A taupe brown viper was slithering through the rotten and damp fallen leaves. The purple speckles along its back melted into the surrounding purple weeds, making the perfect protective coloration.
The highly venomous vipers were well-known worldwide. September was their breeding season, when they roamed around with a voracious appetite. It was also the time they injured the most people.
Right now, it was lurking behind a thick growth of grass, staring at the human beings not far away in detest with its cold vertical pupils. It was planning on dealing a deadly blow.
However, before it could bounce out, there was a strange noise incomprehensible to the intelligence of a snake. All it knew was the surrounding air suddenly turned unbelievably hot, which wrapped itself inside, then… it turned into skewered meat.
"Ewww, viper again. They taste so funny!"
Xiaojin picked it up by the tail with disdain and casually tossed it aside. The charred body of the snake ended up dangling from a branch. She pursed her lips. "Aren't there supposed to be Burmese pythons in these mountains? How come we never saw one? I heard they're like seven or eight meters long. Wow, that's a lot of meat."
"Gosh, careful on triggering the flag. Maybe you'll bump into one in a minute," said Gu Yu.
"Whatever. It's your job to handle it anyway," Xiaojin said matter-of-factly. "What are you goggling at me for? I don't have any refined instrument. How am I supposed to fight it?"
Well, she was actually telling the truth. If nothing else, Little Soap had at least achieved perfection of her Metal Thunder, but she had not yet had her own refined instrument. That was a little humiliating.
"How about this? If we find the lode of Hollow Stone, you can refine one for yourself first."
"A Sky-turning Seal? That's a bit cliche, isn't it? A brick, on the other hand, would be quite unique," said Xiaojin.
"Unique my a*s! You can't just refine anything. It has to reflect, well, sort of you own understanding. It's complicated. I'll explain to you when we go back home."
Gu Yu sighed helplessly. He could put up with this younger sister-in-law's bullsh*t most of the time, but when cultivation was concerned, he thought it wise to make her play by the book.
It was their third day in the mountain. They weren't moving at a very quick pace and were only halfway through their journey so far.
It was because they were constantly stumbling upon the remains of soldiers on their way and since they had done it once, there was no reason not to keep at it. The burning ritual had thus taken up much of their time.
To say the environment of the Kachin Hills was abominable was an understatement. Ordinary people would find the strange climate in the mountains impossible to withstand, not to mention all kinds of miasma and poisonous vermin.
It was humid, hot, smothering, sticky… imagine yourself locked up in a sauna house wearing thick clothes while a dozen ladles of cold water was being poured over the charcoal box, making the sizzling sound. Well, that was how one felt in these mountains.
Had it not been for the protection of their confinement, they would have been soaked through by sweat and the damp air; their skin could have been festered and peeling off.
Marching for long in such an environment surrounded by nothing but towering trees, and with the absence of the sky, signs, or roads, one was easily disoriented.
They walked for another while and Gu Yu found something was amiss. "I'll go up and have a look. Wait here."
With that, he aimed at a 30-meter-tall tree, activated his spiritual essence, and leapt, which took him over ten meters into the air. If he were still at a level of the beginning of this year, he would step on the tree trunk now to gain some momentum before dashing further upwards.
However, now that he was in the air, he felt he still had energy to spare and his movement was unhindered. Hence, he decided to give it a go.
As a result, he used neither any medium nor Taoist skills, but worked on his body and spiritual essence alone, which pushed him up for another seven or eight meters.
When he was halfway up the tree, he finally felt his energy draining up. He immediately kicked on the tree trunk and stepped onto the crown. There, he could see the sky, the pale clouds above, and the endless unblocked view on all sides. However, Gu Yu was in no mood to savor any of that. All he could think of was the wonderful feeling he experienced just then.
The Dan pills he had taken for the past six months had indeed made a great difference to his cultivation. He was on the threshold of reaching the Human Immortal state. One step further and he would be in another new world.
Dao, or Qi, was the origin of everything in this universe. Cultivation itself was a process of returning one to their origin: Qi transformed into men, men cultivated into Qi, which then turned to Dao again.
As remarkable as the innate state was, those of that state were still human. Human Immortal state, on the other hand, had the word "immortal" in it.
Therefore, Gu Yu was faintly feeling that after reaching the Human Immortal state, one's spiritual essence would change substantially. His body, flesh, meridians, orifices, etc., would be different from how they were now.
Take the experience just then as an example. From what he felt, he honestly believed that Human Immortals could fly.
Those thoughts aside, he was now standing on the crown of the tree and looking into the distance. The vast forest rustled in waves and the swaying branches moved like an ocean. Green and blue seemed to be the only color left in this world.
