"It would be an honor to call you my Mistress. But I don't want to. What can you or anyone do to me?"
Ling Xian's voice echoed throughout the magical realm, an ironclad will, an untameable heart.
The air around them froze in terror.
"Well said, whatever can I do to you." The cold voice of the Untainted projected through the air. Eyeing the fearless youth with a hint of amusement, she continued, "You should know exactly who I am. If I were to become your Mistress, not only will I pass onto you the most powerful weapons and sorcery, but I can guarantee that you will never encounter obstacles you cannot overcome. Under my guidance, you will rule this realm in 500 years at most."
"I must admit, your proposition does tug at my heartstrings." Ling Xian smiled softly. With all his heart, he believed it was true. He would have all those things if she became his Mistress. This was a proposition no one dared to pass on.
If this proposition had come earlier, he would have accepted without hesitation. Liao Cang Qiong had made it clear that he was the student to all nine Immortals of the Painting. His Master does not mind, and the rules are not written in stone.
However, Ling Xian was a changed man since surviving the Hidden Territory. He reassessed his life and reset his bottom lines. Liao Cang Qiong treated him like a son.
Even if that person was the Keeper of Land and Sea.
In this life and the next, he will have no other Master.
"My apologies, I admit I am moved by your proposition. I also hope for an umbrella that can protect me from the storm. But I have a Master. He is the Almighty Master. Therefore…" Ling Xian stared straight into the beautiful cold eyes of the Untainted, "...I must decline."
"Very well." The eyes of the Untainted narrowed to reveal the gaze of a killer.
At that moment, a strong gust of wind stormed through the air and ripped leaves off of their branches in a violent tussle.
Ling Xian took three giant steps backward. Blood seeped down the corner of his mouth. He laughed bitterly, "No wonder they call her the Keeper of Land and Sea. A tiny bit of killer instinct was enough to restrain me."
"I'm going to ask you one last time, do you want me as your Mistress?" The Untainted was quickly losing her patience. She was the Keeper of Land and Sea, the most perfect woman in the history of all humanity. How can a lowly cultivator reject her not once but twice?
"You already have my answer. I do not. I answer to only one Master, and his name is Liao Cang Qiong." Ling Xian wiped the blood off his face and responded coldly, "If you wish to kill me, then kill me. I've lived a century, I have made up my mind. I will only do things I choose to do. You can't change my mind. To continue living would be ideal, but I will never live like a coward."
This time, the Untainted kept her silence. After a long pause, she let out a deep sigh. "Liao Cang Qiong has got himself a good student."
Her killer instinct dissipated. Suddenly, Ling Xian felt as if a mountain had been lifted off his back. "Thank you for showing me mercy," he said in a hurry.
"It was not my original intention to make you my student, even if you did possess the Majestic Blood. You are indeed gifted beyond my imagination. However, what I saw in you was the heart of a true cultivator. You have the courage to weather any storm life throws at you."
The Untainted then shook her head. "When I saw you walk out of the Fantasy, I understood why Liao Cang Qiong had chosen you. You have the gift, the courage and the heart that will make you a legend someday. So I wanted you for myself."
"You flatter me." Ling Xian showed no emotion. The old Ling Xian would have fallen over for such adulation from the Keeper herself. But the century-old Ling Xian had heard it all.
A hint of disappointment flashed across the beautiful eyes of the Untainted. "Let it go. Perhaps it's fate. You were never destined to be mine."
"If you so wish, I will find another cultivator worthy of you." Ling Xian smiled slyly. The truth was, he too was desperate to be that person. How could anyone resist such perfection?
Even without the guidance of the Keeper of Land and Sea, he was certain he will one day reach the peak of Alchemy through his own hard work and determination.
Of course, a shortcut would have been ideal, but he was not disappointed with this loss.
"Perhaps we'll discuss that later," The Untainted sighed softly and continued. "Absorb the Essence of the Hidden Territory, then leave the place."
Before her voice disappeared, she had morphed into a flash of light and vanished.
Ling Xian pondered a moment, then muttered to himself, "It's time to upgrade. It's already been half a month inside the Territory, and I'm still lingering at the sixth realm. Too slow!"
He was fortunate in that no one was inside the Painting of the Nine Immortals to hear him complain about the speed of his progress. Perhaps if they did, they would want to break his bones and snap his tendons. It had only taken him one month from embarking on this journey to reaching the sixth realm of Alchemy.
