Shi Mu and the others turned their heads, and saw a golden-haired youth with blue eyes entering the room. It turned out that they were familiar with this person. It was none other than Jin Huan. He used to be the leader of the Holy Spirit Association back in those days.
He had made a great progress in his cultivation. The aura being emitted by him had already reached to the Hou Tian advanced-stage. He bore a proud and aloof expressions on his face.
"Brother Jin, please come in. it’s really great to see you. Please have a seat." Bai Shi seemed to be excited. He stood-up and welcomed Jin Huan.
The rest of them including Lan Feng also stood-up one-by-one with a respectful expression on their faces. Only Shi Mu remained seated on his chair.
"Brother Bai is polite. We all are the members of the Holy Spirit Association. You and Brother Xiao have acquired a good position among the second-grade disciples. I’m extremely proud of you as I was the one who recommended you to join the Holy Spirit Association. I want to congratulate both of you," Jin Huan walked-in with a smile and said.
"Brother Jin has been in the top-fifty list of the second-grade disciples for a long time. And, you’ve jumped to the sixteenth place this time. I’m sure that you’ll be in the list of top-ten next year," Bai Shi said with a smile.
Jin Huan laughed out loud. Then, he turned his vision to look towards Shi Mu who was still sitting. His complexion sank.
"Oh, who’s this fellow? His face seems unfamiliar," Jin Huan said in a displeased voice.
Shi Mu had left for the frontier back in those days. He had returned several times during this period, but he had never made any contact with Jin Huan. Now, his personality traits and skin color had changed; so much so that Jin Huan didn’t recognize him for a moment.
"I’m Shi Mu. It seems that an honored person like Brother Jin has a limited memory. He has clearly forgotten me," Shi Mu said with a strange smile.
Jin Huan was startled. He then carefully sized-up Shi Mu.
"So, you’re Brother Shi… eh? Your cultivation… " Jin Huan’s complexion changed.
He was unable to determine the exact level of Shi Mu’s cultivation even with his Hou Tian advanced-stage strength.
"I didn’t expect to see you after so many years. Brother Shi, your cultivation seems great. You’ve already stepped into the advanced-stage?" Jin Huan said with a serious look; regardless of the presence of Bai Shi and others.
Shi Mu smiled faintly. He neither admitted nor denied Jin Huan’s words.
Bai Shi and the others were dumbfounded as they heard this. They looked towards Shi Mu with an unbelievable look.
They had thought that Shi Mu’s cultivation was just a little higher than theirs. But, they hadn’t expected that Shi Mu had already stepped into the advanced-stage, and had become an excellent Hou Tian Warrior.
"Hehe… So, Brother Shi has hidden this from us. I admire him for that," Bai Shi was the first to react. He said with a forced smile.
"Brother Jin, please take the seat of honor." Xiao Ming hastily arranged a seat for Jin Huan. After that, he pushed his seat for Shi Mu. This seat was right next to Jin Huan’s.
Shi Mu declined for a little while, but Xiao Ming and others insisted repeatedly. So, he had to sit down.
"I didn’t think that Brother Shi’s strength would make so much progress in such a short span of time. Is it because of your adventures in the war with the barbarian race?" Jin Huan asked with a smile. His arrogant expression began to disappear. He seemed to be subtle in his words.
"Brother Jin is joking. How could there be an adventure? I practiced martial arts and easily advanced to the higher level." Shi Mu didn’t reveal anything. Instead, he laughed out loud and replied.
Jin Huan’s eyes flashed. He knew that Shi Mu didn’t mean what he said, but he didn’t question him any further. He knew that Shi Mu’s practice of the Art of Breeding Heavenly Elephants was an easy technique. But, it was improbable for his strength to advance so quickly even if he had had a steady flow and had taken sufficient pills.
Bai Shi and Xiao Ming were the most eloquent and fluent speakers among all the people who were present in the room. So, they soon tried and made the atmosphere in the room lively.
Someone pushed open the door of the private room after a short while.