To his northwest, about two hours' walk away, the terrain was flat and open and he could see houses and human activities there. It was probably where Hpakant jade quarry was.
To his northeast, he could see a bare land, which was the only area in this mountain not covered by trees. Instead, there were giant rocks striped with yellowish brown and shades of gray.
He himself, on the other hand, was in the middle section of the entire mountain range. Those two places and his own spot formed an equilateral triangle.
After making sure of their whereabouts, he landed lightly on his feet. "The jade quarry is on the northwest and there seems to be a rock hill on the northeast. Let's check out the latter first."
The journey followed was uneventful.
About two hours later, they arrived at the rock hill.
It was about a hundred meter tall and they could barely make out the the starting and finishing point of the slopes. The yellow and gray of the rock made it look like a dead tumor among all the green of the Kachin Hills.
Gu Yu casually snapped a piece off the rock and examined it. "This is just common sedimentary rock. There's nothing unusual about it and the reactivity of the spiritual essence is also very stagnant."
"Let me check… ah, it's the same over here! So is here! And here!"
Xiaojin could not stay still. She ran around, breaking off little pieces as she moved, but found nothing.
They had no choice but to jump onto the top of the hill, which was a little more pleasant than Flaming Mountain—at least it was home to quite a few types of short vegetation and did not look dead.
Gu Yu found a spot and waved his hand. With a series of popping sounds, over sixty Flame Cloud Needles he refined so far were all released into the air.
They turned into dots of red flame and sparkled in mid-air. Together, all these shiny dots formed an enshrouding halo as if a red sun had descended.
At his clear voice, the flaming needles moved about until they were linked up end to end, turning into a flaming dragon. The clouds seemed to be stirred by its movement as it turned its head downwards and dashed, boring into the hill and sending shards of stones flying everywhere.
Xiaojin blinked and moved closer, crouching down so that she could look into the hole the dragon just drilled. It was as thick as a teacup and abysmally deep. She could not see how far it went in.
She even dug around a little with her finger and complimented, "Good for you, Brother-in-law. This thing is going deeper beyond my sister's reach! Why, if the Flame Cloud Needles are so powerful, why don't you make more of them? If you have a thousand of these, you can solve everything with one blow."
"Then I'll be sitting there embroidering for the rest time of my life. Plus, I don't have enough energy to work that many needles." Gu Yu rolled his eyes at her and waved his hand again. "Back!"
There was another shower of broken stone and the flaming dragon flew out of the rock, carrying with it many samples of stone from inside the hill. He checked them in turn and frowned. "No Hollow Stone. Let's try the other side."
After that, they moved to another spot, drilled again, and surveyed again. The flaming dragon made five holes in a row and Gu Yu was completely exhausted, but Hollow Stone was nowhere to be found.
"Could it be the only one and the real lode has not taken shape yet?"
Gu Yu sat on the ground and drank his spiritual liquor to regain his energy. He said with a frown, "It can't be. It's very unlikely that there is only one such stone. But I can't find anything resembling a mine here apart from this place."
"What shall we do?"
"We'll have another look around. If nothing shows up, we'll have no choice but to go back."
"Then, then we're here for nothing!" Xiaojin was very unhappy about this and pouted. "Just think about all the things we went through. What did we get? We walked around in this lousy place for three whole days!"
"Hey, you shouldn't put it that way. Many things will turn out fruitless no matter what you do, but surely nothing will come out of it if you choose not to do anything from the start." He tried to make it into a lecture.
"Tsk! Save your chicken soup for the soul. Who told you nothing will come out of doing nothing? Plenty of men ended up with pregnant wives without actually doing anything."
"Now you're just switching concept. Don't argue just for the sake of arguing."
"So what? I'm not happy!"
Little Soap could be so adorable at times, but there were also times that one was more than happy to smother her. Right now, she was pushing towards the latter. The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. She walked away abruptly.
"Hey, where are you going?" The worried brother-in-law was about to chase after her.
"Empty my bowels!"
Ok, he wasn't going to look into that.
Gu Yu was actually very disappointed himself, but he was not as "extrovert" about it as his sister-in-law. He moved a little further from the spot and resumed drinking his liquor leaning on a big rock, while considering their next move.
Just then, there came a devastating (exhilarated, actually) scream. He shuddered and ran towards the direction.
He stopped almost immediately.
The plot always went like this: no matter what had just happened, he would arrive there seeing things he should not be seeing. The girl would then whimper in coyness, fall into his arms, and they would begin to "interact".
Hence, he calmly turned around and returned to his spot.
"Hahaha! Speak of the devil! Wow, you're so fleshy!"
As expected, after the scream came the jubilation. An explosion seemed to be going off over there. With the thumping noises of fists landing on a sandbag, a giant shadow was sent flying into mid-air before smashing down to the ground.
