Once they spoke, Miao Yi’s theory was proven right. The other party was indeed the forces of a Cave guarding this area. The Cave Master was surnamed Zhao.
The two were of similar rank. Both being Cave Masters, and without a difference in hierarchy between them, both parties joked and spoke in an easy manner.
"Where is Brother Zhao bringing your subordinates to?"
"We’re not going anywhere. We’re just patrolling the area."
"Cave Master Zhao is so dutiful. I’m embarrassed."
"Do you think I want to be!?" Cave Master Zhao shook his head, and briefly explained the underlying reason.
The reason he was personally leading the patrol squad, was because a group of renegade cultivators had appeared recently. They specifically targeted and robbed travelling cultivators. Last month, they even kidnapped the wife of a certain Manor Head from their Hall. Not only did they rob her, they even killed her and her escorts!
The Manor Head was absolutely furious, and deployed the entire might of the Manor’s forces. However, just when they started searching on this end, the other party immediately ran elsewhere to commit their crimes. After they wreaked havoc in both east and west, everyone couldn’t help taking every possible precaution. In the end, they even alarmed the Hall Master, and all ten Manor’s forces were organized to launch a great manhunt across their territories.
Miao Yi’s curiosity was piqued when he heard this, and said, "There’s actually someone bold enough to go against the administration. Where do these renegade cultivators come from?"
Cave Master Zhao shrugged, "Things would be a lot easier if we knew where they came from. It is precisely because we don’t know, that we’re searching blindly. Let’s not talk about this. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had the time to focus on my cultivation. It’s so stressful. Could I ask where Cave Master Miao is heading to?"
"We’re crossing over the border and heading to the First Earthly Branch to fulfill our mission."
"Wow, that’s still a long ways to go. Since Brother Miao has come all this way to my territory, why don’t you rest for a bit at my cave manor? Allow me to be a proper host."
"Thank you for the offer, Brother Zhao; but my business is rather urgent, so I must hurry. I shan’t distract Brother Zhao from his duties either, so I will be taking my leave. In the future, if Brother Zhao has time, do pay a visit to my East Arrival Cave. I will be sure to welcome you kindly."
"Haha! Very well. I don’t mind if Brother Miao finds this peculiar, but because I reside in this area, I have never seen what the ocean looks like. Just two days ago, my handmaidens asked me what the ocean looked like. At the time, I simply made empty boasts. I never expect that I would meet Brother Miao, who was stationed right by the ocean, today. I will be sure to visit East Arrival Cave someday, and have a look at the mighty ocean."
"It’s a promise! I have constructed a ship for sailing the seas. Its able to ride the winds, break past the waves, and is highly capable of going long distances. When the day comes, feel free to bring your handmaidens along as well, Brother Zhao. You definitely won’t be disappointed."
Cave Master Zhao was ecstatic. He flipped his hand and took out a jade archive. Then, he scribbled something down and handed it over to Miao Yi, "Brother Miao came at an inopportune time. No doubt you will bump into a few more checks later on. I wrote you a writ of passage here. Perhaps it will be of use, and save Brother Miao some trouble."
Miao Yi received the jade archive and skimmed through. Then, he cupped his fists and offered his thanks. After both parties promised to meet each other again, Miao Yi and his party all got off their dragon steeds and released them into the water. The dragon steeds then swam towards the opposite side of the river.
After turning to Cave Master Zhao again and bidding his farewell with cupped fists, Miao Yi and his party leapt up to the skies. They invoked their arts and jumped atop the waves as they crossed the river over to the opposite shore.
After landing on the opposite shore, they waited for their dragon steeds to come ashore and shake the water droplets off their bodies. Then, they mounted their steeds once more, and continued on their journey.
Just as Cave Master Zhao said, they met with a few more checks on the road ahead. However, the matter was usually settled after Miao Yi revealed his identity.
When they saw that he was a comrade from a faraway place, there were many who were eager to make a friend from a foreign land. As such, there came quite a few warm invitations to Miao Yi, saying that they wish to fulfill their duties as hosts. However, Miao Yi politely refused each one.
