The mist grew thicker and thicker, with a tangible decrease in temperature. It was a chill so dense, Jiang Lan was forced to battle the cold by circulating her own reserves of spiritual energy through her body.
Here, the natural energy of the earth was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of yin energy, increasing the difficulty of cultivation by several magnitudes. However, it was precisely this thickening, that signaled to Jiang Lan that she was approaching her intended training ground: the Yin Pools.
The yin energy characteristic to the wilderness followed a fairly regular condensation cycle that replenished the fog, produced storms during an annual rainy season, and ran through rivers and streams that branched out like the veins and arteries of a human body. The condensed yin liquid continually fed the forest and eventually flowed into various basins scattered around the woods.
Thus, Yin Pools were formed. These training sites were favored by body cultivators who would submerge themselves in the basins in order to temper their bodies. By raising their resistance to the yin energy, they would not only physically strengthen themselves, but also increase their defense against yin-type attacks.
Jiang Lan had anticipated that the area would be relatively empty. After all, among the disciples of the Cursed Ghost Sect, body cultivation was one of the least popular paths due to its excessively harsh training methods.
For females in particular, body cultivation was even less popular, due to widely held beliefs that females are innately weaker, and therefore have lower physical foundations and limits in comparison to men.
For Jiang Lan, the single advantage of body cultivation that trumped all other factors was this: it was cheap! Much cheaper to practice in every way, whether it was the level of the innate talent required, the resources necessary, and the comprehension ability needed to understand the cultivation method.
As someone poor in all areas, poor in wealth, talent, and even looks, the only thing Jiang Lan had was her undying fighting spirit and perseverance. Regardless of the dangers, she pushed her way through the deadly mist, reveling in the pain she experienced, taking it as evidence that her cultivation was progressing.
Jiang Lan shivered as the temperature dropped even further and voluntarily limited the reinforcement of her body, activating the initial steps of the Four Breaths, Four Minds Method. Carefully controlling her qi, she gave herself just enough energy to keep going, but not enough to fend off the sensation of piercing coldness that drilled under her skin like the skillful knives of a butcher skinning a carcass.
The giddy sounds of laughter broke through her trance. Jiang Lan's qi fluctuated dangerously before she quickly regained her concentration.
Why were there so many goddamn people laughing in this accursed place? It was her second time hearing such ill-fitting noises in the span of only three days!
Filled with the irrational fury of a diligent student disturbed by the noises of a party in their vicinity, Jiang Lan braced herself once again, on guard against any bloodthirsty monsters or worse, equally bloodthirsty seniors.
Strange. Whoever was giggling sounded extremely young. Almost like a child.
But that couldn't be right. No child would be playing out in these woods. Unless…
Jiang Lan froze as chill ran down her spine, the light brush of an icy fingertip.
This time, the eerie giggle came from someone directly behind her, so close, she could feel their frigid breaths tickling the back of her neck. A deep sense of horror welled up as she realized she was completely unable to sense any trace of the entity trailing her.
All she could feel was the familiar oppressive aura of death.
Jiang Lan's mind raced as she wryly reflected, "It is one thing to talk big about facing down death, but the truly scariest feeling is when you are standing, alone and helpless, in the face of something unknown. There really is no medicine for regret."
She internally scolded herself for her own recklessness, charging into the wilderness without sufficient preparation. If only she had held back for a few extra days and thoroughly researched the Land of Wandering Souls, she might have been able to construct a safer training plan.
Just as she braced herself to embrace the cool arms of death, the pressure subsided as the words,
entered her ears, echoing through her head.
Jiang Lan froze where she stood, in shock. Her forehead furrowed, trying and failing to make sense of the rapid switch from complete and utter terror to...complete and utter confusion?
"Hehe, I bet you can't catch me!"
The child's playful voice bounced through the blurry mist like a mischievous animal, longing for an answering call.
When Jiang Lan failed to respond, the child's voice returned with a vengeance,
"I. Bet. You. Can't. Catch. Me!"
This time, the words battered through Jiang Lan's head like a rampaging beast, just as lively as before, and yet dripping with an incredible loneliness.
She timidly responded, "I, I bet I can?"
Wild with glee, the child yelled, "HAHAHA, I'D LIKE TO SEE YOU TRY!"
An unnatural breeze picked up, blowing aside a bit of the fog to reveal the minute traces of an entity barreling through the dense yin energy, leaving behind a trail of dispersed mist.
Jiang Lan cursed her poor luck. It was utterly infuriating, coming so close to her destination before getting roped into a wild goose chase with a mysterious child of unknown origins.
What happened to growing stronger? What happened to those lofty goals? Why was she forced to transform from a determined cultivator into a random playmate?
The fates themselves must be playing with her once again.
Although the child seemed to have left the scene, Jiang Lan still remembered the abject sense of oppression it had effortlessly exerted upon her. She knew, with a dreadful certainty, that there would be serious repercussions for not following along with the entity's game.
With a deep sigh of resignation, Jiang Lan trudged through the woods, begrudgingly following the child's trail.
From a distance, it taunted,
"YOU'RE NEVER GONNA CATCH ME LIKE THAT, SLOWPOKE!
The last two words once again smashed through her mind, raging through her consciousness with the force of a battering ram.
Jiang Lan picked up her pace.
Honestly, when will our MC ever power up again? Poor Jiang Lan, all she wants is to hurt her body and gain power, but a little ghosty is bullying her into playing tag. Who knows what's gonna happen next? I don't, haha. Honestly, I don't (cause I've just been making up the story as I go). As always, thanks for reading!
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