This valley was a lot bigger than the one between the eleventh and the twelfth peaks. Colorful flowers and plants could be seen everywhere; it looked like a huge garden. There was a spacious public square in the center of the valley. It seemed to be around a hundred acre wide. There were ten large rings in a row in the public square.
A huge crowd of people had gathered inside the square. Those people were wearing black uniforms of the Black Demon Sect. Shi Mu looked around, and calculated the number of people gathered there to be more than two-thousand. This number was twice more than that of the people gathered at the time of the smaller competition.
It seemed that the Black Demon Sect had enrolled a lot of disciples in the past year.
Shi Mu found that half of the rings were empty. Only five rings were occupied with the shadows of people engaged in fighting.
The people standing around the rings were issuing sounds of applaud, and were shouting in surprise from time-to-time. The environment of the public square seemed incomparably enthusiastic.
The five occupied-rings were fully surrounded by people. So, Shi Mu and Bai Shi had no other choice but to stay a hundred or more feet away from the rings. The two of them were watching the competition from a distance without exchanging a single word.
Shi Mu could watch everything from a distance of hundred feet owing to his exceptional eyesight; he could watch everything as clearly as if it was happening right in front of his eyes.
A youth in white robe was fighting with a man in black robe in the third ring from the left. Both of them were Hou Tian advanced-stage warriors.
There was a sword in the white-robed youth’s hand. Suddenly, the sword flashed silver-colored lights. The moves of the sword were as meticulous as rain. The silver light of the sword formed some kind of a strange angle. It then surrounded the black-robed man. It took advantage of the gap in his attacks and rushed towards him.
The sword-light moved in all directions with a shrill ear-piercing sound as the white-robed youth activated his Real Qi. The sword-light’s strength seemed to be boundless.
The black-robed man was holding a ten feet long black whip in his hand. The wipe danced between its heavy shadows like a spirit snake. A black whip had formed a net in front of his body. It firmly blocked the moves of the sword of the white-robed youth, and failed its attacks in a continuous manner.
‘Bang! Bang!’ A series of stuffy noises resounded in a continuous manner.
The black whip-shadow and the silver sword-light exploded as they came in contact with each other. Then, they got dispersed. After that, they transformed into invisible air-waves, and got diffused in all directions. It made both the fighters feel strong winds on their faces even though they stood several feet away.
"Brother Shi, that man in the black robe is Wu Chao. There are rumors that he was a middle-leveled Hou Tian warrior six years ago. That Tao Yan in the white robe was an unknown third-grade disciple at that time. But, they’re already in the top ten of the second-grade disciples’ list. Now, they’re among the outstanding warriors amid more than two-thousand disciples of the Black Demon Sect. But, I’ll defeat them after three years," Bai Shi pointed a finger towards the white-robed youth and the black-robed man inside the ring, and said in a confident tone.
"Brother Bai Shi is very ambitious. We’ll practice in order to reach there," Shi Mu praised Bai shi and replied.
Bai Shi nodded.
The sword-light of the white-robed youth continued to appear and disappear in a strange manner. But, the shadows of the black whip accompanied it constantly.
This pattern continued for ten more strokes. After that, the sword-light of the white-robed youth exposed a flaw, and a black whip-shadow drilled into his clothes – like a viper.
‘Bang!’ A stuffy sound echoed.
Suddenly, the black whip hit the abdomen of the youth in white robe. His body was sent flying out of the ring – like a broken sack. Then, he got heavily smashed on the ground. He opened his mouth, and spit out a mouthful of blood. He seemed unable to move for the time being.
Two Janitor disciples in black garments rushed out in a fast speed from the crowd. They then lifted the youth in white robe in a proficient manner, and went down while carrying him.
The black-robed man collected his whip, and tied it to his right arm. He then went down the ring. He had now entered the top five of the second-grade disciples.
Everyone standing around the ring exclaimed in admiration. They began to discuss about the black-robed man’s martial arts and whip-skills.
Shi Mu curled-up his lips. He then swept his vision towards the rest of the rings. His enthusiasm had strangely come to an end.
Bai Shi was still watching the matches with keen interest. So, Shi Mu also remained in his place, and didn’t move. But, he began to think of other things.
