The heads of the silent pair, roused from their stupor, raised curiously. It was Shangguan Yan who was talking in her sleep. They shared a quick chuckle. The deep-asleep Shangguan Yan continued, "Bite him, Xiao Hei! Yes! That is it! Bite him! He who is so stingy that even forbids me from touching his zither..."
Xiao Chen's face fell, did she even dream of sicking her vermins on him? He rose to his feet and straggled to the sleeping Prince Qi. He took off the already half-removed robe from the asleep prince and draped it over Shangguan Yan.
The following morning, Xiao Chen found himself awaken by the cacophony of clamorous bickerings.
"Wake up, you two pigs! Where is my clothing? Who had removed my clothing! Argh!"
"Argh! Whose clothes are these! They are filthy! Take them off me at once!"
"Ah! Please, my lady! No spiders, please! It is not I who have left them there!"
"Argh! Not me either! Help, Senior Sister Luo!"
"Please calm down, Junior Brothers! Argh, no! Don't throw the spiders here!"
Xiao Chen rubbed his eyes and yawned. He said, "So much vim and verve so early in the morning. Do you intend to hail for the demons who might be up this early? Damn! Whose shoe is this thrown at me!"
Hence, Prince Qi wore a robe so badly tattered and Prince Yan a shoe which had been cloven in half. The two wailed as they scampered out of the cave, crying about their predicament of being beggar-like.
Prince Zhao had long foreseen the calamity and had long fled outside.
Hours later, Xiao Chen followed some footsteps, presumably left by wild beasts, and found a shrubbery that has several sparkling beads hanging on its boughs. These are the Octarine Cores, which he had already collected some before by using similar methods.
"You've found another one! You're great, Senior Brother Xiao!" The three princes rushed over to him with joy. Noticing that something was wrong, Xiao Chen's brows puckered with suspicion. "You three, come back at once!" Xiao Chen barked.
But the three princes were filled with a rapturous fervor that they could barely hear Xiao Chen's distressed warning.
The sky around them darkened suddenly. Prince Zhao mumbled, "What is this? The sky is dark suddenly? It's beginning to rain!"
But Prince Qi's legs were on the verge of giving way as he poked at Prince Zhao's shoulder and gestured him to look above. The latter's head looked up, only to find a huge bear with the size of a small mountain looming over them. Its jaws were wide opened like a tunnel; its saliva dripping hungrily from its mouth...
"Fly, you fools!" Xiao Chen leaped forth with the speed of a lightning bolt, using his Immortal-override Steps to reach before the three princes in the blink of an eye. He swiftly swung his arms and whisked them off into safety.
"ROAR!" The gigantic bear slammed its paw down furiously. Its razor-sharp claws could even put a blade to shame. Xiao Chen felt a gust of strong wind striking him face-first. Every shred of flesh on his face was screaming in pain, prodding his reflexes to react as he, too, struck towards the incoming blow with his palm. There came a sudden ringing in his ears as the two forces collide, followed by a terrible bang. Dust and dirt were tossed into the air and the trees shook. Xiao Chen could not maintain his steadiness and was thrown backward for meters.
But the gigantic bear was not only strong; it was extremely fast as well. Without waiting for him to fall on the ground, it had lunged forward at him, its claws well-prepared to tear him into shreds alive.
"Careful, Junior Brother!"
Luo Shanyang began chanting incantations; the sword in her grasp turned into a flash of green light that shot out of her hand and charged at the bear, piercing its right shoulder, leaving a spurt of blood in its wake.
"ROAR!" Enraged, the gigantic bear made a swipe at Xiao Chen, who had just dropped to the ground. He immediately mustered all his True Energy and attacked with both his palms. Two golden silhouettes in the semblance of dragons spewed from his arms, surging at his enemy. The Dragon Roar Palm struck true, hitting directly upon the bear. Yet, it seemed to have done him no harm.
"Get back, Junior Brother!"
Luo Shangyan cried to Xiao Chen as she channeled more speed, directing her green sword up into the air which then rained a hail of auric blades down at the monster. The Sword Qi projectiles skewered through the bear, its furry torso becoming wet with blood. Fearful of the pain of death, it turned on its heels and fled.
Xiao Chen's face had gone pale. Panting hard for breath, he had completely exhausted his True Energy after using three successive Cyan Dragon Roars. Luo Shangyan hurried over to help him, saying, "Are you hurt, Junior Brother Xiao?"
Xiao Chen only shook his head. He asked, "Why couldn't I damage the monster?"