A youth of around twenty-five years of age walked in; he had a thin and tall stature, and a grave and stern expression on his face. He then swept his vision towards everyone present in the room.
Everyone present including Bai Shi and Xiao Ming were startled. They didn’t know this man. Moreover, they hadn’t invited this man to the party.
The imposing aura on the tall man’s body wasn’t revealed. But, he clearly seemed to be a Hou Tian advanced-stage expert.
"Senior Brother, we’re partying here. I don’t know your Excellency…" Bai Shi was the first one to stand-up. He then cupped his hands towards the man in greeting, and spoke in a polite manner.
"He’s Brother Ye." Jun Huan stood-up and cupped his hands in greeting. He then spoke-up before Bai Shi could finish speaking.
"Everyone… let me introduce you to this man. He’s Ye Kun. He is on twelfth position among the second-grade disciples. But, he stays quite low-key. So, everyone might not know him," Jin Huan introduced the new entry to Shi Mu and the others.
Bai Shi and the others looked surprised as they heard that the rank of the grave and stern-looking man was higher than that of Jin Huan’s. Now, they looked at this man in a new light.
"Brother Jin over-praises me," the grave and stern youth said with a smile. He then nodded towards Jin Huan. After that, he moved his vision towards Shi Mu and asked, "Is this Brother Shi Mu?"
"Yes, I’m Shi Mu. May I ask Brother Ye for some advice?" Shi Mu felt a little strange. He then stood-up and asked.
"I’m not in the position to give you any advice. I’ve come here to pass an order on behalf of the Head and the respected elders of the Sect," the grave and stern youth said. He then took out an order paper charm from his bosom. Several fly-sized letters were written on it in series.
"The Head of the Sect orders that third-grade disciple Shi Mu has provided a great service in the war against the barbarian race. So, an exception has been made for him. Now, he’s permitted to compete in tomorrow’s competition… and can challenge a second-grade disciple of his choice. And, he can take the place of that disciple if he wins," the grave and stern youth read the paper charm in a clear voice.
Shi Mu wasn’t expecting this news. So, he looked a little blank. Then, he felt exulted in his heart.
The other people present in the room went in an uproar. Their vision kept shifting between Shi Mu and the grave and stern youth.
"Brother Shi Mu, think about this order of elders and the Head of the Sect carefully tonight. You can also give the answer tomorrow. If you don’t have any intention to participate tomorrow… then you can go to the Head of the Sect… and explain him your situation," the grave and stern youth handed over the order paper charm to Shi Mu and spoke.
"Brother Ye, thank you for coming… and informing me. I accept this order… since the Head of the Sect and the elders think that way." Shi Mu stretched out his hand, and took the charm paper. He then cupped his hands towards the grave youth and replied.
"So, Brother Shi Mu’s interested in participating. Then, you must think carefully tonight about whom you’re going to challenge tomorrow." A cold and detached expression flashed across the eyes of the grave and stern youth. He then nodded, and turned around to exit the room.
"There’s no need to think. I’m going to challenge the disciple on first place among the second-grade disciples – Senior Duan Qian Li," Shi Mu replied.
Everyone was dumbstruck; they looked towards Shi Mu with surprise.
The grave and stern youth was also startled. He turned over, and looked towards Shi Mu.
"Well… I’ll convey this remark of Brother Shi Mu’s…" he said and turned around. He then stepped out of the room.
"Brother Shi Mu… this is…" Jin Huan looked a little sluggish as he looked towards Shi Mu. He was unable to complete his sentence for a while.
"Brother Shi Mu, your strength has reached the advanced-stage, but did you not see the strength of Duan Qian Li in the ring today? His strength has already reached the consummate-level of the Hou Tian realm. Moreover, he’s a spirit-grade magician. Are you serious?" Bai Shi asked.
"Oh, yes! It’s a rare thing in the Sect. This is a great opportunity for you. But, it would be better if you challenge some other person to ensure that you hold a good position among the second-grade disciples," Xiao Ming advised.
