Inside the Painting of the Nine Immortals.
Ling Xian appeared slenderer and scruffier compared to his usual self. His hair danced wildly in the bellowing wind, a splendid luminosity radiated from his body and lit up the mountains and valleys around him.
Gripping his hands tightly and feeling an enormous strength intensify inside his body, Ling Xian let out a satisfying grin.
From a useless young man to the most idolized cultivator of his generation, the process only took 13 months, an inconceivable achievement.
It is not unusual for an average cultivator to need a full decade to reach the ninth realm. For those with foresight and ambition to reach the Perfect Realm, most would not attempt anything out of order, such as consuming Dans, but opt for an authentic growth instead.
However, it only took Ling Xian one year to conquer the Perfect Realm. What an unthinkable feat.
Mainly because the time required to break through to the Perfect Realm was normally longer than the time required to progress through all nine realms before it.
"From today onwards, I, Ling Xian, will hide no more. I am invincible in the City of Qing." Ling Xian gazed far into the horizon, his eyes beaming with excitement and determination.
He had always tried to hide the true extent of his powers, such as the Eyes of Execution.
He had been too weak. If his powers had become known, he would have attracted challengers whom he was not certain he could defeat.
But today, he was half a step away from reaching the foundational level of Alchemy. Within three miles of the City of Qing, no one would be foolish enough to take on his challenge.
"One day, I'll conquer the Nine Heavens and rule them all."
A gentle breeze tussled against his hair. A proud, almost animalistic smile lit up his face.
"Having ambitions is a good thing. But conquering the Nine Heavens, that's easier said than done." The voice of the Keeper of Land and Sea echoed in his ear as her figure glided through the shadows.
Her face was as flawless as a painting, her dress virgin white, her expression icy as usual.
Her beauty could conquer kings and nations. Silently, Ling Xian exclaimed…
[The Untainted is truly untainted.]
"Your natural talent truly amazes me." The Untainted praised him. In her praise, Ling Xian detected a hint of shock. He amazed her.
"Not at all. Fortune has favored me. If I hadn't encountered my Master, I would have lived an unexceptional life until the end," Ling Xian responded humbly.
"You are too humble. Fortune is a part of it," The Untainted continued, "but the journey of a cultivator cannot be written with only born talent. Can you guess what people had said to me when I began my journey?"
"I cannot," Ling Xian responded honestly.
"They told me that it would be a miracle if I ever broke through to the foundational level." The Keeper reminisced with a sense of sadness.
Ling Xian was flabbergasted. This woman was the Keeper of Land and Sea, the savior of humanity. How could she have been judged so wrongly?
"You heard correctly. That is what they said," The Untainted said peacefully. "I was not born exceptionally talented. Actually, I showed less talent than most. It would have been difficult."
"And then?" Ling Xian was beyond curious.
"I refused to resign myself to fate. My dream was to conquer the Nine Heavens, just like yours. So I gave my all. But when I tried breaking through the ninth realm, I found that I couldn't, regardless of how hard I tried." Her voice began to tremble, but ever so faintly.
"Until one day, I stumbled upon a book of spells. It changed my life." The Keeper sighed softly. "This book was magical. Although it couldn't alter my nature or talent, it did help me rise to the top. But the cost to me was hefty. It began splitting my character piece by piece. I lived in pain and agony day after day. The type of pain I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."
"But for my dream, I persisted. And I became the Keeper of Land and Sea." The Untainted shifted her attention back to Ling Xian and continued, "I tell you these so you could understand, talent is a blessing, but persistence is a necessity. Your success depends on it."
"That was not an inspirational story, that was a cruel story." Ling Xian smiled gently. "You owe your success to that book. Without it, your persistence alone would not have been enough to propel you through the Nine Heavens and to become ruler of the earth."
"Well…" The Untainted was taken aback by this slightly twisted but honest judgment.
She had intended well. Ling Xian's born talent was extraordinary, and he knew it. But arrogance was a quality of a villain. She needed to teach him what truly made a hero.
She had not expected to be challenged by him so honestly.
However, after some consideration, she decided his response wasn't entirely unjustified.
Iron will, resilience, none of that would have mattered if she never chanced upon the book.
"Please forgive me," Ling Xian apologized chivalrously. Maturity developed over a century had made him perceive everything in a different light.