This was indeed a feat unthinkable to the ordinary mind, or even the most brilliant and the ungodly gifted of his generation.
"After I absorb this Essence, I should complete my meditation training." Ling Xian's heart skipped a beat. A murky matter emerged from thin air, exuding a magical Qi.
This was the heartbeat of the Hidden Territory. Any living being, human or beast, upon consumption, would experience a breakthrough from their existing level.
Ling Xian sat with knees folded, calm and focused. He inhaled deeply, the shadowy air swirled around and attacked his pores. The magical Qi followed arteries and reached every corner of his body.
The Essence of the Hidden Territory was incredibly dense. Even a mere 10% would require a long time for the body to fully absorb. If forced down abruptly, the pressure and density of the Qi could cause one's body to explode.
Therefore Ling Xian had no choice but to complete this process slowly and with care.
Eyes shut and nothing but pure thoughts, Ling Xian focused his attention on absorbing every last drop of the Essence.
His breath became heavier. After only a month, he broke through the sixth realm to reach the seventh. At that point, he had only absorbed 1% of what he was given.
Ling Xian remained seated, eyes shut, and continued absorbing his precious Essence.
Time passed as swiftly as the wind.
Three months later, he broke through to the eighth realm.
Four months later, he reached the ninth.
The moment he broke through to the ninth realm, Ling Xian suddenly opened his eyes. A flash of lightning shot through his pupils, then slowly vanished into darkness.
"The ninth realm…" Ling Xian mumbled to himself with a hint of anticipation.
According to the laws of alchemy, the ninth realm marked the end of the meditation training. The next level would be the foundational period.
However, there were those rare breeds that were not bound by the laws of the ordinary and unexceptional. Those cultivators would reach the rare in-between realm known as the tenth realm, the Realm of Perfection, or the Undefeatable Territory.
Just as its name suggests, any cultivator that reached this realm became undefeatable.
To illustrate in a simple example, a cultivator of the tenth realm was ten times more powerful than a cultivator of the first realm. If no special powers were used in a battle, the cultivator of the tenth realm would destroy his opponent with ease.
To enter this realm, one would need much more than just Qi. Only with exceptional skills, incredible courage, and sharp savviness could one obtain entry.
In plain terms, only the truly extraordinary, the best of the generation could score an invite into this realm.
Despite this unsurmountable challenge, many cultivators at some point in their lives would attempt fate. Such was the power of this mythical realm.
The Undefeatable Territory was the first major Territory a cultivator would encounter on his journey. This was where the most important foundation was located. Reaching this Territory guaranteed a smooth journey to the foundational level and beyond.
As a result, most cultivators chose to suppress their powers at this critical point to ensure that they did not miss the entry to the Undefeatable Territory. They used this as their transition to the foundational level.
Ling Xian was no exception. Many had failed before him. However, he was fortunate to possess the Majestic Blood. During the century he spent inside the Fantasy, he had already achieved this feat.
Even though that process took an entire year, he knew he could do it again.
To put it into perspective, even for an exceptionally gifted youth of his generation, reaching the Undefeatable Territory would require an extended period of time. Only after many rounds of defeat and lessons learned could he possibly break through.
"Last time it took me a year. This time it shouldn't take that long." Ling Xian stopped absorbing the Essence and began focusing on his inner enlightenment.
Having experienced this process once, he knew what to expect. When he felt a tiny opening emerging inside his body, he began deeply inhaling the Essence.
Four more months passed. Ling Xian had absorbed every last drop of the Essence of the Hidden Territory. He finally broke through to the tenth round, the Realm of Perfection.
"I did it, finally! From this day on, my life is no longer a frail as a sheet of paper." Ling Xian tightened his grip. The air inside the Painting of the Nine Immortals suddenly turned dense.
"How incredible! No wonder they call it the Undefeatable." Ling Xian's dark hair flowed against the wind, his face glowed in the sun, his body surrounded by a magnificent aura.
He had conquered the Realm of Perfection. He was half a step away from the foundational level.
Ling Xian was far ahead of Lin Tian Qing, who was also half a step away from the foundational level but half a step from the ninth realm. In a duel between the two, Ling Xian would come out victorious every time.
To exaggerate further, even if the Clan Prefects from the other two Clans joined the dual against Ling Xian, they would still lose, collectively, every time.
Because he was in the Undefeatable Territory!