"That is a monster in the form of a gigantic bear. It has the power of Lv 4 Qi Refining Realm, and its defensive capabilities are the highest in all Lv 4 Qi Refining Realm monsters."
Xiao Chen nodded as he finally understood. "Is it so..." He was, nevertheless, a Cultivator with only the power of Lv 1 Qi Refining Realm. There was hardly any way he could do anything against an enemy of Lv 4.
The three princes behind them were already frightened to the verge of wetting their pants. Just then, a voice came from not far away, "What a coincidence. I've found some more Octarine Cores."
Xiao Chen looked over. It was Mo Yu who was leading a band of more than twenty followers. Xiao Chen knew that he must have sensed their battle with the monster and had come to see if he could pillage or plunder anything. His formidable strength and the sheer number of his group made him an opponent to be avoided now. Xiao Chen feigned a thin smile, "Ah! It is Senior Brother Mo Yu. The monster had just been driven off by me and Senior Sister. Feel free to collect these Cores. We already have enough for ourselves."
Mo Yu face darkened, having sensed that Xiao Chen was mocking him. He had wanted to defeat Xiao Chen in the contest for the Octarine Cores as a pretense. But Xiao Chen had effortlessly evaded conflict with him.
Just then, Prince Qi rushed from behind. Xiao Chen immediately held up and arm to keep him in place and whispered to him, "This person is powerful."
Instead, Prince Zhao, too, came from behind and roared, "Impudent fools! Do you know who we are?"
"Ah?" Mo Yu responded as he picked an Octarine Core, "Three... worthless wretches surely?" But he had not waited until he finished; with a few flicks of his fingers, he sent a Sword Qi bolt that struck into the ground, causing a crevice to split open and squirted a spurt of mud into Luo Shangyan.
"Be careful, True Disciple of the Sect Leader."
Mo Yu sneered coldly. There were barbs in his words and his stroke was a blatant effort to embarrass Luo Shangyan. The band of twenty other fresh prospects behind him began to laugh scornfully, seemingly pleased by the assumption that they possessed greater potential and having found a good and promising leader in Mo Yu.
Xiao Chen glared frostily in return at them. They could tolerate not having the Octarine Cores. But Mo Yu's humiliation to Luo Shangyan was clearly aimed to improve the status of his followers. Knowing that this would only embolden them to also harass Senior Sister Luo in the future, Xiao Chen decided to act. He employed the Immortal-override Steps and hurled himself forward in a flash.
But his sudden movements surprised even Luo Shangyan herself, "Junior Brother! No!"
Xiao Chen's stroke had begun. The force of his Dragon Roar Palm swept forth with the strength of the raging ocean, causing raging winds to blow. Caught unawares, the band of twenty persons was still basking in their dreams of bullying other fresh members when a huge force slammed into them and sent them tumbling backward.
Seeing his chance, Mo Yu pounced at Xiao Chen. He channeled his True Energy and struck at Xiao Chen, who responded with a stroke of his own. The Palm Strengths of the two met, sending a shockwave that rippled across the woods. Xiao Chen felt an overwhelming force boring down on him that his arms ached to the point of bursting. Despite the invincibility of the Dragon Roar Palm technique, he was still no match for Mo Yu's overpowering strength. He somersaulted out to safety and began to retreat.
Seeing that he now had his quarry on the run, Mo Yu, enraged with anger, immediately made pursuit. But Luo Shangyan leaped to the front of Xiao Chen, blocking his way with her sword drawn. In an icy voice, she snarled, "That is enough, Mo Yu. How can you terrorize a new fellow disciple with your powers!"
There was nothing but silence in that instant. Mo Yu's minions clambered to their feet, eyeing Xiao Chen warily. "This person has fundamental skills. Is he really a fresh prospect?"
With a face dark as coal, Mo Yu responded, equally frostily, "Very well. You have good fundamentals in your skills. Pity. Sometimes the wrong way will often see one into a quick and unfortunate end, no matter how good your fundamentals are..." He shot another glare, glimmering with cold malice before he turned and left with his minions.
"Are you all right, Junior Brother?"
Luo Shangyan waited until Mo Yu to leave with his lackeys. She then turned swiftly to Xiao Chen. Without adequate skills of their own, the three princes hardly knew anything about Xiao Chen's condition. She, however, knew that Xiao Chen must have forcefully withstood the force of Mo Yu's earlier stroke and must have been internally injured. She wanted to channel some True Energy into him to help him heal but Xiao Chen raised a hand to stop her, "I am all right."
