The flower had seven petals, the tips of which were rosy, while the bases were white. The root was covered by four large leaves.
"It has a nice smell." He said to himself.
Jiang Shaoliu took a knee and checked it carefully. The flower's aroma was amazingly refreshing.
"Hmm. How should I remove it?" He hesitated to pluck the small emerald fruit in the center of the lotus.
What if it withered soon after being picked?
Jiang Shaoliu regretted not asking the monkey king before he left, since the monkey was an expert in picking special fruit like these.
Across the pool, Xiao Bai growled and dug his claws into the ground nervously.
Jiang Shaoliu understood the gist of it. "Do you mean I should uproot it?" he nodded thoughtfully and reached out to grasp the root.
The water lotus left behind a small thumb-sized hole in the center of the stone, dripping with clear pool water as Jiang Shaoliu lifted it up.
"Catch!" Jiang Shaoliu tossed the water lotus across the pond to Xiao Bai, then got a running start across the width of the stone and kicked off.
Wind whistling in his ears, Jiang Shaoliu gracefully flew across to Xiao Bai, stretching out his arms for balance as he landed. Behind him, the stone slowly sank beneath the water, leaving no trace of its existence.
"Marvelous…" Jiang Shaoliu nodded appreciatively and looked at the water lotus dangling from Xiao Bai's clenched jaws.
"You want to eat it?" Jiang Shaoliu opened his eyes wide. The saliva dripping from the tiger's mouth was a good indicator.
This was the first fruit he had ever acquired himself, so Jiang Shaoliu felt a little reserved about feeding it to Xiao Bai.
"Shall we share it?" he touched its head gently as if coaxing a baby, "I will eat the fruit and you take the flower. That's fair since the fruit is so small and the lotus flower is so big."
Xiao Bai nodded reluctantly. The tiger knew the fruit itself was much more potent.
"Well, aren't you clever," Jiang Shaoliu chortled.
Jiang Shaoliu took back the water lotus and jumped on the tiger's back. "Let's go and find a quiet place to enjoy this."
They quickly found a desolate grove of trees, where people wouldn't normally go because of all the giant monsters roaming the area. Xiao Bai crept amid the trees, silent as a prowling cat.
When he felt sure enough that they would not be disturbed, Jiang Shaoliu jumped off Xiao Bai's back and plucked the white lotus' fruit from the stem.
It was very soft and oddly warm, with an appetizing aroma smell that goaded him to eat it.
Xiao Bai watered at the mouth as he impatiently snatched the lotus flower from Jiang Shaoliu's hand.
Jiang Shaoliu smiled. "It's all yours, buddy. Take it easy, don't choke on it."
The fruit melted in Jiang Shaoliu's mouth as he bit into it, its warmth flowing into every part of his body. His skin glistened as the bronze life ring in his heart teemed with energy.
"This must be the panacea fruit that makes you stronger," he ruminated.
According to those men he met, this kind of fruit was rather common, but this one looked better than the one they had acquired. It had a powerful effect and Jiang Shaoliu felt stronger than ever before.
After eating the water lotus, the giant tiger cozily curled up on the ground with its eyes closed, seemingly asleep.
Its white fur gleamed as some black sticky matter evaporated from it, merging into a musty cloud around the beast.
Xiao Bai was breathing slowly and deliberately, seemingly oblivious to the stench.
Jiang Shaoliu held his nose and scooted a few steps away, observing the tiger from a distance.
After about half an hour, Xiao Bai stretched and slowly opened its eyes.
Feeling a little queasy, the tiger stretched to its feet and shook its hide to remove remaining black waste. It chuffed in a low voice as its front legs turned a gleaming, triumphant bronze.
"Bronze!" Jiang Shaoliu cried excitedly. "Xiao Bai, you have a life ring now!"
After long weeks of practicing with Jiang Shaoliu in the cave, Xiao Bai had finally finished the process of attaining a life ring after eating the water lotus.
Xiao Bai arced his neck and roared proudly into the sky, shaking the trees around them to their core.
"So, you want a rematch with the Monkey King now?" Jiang Shaoliu approached and patted the huge tiger on its head: "You still have a ways to go for that. Even I am no match for that monkey."
Xiao Bai shook his head, unconvinced.
