Shi Mu was shuttling back-and-forth in his room with his hands crossed behind his back. There was an aura of restlessness around him.
He had gone to the Transcending Heaven Immortal Cult’s seclusion branch several times over the past few days. That branch was located in the Western District of the city. He had done this because he wanted to see Ximen Xue. But, he hadn’t had any success so far.
The disciples who were guarding the entrance gate of the Immortal Cult didn’t pass him any information. Moreover, the guarding force had become relatively stricter than it was on the day of the Welcome Ceremony for the Immortals. He had wanted to sneak into the Cult. But, his infiltration plan was shattered into pieces by this impenetrable security.
"Ping! Ping!" He heard a knock on the courtyard’s front gate.
"Elder Sister Jin!" Shi Mu hastily opened the gate of the courtyard.
The person who had just arrived had beautiful black pupils, and jet-black eyebrows. Her skin was exceptionally white. A golden robe was wrapped around her body, and this was adding a unique charm to her plentiful stature… so much so that it could make anyone’s heart quiver with excitement. Could this person be anyone other than Jin Xiao Chai?
"Sister Jin, you are getting more and more gorgeous with each passing day!" It couldn’t be said when the parrot Cai descended from the air and landed on Jin Xiao Chai’s shoulder.
"You Little Rascal!" Jin Xiao Chai ridiculed the parrot as she stood motionless at the entrance. She then turned her hand and took out a handful of nuts.
"Sister Jin is amazing. You aren’t mean and short-tempered like Shi Tou." The parrot’s eyes brightened up. He gobbled-up those nuts in a few mouthfuls.
"Brother Shi, you were able to escape from Za Gu’s clutches. You’ve indeed lived up to my expectations," Jin Xiao Chai looked at Shi Mu and said.
"I turned out a little lucky at that time. I’m afraid I couldn’t have seen Elder Sister otherwise. Sister came over to look for me… could it be that...?" Shi Mu’s heart moved as he noticed that Jin Xiao Chai didn’t have any intention to come inside his house.
"Naturally," she affirmed.
"Where is she?" Shi Mu moved forward to the pathway.
"Follow me if you wish to see her." Jin Xiao Chai pursed her lips, turned around, and walked outside the inn.
"Follow me... Oh!" Cai had barely shouted a few words when he was suddenly hit by Jin Xiao Chai on his head. He obviously became well-behaved as a result.
Shi Mu followed closely behind her. The two of them left the inn, and advanced in a particular direction towards the city.
They soon arrived in front of the Immortal Cult’s seclusion branch in the Western District of the City. Eight disciples could be seen guarding at the foot of the hill. They were dressed in the blue trigram Taoist uniform of the Transcending Heaven Immortal Cult. Some people could also be seen walking back-and-forth in the surroundings from time to time.
Jin Xiao Chai stepped forward and negotiated with a guarding disciple for a moment. After that, one of the disciples ran towards the mountain.
The disciple ran out from inside after a while. He then gave a nod to Jin Xiao Chai.
Jin Chai Xiao and Shi Mu hastily walked toward the mountains. However, no one stopped them this time.
They soon passed through a gate. Jin Xiao Chai seemed familiar with the road as she led him towards the front. They passed through several buildings en route. And, they soon arrived in front of an exquisite small courtyard.
She didn’t look hesitant as she walked over and halted at the courtyard’s entrance. The front gate was already open at this moment.
"I won’t accompany you from here. Don’t forget our agreement," Jin Xiao Chai spoke-up after a momentary hesitation.
Shi Mu nodded. He then shot a glance at Cai who still stood on Jin Xiao Chai’s shoulder. After that, he walked into the courtyard alone.
He found a well-illuminated house right in front of the courtyard’s entrance gate. He walked in and waited in a room for some time. He noticed that this was a living room.
The walls of the living room were embedded with several egg-sized luminous stones. They were exuding a gentle and bright radiance that was illuminating the whole room.
There was a passageway on the right side of the living room. In addition, a dark brown circular wooden table could be seen in the centre of the room. A white tea-set was placed on top of that table. Four carved and exquisite brown seats were arranged around the table. However, the rest of the room was empty.
"What was so interesting that brought my Sister over here today?" Suddenly, the delightful voice of Ximen Xue - the Demon Witch of Tian Yin – spread from the passageway.
A hint of excitement streaked across Shi Mu’s eyes. He turned around and gazed in the direction of the passageway.
Ximen Xue walked out of the passageway. She was clad in white clothes. Her shoulders seemed so perfect that it appeared as if they had been peeled with a knife. She had a slender waist, cheeks as rosy as a litchi, and a soft and shinning nose. All these features added a heavenly aura to her beauty. Her long jet-black hair seemed like a waterfall as they trailed over her shoulders, and hung down until her waist. The gentle radiance of the room seemed to be illuminating her bright eyes like two shining stars.
