At sunset, a disciple rang the bell, calling, "It is dusk. Please leave the Sky-gazing Gorge."
The older disciples all required no further prodding as they began to shuffle away. But the new disciples were all hesitant to leave and eager to spend more time there. The disciple who rang the bell barked at them, "Dusk is here! Do you not hear me!"
"Aye. Let us go." Reluctantly, they got up and began to leave too.
As they went back, the three princes were especially excited. Prince Zhao said, "I feel that my powers have risen to another level. I am sure that I am getting closer and closer to Senior Brother Xiao."
Prince Yan peered at him, his eyes narrowed, saying, "What level were you?"
"By the way, this is a very good place indeed. Shall we come earlier tomorrow?"
Xiao Chen stared strangely at him and said, "You may come early as you will. But be careful."
"Why the caution? Are there wild beasts or predators here? Surely these animals would hardly be of any harm to us, not with so many Senior Brothers and Sisters present," said Prince Zhao, roaring with laughter.
Xiao Chen said no more, smiling only in return.
The second morning, Xiao Chen did not depart for the Sky-gazing Gorge. Instead, he meditated in his own courtyard for he could still draw some Spiritual Qi he needed for the moment. Seeing him still there, Lil Ruo asked, "Are you not going to the Sky-gazing Gorge, Young Master?"
Xiao Chen smiled and answered, "I intend to let the three unlucky fools to suffer a little. I might go after a few days."
At sunset, the three princes did come to him, sad and dejected.
"Boo hoo hoo... Help us, Senior Brother! We were bullied!"
"Ah? But who would dare to bully you three, the most eminent princes?" Xiao Chen was practicing his skills with his Unsullied. He returned his sword back to its sheath as he replied to their complaints.
From his robes, Prince Zhao took out an elixir. Bitterly, he grumbled, "It was all that Ye Shaochong. He had forced us to trade for each of these elixirs with the price of one Spirit Stone. He even ordered that it is compulsory for us to trade our Stones to him every month lest we are forbidden from entering the Sky-gazing Gorge! Damn, who does he think he is? The master of the Sky-gazing Gorge?"
Xiao Chen took the elixir from him and had a brief look. It was an elixir of common quality. Even he could easily refine more than tens of them at the cost of not even one or two taels apiece. He said, "You will only get sick if you consume such rubbish." And he tossed the pill aside.
"You had just tossed away a Spirit Stone!" Prince Zhao wailed out loud, looking in the direction where Xiao Chen had tossed the elixir.
Xiao Chen turned to him and asked, "Did you not mention my name?"
Prince Yan, who was sobbing, replied, "We did! But he said even you will have to comply with this command. And you have to buy two elixirs each month!"
Prince Qi then asked, "How about coming with us tomorrow, Senior Brother Xiao?"
Xiao Chen stared at him and replied flatly, "What is there for you three to fear when you have already paid your dues?"
"Of course we do. It seems that he's picking on us on purpose. He will surely harass us again."
Xiao Chen threw a look into the horizon, enjoying the view of the sunset and he said, "Very well. I will come with you tomorrow morning." As he spoke, Unsullied shot out of its scabbard, shearing off a little branch which had stretched over the wall.
"Wow! You can now control your sword with your Spiritual Qi, Senior Brother!"
The following morning, Xiao Chen walked out of his cottage, only to find the three princes already waiting for him. Seeing that Xiao Chen had brought his sword out today, the concerned Lil Ruo tugged at his sleeve, saying, "Please do not get into trouble, Young Master..." She immediately turned and glared at the three princes, "You three! Do not ever think of instigating my Young Master to fight for you!"
Xiao Chen caressed her hair gently and smiled at her, saying, "Have no fear. I will be fine." He then set off for the Sky-gazing Gorge with the three princes.
Filled with abundant Spiritual Qi, the fertile valley had attracted more than eight to nine hundred disciples cultivating there. Most of them were clustered at the northern and southern parts of the gorge which were lined by a few white birch trees, leaving a large tract of empty space in the center.
The newer disciples were mostly at the spot where the three Elders had first brought them to; which was at the South. Xiao Chen and his companions went over there too and looked for a place to sit.
Before long, four young men, all clothed red, came over to them and asked them coldly, "Are you new here?"
Xiao Chen opened his eyes slowly. Nonchalantly, he replied, "What do you think?"
The three princes began to feel tense and worried. Everyone else, especially the newer disciples, pretended as if nothing was happening, preferring to remain silent and continue their meditation. Some watched warily but did not show any reactions.
With no patience for banter, the leader of the four tossed an elixir to Xiao Chen and growled, "This is for this month; the price is one Spirit Stone. You will buy one again next month. Every month."
Xiao Chen snatched the elixir from mid-air, looked at it, and threw it aside, "My apologies, Senior Brother. I have no need for such trash."