These were trying times, so another two Cave Masters helped prepare him a writ of passage which affirmed his identity and purpose.
Naturally, there were some who were a little more difficult to deal with. These people wouldn’t hold a foreign Cave Master like him in any regard. However, after Miao Yi showed the numerous writs of passage he possessed, they didn’t make things difficult for him.
The School of Blue Jade disciples accompanying him couldn’t help but sigh.
If it were them being faced with such checks, even if things weren’t intentionally made difficult for them, they were sure to be ‘closely’ examined. The other party would even take some of their things while they were at it. What’s worse was that they couldn’t even talk back to them. This was the benefit of having the status of an official of the system.
The wind howled in their ears as they rapidly left the scenery around them behind. They crossed barren plains, and came across an enormous mountain.
Not long after the twenty mounts charged onto the main road of the mountain, a dragon steed rider suddenly appeared from the small lush forested path beside them.
Miao Yi and his party turned around to find a man with alabaster skin.
He had a thin figure, with a pair of big bushy eyebrows and large, clear eyes underneath them. However, on that lily-white face of his was a large, black mole with two strands of hair sprouting from it—quite a waste of good skin. To make matters worse, he had grown two long whiskers on his face. He gave off a really odd feeling.
Furthermore, it seemed as though the other person didn’t even know how strange he looked. When he saw them watching him closely, he immediately flashed a straight set of teeth and smiled. Unfortunately, it was a set of big yellow teeth that looked as though they had been smoked.
When he smiled, those big eyes of his immediately curved into crescent moons. It was somewhat striking.
Even though those eyes were absolutely beautiful when he smiled, Miao Yi and his party couldn’t help but feel a disgusting chill. It was precisely because this person’s face had both the good and bad features combined that when he smiled, it was too ‘disturbing’. It was truly unattractive.
No one paid him any heed. Only Tian Qingfeng tilted his head, and immediately gestured for a few School of Blue Jade disciples to be constantly vigilant against that person. The road was wide, and they each were going on their own path. It wouldn’t be nice to chase the other party away.
However, other than this person sticking to them the entire way, nothing much occured. When they slowed down, he lowered his pace as well. When they increased their momentum, he also stuck to them like glue.
This made them suspicious of his intents. As he galloped, Tian Qingfeng immediately approached him and said, "Friend. Why are you following us?"
That man immediately smiled, curving his eyes and cupping his fists to loudly apologize, "Please don’t blame me, friend. I can’t help it. I hear that there is a group of renegade cultivators wreaking havoc as of late. I’m afraid it won’t be safe if I travel alone, so I’ve been accompanying your party. If anything happens, we can take care of each other as well. I assure you that i don’t have any malicious intents. I hope you’ll forgive me, and allow me to accompany you!"
To show that he had no malicious intents, he went ahead and flashed the silhouette of a nine-petaled white lotus on his forehead to them, allowing them to have a gauge of his strength.
When they saw this, their hearts were very much at ease. They had four Blue Lotus realm cultivators, and there were so many of them. They were not afraid that he would be able to cause any trouble on his own, so they no longer bothered with him.
However, once they started a conversation, this Brother ‘Black Mole’ couldn’t stop talking. He kept trying to have a conversation with them, "Friend, where are you and your party heading to?"
However, no one paid him any heed. He couldn’t bear the loneliness, so he cast his gaze towards Miao Yi, who was being guarded by everyone else. His eyes went around Miao Yi a couple times, and asked, "Friend. You should be their leader, correct?"
Miao Yi turned to look at him, but he didn’t pay him any heed.
"Haha. Friend. Your bear a highly respectable countenance and an extraordinarily noble aura. Gallant and tall—a truly handsome young man. I can tell that you’re no ordinary folk from a single glance. This dragon steed is very handsome indeed, truly handsome beyond measure."
Miao Yi was speechless. ‘Are you complimenting me or my mount? Who puts both these remarks together like this?’
"My name is Luo Shuangfei. May I know what your name is, friend?"