"You have overestimated yourself. He is of Lv 9 Qi Refining Realm," said Shangguan Yan who strolled into sight, twirling a set of bells between her slender fingers.
Prince Zhao cursed bitterly, "If only I have my army of ten thousand men..." But he fell silent instantly under the stern glare of Luo Shangyan.
She then produced a jade flask and poured out two little elixirs. Shangguan Yan shook her hand to Luo Shangyan, "There is no need, Senior Sister. This boy has the gift of an Undead Body. He had even survived a fall off a precipitous cliff near his home."
Xiao Chen smiled in reply and returned to Luo Shangyan the elixirs, "Indeed. My wounds will heal by itself. I have a moniker called Undead Chen. No wounds, heavy or light, will be able to hinder me."
At first, Luo Shangyan was still worried about Xiao Chen's injuries. But even she began to ease as she listened to the antics of the two. Xiao Chen cast a gaze in the direction that Mo Yu and his band of merry men had left. The true test of his strength and resolve to achieve Immortality would not be the present trial they are going through now, but the delicate handling of his rivalry with Mo Yu. There would most certainly be deceits and intrigues even in an Immortal sect this small. He would best keep to his heart that he was no longer the premier disciple of the Mystic Cyan Sect, but an ordinary, fresh entrant into the study of Immortality from the common masses.
After less than half an hour of respite, the group set off once more. With Xiao Chen's prowess in dealing with magical formations, there were hardly any magical barriers that could thwart their progress. When dusk came later that day, they have already found about 50 to 60 Octarine Cores. With the last shred of light before the sun sank, they finally found a cave where they could take shelter for the night.
Xiao Chen had also found various herbs that were rare in the outside world. These were intrinsic ingredients used to refine elixirs that could replenish one's True Energies.
The orange luminous from the dancing fire lit up the inside of the cave.
"I am so hungry! Brothers, shall we not hunt some wildfowls? Surely we cannot expect to survive only on wild vegetables?" Prince Zhao asked, mournfully cradling a bundle full of vegetables in his arms.
"Nice suggestion!" The two other princes leaped up joyously. Luo Shangyan frowned and growled, "It is getting dark. Do not tarry outside. Moreover, you will never find any wildfowls in these woods."
"Would you be interested in snakes?" Shangguan Yan asked suddenly as she came in. There was a serpent coiled around her arm, its tongue flicking incessantly. The three princes collapsed to the ground in shock, hugging one another for support.
"Are we up for a spectacle tomorrow?" Xiao Chen raised his eyebrows and asked curiously.
"Ask my snake," said Shangguan Yan who caressed the head of her snake, "Be good, Xiao Hua. Do not run off into the dark, lest some bad people catch and slaughter you for food."
Strangely, the snake seemed to understand every word she said. It nodded in reply.
The next morning, the group set off again. By the afternoon, they encountered some other groups and there were whispers among them. "Did you hear? There was news that Senior Brother Mo Yu's group were assailed by a snake demon. When they woke up in the morning, their cave was filled with snakes. It was a terrible sight in there."
"Indeed. There have also been words that many were bitten by venomous snakes and have to be sent up the mountain for rescue."
"Wow... This is terrible."
The three princes were shivering with fear as they heard the news and felt a chilly breath down their necks. After the group in front of them drifted further, Luo Shangyan stopped suddenly. With a stern glance at them, she said, "Do not agitate those people again, please?"
Shangguan Yan impishly stuck out her tongue and Xiao Chen smiled playfully in reply. The "snake demon" must have been the handiwork of Shangguan Yan. Luo Shangyan cast a look at him and said, "You are not only armed with the fundamentals of the skills of Immortality but also have the powers of Lv 1 Qi Refining Realm, no?"
"What!" The three princes jumped in surprise. In unison, they cried, "So Senior Brother Xiao is already ahead of us on the journey of becoming an Immortal! No wonder you had mentioned that you are not a mortal."
Xiao Chen nodded before he turned to the three princes, "Do not leak this information, lest I fail to join this Sect."
Moving as one, the three princes immediately clasped their hands together and yelled, "We three so swear, that we will act as if we know nothing of this matter!"
The few continued their journey for another six hours until dusk came. By then, they had collected almost a hundred Octarine Cores and they were inching closer and closer to the peak of Lingtai Mountain. There was one more day before the test would end.
Just then, they heard the sound of giggles coming from behind. Luo Shangyan instinctively threw herself before Xiao Chen and the others defensively.
"I would never have thought that you are faster than we are, Senior Sister Luo." It was a girl, clad in robes of voluptuous red. There were a company of twenty people following her.