"This is as far as we can go." The soldier stopped the vehicle and said with a solemn face, "It is advancing 0.7 meters a second and we are falling back accordingly. But don't worry. It does not mean we'll abandon you. We are not leaving without you!"
Watching the swarthy, resolute face, Lu Yuanqing was suddenly overwhelmed by an unusual emotion. Cultivators seldom had the righteous ardor and lofty sentiments like military men who would willingly die for their country and comrades in war, but it did not stop Lu Yuanqing from seeing the determination in them.
He expressed his thanks solemnly in return and got off the vehicle. He was only two steps away when he heard the sound from behind: the red cloud was approaching, forcing back the vehicle.
Lu Yuanqing paused, but did not turn to look. He crossed the warning line in one stride and instantly, the broiling fire spiritual essence blew violently against his face.
He immediately activated his internal energy to readjust his breathing and the pressure only lessened after that. Looking up, he saw a world covered by a foggy crimson color. Everything was chaotic and in a frenzy, as if the past and the future had blurred into one like an everlasting wilderness.
Somehow, his heart lurched at the view.
He had lived an enclosed life in cultivation, so as to achieve the Great Dao and become immortal. However, it occurred to him now that the world outside was so rich and splendid that there appeared a longing within him to travel to every corner and experience the world as it was.
To train oneself and understand the world was a cultivation concept and he was finally given the chance to comprehend it after he reached the innate state.
Controlling his breathing, Lu Yuanqing inhaled and exhaled evenly and rhythmically, so as to keep his energy consumption at a minimal level.
Although he had just entered the innate state, because of the acquired state he was in before that, he had been training his inner Qi all these years since childhood, accumulating it little by little. He had set up an incredible foundation, especially in moving his Qi around his body, which he was much more agile and skilful than his fellow cultivators.
He dared not delay, but dashed quickly forward and entered the red fog headlong.
The area surrounding Flaming Mountain had long become deadlands. As he advanced, he was met with mummified dead animals everywhere, which looked like brutally made yet intact specimens.
Flowers, grass, and trees stood upright in their charcoal gray skins, void of any sign of life. Intrigued, he went up to a poplar and touched it.
There was no interior part, no substance of any sort, but only a flimsy outer layer that reminded one of the ash hanging onto a cigarette. With a flick, it turned into a thousand pieces and fell to the ground.
Lu Yuanqing stood in a daze for a while. In the end, he heaved a sigh, bagged some pieces and a few dead small animals, then moved on.
The crimson clouds rose and the red fog filled the air.
Here, time and space seemed to have lost their meaning. He had no idea how far he had walked in as he gradually slowed down and began to feel unwell. He was prepared for this, though. Taking out a black pill, he put it into his mouth and kept it there.
It was a Dan pellet of a secret recipe. One pill was enough to supplement much of the energy the body needed. The source of it was also quite remarkable: Zhang Shouyang had offered it voluntarily.
The Way of the Celestial Masters emphasized the teaching of talismans the most, but it was in fact an expert in Waidan as well. According to "Mount Longhu Annals", Zhang Daoling had refined the divine Dan of nine transformations when he resided on Lutang Mountain.
A Dan of one transformation would enable one to become immortal in three years; the one of two transformations would do so in two years, three transformations in one year, four transformations in six months, five transformations in a hundred days… and the one of nine transformations would raise one to an immortal in three days!
Of course, even the one of one transformation was nowhere to be found by now, let alone the nine one. All that was left was a pellet with a life-saving property. Zhang Shouyang only had eight of those and gave Lu Yuanqing half of them. It seemed that their conversation the other day had to some extent changed the mind of the direct successor of the Way of the Celestial Masters.
Thanks to the power of the pill, Lu Yuanqing was able to keep moving.
He trudged on for another while and finally stopped when he felt weak. He could advance no further, for he had to save some strength for the journey back.
Looking up through a layer of red fog, the profile of an enormous and bad-tempered mountain moved into his sight.
The thick fire spiritual essence had formed a swirling air mass on the mountaintop, which rolled and seethed in the air. The red clouds and thick fog were also rising from the top like an exploding volcano.
He estimated the distance visually; it was still a long way off. However unwilling he was, there was nothing he could do about it.
Pursing his lips, Lu Yuanqing was about to turn around when he paused abruptly, for he seemed to have caught sight of a black spot moving in the distance.
He opened his eyes as wide as he could to make sure he was seeing it correctly. It was one, no, two people!
There were people here!
His pupils contracted instantly as he fixed his gaze in that direction.
On the highest and steepest rocks, two tiny figures were chasing one another in the boundless fiery clouds like a pair of frolic birds.
The immense pressure there on the mountaintop seemed non-existent to them.
Lu Yuanqing stood there, as if in a trance. The two people flitted across the air, then with a few leaps, disappeared to the other side of the mountain. It all happened in an instant and almost felt like an illusion.
The two names came into his head right away. Like two gods descending from above, their presence instantly pushed everything else out of his mind.
The hell with the Taoist community, the forbearance, and the plotting. They were nothing.
Lu Yuanqing stood there for long. It wasn't until the fire spiritual essence surrounding him started to burn his skin that bewilderment and fear finally disappeared from his face; he looked all the more reassured.
Those who had achieved something great not only needed talent, but also needed a staunch and unyielding heart.
Flicking his long sleeves, he swiftly made his way back.
Gu Yu stood still and mumbled suddenly, "I think I saw someone just then."
"It was quite a long way off. A black dot just stood there, not moving a bit…"
Now that he put it that way, he wasn't so sure any more. "Whatever, forget it. How are you holding on?"
"I can do this for a bit longer."
Xiaozhai wiped away her sweat, apparently much less comfortable then Gu Yu was.
The advantage of the essence-consuming method was in its speed of cultivation and the amount of energy one could accumulate in the process. The Thunder Technique, on the other hand, was of an "elite" type, which focused more on the quality rather than quantity. Inevitably, she was fatigued from the dashing around on the mountaintop.
Seeing this, Gu Yu took his girlfriend by her hand, so as to transfer some energy to her if needed.
They had sensed the outbreak as soon as it started. Grape Valley was all gone. The river dried up right in front of their eyes, along with hundreds of mu of grape trellises and poplar groves, which all turned into gray and crispy film that crumbled at the touch.
The houses remained relatively intact, but it was only a matter of time until they, too, disappeared.
They looked around the foot of the mountain first, then climbed up, thinking of going deeper in. There wasn't any purpose to this trip aside from witnessing a catastrophe that somehow gave them a feeling of participation.
"I think it's the densest here."
The two ran around in the mountain for a while and stopped, then each took out their green gourd and gathered a few streaks of fire spiritual essence.
Gu Yu crouched down, knocked a rock off the mountain and tossed it around in his hand. He frowned. "This feels very different from before. It may turn into a real fire mineral, but I don't know when."
"We were right. To the ordinary people, this is a living hell, but to cultivators, it's a blessed land." Xiaozhai also looked around and sighed. "Let's get out now and check that cave. I still think it a weird thing that they set that site in Flaming Mountain."