No one bothered with him still, but that mouth of his was incessantly yapping away. Nobody was talking to him, but he was still able to chat away to himself while facing Miao Yi, and wasn’t tired in the least.
After galloping for two days straight, the party found another river in the mountain valley to rest up and recover themselves.
The dragon steeds grazed and drank by the river, while the rest of the party collected water to wash themselves. Charcoal was the only one running in the stream, catching fishes and shrimp again to feed on.
That strange man Luo Shuangfei was cast aside by everyone, and could only sit by himself upstream of them. Occasionally, he would pick up pebbles and toss it far into the water. It seemed he was rather bored.
For some unknown reason, for every rock that he touched, once he tossed them into the water, there would immediately be a black spot within the stream. However, it was soon washed away by the currents.
There were some among the School of Blue Jade disciples keeping their eye on him, but because of their line of sight, they didn’t discover anything amiss.
Everyone continued about their duties like washing, collecting water, and cooking. Once they finished dining, they took turns keeping watch and sitting cross-legged in cultivation.
That Luo Shuangfei also sat cross-legged on his own not far away. A small slit would occasionally open on his closed eyes, and he would throw a glance towards them with a sly glint.
As night fell, a few fires were lighted as the party sat around in circles.
In the silence of the dead of night, stars cloaked the night sky. From where he was sitting nearby, Luo Shuangfei took out a small bell, then held it in his hands and fiddled around with it using his fingers. The crisp ringing of the bell reverberated throughout the mountain valley, replacing the stillness of the mountain with a soothing and relaxing sensation.
Everyone opened their eyes and turned to look at him. However, they knew he was a chatterbox. Once they started a conversation with him, there would definitely be no end to it. Since they were in a foreign land and weren’t clear of the other person’s identity, it was best not to create trouble.
Everyone didn’t pay him any heed and continued cultivating. However, for some reason, they kept feeling fuzzy and found it difficult to focus, as though they were assailed with an onset of dizziness the more they listened to the ringing of that bell.
Suddenly, they could vaguely hear the faint sounds of an approaching stampede of dragon steeds from the mountain forest..
Everyone was startled and hastily stood up. Luo Shuangfei also stood up, but he began massaged his temple and weakly said, "My head is dizzy, so very dizzy. No, no. I can’t stand straight anymore…"
He weakly fell to the ground as he said this.
The bell in Luo’s hands stopped ringing. Before they could react to what just happened, Miao Yi and his party were suddenly struck by a strong dizziness, and they could barely hold themselves together.
Invoking his arts to resist, Tian Qingfeng bellowed, "This is bad! We’ve been poisoned!"
It was too late by the time he noticed it. It was useless even though he had the highest cultivation out of all of them.
While they invoked their arts to resist the drowsiness, Miao Yi and his party fell one by one. In the end, Tian Qingfeng also fell to the ground with an indignant expression.
Even the dragon steeds swayed about, and fell to the ground one by one. Charcoal had been the only one lying on the ground taking his nap—he now opened his eyes and stood up. With a shake of his head, and a flick of his tail, he looked around him but couldn’t understand what was happening. He walked over to Miao Yi and touched him with his snout, occasionally letting out a snort.
Miao Yi was lying on the ground, trying to open his eyes, but he couldn’t. With his final shred of will, he tried to resist the boundless sleep. He never expected that he would fall in such a place.
A starlight ignited within the art source in his body, instantly expanding like a mighty flame that illuminated his entire art source in the blink of an eye. His art source started circulating rapidly, wrapping around his limbs and bones like a tornado, and burning the foreign substance in his body to nothingness.
As the foreign substance in his body was slowly being burned away, the dizziness in Miao Yi’s head slowly dissipated as well. However, as his eyes steadily regained their clarity, he caught sight of that Luo Shuangfei, who was the first to fall to the ground, had actually gotten back up and was lazily stretching his waist.
Miao Yi gently raised his eyebrow as a cruel glint flashed in his eyes. Then, he slowly shut them again.