It was noontime. The scorching sun was shining high up in the sky. The sky was clean, and it seemed as if it had been bathed in blue color. There was no cloud in the sky as far as the eye could see.
An area of dozens of acres of woods was scattered on either side of the ten-feet-wide road. The luxuriant growth of branches and foliage were adequate-enough to render a cool and refreshing feeling.
A luxurious horse-drawn carriage was parked on the left side of the woods. It was drawn by two pure-white and graceful horses. And, a grey-robed stableman was feeding water and fodder to these horses.
Twenty or more people could also be seen around the horse-cart. They were either in a standing or a sitting position. They seemed to be guarding the carriage. Their eyes were smeared with a touch of vigilance.
Most of these people had bloodstains over their bodies. But, their wounds had been bandaged. These people could be seen in small groups of two or three people at this moment. They were eating food while sitting on the ground.
There was a huge tree not far from the carriage. A tall and black-robed young man was resting against this tree trunk. His eyes were closed, and his arms were crossed across his chest. Two long weapons were crossed on his back in an intersecting position; they were wrapped in a piece of black cloth.
This young man was Shi Mu.
However, his shoulder was empty at this moment since Cai didn’t seem to be around him.
A handsome man walked over to Shi Mu’s side from another tree at this time. This man seemed to be in his thirties.
This man was clad in a white robe. He had sword-like sharp and straight eyebrows over his vivid eyes. A piece of silver cloth was wrapped around his forehead. His smooth and dark-red hair was hanging on his back. They were left loose around his shoulder. These features gave off an aura of a graceful yet manly beauty.
"Elder Brother Liu, do you have any idea how far we are from the Heavenly Yu City?" Shi Mu opened his eyes as he heard the sound of footsteps. He then asked.
"It should be roughly one month of a journey to reach there."
The handsome man replied as he arrived under a tree that wasn’t far from Shi Mu. He then similarly leant against the tree trunk and asked, "Oh, that’s correct… Brother Shi has stepped into the Xian Tian realm at such a young age. Could it be that you are heading to Heavenly Yu City to attend the Ascension to Immortality Ceremony?"
"Brother Liu is making fun of me. I don’t have such an important reason. I’m only travelling there to gain knowledge and enrich my experience," Shi Mu shook his head.
"It seems like just like me, Brother Shi is also going to the Ascension to Immortality Auction," Liu An said.
"Ascension to Immortality Auction?" Shi Mu gawked.
"Oh, Brother Shi doesn’t know about this auction?"
"I would appreciate if you could give me some more details."
"Actually, this isn’t considered a secret matter. A greater part of the talented disciples of the Eastern Continent converge to participate in this ceremony every time it is conducted. Moreover, many people rush over to observe and emulate. This obviously contributes to the unprecedented grand event that is held once in every thirty years in the Heavenly Yu City. The Heavenly Wu Chamber of Commerce is the best trading house of the Lu Shan Kingdom, and they hold the inauguration of the Ascension to Immortality Ceremony. After that, the Ascension to Immortality Hall holds a grand auction. It is said that a person is likely to get everything he wants to buy in this auction. But, there is just a little catch… this Ascension to Immortality Auction doesn’t accept the silver coins or paper money. It only accepts spirit stones," the handsome man explained with a smile.
"So, it’s like this. Thank you so much for sharing this information, Brother Liu," An idea cropped up in Shi Mu’s mind as he heard the handsome man's words.
He wanted to ask something else as well. But, a tumultuous sound suddenly transmitted from the direction of the luxurious horse-cart.
The two men shifted their gaze towards the source of the sound. They saw that the carriage’s door was open. And, a well-dressed young boy was getting down the carriage; he seemed to be a twelve or thirteen-year-old kid. The boy then started to walk over to Shi Mu and the handsome man with the support of the arm of a middle-aged man who had a dignified expression on his face.
There was a majestic aura around that dignified middle-aged man’s body. He was surprisingly a Xian Tian warrior. He was also the leader of this convoy.
However, the young boy looked very frail and insignificant in contrast. He didn’t exactly have a thin and weak stature. But, his complexion looked slightly pale. And, he looked a little shy. But, there was a trace of stubbornness hidden behind his eyes.
Shi Mu and the handsome man stood up when they saw this.