Half an hour later…
All the surrounding people had held their breaths; they were looking at the fifth ring. The first and the second-ranked disciples of the second-grade disciples were fighting for the first place.
Shi Mu felt that the atmosphere of the public square had become unusual. He saw that a youth with a scar on his face and a youth with a tall and thin stature were intensely fighting in the ring.
The scar-faced youth was holding a spear in his hand. A red light was flickering on the head of his spear. The tall youth was holding a long sword in his hand; it was flashing a drizzling light of green color.
Shi Mu’s heart moved. He had a vague feeling about the sunken-cheeked man. The thin and tall man with long arms and long legs – like bamboo poles – looked a little familiar. It seemed that Shi Mu had seen him somewhere before.
The tall and thin youth’s martial arts moves were as fast as lightning. He was spinning all around the scar-faced youth. The long sword in his hand was moving quickly in all the directions. It seemed as if green lightning was pacing around with smooth movements.
The spear of the scar-faced youth also seemed extremely strong. Moreover, his real Qi had surged-up. The swift and fierce strong winds created by his spear seemed as heavy as a mountain. It protected his body in such a manner that there was no space for anything to pass through it. It made the thin and tall youth unable to take advantage of any gap. In addition, his spearhead was making its way into the places that were beyond the people’s expectations. It had brought the thin and tall youth almost on the verge of losing a few times.
The thin and tall youth was neither arrogant nor impatient. He continued to fight in the same manner for some more time. The spear-skills of the scar-faced man had eventually slowed down.
A radiance flashed in the eyes of the tall and thin youth. He recalled his old move, and took advantage of the inferior power of the spear. He then hit his feet on the ground, and his figure was shot forward – like an arrow from a bow. After that, he arrived in front of the scar-faced man in the blink of an eye.
The green light on his sword brightened as he waved his right hand. Then, ten or more green sword-lights flew out towards the spear-holding arm of the scar-faced youth in a flash.
A complacent look flashed in the scar-faced youth’s eyes. He lifted his right hand, and revealed a circular barrel-shaped concealed weapon in his cuffs. Then, he shot out a silver needle in a flash; he moved his figure backwards at the same time.
An angry look flashed in the tall and thin youth’s eyes. He moved his mouth, and the fingers of his left hand formed a strange gesture. Then, a green drizzling shield appeared in his hand out of thin air.
The silver needle lashed on the shield with a ‘ding… dong’ sound. After that, a small tornado emerged on the surface of the shield, and started to rotate in all directions.
"The Wind Locust Shield Technique! It’s a spirit-grade technique…" someone from among the crowd shouted with great surprise.
Suddenly, the imposing aura of the thin and tall youth changed. Then, a tyrannical aura – not less than the Hou Tian consummate-level – erupted around him. His figure flashed and rushed towards the scar-faced youth with great speed. He soon rushed past the figure of the scar-faced youth. He then waved his right hand, and a wide green sword-curtain rushed towards his opponent.
‘Bang!’ a loud sound echoed.
The green sword-curtain whipped the chest of the scar-faced youth. His body was sent flying out of the ring. He then fell on the ground. His body rolled over a few loops before it came to a stop. A dozen or more wounds on his body started to bleed profusely. Then, his eyes rolled over, and he lost his consciousness.
That Hou Tian consummate-level warrior was also a spirit-grade magician.
There was an absolute silence around the ring. The pupils of an elder of the Sect shrank; he was one of the referees, and was seated in the place above the ring.
Two janitor disciples wearing black robes rushed out from the crowd. They staunched-up the wounds of the scar-faced youth. Then, they lifted him, and rushed down.
"Who’s this man?" Shi Mu looked curiously towards the thin and tall youth in the ring and asked.
"Brother Shi, you don’t know Duan Qian Li? He was on the top of the third-grade disciples’ list back in those days. I didn’t expect that he would become so strong. He’s among the top ten second-grade disciples. Perhaps, he can defeat anyone," Bai Shi’s eyes revealed genuine colors of adoration as he said.
"So, it’s like that… I didn’t know." Shi Mu smiled. He now remembered that he had asked Huo Mao about this man when he had participated in the Sect’s regular competition.
