The skies were blue, and the ocean was a crystalline turquoise with roiling waves.
At the center of the island, Qian’Er and Xue’Er were each standing at the foot of two adjacent rocky mountains, holding themselves like ants shouldering an enormous burden. They each gripped a wooden spear, and were attacking the two mighty mountains with fervor—every strike shattering stone. Their aura was rather astounding, but compared to the mountains, it still felt like they were overestimating themselves—like ants trying to shake a large tree!
Qian’Er shattered a giant boulder to pieces with a single spear strike, causing two enormous boulders atop the mountainside to tremble heavily. It eventually tumbled down with a bunch of other rocks of varying sizes.
Qian’Er suddenly raised her head; her eyesight instantly sharpening. As an enormous boulder tumbled her way, she swiftly twisted her body with ladylike elegance and—using the momentum from her body—struck out a piercing strike to the skies.
‘BANG!’ The giant boulder instantly shattered, and burst into pieces.
Soon after, rocks of all shapes and sizes tumbled down from the mountain top, and came down on her like rain.
Qian’Er didn’t seem the least bit afraid. Instead, she launched her spear out like a rampaging dragon, quickly shifting her posture to match her footwork. The rocks that came close to her head were quickly smashed to bits under a flurry of spear strikes, though she did miss a few.
All the while, she was continuously jumping and twisting her body aside. Then, stepping on the descending rocks, she shifted her position in mid-air and leveled a strike with her spear at the other giant boulder crashing to her side.
‘BANG!’ The enormous rock exploded, but the wooden spear had also been snapped in two.
As the pebbles rained down onto the ground, Qian’Er ended by landing on her feet gracefully. Looking at the broken wooden spear in her hand, she couldn’t help but shake her head. For consecutive high-speed attacks, she was still a little lacking in controlling her strength; otherwise, the spear wouldn’t have broken.
Casually tossing away the broken spear in her hands, she jumped away and landed on a nearby stone pile behind her; dozens of wooden spears had been stuck into it like pins. Easily picking one out, she made her way back to the foot of the mountain, and the explosions could once again be heard.
At the foot of the other mountain, Xue’Er was not performing any worse either.
The two of them battled almost every day. With the constant battles, the two of them constantly improved their utilization and harmony of body, art and spear.
On a nearby mountain ridge, Miao Yi nodded with a faint smile. These two handmaidens of his had finally gotten rid of the dainty feebleness they once had.
Miao Yi realized that this spear spear training method that had Lao Bai taught him was basically building a rough foundation of sorts. The Master merely guided the disciple to the entrance, while the growth was up to the disciple themselves—it was definitely that sort. There was basically no need for the Master to teach anything. It was a very apt technique for those lazy masters to pass down to their disciples. The could just speak a couple of lines, and leave their disciples to act on it themselves.
However, the situation seemed to be different for each person. Even though it was the same training method, there was a plethora of ways in which it could be modified. It could freely draw out the potential that was most suitable for the person involved; or perhaps, it was because the two girls were female.
Miao Yi’s spear arts were tyrannical and precise; giving others the feeling of a honed weapon waiting to strike, and carried an aura of unstoppable momentum.
The two girls’ spear arts lacked that tyranny, but had a supple flexibility that Miao Yi did not possess—adding a beautiful versatility with the sharpness of their strikes. It was quite apparent just from observing how elegantly the two girls were moving their bodies to launch their spears and received attacks. Miao Yi himself didn’t have such a versatile moveset.
There was a hint of praise in Miao Yi’s smile as he watched the two girls. Even though the two of them had yet to fully master the spear arts, based on his combat experience, the two girls already possessed the ability to fight against an opponent of the same level.
He didn’t stay long, and turned to leave. When he reached the outside of his abode, he saw Yao Ruoxian scuttling about in circles around Charcoal. He held a Yao Core in his hand, and tried to tease Charcoal, but the usually gluttonous Charcoal wasn’t swayed and tried to avoid him instead as he dodged from and right.
"I really wonder if this old man is a cultivator sometimes; following behind Charcoal’s rump day after day—didn’t he need to cultivate? Red Lotus cultivators really had thick pockets indeed, that they didn’t have to worry about Yao Cores. It ticked him off just thinking about it…" grumbled Miao Yi as he shook his head. Turning back, he walked towards his cave manor.