"Our Young Master Hong insisted on personally expressing his gratitude to you two honorable men!" the middle-aged man supported the young boy, and arrived in front of these two men. The two then stood firm as he started to speak. His sound was sonorous and brimming with energy – like the sound of bells.
Shi Mu and the handsome man were dumbfounded. They couldn’t help but pour a glance at the young boy. This was the first time that they had seen this boy outside the carriage.
"Our convoy was attacked a few days ago. But, you two gracious benefactors extended support and rescued us. I’m truly grateful to you two for lending a hand in this time of emergency. And, thank you for rescuing this Young Hong’s life. Please accept this Young Hong’s greetings." The skinny boy tried to break himself free from the middle-aged man’s support. Then, he walked towards Shi Mu and the other man, and greeted them.
"Young Master Hong, it was nothing but a chance encounter. Besides, it was our fate that brought us together." The handsome man moved his right hand, and gently supported the petite boy. Then, he replied with a soft smile.
"It was only a trivial matter. Young Master Hong doesn’t have to mention it," Shi Mu also flashed a mild smile as he spoke-up.
The skinny young boy spoke a few words of gratitude for some time. But, his poor physical strength failed to hold him further in some time. Therefore, he returned to the carriage with the help of the dignified middle-aged man.
"Young Master Hong reminds me of my own younger self from childhood whenever I see him," the handsome man muttered once the young boy had left.
Shi Mu couldn’t help but size-up this man as he heard these words.
He couldn’t understand how to associate this graceful and handsome man he was looking at with that frail and scrawny little boy who couldn’t even properly walk without someone’s support.
As for how Shi Mu bumped into this handsome man, the young boy, and others — it was indeed a coincidence.
Shi Mu had encountered this young boy’s convoy when he was passing through a narrow and rugged valley one day.
The convoy was under attack at that time. Twenty or more black-robed masked men had besieged these people. Four of the masked besiegers were Xian Tian powerhouses. And, the rest of them were Hou Tian advanced stage warriors.
Shi Mu had soon learned from the middle-aged man’s angered wordings that they belonged to Heavenly Yu City. In fact, it had seemed they commanded a rather very dignified status in that city.
However, those black-robed masked men didn’t seem to care about their privileged status. Instead, they continued to launch waves of fierce offensive attacks on them. And, their actions had made it seem as if that horse-drawn carriage was their prime target.
Shi Mu had then noticed that the middle-aged man and his group’s members were desperately trying to resist them by putting their lives on the line. The middle-aged man possessed tyrannical strength. However, the other men of the convoy were obviously in a disadvantageous situation.
That handsome young man had unexpectedly sprang up on the scene at such critical juncture. And, he had joined the convoy’s team without demur, and had tied down one of the Xian Tian powerhouses of the opposite party. His sudden action had greatly stabilized the situation.
Shi Mu had been a bit hesitant in the beginning. But, he had then released Cai to fly for some time. After that, he drew his black blade and joined the side of the battling group. Then, he similarly took down another Xian Tian warrior of the besieging group.
The convoy quickly gained the upper hand with the support of Shi Mu and the handsome man. And, the black-robed masked men eventually gave up and retreated. They also left several corpses of their Hou Tian warriors and a pile of weapons behind.
Then, the middle-aged man proposed the handsome man and Shi Mu to become their escorts, and accompany their convoy to Heavenly Yu City. And, he promised that they would provide generous compensation for this task.
The handsome man readily agreed since he had to travel in the same direction. But, Shi Mu hesitated a bit at first. However, he didn’t refuse them in the end.
Shi Mu became a member of this team as a result. He later came to know that this handsome man’s name was Liu An.
Suddenly, a clamorous sound was heard. And, it pulled Shi Mu back from his memories.
He raised his head, and realized that the convoy had completed the necessary preparations. So, they were ready to set out on the journey again.
One particular night… several days later.
The moon was obscured by a layer of black clouds. A curtain of darkness and silence was spread across the world.
The luxurious carriage was parked on the side of a wilderness. A dozen tents of different sizes were scattered around the carriage in the periphery. Therefore, the appearance of this carriage surrounded by these tents looked similar to the moon surrounded by stars.
Most of the people of the convoy had already fallen into a deep slumber… except for the two men who were the night guards.