She had barely stepped into the room, and her foot abruptly halted as soon as her eyes fell on Shi Mu. A trace of astonishment flashed through her face, and her beautiful eyes revealed a pleasantly surprised look.
"Shi Mu, how are you?! Come, take a seat. Where is Sister Jin?"
Ximen Xue spoke-up as she walked to the table. She then turned over two teacups in a skilful manner. After that, she picked up the teapot from the table, and steeped the tea.
"I had requested Elder Sister Jin to lead me here so that I could meet you alone," Shi Mu replied while fixedly staring at Ximen Xue’s bustling silhouette.
"Why are you standing there? Come and take a seat. Try this tea. I have made it with my own hands." Ximen Xue poured a cup of tea and handed it over to Shi Mu.
"Its soft aroma tastes so sweet. It feels so good to my lips and teeth. Sister has genuinely made good tea." Shi Mu received the cup. He then complied with her words and sat down. After that, he took a sip of the tea, and spoke a few words to appreciate her.
"This tea is the specialty of the Wan Long Mountains. I had prepared it for Sister Jin. However, I had never expected that a young martial disciple would be able to congeal Qi in his lower abdomen in just a span of a few years. I came to know about your achievement from Sister Jin. This revelation had indeed left me stunned for a moment." Ximen Xue poured herself a cup of tea. After that, she pulled-open a chair and sat down.
"I..." Shi Mu’s heart was stirred with emotions.
"Sister Jin must’ve told you my name. You can call me Elder Sister since I am a few years older than you. Oh, by the way… how did you escape from the hands of that Earth-ranked totem warrior?" Ximen Xue interrupted Shi Mu’s words and injected a few of her own to shift the thread of conversation to a new subject.
"It was thanks to the stroke of luck I had gained in the barbarians’ secret place that made me capable-enough to escape from Za Gu’s hands. Besides, luck was also on my side that day... I think it would be impossible to have such a wonderful luck if I were to bump into a formidable opponent again. Speaking of which… Sister Xue rescued me twice in those days. In fact, I might have turned into a pile of bones if she hadn’t done that. Moreover, I wouldn’t have grabbed the opportunity to become a Xian Tian Warrior…" Shi Mu replied.
"It is providence that you unfortunately ended up being a disciple of the Black Demon Sect. Otherwise, you might’ve been able to attend the Ascension to Immortality Ceremony with me. Moreover, there was the possibility that you might’ve made your way into the top three disciples..." Ximen Xue said.
"Sister Xue, I like you," Shi Mu interrupted her words and spoke-up in a resolute manner as he looked directly into her glistening eyes.
"... You’d better forget me and that past matter. I am determined to win the Ascension to Immortality Ceremony this time," Ximen Xue remained silent for a moment. Then, she opened her mouth and announced.
Shi Mu was saddened by her words, and thus chose to remain silent. Ximen Xue didn’t know how to break the ice either. Thus, the living room suddenly sank into a deep silence for a moment.
"Sister Xue, would we still have a chance to meet each other in the future…?" Shi Mu spoke-up after a long time.
"Many participants would choose to begin the seclusion practice after a period of time. In addition, the Immortal Cult has already prepared some pills and private rooms to help the candidates practice and make a breakthrough in a short term. And, this might increase our chance of getting selected in the Grand Ceremony."
Ximen Xue paused for a moment. Then, she again continued to speak. But, there was an unprecedented firmness in her eyes this time, "There is hardly any chance to advance to the Heaven-rank in the Eastern continent… even if a person possesses extraordinary talents and qualifications."
"How many people have attained the Heaven-rank in the entire Eastern continent?" Shi Mu opened his mouth and asked as his hand touched the cup in a casual manner.
"I’m not clear about the concrete number. But, the head of the Immortal Cult, and the head of the Heavenly Demon Sect are amongst the formidable humans who have ascended to the Heaven-rank. I guess the number shouldn’t be more than five..." Ximen Xue replied.
"So few people…?" Shi Mu was astounded.
"There’s limited spiritual aura in the Eastern continent. In addition, the high-ranked cultivation arts that have been passed-on from the ancient times are also limited in number. Moreover, there are only a handful of talented people across the continent who are qualified-enough to step into the Earth-rank. But, even they need an extraordinarily good luck to attain this rank. You are so young. However, you have still managed to attain the Xian Tian realm. So, there is the high possibility that you may ascend to the Earth-rank someday in your life. But, don’t tell me that you have no intention to move farther than the Earth-rank? Could it be that you are only waiting for your life to drain away?" Ximen Xue said.