Seeing that he had returned, Charcoal immediately followed behind Miao Yi into the cave manor.
Miao Yi sat cross-legged on the stone seat, while Charcoal lay sprawled at the bottom of it.
Soon after, Yao Ruoxian stuck his head through the entrance of the cave and peered inside. Seeing Miao Yi notice him, he coughed dryly and walked inside with his hand behind his back, circling around to Charcoal.
After he looked back on it, he soon realized that Charcoal was truly different from dragon steeds.
Other dragon steeds would stand as they sleep, but he would lie down as he slept.
Other dragon steeds were omnivorous creatures, but he would only eat the likes of fish and prawns.
Furthermore, this Fat Thief even knew how to help his master set up ambushes and responded to the person’s emotions. Yao Ruoxian had experienced this himself back in the Sea of Constellations.
Previously, he thought that it was because the Fat Thief had only learnt bad habits and gained a thief’s cunning. Now Yao Ruoxian could barely keep his composure when he thought about this; he had the urge to drool everytime he saw Charcoal. If he didn’t obtain him, he would have difficulty sleeping or eating.
To this end, he had stolen Charcoal away secretly sometime ago after considering the time that Miao Yi spent in closed-door cultivation. He planned to tame Charcoal in a hidden and isolated location.
However, it frustrated him to no end that this sentient dragon steed seemed to hold a grudge against him. Charcoal didn’t respond to resentment normally either—he was extremely vindictive. There was almost no chance of Yao Ruoxian taming him. Even if he killed Miao Yi, he probably wouldn’t be able to get Charcoal to follow him.
After a few tries without any results, Yao Ruoxian had no choice but to secretly send Charcoal back onto the island….
Charcoal lifted his head to look at Yao Ruoxian, then turned around and looked at Miao Yi. Seeing that Miao Yi was still there, he felt more secure and closed his eyes; ignoring Yao Ruoxian.
"Senior. You keep pacing around in front of me. I can’t focus on cultivation!" laughed Miao Yi bitterly in protest.
"Don’t worry. Just focus on your cultivation. I won’t bother you. I can even help stand guard over you. Where else would you find such a good bargain?" Yao Ruoxian waved his hands.
Miao Yi curiously asked, "Senior. Why do you keep staring at Charcoal?"
"Keep staring at him? Did I?" Yao Ruoxian was surprised. Thinking back, he realized that he was being a little too obvious about it. He immediately mocked, "Why would I keep staring at this Fat Thief? I just think it’s a little strange. This fat thief has always been a glutton. Why does he reject Yao Cores when I try to feed him now? I just want to understand what caused such a thing."
Miao Yi thought, ‘Isn’t it because you scared him so?’; but smiled and asked, "Then have you found the cause?"
"I have not. Can’t you see I’m still trying to figure it out?" Yao Ruoxian shook his head and sighed, "Why doesn’t he want to eat anymore?"
He wanted to mend his relationship with Charcoal, but alas, Charcoal wouldn’t be enticed by Yao Cores anymore. It didn’t matter how much he tried to butter-up to him. Yao Ruoxian couldn’t help but grind his teeth at this.
Charcoal wasn’t a fool; he was actually a dragon steed with a rather intelligent nature. Even though he liked to eat Yao Cores, he remembered how the old man had immediately lost his temper with him, and buried him alive after he ate his Yao Core. That near-death sensation was too terrifying for him. He didn’t want to experience it ever again. What's more, he had also been secretly taken away by Yao Ruoxian once. How could he not be wary of Yao Ruoxian now?
"Aiee! I’m a soft-hearted person after all. I will easily bond after being with someone long enough. Just like how I am with with those two girls, and the Fat Thief." Yao Ruoxian sighed deeply as if in self-pity. He already had a habit of calling Charcoal ‘Fat Thief; it was hard to change it all of a sudden.
Miao Yi could indeed see that the other party treated Qian’Er, Xue’Er and Charcoal very kindly; but he still showed his doubt, "I believe we have also spent quite some time together. Why don’t I see Senior treating me kindly?"
"..." Yao Ruoxian was speechless. He coughed and said, "How could you say that we have spent a lot of time together? You are either busy with your own things, or in closed-door cultivation. Did you spend more time with me, than I did with the others?"