"Shall we spar?" Jiang Shaoliu rubbed Xiao Bai's neck. "Show me all you've got, don't worry that you'll hurt me."
Xiao Bai thought for a while and nodded. A greenish hue spread down the length of its tail as the appendage suddenly flailed around with a dull whoosh, straight at Jiang Shaoliu's waist.
"A sneak attack?" squinting his eyes and setting his left leg as the axis and his right leg as the whip, Jiang Shaoliu roundhouse-kicked the tip of the tail just as it approached.
Xiao Bai yelped and rolled its tail back, breathing heavily.
The tail-whip was Xiao Bai's fiercest trick, made even more powerful when the tail was bronzed. Jiang Shaoliu didn't even use the Ape Fist, but simply kicked out with his foot.
The tiger's tailbone would have cracked if the kick had had any tenacity behind it.
How could it challenge the Monkey King if it couldn't even take down Jiang Shaoliu? The giant 5-meter tall beast hung its head low and whimpered as it recalled its taming by the Monkey King.
"Aw, are you sad?" Jiang Shaoliu reached out and slapped Xiao Bai's rump, then jumped onto the tiger's back. "Let's go!"
Xiao Bai growled and regained some of its spirit, rushing out of the grove with several mighty leaps and running off toward the south.
The periphery of the southern district of Yungang City.
The former bustling cityscape was gone forever leaving behind a field of ruins. There were many dry, dark bloodstains on the ground. Whether they came from humans or beats was anyone's guess.
Two months after the great changes, the remnants of the buildings were reused to build a thick wall, over 10 meters high, topped by a high-voltage electric fence.
Behind the massive steel gates was a well-equipped military garrison. Tanks, armored cars, and rocket launchers were kept at full combat readiness at all times, while the soldiers were prepared for any possible attack from the monsters.
On a tall lookout tower, a young soldier with a telescope pressed the button on his comms headset and shouted, "Lieutenant, I have a beast incoming at 12 o'clock, about five klicks out. Requesting permission to engage target, over!"
In the command post below, the hard-faced officer squinted at the monitor showing the view from the telescope. "Keep observing, over."
5 kilometers was the far limit of the effective range in which the military's anti-materiel guns and rocket launchers could accurately hit the target.
It had been over a week since any monster dared to get close to the wall. The 5 kilometer margin was an invisible line of death for them.
The lieutenant was curious what kind of monster was brave enough to cross the death line and provoke the army.
"Sir, there's a human riding the beast!" The observer's voice crackled over the radio. "He can see me now, over."
Sitting on Xiao Bai's back, Jiang Shaoliu was cheerfully waving at the distant glint of sunlight reflecting off the lookout's telescope.
The officer stood up sharply.
A human master!
Any humans who entered or left through the gate had to register. They usually just went out to harvest rare plants or hunt monsters to tame them.
Only the greatest masters in the region could successfully bring back a giant beast as a pet. This person must be incredibly powerful to be able to tame and ride one.
Jiang Shaoliu's appearance became increasingly clear on the monitor. Xiao Bai's pace was stable and strong, showing the majesty of the king of the forest.
"Sir, we're certain he didn't leave through this gate, he's not registered," said another soldier in the command post. "He must be from another community. Permission to grant entry?"
The officer turned around sharply and strode outside with a smile on his face. "Well, this should be interesting."
Xiao Bai stopped in front of the steel gates and Jiang Shaoliu jumped down, shouting: "Hello! Please let me in, I have relatives inside expecting me."
The loud and clear voice of the lieutenant came through a loudspeaker: "Please show your identity card for verification."
Jiang Shaoliu scratched his hair in embarrassment. "I've lost my ID card. I can give you the number. It's 31010…"
After about a minute, the steel gates creaked, groaned, and slowly shifted, opening a two-meter-wide gap.
"ID verified. Please enter."
Xiao Bai hesitated to pass through until Jiang Shaoliu turned back and reassured him.
The human and the tiger then proceeded to pass through the gap.
As the steel gates clamped shut behind them, a squad of armed soldier filed out in front of them. The lieutenant stepped forward and saluted. "Welcome to South Yungang."
Facing the tough looking soldiers, Jiang Shaoliu became serious. "Thank you. Let me show you my salute!" He straightened himself and threw his palm up to his forehead.
The soldiers behind the officer choked back their laughter.
At the very least, this young master sure was interesting…