"Alright!" Miao Yi agreed, feeling that there was something odd going on with Yan Beihong. Turning his dragon steed around, he followed behind Yan Beihong to his patrol duty.
The duo then made their way to the peak of the tallest mountain in the area. It was a suitable place to have a secret conversation as they would be able to see if anyone approached.
Under a great pine tree, Yan Beihong stripped himself of his armor, revealing a long dark red cape on his back. He then dismounted from his dragon steed and stood motionlessly by the side of the tree. With his untied hair swaying with the wind and a shaggy beard hanging over his face, he cast a deep, pondering gaze over the distant ocean.
"Little Brother, you truly are a capable man! When I saw you, I thought that you were a different person. First of all, the chances of a White Lotus cultivator participating in the Subjugation Crusade were slim. And second of all, how could a White Lotus cultivator possibly survive this long on his own? However, it was only when I crossed blades with you that I realized that your strength even overshadows my own." Yan Beihong turned his head around and smiled, "I can't believe that in just a few dozen years, your cultivation has also broken through to the Blue Lotus realm. Congratulations!"
Miao Yi dismounted from his dragon steed, walked up to Yan Beihong and asked, "Big Brother Yan, your cultivation probably isn't only at the Blue Lotus Second Grade as well, I believe?"
Miao Yi was feeling a little skeptical as he posed the question. When Hong Xiu and Hong Fu came to him for help, Yan Beihong's letter had clearly stated that he was in the Blue Lotus Second Grade. However, when they fought just now, Miao Yi could sense that Yan Beihong's cultivation was much higher than that. If his Inversed-Scales Spear didn't have some unique features of its own, he would have had a much harder time dealing with Yan Beihong's sword art.
"To be frank, I've already broken through to Blue Lotus Fifth Grade," Yan Beihong said plainly.
Surprised, Miao Yi replied, "Weren't you only at Blue Lotus Second Grade right before you came to the Sea of Constellations?"
Yan Beihong nodded. "Little Brother, I know perfectly well the kind of person you are. Since I was willing to entrust Hong Xiu and Hong Fu to you, it meant that I've never thought of you as an outsider. Right before I came here, I truly was at Blue Lotus Second Grade. I hope you'll keep this matter a secret for me."
Miao Yi was shocked by his answer. If Yan Beihong had already been at Blue Lotus Fifth Grade before coming to the Sea of Constellations, then he wouldn't find it strange. After all, there were plenty of powerful cultivation techniques across the realm. What was shocking was that Yan Beihong was only at Blue Lotus Second Grade before that. It meant that in a span of time just shy of nine years, Yan Beihong broke through three consecutive grades. This cultivation speed was a little too terrifying to wrap his head around. It was not any less impressive than his cultivating in the Supreme Fire Palace!
One must know that the further one progressed in their cultivation, the more difficult it would become. To break through these three grades as Yan Beihong did was a significantly harder task than all the effort and time he previously spent cultivating combined.
"How did your cultivation progress so quickly?" Miao Yi couldn't help asking.
Yan Beihong shook his head, "Little Brother, that's a personal secret of mine. Your cultivation speed isn't exactly slow either. I won't ask you about it." What he was implying was pretty clear—I won't ask about your secrets, so don't ask about mine.
Since Yan Beihong had already put it that way, then it would be rude for Miao Yi to try and probe further. He too wouldn't divulge the secret of his Fiery Star Technique to anyone else.
With furrowed brows, Yan Beihong asked, "How come you're in the Subjugation Crusade as well?"
"I was forced to do so. The Hall Master personally drafted me in. I had no choice but to come…" Miao Yi told Yan Beihong the truth. Since the other person could share his matter of breaking through three consecutive grades in less than nine years, he didn't mind letting him know something this insignificant in comparison. As such, Miao Yi told Yan Beihong the full story behind his friction with Huo Lingxiao.
As he listened to the story, Yan Beihong turned his head to face the wind and allowed his hair to flutter about. He said, "Little Brother, do you understand now? In this world, there is only the survival of the fittest. Justice and equality do not exist. In the eyes of the powerful, the lives of weaklings are as insignificant as the weeds on the ground. Since you and I have already embarked on this path, we should simply put our feet forward with courage!"