Suddenly, the elder of the Sect sitting in the ring announced in a clear voice, "I declare that Duan Qian Li is the winner. He has advanced to the first place among the second-grade disciples."
His voice echoed all over the square. It was even louder than the cheering sounds of the disciples.
Shi Mu, Bai Shi, Xiao Ming and one other person arrived at the Fragrant River Tavern of Bluestone Square near the thirteenth peak in the evening. Then, they went directly to the third floor.
The first two floors of the restaurant were full of splendor. They had been decorated in a magnificent manner. But, the third floor had been styled differently. Its decoration wasn’t much gorgeous. Only a few dragon and phoenix images had been carved there. It had been styled in a simple and unadorned manner.
"Going by the decorations in this place… it doesn’t seem to be so cheap, right?" Shi Mu looked at the decorations around him. He then said with laughter.
Bai Shi smiled, but he didn’t say anything.
"It’s obvious. We all have gathered today… So, it’s a special occasion. It can’t be shabby," Xiao Ming stood beside them. He said with a mysterious smile.
Then, Xiao Ming pulled Shi Mu inside a private room.
Two people were already sitting in the room. Shi Mu was startled as he recognized these two people.
One of them was a young girl in a blue robe. She had an elegant figure, and a pretty face. This girl was none other than Lan Feng.
The other person was a young man who was wearing a yellow robe. He had a simple appearance; he was Huo Mao.
Shi Mu hadn’t seen them in several years. The appearance of these two people hadn’t changed much from earlier. But, it could be determined from the Real Qi fluctuating in their bodies that these two had made an excellent progress in their cultivations.
"Hey… Brother Shi!"
Lan Feng and Huo Mao were surprised when they saw Shi Mu coming in.
"We haven’t met since ages," Shi Mu greeted the two of them with a smile.
Lan Feng and Shi Mu weren’t familiar with each other. So, she just nodded to indicate him to take a seat.
But, Huo Mao and Shi Mu were quite familiar with each other. So, Huo Mao was happy to see Shi Mu. He dragged Shi Mu to make him sit beside him, and started to chat with him with zest. He then asked Shi Mu about his experiences in the past years.
Bai Shi and Xiao Ming also greeted Lan Feng.
Huo Mao chatted with Shi Mu for a while, and found that he had entered into the barbarians’ wasteland. Moreover, he had helped the human race in having the peace-talks, and forming an alliance with the barbarian race. It seemed that this news hadn’t been spread among the common disciples of the Black Demon Sect.
Shi Mu had no intention to flaunt. But, he roughly spoke some words related to his fights in the front line.
"Today everyone has gathered here because of a rare occasion. It should be celebrated because this time Brother Bai Shi and Sister Lan Feng have entered into the top fifty list of the second-grade disciples," Xiao Ming stood-up after a short while, and raised a toast with a smile on his face.
"So, that’s what it is. You hid this from me. Well, congratulations!" Shi Mu rose-up his wine cup with a smile, and congratulated Bai Shi and Lan Feng.
"It happened by fluke..."
Both of them seemed to be proud that they had entered into the top-fifty list of the second-ranked disciples. In fact, Lan Feng’s usually indifferent face also exposed a smile.
"Haha… Brother Xiao, why don’t you tell us about yourself? You’ve now entered into top-thirty ranks of the second-grade disciples. This is so much better than mine," Huo Mao laughed out loud and said.
"Brother Huo over-praised me."
Xiao Ming cupped his hands in salutation towards Huo Mao. After that, all four of them drank the toast. Then, Xiao Ming recalled something. He looked towards Shi Mu with a feeling of pity and said, "Let me tell you that this time you’ve been a little unfortunate, Brother Shi Mu. You couldn’t keep up with us this time. Otherwise, you would’ve easily fetched a good rank in the Second-Ranked disciples with your strength."
"It’s okay. I’ll participate tomorrow," Shi Mu said with a smile.
Shi Mu had concealed his aura on purpose; so that Xiao Ming and others would feel that they had a stronger aura than his. But, nobody knew that Shi Mu had already stepped into the consummate-stage of the Hou Tian realm.