"No trouble, pretend like I didn't say anything." The Untainted returned his gesture. She continued, "I only wished to warn you, you are undoubtedly gifted. But relying purely on what you've been given is not enough. When you fail, it'll be a long way to fall."
"Rest assured, Ling Xian understands." Ling Xian fell into a memory of his own and continued with his story, "Ling Xian is not the name I was given at birth. At the age of three, I discovered that there is journey called Cultivation, there is a pursuit called Everlasting Life, and there is a conqueror called the True Immortal. So I changed my name to Xian - Immortal and I became Ling Xian."
The Untainted was amused. She asked, "Ling Xian - Conquering Immortality?"
"Correct." Ling Xian grinned. "Ling Xian - Since the Time of Ling Xian."
A whisper, soft and gentle, no hint of arrogance or contempt, but filled with confidence.
"Not bad. I wait for that day to come." Showing no emotion, the Untainted vanished, leaving behind a fading trail of bright light.
"I should leave here as well. I wonder what's happened to the Ling Clan during my absence," Ling Xian mumbled to himself and disappeared out of the Painting.
A black figure sprinted effortlessly across the boundless field.
This was Ling Xian.
After exiting the Painting of the Nine Immortals, he headed straight in the direction of the exit gate of the Hidden Territory.
According to the laws of the Hidden Territory, without the protection of the Painting, Ling Xian would immediately be subjected to attacks from the Territory itself. However, he had the support of the Keeper of Land and Sea, and as such, the Spirit of the Hidden Territory couldn't wait another moment for him to leave. How could the Spirit think to attack him?
Thus Ling Xian's journey so far had been smooth sailing. Neither bound by the laws of the Territory nor encountering any beast that could harm him.
He was puzzled by this. There were hundreds of thousands of beasts living in the Hidden Territory, spread across the entire realm. But rather suspicious, he had yet to see one.
He would not remain puzzled for long.
Directly in front of the gate, hundreds of thousands of beasts gathered in a murderous rage, blocking his way.
In front were the four supreme rulers of the eighth realm.
A flaming red Bare Winged Crane, a glittering Golden-Mooned Wolf, a black-blue Double-Winged Basilisk, and a magnificent Snow Tiger with the purest coat of fur.
The supreme rulers of the realm and their massive army had been waiting for him.
The Bare Winged Crane patrolled the area from the sky. At the first sighting of Ling Xian, the Crane let out a terrifying call to his comrades, "You wicked human, you finally dared to come out, we've waited a long time for you!"
Confronted with the dark army of hideous beasts, Ling Xian did not feel an ounce of fear. He sneered, "Old friends here, is this really necessary? You're too generous, all four supreme rulers and all you little beasts have come to see me off!"
The Snow Tiger let out a petrifying scream and shouted, "A witty human! He must be tasty!"
"Wittiness gives me flavor?" Ling Xian mocked the beast, "Certainly not the brightest kitty!"
"You dare insult me?" The Snow Tiger roared again, a violent windstorm ensued.
"Tiger, don't waste your words. This is a strange human, kill him first," The Golden-Mooned Wolf grunted, exposing his sharp, deadly teeth.
"Kill me? Let's see if you can." Ling Xian's face darkened. "If I'm not mistaken, the Spirit of the Hidden Territory must have revealed my whereabouts to you. I don't believe for a second you all waited here for a whole year."
"You guessed correctly. Thank your friend," the Wolf snickered. "All four supreme rulers, all beasts of the Territory, are you happy with this grand reception?"
"The happiest! You flatter me." Ling Xian felt a killer instinct stir on the inside. He knew very well this was no coincidence. If no one tipped them off, all the beasts of the realm would not be gathered in one place.
And there was only one person who could track him through his energy, and that was the Spirit of the Hidden Territory. He controlled the laws of the Territory. He knew the whereabouts of any living being at any moment in time inside his Territory.
He did it for the petty reason of not wanting Ling Xian to leave his Territory with ease. Still mourning the loss of part of his precious Essence, he did not want to see Ling Xian get out of here completely unscathed.
"As long as you are happy," the Wolf snickered again. His savage nature laid bare.
"You humans are keen on etiquette. We've shown you such favor, shouldn't you return a gesture or two?"
A return gesture?
Ling Xian laughed out loud then immediately turned to anger. His voice was cold and serious, seemingly deprived of any humanity. "You are absolutely right. My return favor to you then will be to show you the path to hell."