The way how Xu Ran smiled but said nothing gave pause to Zheng Kai.
"Ah," He spoke, "it seems I was asking for too much. Please pretend I said nothing, brother Xu."
It was said that somehow, distinguishing landmarks could be used to point the way in Black Cloud Valley, and that the people of the Underworld School had some sort of secret that allowed them free entry to and from the valley.
In other words, it was a secret that would never be told to an outsider.
Bai Yunfei and the others continued to walk for some time, but no one could tell what time of day it was with how the clouds were blocking the sky. He could only guess that they walked approximately a fifty kilometers which while not even a distance that'd work up a sweat, the surrounding environment was so monotonous and foreboding that it felt like they were still in the same spot.
Then when a cumulative hundred kilometers was reached, the scenery up ahead started to change.
The dark clouds above their heads were starting to grow fainter, allowing them to see a good two hundred meters around them now. Tufts of grass and weeds were even growing in places along with one or two trees, though they looked a little black in color, perhaps as a result of the environment.
From that point on, Xu Ran said, was the real entrance of Black Cloud Valley. Bai Yunfei was also told to not stray more than a hundred meters away from the group or else he'd get lost.
That was a warning Bai Yunfei took to heart. The aura he was feeling from the area wasn't ordinary by any means, and Bai Yunfei could feel the 'pressure' that had been weighing down on the group grow considerably from what it was before the entrance.
It was a type of pressure that came as a response to his soulsense. Whenever he tried to use that to scan the area, some sort of intangible energy would reject his soulsense. The feeling was a bit similar to if hundreds of hands were stirring the water. To him, the rejection of his soulsense felt a little unreal and very uncomfortable to deal with.
In another way, this feeling was a bit similar to when he was stuck in an enemy's illusion matrix. The only difference was that the feeling was artificially created by soul cultivators through an illusion stone as the medium. The pressure being exerted right now was 'natural' and would probably induce the same feeling of exhaustion and hard of breathing onto a regular person as if they were climbing a tall mountain. Impossible to live in and impossible to ignore, the only way was to adapt.
Bai Yunfei shared an uneasy glance at Zheng Kai and then to Xu Ran and Han Yue where the two both blinked in surprise.
Were none of the people from the Underworld School affected by this pressure?
"Tsk, it feels uncomfortable here. Hey, Xiao Lan, are you not feeling anything wrong or something?"
"Feeling anything wrong? Like what?"
"Don't you feel a little uncomfortable?"
Xiao Qi and Long Lan were both talking at that time, causing Bai Yunfei to turn his head to stare at Long Lan. "Long Lan, do you really not feel anything different?"
Long Lan looked back to Bai Yunfei and shook his head, "Nothing at all."
"Is it because of him training in elemental darkness….? Are soul cultivators and soulbeasts of that affinity not affected by this?" Bai Yunfei thought.
Up ahead of them, Han Yue casted a glance to Xiao Qi and Long Lan with the unmistakable light of shock and envy. She was still finding it quite hard to believe that these two were both class seven soulbeasts, and that one of them was contracted to Bai Yunfei.
It was very hard for her to believe that a class seven soulbeast would contract with just a Soul Exalt.
The more they walked, the more the surrounding area started to grow more clear, much to Bai Yunfei's surprise. The black mist around the area was clearing up with more distance covered, and even more plantlike could be found on the ground now. Traces of animal and insects could even be seen, and shortly afterwards, Bai Yunfei could've sworn they were in an 'ordinary' mountain valley again.
Two mountain ranges were covering the sides of the valley still, but from here on out was just a large expanse of grass and trees. Everything looked quite 'ordinary' if you excluded the dark clouds still hanging overhead.
The sense of 'regularity' was also just limited to the physical sense. The same pressure Bai Yunfei and the others were feeling at the entrance of the valley hadn't gone away at this point. If anything, it got even larger.
Mu Chen and the others were walking a lot faster than before now that they were in this part of the valley. Soon, the area changed again after another fifty kilometers. Bai Yunfei could feel the auras of soulbeasts now.
And very powerful ones too. Most of them were class five and class six and were sprinkled on both sides of the mountain range as if trying to hide their 'territory'. Though the auras of the soul cultivators could most definitely be felt by the soulbeasts, they were never attacked.
The group walked to a precipice a few meters tall when Mu Chen stopped to speak to Bai Yunfei. "We'll be taking to the skies from here on out. Be sure to follow after me and don't disturb the soulbeasts or we'll attract trouble."