"You insolent pup!" Angered, the red-clothed young man snarled, "Do you really not know the rules here or are you playing dumb?" His three lackeys stepped forward and stood menacingly around Xiao Chen.
The rest of the newer disciples were all watching wide-eyed now. A fearful voice came from a girl suddenly "There is only but ten more days to the next month. Please, Senior Brothers... C-can, can you leave him be?"
It was the same timid girl who had shared a table with Xiao Chen before, Wang Yue. But she had only just finished when another girl beside her immediately jerked her sleeve and gestured her to stop.
The young man in red barked at her, "Who are you to speak in my presence! Silence!" He shot a furious stare at Xiao Chen, saying, "I have given you the elixir. In one way or another, you will surrender your Spirit Stone!"
"Ah? And if I refuse?" Xiao Chen asked unequivocally.
Flaring with rage, the young man in red drew his sword. Not even his upperclassmen dared to display such insolence to him. More so for a new freshman who had just entered the membership of their order. However, his sword had not yet escaped its scabbard when a white bolt of light flashed by his eyes. He could almost feel the deadly chill off the blade of an Immortal's Sword which hung at a mere hair's breadth away from his neck. One more inch and his blood would stain the ground.
The commotion attracted even the upperclassmen. Many of the older disciples began to look at them now, whispering and murmuring anxiously.
"The control of a sword with his Spiritual Qi! He has great finesse and skill! Has he reached the powers of the Qi Refining Realm?"
"Is he a new disciple? He should have been one of the Inner Disciples, with potential such as his!"
Cold sweat began to wet and drench the young man's red robes. Stuttering with fear, he said, "Y-you, you... W-what do you want?" His hand was still gripping the hilt of his sword, but he could never dare move an inch.
"Begone." Xiao Chen simply said. He did not even cast a look at his intruder. Unsullied shot back into his scabbard with a clear and raspy ring, demonstrating Xiao Chen's impeccable precision in his control of his sword.
"Very good! Just you wait!" The young man spun on his heels and quickly left with his lackeys in the direction in which he came from.
The rest of the other newer disciples all came up to him, "Have you indeed reached the Qi Refining Realm, Senior Brother Xiao?"
Pride and smugness were apparent across the three princes' faces. Prince Zhao held up a thumb and laughed, saying, "Naturally. With Senior Brother Xiao here, no one will dare disturb us anymore. If only you knew that before entering the order, Senior Brother Xiao was already a..."
Xiao Chen swiftly shot him a glare, signaling him for silence.
But the huddling crowd had not dispersed when another band of more than ten men approached them. Every one of them was exuding a murderous aura; all of them clearly had the experience of shedding blood. The one leading before them was none other than Ye Shaochong.
With a series of metallic clangs and clinks, followed by the sharp whistling of wind, more than ten Immortals' Swords hung in mid-air; the sharp tips of their sword glinting ominously at Xiao Chen and his companions.
"Levitating your sword? You think learning it makes you great?"
The swords hung in mid-air, trembling and humming incessantly. The tip of the sword flashed dangerously under the sunlight like a serpent sticking out its forked tongue. The younger disciples, all of whom who have never encountered such a standoff, went pale and were petrified. The excited chatters went dead, and a still silence followed.
With his face becoming absolutely bloodless white due to the pallor of panic, Prince Zhao threw himself before Xiao Chen. Ye Shaochong rushed forward and smacked him hard on the prince's cheek. He then raised an arm and pointed to Xiao Chen behind, "What guts you have, wretched boy! You dare brandish your weapons in my territory! Do you love death so much that you wish to taste it?"
Xiao Chen's face grew dark. His Unsullied trembled, jittery in resonance to its master's boiling wrath. Seeing this, Prince Qi too threw himself forward, grabbing at the hilt of the sword to keep it from flying out.
Prince Yan stammered, "P-please... Please. Let us negotiate with civility. We are students of an esteemed Immortal sect, not a brigand of robbers and thieves."
Ye Shaochong was already of Lv 2 Qi Refining Realm, whereas even the weakest of his lackeys was in the intermediate phase of Lv 1. Noticing the odds, Prince Zhao ignored the stinging pain on his cheek and took out a Spirit Stone from within his robes. He handed it to Ye Shaochong, saying, "Here we go. There's no need for animosity now. We will pay our dues next month."
Ye Shaochong studied the Spirit Stone he received, as if weighing it with his hand. Smiling insidiously, he sneered, "At least there's someone here who still has some wits."
He cast another look at Xiao Chen, "I care not of your origins. I once told you, you live or die by my command at the Sunset Peak. Come at me if you dare. I too will love to enjoy some playtime." He waved his hand, calling along with his lackeys as he began to turn.
"Hold up..." Xiao Chen growled.