“Brother Shi, what do you say about that?” Puzzled by Shi Mu’s indeterminate expression, the princess asked in a voice indicative of her eagerness for the plan.
“I won’t go against your decision. So I’m all yours.” Shi Mu nodded. He had thought about turning down the offer, but second thought brought him around. After all, the cave and the suspected habitat of the multiple-headed viper located in the same direction. Roundabout journey he would have declined, but now it was a matter of coincidence that he would like to see it to the end. On the other hand, it would be easier to have two consummated Houtian warriors lead the way before he got acquainted with the environment. The Dark-Force Fruit would be most welcome if by any chance they could obtain some.
“Then let’s try our luck.” The princess announced definitively.
“Good. There’s no time to be lost. Let’s set out as soon as possible.” Molang was overjoyed hearing the princess’ decision.
The four-men group thus went on their journey without delay. And out of Shi Mu’s expectation, the Middle Area, though complex in terrain, was not the worst place in the world. They barely met any large beasts en route. According to Molang, this is because that though Xiantian beasts are at the top of the power ladder among all creatures in the Middle Area, there are not many of them. Moreover, most Xiantian beasts prefer staying in their own territory, and will not be a bother or hazard as long as they are not provoked. As for the weaker creatures, they do not pose threat to the their small group at all.
After half a day, the group reached the foot of a mountain. Staring at the cave in front of him Shi Mu was as calm as usual. But somehow his eyes glittered resolute and solemn.
The cave was about three meters in width, its depth unfathomable, though. The sun was scorching in the outside, but cold air kept pushing out of the cave.
“That’s it. Let’s go.” Molang claimed, then without turning his head back marched into the cave, followed by a mute Jin Huang. Shi Mu and the princess exchanged a look and also stepped inside.
The instant he went into the cave, Shi Mu could not help but shiver all over with cold. At the opening of the cave they could still withstand the cold air, but now inside it the coldness deepened radically, and the slump in temperature made them feel like sealed in an ice-house, with biting air seeping into their very marrows from all directions.
Trembling, Shi Mu resorted to his real qi to ward off the cold. However, before he activated his real qi, a sudden pulse of his lower abdomen brought a stream of yin qi upward, which then circulated all around his veins. Immediately the exterior coldness was driven out of his body, and he felt snugly warm.
Shi Mu was confounded for a moment, but soon realized that he should thank the yin qi accumulated during his training of the Strong Ape Art. He relaxed, then swept the environment with his keen eyes, discovering a think layer of ice on the walls. Illuminated by their torches the walls glistened with crystal light, stretching into the heart of the cave.
Led by Molang and Jin Huang the small group wound their way inside the cave, had many turns, then finally arrived at a vast space that looked just like the main hall of a crystal palace. The “hall” was at least three hundred meters in length and width, comprising purely ice. Scattered all around the floor were countless ice cakes of all shapes and sizes.
At the center of the hall was a tall, silver fruit tree encased by a huge ice plank, standing there exceedingly eye-catching. Next to the tree was a pond of cold water about ten meters in diameter. The water had frozen on the surface.
The silver tree had not a single leaf on it, its barren branches hung pitifully in the cold air. Five fist-size fruits dangled sparsely on it, sparkling with heavenly light. A glance can tell that the fruit was by no means ordinary. Even Shi Mu felt his heart beating faster under the brilliance of the fruit. However, the dead water in pond drew his eyes compellingly from the tree. He could not help narrowing his eyes at the dazzling light emitted by the frozen surface of the pond.
The other three also stopped their feet in concert. Watching the tree fervently, Molang and Jin Huang did not care the least to conceal their thirst, while the princess was relatively more reserve in showing her avidity.
“I’ll go have a look.” Molang withdrew his covetous eyes and mumbled in a low voice. Taking out a green axe from his back he edged forward vigilantly. Though extremely tall and sturdy, the man managed an unusual light step that made little noise at all. He would take a few steps, then pause to have a careful look around. Everything fine, he would then advance at a low pace.
The hall reverberated with a deadly silence. But for Molang and Jin Huang’s assertion Shi Mu would have doubted the existence of the ice scorpion here.
Another ten minutes passed, and Molang was almost under the tree. He hid behind a giant ice boulder, and took the vintage point to have a last round of inspection, then after a brief pause raised his arm seriously.
The three that had been waiting then got the signal and began making their way stealthily to the boulder. They gathered with Molang, then all fished out a black, triangle flag made of beats’ hide. The flag had a lively white spider embroidered at the center which looked extremely ferocious.
“The ice scorpion should be in the pond. I’ll entice it out, then you three try your best trap it. After I get the fruits we’ll retreat by the road we’d come.” Molang instructed in a low voice.
Thus Shi Mu, the princess and Jin Huang made for the pond noiselessly, then each hid behind a boulder respectively, constructing a siege of the pond. Next, they bit the tip of their tongues to spit blood onto the flag, dying the white spider red. Immediately, the black magic characters in the flag shone with red light, squirming like resurrected worms.
The three instilled some real qi into the flag, and the three spiders instantly spun a giant transparent net over the pond. After a few flashes the net disappeared into thin air.
Molang nodded his head satisfactorily, then a sudden green light covered his body. In a few strides he had reached the tree, and sprang up, climbing unto it like an ape. In a few breaths he had approached a thick branch where a glistening fruit was within his hand’s reach.
Molang had a last glimpse at the pond, took a deep breath, edged a few steps forward on the branch, then gingerly reached out for the fruit. It only took a gentle pull to tug it from the branch.
All of them felt almost breathless at this moment.
The next moment, crash!