Miao Yi looked deeply at Yan Beihong. Even though he was working together with the Glorious Cloud Sect disciples, Miao Yi noticed that Yan Beihong's attire was completely different from theirs. He couldn't help asking, "Didn't you write in your letter that you had a falling out with the Glorious Cloud Sect? Why are you guys still working together?"
Yan Beihong shook his head and replied, "Initially, there was hardly any chance of us working together. But not long after the participants from the First Earthly Branch disembarked, who do you think we bumped into?"
Miao Yi asked curiously, "Who?"
Yan Beihong said solemnly, "The Great Devil Realm!"
'So it was the representative sent by Devil Sage Yun Aotian!' Miao Yi was wondering who it was that could evoke such a major reaction from the Glorious Cloud Sect disciples.
Noticing that Miao Yi was unperturbed by his answer, Yan Beihong asked curiously, "It seems like you're not surprised to find out that the Six Sages sent their members over to participate in the Subjugation Crusade?"
Miao Yi smiled bitterly. "What is there to be surprised about? Out of the six representatives sent over, I have already met with three of them. I even nearly lost my life to them."
"No wonder!" Yan Beihong immediately understood. Then, with an awkward expression, he asked, "Then do you know who the Realm Beyond Heaven sent over?"
Miao Yi's expression instantly turned glum. He gently nodded and said, "Let's talk about your story first."
With a single glance, Yan Beihong could tell that Miao Yi must have already met with Fairy Yue Yao. And judging by the look on his face, it seemed that they didn't exactly have an official reunion. Otherwise, Miao Yi wouldn't still be traveling on his own. There was also the possibility that Fairy Yue Yao didn't want to recognize him. In any case, it wasn't something pleasant to talk about, so Yan Beihong did not probe any further and continued to share his story.
Originally, the Glorious Cloud Sect couldn't do anything to Yan Beihong for rebelling against them due to his status as an official. After all, he didn't need the Glorious Cloud Sect's cultivation technique. It didn't matter to him whether they wanted to hand him the more advanced teachings of the technique or not. However, since he was going to participate in the Subjugation Crusade, the Glorious Cloud Sect obviously wouldn't let this opportunity slip by. It was logical for them to think of 'cleaning up their organization'.
However, little did they expect that the representative from the Great Devil Realm would join the fray as well. It seemed that the Great Devil Realm had sent over Devil Sage Yun Aotian's grandchild, Yun Feiyang. And this person somehow seemed to be messed up in the head. This whole time, he merely hunted down Celestial Nation cultivators, and because of this, the Glorious Cloud Sect disciples had suffered terribly. Under such circumstances, they had no choice but to accept all the help they could get. Not to mention, Yan Beihong could do little on his own, so he needed to join a group as well. Song Zeming and the others saw that Yan Beihong had some skill, so they decided to take him in. And for the time being, they were at peace with one another.
That said, the Glorious Cloud Sect disciples were also quite unfortunate to have crossed paths thrice with Yun Feiyang and his crusaders. Both parties fought each time, and a majority of the Glorious Cloud Sect disciples had died in the skirmishes. However, they weren't exactly pushovers either. After all, their school was one of the top major sects in the entire Celestial Nation and was much more powerful than the Fifth Earthly Branch's Sword Deviate Sect. Naturally, they had a few tricks up their sleeves and had managed to kill one of Yun Feiyang's subordinates in battle. But as a result, they ended up utterly infuriating Yun Feiyang, and he became even more persistent in hunting them down ever since.
These past few years, Song Zeming had been the one leading his fellow disciples around while Yun Feiyang hunted them down. Since then, their numbers had been reduced from what was originally over a hundred fellow disciples to the ten that were present today.
Actually, Yan Beihong and his group had just recently arrived on this island as well. They were simply a couple of days earlier than Miao Yi. It was pure coincidence that they managed to bump into each other.
Astonished, Miao Yi asked, "That Yun Feiyang still won't let you guys go after so many years?"