"Of course not!" Shi Mu replied without any hesitation.
"The Demon Yang Ceremony of the Heavenly Demon Sect is also about to begin. But, it’s a pity that the chances of our next meeting would be very slim even if you obtain the Demon Yang Pill... Oh, that's right, I have a Spirit Strengthening Pill with me. It would surely be very beneficial to you. In fact, I had once sent someone to deliver you this pill. But, I hadn’t thought that you wouldn’t be available in your Sect at that time." Ximen Xue said this as the silver ring on her right hand’s finger exuded a bright ray of light. She then took out a small jade box from inside, and handed it over to Shi Mu.
"Elder Sister Xue, you would soon ascend to the Immortal Realm. So, you might need it," Shi Mu declined her offer.
"I have already taken one Spirit Strengthening Pill. So, this is useless to me. You may consider that I have exchanged this pill with your Dark Frost Fruit. In fact, I’m still in profit. So, accept it!" Ximen Xue shook the jade box in her hand as she said.
"Thank you so much, Elder Sister Xue," Shi Mu received the pill after a momentary hesitation.
"Elder Sister Xue, the fact is that I came to the Heavenly Yu City with the hope to see you. And, it seems that my cherished desire has been fulfilled. So, I will return to Heavenly Demon Sect with Sister Jin," Shi Mu said.
"Sister Jin has led you to my place. Didn’t she ask you to persuade me not to participate in the Ascension to Immortality Ceremony?" Ximen Xue asked.
"Yes. But, I now know that you have already made an unwavering decision," Shi Mu replied.
"She has always stuck to her own way of doing things. And, her approach has offended a lot of people. The Jin family’s ancestor may stir-up problems for her in the future, and Sister Jin may... You take care of Sister Jin for me after I leave. You have enough talent to become the main stream disciple of the Black Demon Sect," Ximen Xue let out a soft sigh as she said.
"Sister Jin is good to me. So, I will certainly protect her with all my might," Shi Mu nodded.
"Shi Mu, thank you so much. Let’s go for a walk in the garden. You have recently stepped into the Xian Tian realm. So, I can help you in finding answers to a couple of queries if there is something you wish to ask about your practice. By the way… you still don’t know that I have also taken-up two martial arts technique," Ximen Xue put down the cup and stood up.
"Thank you, Sister!" Shi Mu’s face revealed a trace of astonishment as he got up.
"Follow me," Ximen Xue’s body floated in the air. She took the lead and advanced to pass through the passageway.
Shi Mu walked behind her at a moderate pace. He gazed at her graceful figure from behind, and a complicated look crawled across his face.
The two of them arrived at the garden’s entrance some time later.
The drizzling rain had already curtained the entire sky at this time. These two individuals were already soaked in the rain. But, they seemed totally unaware of it.
Ximen Xue’s white clothing had clung to her skin. In fact, it seemed as if it had been pasted to her body. And, this revealed the exquisite curves of her body in an even more fervent manner.
It was a gloomy night. But, this didn’t have any effect on Shi Mu. His vision touched Ximen Xue’s body, and his heart skipped a beat. However, he retracted his vision immediately-after.
"I will be greatly benefited if I listen to my Sister's words carefully today. Elder Sister indeed deserves to be called a genius across the three great Kingdoms and seven big sects," Shi Mu said.
"Shi Mu, you are too modest. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have escaped from the Earth-ranked powerhouse if I were almost the same age as you," Ximen Xue replied.
"Elder Sister Xue, please don’t bother to see me off. And, I hope that Elder Sister advances to the Heaven-rank soon," Shi Mu looked outside the courtyard. Then, he turned, cupped his hands in obeisance, and spoke-up.
"Shi Mu, I’ll see you again when destiny brings us together someday... also, don’t forget what you have promised me." Ximen Xue swept her hair that was dangling around her forehead. Then, she flashed a sweet smile and said.
Shi Mu nodded. He then turned around walked towards the courtyard’s door at a moderate pace. The blade and stick still hung on his back. He left a string of footprints on the ground along with the ‘Peng Peng’ sound of the rain.
Ximen Xue gazed at the receding silhouette of Shi Mu’s. He was drifting far into the distance while leaving even deeper footprints on the ground.
She remained there for a long time.
She turned around after an unknown period of time has passed. She raised her hand, and it seemed as if she wanted to wipe the water droplets off her face using her sleeve. Then, she turned around and trotted away.
Her delicate and snow-white feet continued to splash muddy water as they fell in the muddy land. Her graceful and captivating silhouette gradually disappeared in the rain…