Xiao Chen returned to his courtyard and found Lil Ruo standing alone outside in the moonlight. Her long streaming hair veiled her pretty face, falling on her shoulders. Xiao Chen asked her, smiling, "Why are you not resting in your room, Lil Ruo?"
"I am afraid, Young Master... I could not sleep knowing you're not around..."
Xiao Chen laughed softly and went to her. He reached out and stroke her hair, saying gently to her, "All is well. Off you go to bed."
Lil Ruo looked up and him, her long eyelashes trembling now and then as she murmured, "Young Master... I..."
The next morning before the sun was up, Xiao Chen was already meditating and training outside in the courtyard. The supply of Spiritual Qi there was hardly enough for him to increase his powers, but they were sufficient for him to strengthen his mastery.
He continued for another quarter of an hour until the sun began peeking over the mountain peaks. There was the creaking of a door opening. Lil Ruo came out slowly, still wearing a dress of white, her hair let down over her shoulders. Softly, she asked, "Are you going to the Sky-gazing Gorge again, Young Master?"
"Yes. I will go when the sun is up," said Xiao Chen who turned over to face her with a smile.
Dawn had only come, but the Sky-gazing Gorge was already filled with almost all the disciples there to train. They returned to their respective places and continued their meditation, as was Xiao Chen and his companions, who did not go to the empty areas at the center of the gorge.
With the abundance of Spiritual Qi, he could consume as much of it as possible to try for higher levels. At noon, Lil Ruo came with a food carrier as she usually did, only this time, the food carrier was noticeably larger than the one she used before.
"What a kind girl you are, Sister Lil Ruo. Every day you come bearing food for us." Prince Zhao was the first to scoot over to her. This time, Lil Ruo no longer put herself in between of him and the food carrier anymore.
The mouth-watering aroma of the delicious meat escaped into the air as soon as the lid of the carrier was opened. Princes Qi and Yan each took a bite off their drumsticks, chewing ravenously while Prince Zhao chomped furiously on an entire chicken.
Xiao Chen shook his head and laughed, "I'm beginning to wonder if you are really princes."
Mumbling incomprehensibly through his food, Prince Zhao said, "I have almost gone sick after living only on dried buns... By the way, you have great cooking skills, Sister Lil Ruo. Why don't you become one of my consorts when I stop my studies here?"
A shade of red burned on Lil Ruo's cheeks that instant as she turned away from him, "No way!"
Prince Zhao placed down the chicken he had eaten halfway and continued, "I am serious. I will ask my father to write a letter seeking a union by marriage between our families..."
The scarlet patch on Lil Ruo's face grew redder and redder by the moment. Frantic with embarrassment, she hastily changed the subject, "Eat up, Young Master or the food will get cold." She opened the bottom level of the food carrier. There were fish, duck, and chicken inside; all neatly sliced and arranged with an assortment of beautiful fruits. There was also fruit juice that she had made herself.
"Wow..." The three princes were astounded. Prince Zhao spoke sourly, "It's no wonder people always say the grass is greener on the other side. Not even my own sister has treated me with such kindness..."
Once he had finished devouring the chicken, Prince Zhao licked at his fingers as he then said, "We will be given a break next year to go home. How about coming to see me, Senior Brother Xiao? You can bring Sister Lil Ruo along. I'll show you around the palace."
Princes Qi and Yao both quipped as well, "You can also come to visit us, Senior Brother."
Prince Zhao interjected, "The imperial chef of my court makes very good deep-fried loquats; very much better than the ones we have here..." He turned to Lil Ruo, "Have you tried any deep-fried loquats here? They're good to be eaten with noodles."
Feeling absurd and silly, Lil Ruo gasped, "I-is... is that even edible?"
The after-lunch banter continued joyfully only to be broken by a deafening crash. Pandemonium and chaos followed swiftly.
"What's going on!" Xiao Chen exclaimed as he stood himself before Lil Ruo to shield her from danger.
There were people frantically running around and screaming at a distance away from them. A young man in robes of white was tossed suddenly into the air, with blood pouring from his mouth. Xiao Chen recognized him. He was Zhuo Wuhen, the leader of the gang, North Mountain, who possessed the powers of Lv 2 Qi Refining Realm.
Zhuo Wuhen fell back to the ground. Immediately, a wraith-like figure appeared and kicked him up for meters into the air. The figure then took into the air and landed another kick that smashed Zhuo Wuhen back into the ground once more, throwing dust and earth into the air.
Blood gushed uncontrollably from Zhuo Wuhen's mouth. Still, he taunted frostily, "You dare kill me here, Ye Fei?"
"Not here," said another man who face was dark with malice. With eyes as pitiless as a predator and a nose as sharp as a hawk's beak, the person hissed ominously, "But I can slice off your arms." He waved his hands, and two bolts of white radiance shot forward.
There were two loud sickening crunches and down came Zhuo Wuhen's two arms. Blood poured from his wounds like a geyser as he screamed in agony.
