“Oh? That’s quite unexpected. You’re in love at such a young age? May I know who she is?”
“Er…” Shi Mu hesitated. The last thing he wanted to do was to speak her name on such an occasion.
“Don’t hum and haw, or you are kidding me about this girl?” Jin Xiaochai’s face hardened, and the smile in her eyes vanished.
“I wouldn’t dare.” Shi Mu was scared stiff.
“If so, tell me. If it is true, I will not be hard on you.” Jin’s tone softened, cajoling Shi Mu to let her know his secret. In accordance, her body moved several inches away, which gave Shi Mu some room to draw his breath.
“It is the Devil Witch of the Tian Yin sect.” Shi Mu’s eyes grew more determined as he pronounced the name. It made no sense to hide his thoughts now.
“The Devil Witch? Did I hear you right? Do you know that she is the greatest genius of the Tian Yin Sect in centuries? She reached the Xiantian stage when she was twenty years old, and now she is the only disciple of Master Gongsun Yu, the Earth Grade Saint of the Tian Yin Sect.” The enchanting expression on Jin Xiaochai’s face evaporated, and she was staring at Shi Mu sardonically, as though she was talking to a mentally handicapped man. Notwithstanding, for an instant, however momentary, her eyes spoke of suffering - a trace of sorrow clouded them, though she quickly managed to hide it.
“The Devil Witch of Tian Yin has said that if I can reach the Xiantian stage before I turn thirty, I can then go to the Wan Long Mountain to meet her.” Shi Mu was not deterred at all by Jin Xiaochai’s sarcastic words, and he replied in a most serious tone.
“Haha.” Hearing his words, Jin Xiaochai returned a big smile, almost unable to hold herself, as if she had just heard the most humorous joke in the world. She was grinning from ear to ear, with one hand on her stomach for quite some time. Then, after a good laugh, she closed her delicate mouth and her expression became frosty. Without saying a word, she averted her eyes from Shi Mu and wandered off. It almost felt like an unearthly dream. Only the remnant smell of her fragrance proved that she had actually been there.
Shi Mu’s eyes shone suspiciously as he gazed at the receding figure. His fists fast clenched. He would never forget that sense of powerlessness he felt, both mentally and physically, in front of a Xiantian saint like Jin Xiaochai. Because the disparity between their strength was so painfully felt, he knew he had no chances of survival if the two of them ever fought. The disdainful sneer she gave him had been full of venom, and would always remain in his mind. Though he did not know what intentions she had, approaching him so many times, he knew, for sure, that this woman would never let him go easily.
However, there was one thing that he was sure about at the moment: he must strengthen himself as fast as possible. For one thing, it was for his pledge made to his deceased mother. For another, the stronger he became, the narrower the gap between himself and the Devil Witch would become.
Shi Mu stared hard in the direction that Jin Xiaochai had disappeared one more time, and then turned his head and strode into the Rat Nest.
After he was back in his Kun room, he sat on the bed and spent a lot of time than regaining his inner calm. With eyes shut, he recalled the details of the Art of the Strong Ape once again, from beginning to end, and, when he was sure about his memory, he started to practice it.
As the art began to work inside his body, Shi Mu began to pull in the pure heavenly energy in the environment. This time was different from when he practiced the Art of the Heavenly Elephant. This time, the power did not flow into his veins but, instead, melted into his skin and muscles.
The pure heavenly energy was then transformed into infinitesimal crystals that stored themselves in Shi Mu’s body in accordance with the art. Within just one hour, hundreds of crystals had formed.
Shi Mu was quite happy that this art was as easy to practice as the jade slip had said, and he had not suffered any hardship to make this much progress in a short time.
After six hours, Shi Mu’s body jolted and he opened his eyes. He turned over, with his hands on the bed, and quickly got to his feet. He closed his eyes and tried to sense the power. Though it was hard to say, he did feel something different in his body. A satisfied smile broadened on his face.
Since he was diagnosed as having the bloodline of the Stone Ape, he had clearly felt that he was slower than others in practicing Houtian arts, for his Qi flowed more slowly through his veins. But the art of the Strong Ape was just a supplementary art that only served to strengthen his body, not his Qi, so he had no problems practicing it. All went perfectly well.
Shi Mu rejoiced in his heart at how lucky it was for him to have chosen the Art of the Strong Ape, which had proven to be the most appropriate Houtian art for him.
In the next month, Shi Mu mostly led a secluded life. He would accomplish the daily assignment of the union as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then spend rest of the day working on his cultivation. In just a few days, he had reached the first stage of the Art of the Strong Ape, and his first chance to strengthen his body and veins had come. Now it was time to use the Devil Qi.
Shi Mu sat on his bed with his legs crossed, his eyes fixed on the bottles in front of him. One was a green copper bottle, as big as his palm, while the other three were white china bottles.
After a while, he picked up the green copper bottle and took a tiny peek inside, shaking it cautiously. A puff of black smoke soon spread out from within.The black smoke twisted like a distressed snake in the air, seeming to be quite uncomfortable in this environment. It soon rushed into the ground, disappearing like a snowflake melting into a pool of water.