Miao Yi had to agree on that. He never liked to waste time, so he didn’t argue. He examined this old man closely, unsure of what this old man wanted to say.
As expected, Yao Ruoxian changed the topic. He narrowed his eyes at him and said, "Brat. I have something I want to talk to you about."
"What is it?"
Yao Ruoxian pulled his sleeves open and let Miao Yi have a look at the tiny mantids that were perched on the inside of his sleeves, "I want to return them to you."
Miao Yi was shocked, and suspiciously asked, "Are you serious? Without any other conditions?"
He did not believe that Yao Ruoxian would be so kind. If he really were so kind, a mighty Red Lotus expert like himself would not have stayed at a meager East Arrival Cave for so long; he would have left for the boundless skies a long time ago. There was surely something worth waiting for, for Yao Ruoxian; and it was obviously the tiny mantids.
"Aiiee! I already said that I easily bond with others after being with them long enough. This Fat Thief seems rather intelligent, and catches my fancy. Why don’t you gift him to me? I will trade him with the tiny mantids." said Yao Ruoxian in a serious manner.
"Uhh…." Miao Yi was in extremely doubtful. ‘Was a dragon steed that valuable to a Red Lotus cultivator? I think it’s not even worth as much as a single tiny mantid, no?’
He proved a little more by asking, "How should we exchange? You know how dragons steeds are, since Charcoal had acknowledged me as his master, I’m afraid he won’t switch loyalties that easily."
"This is easy. The Fat Thief is very smart. It isn’t as dumb as regular dragon steeds. All you need to do is have him get closer to me, while you treat him a little worse than usual. As time goes by, he will naturally want to follow me."
Miao Yi was stunned. Without another word, he extended his arm and said, "Sure. I can promise you that. Return the tiny mantids to me, then."
Seeing that he had agreed, Yao Ruoxian immediately grinned. However, he waved his hand and said, "I cannot do that now. I will help you raise the tiny mantids for now. When the Fat Thief’s relationship with me has some improvement, I will return the tiny mantids to you at intervals, one by one…."
He had already calculated everything; he wasn’t that greedy. Out of the eighty-five tiny mantids, he only needed to keep fifty of them. He would use the remaining thirty-five he as leverage for Miao Yi to help him persuade Charcoal.
Once his relationship with Charcoal was mended and he was able to communicate with the fifty tiny mantids, he would immediately bring Charcoal and the remaining tiny mantids with him and leave—killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Miao Yi’s gaze flashed as he nodded and said, "Sure, but you will have to accept one condition of mine."
Yao Ruoxian magnanimously waved his hand and said, "Go ahead and say it."
"The damn fatso is thinner now." Miao Yi said, pointing towards Charcoal who was lying on the ground fast asleep. "The battle armor that you refined for him no longer fits. Could you refine a new set for him again?"
"No problem." Yao Ruoxian extended his hand and said, "Hand the original battle armor over to me."
Without another word, Miao Yi summoned out Charcoal’s battle armor and tossed it to Yao Ruoxian.
"And?" Yao Ruoxian waved his hand and added, "There are still Blaze Resins and Yao Cores."
Miao Yi gave out a mocking laugh. If it were in the past, he might have given it over to ensure Charcoal’s safety. However, after seeing that Yao Ruoxian could even feed a Second Grade Yao Core to Charcoal as though it was candy, he could not let Yao Ruoxian further bereave a poor man like himself, any longer.
"Senior. I have to leave some capital for my own cultivation somehow. I have already agreed to your conditions. You wouldn’t be so stingy that you’d refuse to provide a little Blaze Resins and Yao Cores, would you? If that’s the case, then I think we don’t need to trade….."
"Fine, fine, fine!" Yao Ruoxian put his hand out to stop him. "I’ll fork it out." After he said that, he grabbed the necessary items, and turned to leave.
He stopped again at the the entrance of the cave, and turned back to gesture at Charcoal with his mouth.
Miao Yi understood what he meant. He jumped down from the stone seat, and without any warning—he threw a few punches and kicks at Charcoal, startling him awake from his slumber; then yelled out, "SCRAM!"
After he chased Charcoal out of the cave manor, Miao Yi shrugged his shoulders at Yao Ruoxian. ‘Isn’t it just treating Charcoal a little badly? This is easy. I always catch Charcoal and give him a heavy beating. Too easy.’