Bai Yunfei nodded. "Rest assured, senior Mu. We will be careful."
They took off to the skies with Xu Ran and Han Yue both using flying swords. Likewise, Bai Yunfei had his Tempest Sword and Zheng Kai his own flying sword to fly upon. Ascending upwards, they were followed by Xiao Qi and Long Lan.
Underneath them was a sea of trees and above them was an endless blanket of black clouds. Contrary to what Bai Yunfei thought about Black Cloud Valley, there was actually an abundant amount of plant life here. But the most important thing were all the powerful soulbeasts living within the forest!
The soulbeasts within this place were either lording it over the others in their own domains or living together as a collective. Soulbeasts of both types lived here with strength of roughly the same level as one another. There were a few soulbeasts that were comparatively way weaker than the average, but they were just soulbeast babies.
Plenty of class five soulbeasts were had here and even a few early-stage class sixes. As for late-stage class six soulbeasts, Bai Yunfei and his group hadn't come across any yet.
The group flew swiftly beneath the dusky clouds. Looking up ahead, Bai Yunfei could see just beyond the horizon a part of the land where it was even darker than the surrounding area as if it was night.
As Bai Yunfei was staring at the black cloud in wonder, an ear-piercing trill cried out from the right before a powerful aura came exploding forward!
It was a soulbeast with the body of a bird and head of a black snake. Rising out from a thirty meter tall tree from the right, the soulbeast flew up to try to swallow Bai Yunfei's head whole with its snake maw!
The soulbeast's ambush was extremely out of the blue. It was almost as if it was hibernating before Bai Yunfei and the others flew over its head!
Zheng Kai cried out in alarm from behind. Bai Yunfei's eyes narrowed. Though just a little surprised, Bai Yunfei wasn't completely caught off guard and prepared himself to counter the soulbeast.
Mu Chen, who had been leading the group at the front, was about to turn and attack when he heard yet another trill. Two blades of darkness flew out away from Bai Yunfei's back and slammed into the incoming soulbeast just five meters away from him.
Xiao Qi had landed the first move and blow!
Then under the amazed eyes of both Xu Ran and Han Yue, the incoming soulbeast was split into by one of the blades!
Blood sprinkled down from the skies as the two halves of the body crashed to the ground. A dark-colored soulgem the size of a fist flew out from its corpse and landed in the outstretched hand of Long Lan.
"Tch. I've never seen such an ugly bird before in my life. It had a snake head! How disgusting."
Not at all looking like he had just done anything major, Xiao Qi fluttered his wings and flew to Long Lan's shoulder. "A dark-type soulgem? This should help you, right, Xiao Lan?"
Crushing the soulgem in his right hand, Long Lan stared at the pieces turn into smoke to be absorbed into his body. "It's better than nothing."
Up ahead, Xu Ran and Han Yue were both stupefied. A late-stage class six snakeagle, the strongest soulbeast in this area, had been so easily killed like that?
Bai Yunfei stared solemnly at the corpse of the soulbeast down below. "Xiao Qi, you can't go killing soulbeasts like we used to in the Soulbeast Forest…."
He turned to Mu Chen and bowed apologetically. "Senior Mu, please forgive Xiao Qi for not knowing his manners."
Since this was the Underworld School's territory, Bai Yunfei felt it wrong to be killing soulbeasts that lived here.
But Mu Chen only gave Xiao Qi a small look of surprise and shook his head. "Haha, no worry, we can continue on our way."
The soulbeasts that lived here weren't ones that the Underworld School raised, though the school did see them as 'property' still. All the students that studied here generally came out here to either train or find soulbeasts to contract with. The school had rules and other stipulations in regard to the general killing of soulbeasts here, but there'd be no way that Mu Chen would blame Bai Yunfei for what happened.
In any case, Mu Chen had already been aware of the snakeagle's presence. He just wanted to 'see' what would happen if it were to attack, and how Bai Yunfei would respond to it. He just never thought that Xiao Qi would be the one to respond first, and that the bird would be capable of using spatial attacks. In the end, he was surprised and had a higher level of respect for the soulbeast partner of Bai Yunfei.
Now that there weren't any other obstructions, the group could continue to travel for another two hours before Xu Ran turned his head back, "Brother Bai, brother Zheng, we've arrived."
He pointed up ahead.
Bai Yunfei followed Xu Ran's finger with a strange look—there was just a sea of trees in that direction and nothing else!