare his life. Seeing his entire Clan slaughtered, he fumed but could do nothing.
Ling Xian had been provoked.
He vowed to amass all the powers of Heaven and Earth to become the mightiest warrior who will one day return to avenge his Clan against those who murdered them.
Assisted by Lin Qing Yi, Ling Xian escaped the City of Qing and thus began a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Death loomed over Ling Xian on his quest for freedom. After months on the run, he had finally evaded his pursuers and arrived at a city of enormous wealth and talent - the City of Cang Yun.
Here, Ling Xian began living under an alias. He bought a piece of land and opened a store that sold Dans.
The Dans that he brewed were all of top quality and sold for cheaper than the market price. Therefore, business was booming.
Over time, his business became renowned amongst the Elites of the City.
He had finally found a home.
But this was not meant to be.
Just as he settled into his world, calamity came calling.