Shi Mu nodded, knowing that the Devil Qi was a kind of special qi generated in dark and dirty places and, thus, had a strong resistance to the pure heavenly energy of the sky and earth. Generally speaking, Devil Qi hid deep under the earth.
Thinking this, Shi Mu opened one of the white jade bottles and a fishy smell soon filled his nose. It simply contained ordinary ape blood. He rapidly opened the lid of the copper bottle and poured all the ape blood into it. Just like pouring oil onto a fire, the ape blood soon vaporized and caught fire, but the remaining black smoke inside the bottle seemed quite excited, transforming into a black snake that swallowed the blood-red flame, rotating wildly in the bottle.
As time went by, the blood flame dwindled, as if it was digested by the black smoke. When the blood flame totally disappeared, the black smoke snake returned to its original form again, now faintly glowing red.
Shi Mu repeated the action with the other two bottles of ape blood, and they, too, were also swallowed by the Devil Qi. Meanwhile, the red light became increasingly bright. Shi Mu was quite satisfied with this. He covered the copper lid, and grabbed the bottle with his hand.
All done, Shi Mu took the posture of Five-Hearts to the Sky -
-and adjusted his breath, sinking into a state of total oblivion.
After a while, the Art of the Strong Ape was activated and he soon felt all the crystals in his body. But the heavenly energy in the environment was unable to enter his body, as if it was being blocked by something. This was what he had been waiting for. Shi Mu immediately lifted the green bottle, opened the lid, and, without any hesitation, poured the contents out onto his skin.
A black smoke bursting with red light flowed out of the bottle and then the light flickered within it, as if having received a message. Then the black smoke turned abruptly towards Shi Mu, instead of rushing into the earth, and soon enveloped his body.
Shi Mu’s face turned pale, and sweat began to pour out from every pore. When the Devil Qi touched his skin, every part of his body felt like it was being pricked by thorns of steel, and the pain accumulated, growing stronger and stronger - a kind of inexpressible pain that made one feel like he was, little by little, having his skin peeled off.
With his body trembling uncontrollably, he clenched his teeth in reflex, and his heart thumped like a huge drum.
Why did it have to be so painful?
After the Devil qi entered his body, it crushed the crystals created by the Art of the Strong Ape into powder, which then transformed into spiritual power that blended with the Devil Qi. When the crystals broke, Shi Mu ached from his internal organs to his skin, and every part of his body, even his soul, felt like it was being torn apart. His face twisted, and around his neck, blue veins protruded and throbbed. Even his muscles were affected, twitching like crazy.
It hurts. It’s agonizing. I’ve never felt such pain. This pain will kill me! These were the only thoughts in Shi Mu’s mind right now.
The Devil Qi darted around inside his body at lightning speed, and soon invaded his bones and organs. The pain grew more and more, and he finally knew what it was like to be pained to the very marrow of his bones.
As all of this was happening, the energy of his environment, which would normally be transformed into the tiny crystals, also entered his body, being absorbed and strengthening his constitution.
The main use of the Art of the Strong Ape was simply to strengthen one’s muscles and veins with the help of Devil Qi. When it was invading his body, the Qi in Shi Mu’s veins also started to activate and resist the invasion, protecting his crucial veins.
However, the bottle Shi Mu bought was no ordinary Devil Qi, but the purest of all, and, with the help of the Art of the Strong Ape, Dark and cold Yin energy was blended into his Qi.
After a full two hours of torture, the black smoke covering Shi Mu’s body finally faded away. The Devil Qi had finally been exhausted. He had not suffered pain in vain: Shi Mu had succeeded in the first step, which was to purify his blood and strengthen his marrow.
He stopped activating the art and slumped on his bed, like a dead fish. His eyes were unfocused and spiritless. His lips were ashen. Sweat glistened all over his body, mixed with a kind of black, turbid fluid, that made him feel like hell. After having relaxed for almost an hour, he recovered a little, and staggered to the bathroom to scrub his body with clear water he had prepared before. With this, his will to live started to return. Just a moment ago, he still felt like Death was here with him, having an intimate conversation with him in this very room.
His eyes recovered their vitality too. He stretched his limbs in the room, and happily found that his body had become much stronger than before.
His speed and strength had increased. His skin was strengthened, tougher, and more pliable.
A coldness in his dantian drew his attention. He paused on the spot, pondering how he used to temper his body as a Practitioner years before.
After a while, Shi Mu raised his brows with an enlightened smile, and quickly activated the Qi in his body with the Art of the Heavenly Elephant. The next moment, he was thrilled to find that he had Yin energy at his command. It had already mixed with the Qi in his dantian. He thrust out his right fist and a fierce coldness burst forth with it.
His eyes glinted with irresistible joy, knowing that, despite its current weakness, the Yin energy inside him would grow tremendously once he could reach the fifth level in the Art of Strong Ape, even able to kill an enemy without weapon.
But his heart trembled at the thought of the Devil Qi. He had to absorb it again the next time he did this.
Soon, he managed to suppress the fear, and his eyes regained their usual determined luster. It was beyond his expectations that the Yin power could seep into his own Qi, and this ‘bonus’, per se, was worth the pain, however unbearable it was at that moment.