"Thank you everyone for your concern. But, I’ve already decided. Let’s just drink first," Shi Mu smiled and replied with confidence.
The other people didn’t know what to say.
Jin Huan shot a glance at Shi Mu. He wanted to say something, but stopped.
He seemed curious. What kind of a great service was provided by Shi Mu that made the Sect’s Head and the elders break the usual practice without any hesitation?
The night passed in the blink of an eye.
It was early in the morning. There was a huge ring inside the plaza built in the valley between the fifth and the sixth peaks of the Black Demon Sect.
The dimensions of the ring were about a thousand square feet. Four black stone-pillars stood on the four corners of the ring. Several charm character patterns were engraved on the stone pillars. They were faintly distributing rays of light.
This was the last day of the competition. According to the usual practice, top ten disciples of the second-grade would challenge the first-grade disciples. But, each person only had one chance.
If any second-grade disciple won the fight, then he or she would take the position of his or her opponent. He or she would then advance to the first-grade disciples. Then, they would take benefit of the best resources of the Sect, and would receive great training by the Sect.
However, the first-grade disciples were extremely powerful. Only a few second-grade disciples had been able to win the challenge against them in generations. A first-grade disciple could become an elder of the Sect only if he or she would advance to the Xian Tian realm. Then, their position would become vacant.
Moreover, the top ten disciples amongst the first-grade disciples could challenge each other once the second-grade disciples would finish the challenge. The rules for their fights were also the same. The winner would take the position of the loser. The ranks were to be determined in this manner. Everyone had only one chance in these fights also.
The disciples of the Black Demon Sect were gathered at the main gate despite it being early morning. There were two or three-thousand people. They had surrounded the ring; not even a single person could penetrate through the crowd.
A black square-shaped stone-tablet stood beside the ring; it was several meters high. The names of the top ten disciples among the first-grade disciples were written on it. The names were arranged in lower to higher ranks.
Ten disciples stood in a row under the stone-tablet. These disciples included both males and females. Each one of them looked extraordinary in their manners. All of them had the cultivation of the Hou Tian consummate-level.
Shi Mu, Bai Shi, Xiao Ming, Jin Huan and others stood outside the ring. A few people were chatting on the either sides while looking towards the stone-tablet and the top ten disciples.
"Mo Ning, Qian Xiong, Bai Shui Xiu…"
These were the names of the top ten disciples among the first-grade disciples written on the stone-tablet.
Shi Mu knitted his brows. He hadn’t paid attention to these people before. So, these names seemed unfamiliar to him.
"Brother Shi, these first-grade disciples have cultivated their strengths behind closed doors. You don’t know much about them, right?" Bai Shi spoke with a smile as he looked at Shi Mu’s expression.
Shi Mu smiled and nodded.
"Hehe… So… I’m right. Let me introduce Brother Shi to them," Bai Shi smiled.
"These are the top ten fist-ranked disciples. The man on the extreme left is on the first place. His name is Mo Ning. He had reached the consummate-level of the Hou Tian realm a few years ago. He’s a Water-Attribute Technique practitioner. His famous martial skill is Art of the Concealed Cloudy Sword. It’s said that his moves are so quick that sometimes his opponents get defeated without even getting to see him."
Shi Mu nodded. He then looked towards a grey-haired youth standing on the left side under the black stone-tablet.
"That strong black man is on the second place. His name is Qian Xiong. His body bears rarely-seen rock blood line. So, he’s a practitioner of a strong, stable and healthy cultivation technique. His defense is extremely strong – as a monster-beast. Third is Sister Bai Shui Xiu. She’s a Water-Attribute spirit-grade magician. She’ll hopefully advance to the star-ranked magician realm…" Bai Shi continued to speak with assurance. He introduced Shi Mu to all the ten first-grade disciples.
Shi Mu nodded. The innate talents of these first-grade disciples were extremely remarkable. It was no wonder that they occupied the positions of core disciples of the Black Demon Sect.
Shi Mu’s vision flashed. It seemed that he had already decided something in his heart.