On the fourth month of year 2012 on the Tianhun Calendar in the the northernmost part of the empire, Northern Mist Province, Praestia Pass—
The Northern Mist Province was the northernmost province of the empire, and Praestia Pass was the northernmost city in the province.
The ocean of trees that rested beyond the city was territory that belonged not to the Tianhun Empire, but to a completely different faction of power, the Soulbeast Forest.
The territory there belonged to the soulbeasts, and in a way, that place could also be called an ‘empire.’
As the name of the city implied, Praestia Pass was a mountain pass. The city was responsible for the fending off any soulbeast that roamed too close to the empire. The denizens of the city were assigned the tasks of maintaining surveillance and launching a counteroffensive on any soulbeasts that came from the Soulbeast Forest. They were there for the sake of protecting the people of the Tianhun Empire from harm.
The northern walls of Praestia Pass were many times larger than any other city walls. Not only was it a line of defense, it symbolized the line that separated the territory of humans from soulbeasts, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any humans beyond the walls.
On the contrary, there was a considerable amount of humans ‘beyond the wall.’
Roughly a hundred kilometers away from the gates of Praestia Pass was a small town that served as the central point between the two empires.
A town known as the ‘Town of the Braves.’
No actual name had ever been given to this town, but with all of the locals referring to the town by such a name, it became ‘official’ once the rest of the Empire heard the name.
There was a simple reason why the town was given such a name. Anyone that came to this town were what the rest of the empire called the ‘Braves,’ people that were brave enough to enter the Soulbeast Forest.
As an aside, the Tianhun Empire had three separate locations that were known as the ‘Three Danger Zones.’ The Soulbeast Forest wasn’t recognized as any of the three.
It was a separate entity that was more dangerous than the aforementioned locations. Thus, it was designated as the most dangerous place of all, earning it a special designation of its own.
Unlike the Three Danger Zones: the ‘Mountain,’ the ‘Valley,’ and the ‘Swamp,’ many of the empire’s soul cultivators were willing to journey into the Soulbeast Forest. If the Three Danger Zones were deadly enough to kill nine times out of ten, then the Soulbeast Forest was deadly enough to kill ‘ten times out of ten,’ but that was only applicable when journeying to the center of the forest.
Despite being a forest, it was beyond large. The outermost areas were by no means scarier than the legends told.
Regardless, there was still one common denominator between the Soulbeast Forest and the Three Danger Zones; each of the four places were known as a veritable paradise for ‘treasure.’
Of all things in the world, what was the most common thing in the Soulbeast Forest?
Aside from plant life, the answer would obviously be soulbeasts.
In the eyes of soul cultivators, soulbeasts were equivalent to ‘soulgems,’ which in turn were equivalent to ‘wealth’ or ‘shortcuts’ in training.
Training without any external help was extremely difficult and tiresome for any soul cultivator. Hence, objects and items that could speed up the rate of training were highly desired by all.
While primal stones were also shortcuts in training, they were limited in number and hard to obtain for a number of reasons. First, they were buried in the ground, meaning one would have to mine them out. Second, the majority of primal stone mines were owned by the larger houses and/or schools, meaning outsiders were unable to dip their fingers into the pot.
However, soulgems were different. They belonged to no one but the ones who could kill soulbeasts. As long as a person could kill a soulbeast, the soulgem was theirs to take. With a soulgem in hand, they could increase their training for half the effort.
Moreover, the soulgems weren’t the only important drops from a soulbeast. The body of a soulbeast could contain many other potential uses. Every part of its body could be used in some capacity or be traded for something of equal value.
Besides those things, the Soulbeast Forest still had a plethora of natural resources that could rival soulgems in value.
All in all, while the Soulbeast Forest was dangerous beyond belief, its allure was enough to override many soul cultivators’ fear. Whether it was for the sake of training, treasure, adventure, or even a soulbeast to partner with, the Soulbeast Forest was without a doubt the best place to be.
There was of course a warning to all that told people to stay within the outermost areas of the forest where the class five soulbeasts were.
Unless you wanted to die, there was no point in going any deeper into the forest.
In other words, one needed to be a Soul Exalt if they wanted to try venturing into the area where the class six soulbeasts were.
Records about soulbeasts of the seventh class were virtually left blank since many soul cultivators would not be willing to share the discoveries they made in the deeper parts of the forest…
The Town of the Braves was a stopping point for those willing to venture into the forest or for those still in one piece who needed to rest and refuel. Aside from the essential services such as a store, an inn, and variety restaurants, there was also the quintessential ‘Braves Guild.’ While not an organization in an official sense, it served as a place for people to meet with one another for things to trade. It was the the go-to spot for any soul cultivator new or old to the town.
It was a guild, but it was also a social area, not unlike a restaurant. The interior of the building was large beyond large with plenty of tables for patrons to sit at. People came in groups or by themselves, but they would all come and from the counter, inquiring about a service or requesting one to be done.