With creased brows, Yan Beihong answered, "It's really frustrating. Regardless of wherever we hide, he'll manage to track us down at least five to six times a year. As a result, we've always had to switch our hiding locations constantly. Song Zeming also regrets killing Yun Feiyang's subordinate. Otherwise, things wouldn't have been so hard for us. I suspect these devil cultivators have some sort of secret art. As long as we're within a certain range, Yun Feiyang will always manage to locate us. If not, how else could he find us every single time?"
Miao Yi could imagine how harsh things must have been to switch their hiding spots all the time. He couldn't help laughing, "That said, you guys are pretty impressive as well, to be able to avoid being persecuted by the Great Devil Realm for so long. I doubt the average person would be able to handle that. But then again, the participants from the Great Devil Realm would probably feel humiliated because of this and hunt you guys down even more relentlessly!"
Yan Beihong shook his head. "We're not the ones who are impressive. It's all thanks to Song Zeming's mighty artifact called the 'Flowing Cloud Killer'. Time after time, it helped us escape through the ocean, and not even Yun Feiyang could do anything to us because of it."
"Flowing Cloud Killer…" Miao Yi muttered as he thought, 'What a peculiar name. I wonder what sort of transcendent artifact it is.'
Yan Beihong suddenly turned around and asked, "I wish to take this powerful artifact for my own. Little Brother, will you help me?"
After such a long talk, they were finally at the crux of their secret conversation.
Miao Yi was shocked. "You wish to make a move against your fellow disciples?"
"Hmph!" Yan Beihong scoffed, "What fellow disciples?! Any camaraderie between us is long gone! Even if I don't make a move against them, they will eventually try to strike me down as well, so why not take the initiative before then?! I've always wanted to take that Flowing Cloud Killer for myself, but I never had anyone else to rely on, so I couldn't make any rash moves. Now that you're here, the timing couldn't possibly be better. Why don't us brothers work together again on this Western Star Sea as we did all those years ago back in the Boundless Secular World?!"
Miao Yi laughed. "I am only at Blue Lotus First Grade. I'm sure that those guys have a high cultivation too. How can you be so confident in me?"
"Blue Lotus First Grade? Forgive my bluntness, but so what if you're at Blue Lotus Ninth Grade? In this Western Star Sea, there is no shortage of powerful artifacts specially-crafted by all those sects and schools. Even if your spear art is any more powerful than this, it cannot contend against the might of a powerful artifact. If you didn't have some kind of trump card up your sleeve, how else could you have dared to venture across the Western Star Sea on your own? If I'm guessing correctly, you should have some kind of mighty artifact to protect yourself as well don't you, Little Brother?" Yan Beihong smiled and added, "Little Brother, you're not going to just sit by and watch as I die in the hands of the Glorious Cloud Sect one day, are you?"
'No wonder he didn't even bother informing me of anything before inviting me in just now. So this was his plan!' Miao Yi sighed, "I do have a powerful artifact in my possession…"
He wanted to tell Yan Beihong that he didn't really survive on his own all this while and that he had only come out of his hiding place not too long ago. However, since the other party was this insistent about it, there was no point in arguing. Miao Yi shook his head lightly and smiled. "Big Brother Yan is my savior. Since the matter concerns your wellbeing, how can I just stand by and not do anything?!"
Seeing as Miao Yi agreed, Yan Beihong gave his shoulder a heavy slap and announced cheerfully, "Brother, I did not misjudge you after all! I hope you will forgive me for forcefully pulling you in without getting your consent! I, Yan Beihong, swear that from this day forth, all your problems are also my problems. From this moment on, if anyone dares to touch even a single hair on my Little Brother, they'll have to answer to me! May heaven and earth bear witness to my oath!"
Miao Yi smiled, "Big Brother Yan, you're too serious about it. I am not a disloyal man!" He was implying that he would offer his help even if Yan Beihong hadn't made such a serious oath.
Yan Beihong slapped Miao Yi's shoulder again and said, "I know!" As he lowered his arm, he gazed into the distance and said, "If I didn't trust you, Little Brother, then why would I entrust Hong Xiu and Hong Fu to you? Back then, you and I had barely escaped death in the Boundless Secular World. And after that, it wasn't easy for us to come this far either. I am now eager to see how far us brothers will be able to go!"