Gu Yu turned to look and saw that it was one of the bosses of the Kachin Hills: a Burmese python!
It was the second largest species of snakes in Asia that could grow to seven to eight meters, had a ferocious temperament, and was very strong. This rock hill was probably its territory. Unfortunately, it ran into Little Soap. The python was as good as an earthworm now.
The python shook it head. Its vertical pupils were losing focus and it was disoriented from all the beating. It was quick-witted for a snake, though. The next moment, it dashed out for a dozen meters and began to flee down the hill.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Xiaojin was still holding her pants up with one hand as she chased after the python.
The python slithered and tumbled, reaching the forest in no time. It then crushed its way in, taking cover in the natural camouflage. Little Soap was looking for a target to vent her frustration and this sandbag just happen to fall into her lap. There was no way she would let it escape.
After a while, she saw the woods ahead was densely covered with bushes and vines, which was to her great satisfaction. "You're going nowhere!"
With that, she leapt out and flew onto a branch, as swift as a young swallow. She landed light-footedly and steadily, then with a clap of her hands, a big green gourd appeared. She aimed the opening at the python and yelled, " Star-sucking Method! 1 "
Instantly, there was a sound of blood flowing.
The python turned rigid right away and was shrinking at a speed observable to the unaided eyes. Vitality was racing out of it rapidly until its skin went loose and it was dead.
"Wow, this is good for a lot of medicine." She weighed the big gourd in her hand and nodded with satisfaction. Then with a grabbing gesture, she removed the big gallbladder and two fangs. After cleaning out the dead body, she darted a look at the bush and said, "Come out now. I know you're there!"
There was no reply.
"Come out. I know you're a human being, or you'd be dead by now."
Xiaojin put away her gourd and moved closer. There was a rustle in the bushes, and after a moment, a man walked out.
He wore a short white top and no pants. Instead, a cloth 30 cm wide and a meter long hung loosely around his waist to hide his private part, which was not doing a very good job, for the black and long thing was dangling there for everyone to see.
What was more amazing was that its tip was wrapped around by white threads. She had no idea what sort of custom that was, but it looked very, um, sacred?
Other than that, he had a machete and steel flint hanging from his waist and a coarse cloth bag over his shoulder. He stood there astonished and panicked.
Pakka was a decent young man of Monpa.
He was sturdy, swarthy, had strongly defined facial features, and very full lips, all of which were fitting for a handsome man in his clan.
Of course, his name was not as handsome—"pakka" meant pig manure in his native tongue. As Confucius once said (not), with so many ups and downs in one's life, a base name gave one a better chance to grow up safely.
The Monpa People had a long history. They were found in China as well, but their lifestyle over there was much different, which had integrated with the Tibetan culture. Over here in Myan, they lived in a more primitive state and still followed their ancient traditions.
"Ancient" was a relative term, though. Pakka's clan consisted of several hundred members living deep in the Kachin Hills. They had low productivity, but were not at the slash-and-burn stage as in the rumors. After all, they lived in this modern world and the jade quarry was not far. They had enough contact with the outside world.
Today, he went to the jade quarry to trade for salt with a bag of native products. He took a shortcut on his way back, which went through the territory of the python. As mountain dwellers, they knew the area well enough to avoid the danger.
As it turned out, that python that had been frightening his clansmen rolled down the rock hill and was sucked dry right in front of his eyes by an ugly woman.
Yes, her legs were so long, her waist so tiny, and her breasts so thin. She looked hideous!
"Why, you're a native man. Can you understand me?" Xiaojin was amazed at this discovery. She tried all she could to communicate with the man, but he just stared back with a blank face. She pursed her lips. "Tsk, so it's true—size and brain, you can't have it both."
Since there was no one else to turn to, she could only shout at the top of her voice, "Brother-in-law! Brother-in-law!"
Nanny Gu flew to her side at the calling and was also amazed. "So the Monpa People are real. I always thought it just another legend."
He moved closer and touched the man's forehead with the tip of his finger, then sent in a streak of mental force as he did with the spiritual ginseng.
"Who are you?"
"Ah! Ah! Hm…$%^&*#$%*&!"
Pakka almost had a stroke. There was suddenly a second voice in his head and he could understand what it was saying!
"Don't be afraid. We're not bad people. What's your name?"
The Monpa People followed primitive beliefs. Watching this man in front of him, Pakka fell to his knees with a thump and prostrated on the ground. He mumbled a few words in his native tongue. "God… ghost…"TL/N: taken from Jin Yong's wuxia novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer. The user of the Star-sucking Method could suck the internal energy of others and turn it into their own.