There was an ordinary-looking tent on the edge of the convoy. Shi Mu stood up and opened the flap of this tent. His body moved, and he walked in a certain direction in a silent and secretive manner.
He arrived near a river bank after a quarter-of-an-hour.
The layers of clouds had also drifted away from the moon by this time. And, the soft silvery radiance of the moonlight had started to illuminate Shi Mu’s face.
Shi Mu examined the riverside surrounding grove at an electric-fast speed. But, he didn’t find anything abnormal around.
He then arrived, and stood in the open space by the river. After that, he pinched his fingers and started to mumble something.
He had been quite depressed for some time. It was because Yan Luo had been ignoring his summons ever since he had replaced his flower with Yan Luo’s green flower.
However, a plume of black smoke appeared not far from him soon after the spell was read this time.
Shi Mu was overjoyed at this. This was the prelude which marked that Yan Luo would to appear here any moment.
It seemed that Yan Luo had finally forgiven him.
Soon, a human skeleton emerged from the black smoke. It held a bone spear in its hand. Its body moved and it walked out of the smoke.
But, an unexpected scene unfolded the next moment!
Yan Luo’s stature abruptly turned fuzzy, and disappeared from the place.
Shi Mu hadn’t even been able to react to this when a mass of black smoke appeared not far from the grove. It was followed by Yan Luo’s silhouette that emerged amid that smoke out of thin air. Then, a layer of white light began to flow on the surface of its bone spear. And, the bone spear changed into a misty-white spear shadow the next moment. It was then thrust towards a particular place that was somewhere in the grove.
A silver sword light scuttled out from the grove the next moment, and blocked Yan Luo’s attack.
"Clang" a loud sound rang out!
Two rays of light – one silver and other white – flashed, and then extinguished in a split second. Yan Luo’s stature also halted.
"Brother Shi, it’s me!" a familiar voice resounded.
A white silhouette sprang out of the grove like a bolt of lightning as this voice was heard. This figure then flashed a few times as it advanced towards Shi Mu.
A mass of black smoke flashed beside that white silhouette at this time. Then, a long and white bone spear stabbed towards him while trailing dozens of blurred shadows behind. A shrill ear-splitting sound rang out in the air – like a shrewd laughter of an evil spirit.
However, the white silhouette was also very nimble. It swayed and flashed a few times to evade the attacks Yan Luo had launched. After that, the white silhouette turned fuzzy again, and appeared in front of Shi Mu.
A white light flashed on Yan Luo’s body, and it seemed as if it was about to pursue the white silhouette once again.
Shi Mu promptly used his mind to send an order to stop Yan Luo as he saw this.
Yan Luo’s gaze halted on the white silhouette that stood in front of Shi Mu. Then, the soul flame flickered in its eyes. Afterwards, Yan Luo turned around. A mass of black smoke enveloped its body completely. And then, it disappeared from the sight once again.
Shi Mu smiled bitterly as he saw this. But, his eyes then shifted to Liu An. He then said, "Brother Liu, are you tracking me?"
"Brother Shi, don’t misunderstand me. I couldn’t fall asleep. So, I went out to the river bank to take a breath of fresh air. I didn’t expect that I would bump into Brother Shi here. I had barely thought to come out and greet you. But, who would have thought Brother Shi's spirit pet would be so fierce. Its strike nearly compelled me into a big tumble as I tried to evade it," Liu An explained while shaking his head.
"Yes, it is…" Shi Mu said.
"He He, Brother Shi’s martial arts cultivation is remarkably profound. But, I didn’t expect that he’s also a Soul Magician. Speaking of which… I have a number of Soul Magician friends. I will introduce you to them if I get a chance. You might get a chance to enrich your knowledge and experience this way. Soul Magicians are very rare as far as I know... " Liu An said with a smile.
"Brother Shi, you rest assured. I will keep this matter locked in my heart forever," Liu An didn’t wait for Shi Mu’s reply. He suddenly gave Shi Mu a meaningful wink and spoke-up in a lowered his voice.
Liu An seemed to have noticed that Shi Mu was reluctant to talk further. So, he found an excuse and left.
Shi Mu remained standing in the same place. He gazed at Liu An’s silhouette as it gradually faded away, and the hint of a pensive expression appeared on his face.