"And your legs."
There came another two projectiles that severed off Zhuo Wuhen's legs. Blood splattered horribly everywhere. The crowd watching the gory spectacle stirred uneasily and nervously as screams filled the air. Some of the people from the North Mountain gang began running out of the Gorge.
Never had Lil Ruo ever witnessed such butchery and carnage. Her face had gone pale with panic, her body trembling. Xiao Chen covered her eyes hastily, saying, "See no more!"
Ye Fei took a step towards and crowd and ordered, "Take him away and throw him into the ravines. Let's see if he'll be able to survive." A few of his minions strode forth and lifted Zhuo Wuhen, now barely clinging to his life, and his severed limbs away.
Dazed with fear, no one dared utter anything. Not even the sound of one's breathing could be heard. Ye Fei hissed wickedly, "From this day forth, the North Mountain gang will exist no more! Your dues are hereby increased to two Spirit Stones each month!" He then cast an evil look at the group of new disciples.
Xiao Chen felt a jolt of panic, What a strong murderous aura! That deadly glare! He is coming for me!
Having long swept by fear, all colors had left the three princes' faces. None of them, with the rest of the dozens of new disciples behind them, dared to heave a breath.
Leading his men close behind, Ye Fei came over. Ye Shaochong was trotting along behind too; his injuries almost fully healed. As they came closer to the new disciples, Ye Shaochong snarled, "On your feet, all of you!"
The dozens of new disciple all rose immediately obediently with their heads kept low.
"Hand over all your Spirit Stones! You will all pay three Stones starting from this month! I'll have a finger of yours if you are short by one; an arm if you're short of two!"
No one dared make a sound in the face of Ye Fei's overwhelming presence as they hurriedly emptied themselves of all their Spirit Stones. One of the new disciples risked a look up at him, begging pitifully as with a quivering voice, "Err... I have used up my Stones for last month... Can I pay up with the rest next month..."
"You may..." Ye Fei replied coldly.
"Thank you so much..." The disciple said. However, he had barely finished when a kick sent him meters away, spewing blood incessantly.
"Try...." Ye Fei growled, ending his sentence.
Xiao Chen cracked his knuckles but Prince Zhao immediately held his arm.
Ye Fei turned and stared furiously at him, "Are you Xiao Chen?"
Xiao Chen shot back coldly, "I am..." The two words had barely left his lips when he felt a strong force striking him into his abdomen, sending him crashing into a tall white birch tree which broke in half.
"Young Master!" Lil Ruo cried, badly shocked and distressed. She immediately sped to him. Xiao Chen spat a gulp of blood and pushed her away. Through the pain, he gasped, "Leave now!"
Ye Fei hissed wickedly, "Leave? None will be leaving here alive!" He took a step closer to the wounded Xiao Chen. Lil Ruo immediately threw herself before her Young Master; her arms stretched wide to shield him vainly, crying, "Go away!"
With a flail of his sleeves, Ye Fei sent another blow at her. Knowing that Lil Ruo, who was hardly a Cultivator with enhanced physical strength, would never be able to survive a strike so brutal, Prince Zhao dove forward to protect her, shouting, "Sister Lil Ruo!" The blow struck him with a loud bang.
"Arghhh..." Prince Zhao crashed heavily to the ground, motionless. Through his bloodied mouth, he murmured subconsciously, "Father..."
His eyes then closed shut.
Xiao Chen's eyes almost burst out of their sockets with rage. Yet he was still incapacitated by the blow that Ye Fei had landed on his dantian. Screaming with terror, Princes Qi and Yan immediately rushed forward.
"Heh heh! Xiao Chen! To Hell you go!" Ye Shaochong screamed as he lunged forward, seeing his chance to stab Xiao Chen when the latter is motionless.
"Ahhh!" Xiao Chen yelled as he mustered all his spiritual powers. The sight of Prince Zhao, looking lifeless and dead, filled him with rage and resolve. The sky shook suddenly. It was the unmistakable roar of a dragon. The golden silhouette of a dragon coiled around his arms and struck at Ye Shaochong with a colossal bang, throwing him off his feet as the latter spat a mouthful of blood.
In that very instant, Ye Fei chanted some incantations and conjured a sword out of thin air. He directed the sword with his powers, sending it like an arrow at Xiao Chen's throat. The ferocious stroke tore through the air, threatening to snap at Xiao Chen's neck like a venomous serpent. But what would have been Ye Fei's triumph stopped short with a loud clang. The tip of his sword stayed three inches away from Xiao Chen's neck, not being able to move any further for it was Xiao Chen's hand which had held its blade.
Blood trickled down one drop after another from the tip of the sword. Xiao Chen's veins were swelling under his skin that they looked like they could burst anytime. Intense pain was all over him as if he was on fire. He had used the forbidden technique of the Mystic Cyan Sect, the Immolation Spell of the Three Elements!