Of all the services to be had, the guild’s most highly used service was the mission board. Whether it be soulgems, soulbeast infants, or even precious resources, any and all soul cultivators that were either too weak or too lazy to look for themselves could put a request on the mission board. As long as the requested service was carried out, a reward of equal value would be given.
It was through this mission board that bounty hunters or mercenary groups could flourish and earn their keep.
Today, a rather special guest was in this guild hall where only soul cultivators gathered…
A guest that was about ten years old, in fact.
Timid and meek was he as he attempted to walk through the noisy halls. Dozens of pointed stares were leveled at the young boy, frightening him to such a degree that he wanted to turn tail and run, but somehow, he grit his teeth and ran full speed to the front counter.
Almost out of breath from just running to the counter, the boy was surprisingly already out of energy from just running a short hundred meters.
Several of the patrons looked away, losing interest in the boy.
“Phew…” The boy gasped. Standing on his tiptoes to look over the counter, the boy hesitated for a moment before saying, albeit timidly, “Hi there, grandpa. I’m… I’m Xiao Yi. Is this… is this where people ask for missions?”
Servicing the counter at the moment was a kind old man who didn’t seem to judge the young boy in front of him at all.
“Indeed it is, my child. What brings you here today? Are you looking for someone?”
“I… I wanted to make a request”
“A request? What kind of request?”
“I’m… I’m looking for some stargrass. The kind that can cure any sickness. This… this is the reward money. Is it enough?”
The boy took a small pouch out of his pocket while he spoke. Slowly opening it up, he took out several dozen copper coins; each shining with a nice glean, as if they had been taken care of meticulously.
A blanket of silence was draped over the hall, the entire guild was silent.
Everyone here was a soul cultivator of considerable strength—Soul Sprites were among the most common—so it was easy for everyone to listen in to Xiao Yi’s request.
For a while, nobody spoke.
Then someone laughed.
Like a chain reaction, the entire place burst into laughter as if they had heard a very funny joke.
“You want someone to find some stargrass? For just those copper coins? Hah! Whose idiot kid is this??”
“Stargrass can heal plenty of sickness, that may be true. For commoners, it feels like it has enough power to resurrect even the dead and is worth its weight in gold, but for soul cultivators, it isn’t even worth a fart! Who’d care for this little money enough to go to the areas where the class five soulbeasts are? Even if I found those coins under my foot, I wouldn’t even stop to pick them up!”
“What a cute kid? Is he someone from ‘that’ village? Only those ‘pariahs’ wouldn’t know a thing about civilization…”
“He’s just a kid. What kind of soul cultivator would make fun of a kid? Have you no shame…”
“What a bleeding heart you are. Why don’t you take his mission then and find some stargrass?”
“Stow it, I’m not that merciful to risk my life for something as minor as this…”
Perhaps that everyone was bored, but conversations revolving around this little boy started almost instantly, inducing a red-hot blush of shame on the boy’s face.
“Is… is it not enough? I… I saved up for two years to… to request this… grandpa, can this get me some stargrass?”
“It…” The elderly man didn’t have it in him to laugh at the boy for the pitiful amount of money offered up, “Child, it’s best that you go home. Today won’t be a good day for you to get some stargrass…”
“I can’t!” The boy cried, “I need some stargrass!”
It was startling how the boy had exploded so suddenly, seeing how meek he was before, “The village grandpa said that only stargrass can save mom! She’s been sick for so many years! The village grandpa said that she’ll die in a few months if we don’t get her some stargrass…”
Each word was spoken with more emotion than the last, and by the end, the boy was practically on top of the counter begging the man, “Please… please! Can you please find some stargrass? If this isn’t enough, I can save up more… I can… I’ll work here! I’ll scrub the floors! Wash the clothes! Cook food! Anything, just anything! I need stargrass for mom… I never met my father before. All I have left is my mom… please…”
Silence reigned again in the guild hall as Xiao Yi started to cry out to them all. Some people wore sympathetic looks on their faces while others looked on apathetically.
Either way, no one looked like they’d be willing to help the boy out.
“Alas…” The old man sighed again. “Begging me is no use. No one here has any stargrass, so making a request for it is useless. Don’t be so naive, foolish child, and go back to your mother… that is all you can do for now…”
The boy wanted to beg again, he really did.
But the look in the old man’s face, while sympathetic, was telling him ‘no.’
Knowing that begging anymore was futile, tears started to gather in the boy’s eyes, but he refused to cry.
His teeth bit down on his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, but none was seen with because of the he was biting down.
With a quick hand, he gathered up all the copper coins and placed them back into his pouch so that he could turn around and leave.
Then, a hand reached out to grab the few copper coins still on the table.
“Haha, Xiao Yi… is it? This request of yours… I’ll take it.”