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"Father, I will miss you," Qian Xunji smiled. In his study, across him, not only the sitting Qian Daoliu, but Gui Mei and Yue Guan could be seen standing closer to the exit.
Qian Daoliu gazed at his son and then at the proposal in his hand. Even now, Qian Daoliu felt strange. It almost looked without an effort. Stakes were high this time but the rewards would be higher. If the Elders were dissatisfied with Xunji because of his act of joining hands with Heaven Dou Empire to raise the Empire's status and development, it was as Xunji proclaimed, the results were beneficial for the Spirit Hall.
But now, for the first time, Xunji made the Elders agree with his plan without any issues. He successfully caught the elder's attention. The Empires and the Seven Great Sects were pulled, too. The price for this act was equally astonishing.
2 Spirit Bones.
Alone, these Spirit Bones can only cause small-scale battles and massacres. In Xunji's hands, these two spirit bones became the pull that attracted every major force at once. It wasn't their status as the spirit bone itself, but what they represented.
"Miss me? Don't make it sound like I'm leaving the Spirit Hall for good," Daoliu had a gratified smile.
"I am only leaving once a week. But, Gui Mei and Yue Guan will not follow any of them."
Xunji's expression finally changed slightly and the two Titled Douluos behind Qian Daoliu looked astonished.
"Please enlighten me, father," Xunji calmed himself and inquired.
"Ordinarily, I would let you handle Bibi Dong as you wish. But you also cannot deny that by directing her to only tutor the most potent of students, Bibi Dong would have no choice but to travel the continent and find other equally talented rogues to complete her mission. You got what you wanted. They are out raising a ruckus and developing opponents. It is almost impossible to not earn the ire of any major faction by that group.
Not sending Gui and Yue is my compromise. Let them weather whatever they create. If it was before, I wouldn't have meddled. You understand, right?"
Qian Daoliu was soft-spoken but the three Titled Douluos, including his own son, had cold sweat sweeping out of their backs.
"I understand. I got what I wanted, naturally, I will cooperate. Before leaving, I do request that you bring these Spirit Bones from the Douluo Palace."
"I will get it done," Qian Daoliu nodded with a smile. Before leaving, he continued with an easygoing smile, "The elders have also agreed to make the event in the coming two years a regular event. Of course, there will be a few changes in the rules from next time but this one can continue as is."
"Thank the elders in my stead." Supreme Pontiff smiled and as his father faded away, he leaned back on his chair and gave a deep sigh.
"It is as he said. You two are not allowed to go against his words. If you do so, then your life is not something I can take responsibility for. Instead, proceed with the other proposal. Develop them in Star Luo Empire, too."
Both the Titled Douluos nodded and left the room.
Within an unnamed forest with the spirit beasts low enough that no faction controlled its territory, a few people could be seen sitting on a log. Strangely, one of the masked individuals had an out-of-ordinary leather chair. All of them sat around an extinguished campfire and the sky was already bright without the presence of the sun, allowing refreshing gusts to wave past them.
On the masked youth's lap who sat on a leather chair, a bright and colorful owl perched it its eyes closed. Soft, trembling hoots softly echoed out as its bright feathers ruffled due to the wind.
There was another girl in a white mask with a smaller owl perched on her lap but she sat on the log like everyone else.
"We are a few hours away from Spirit City already. Now, I will explain the reason for my actions."
Bibi Dong spoke calmly. After exiting the Spirit City, the innate fluster of her new powers calmed slightly. One of the few reasons why she agreed to look for talented individuals across the continent herself.
Getting everyone's attention, Bibi Dong revealed, "In 2 years, the entire Continent will participate in a comprehensive martial competition. This will be jointly arranged by the Spirit Hall and the two Empires. Every major faction, including the upper seven sects, will join in this competition because it proposes a new form of gaining power."
Everyone looked at her.
"You all are the participants of the War for the Treasures of Bloody River: Spirit Bone— to some degree. Now, you understand that despite veiled political motives, the attraction of a Spirit Bone, in some cases, can cause wars. I don't have a reason to hide that Spirit Hall had a major hand in this war. Using this war as an excuse, Spirit Hall revealed its true thoughts.
A competition amongst the young generation of the continent. Specifically, those under the age of 30."
Bibi Dong thought for a moment before picking a direction to continue.
"I will not discuss the political matters. It might be intricately connected to the competition, but our aim is more direct. Winning this competition. This means, in two years, all of you, and possibly myself, will be facing the best talents of the entire continent. In the terms of cultivation, you all will be facing a team of Spirit Emperor, at the very least.
But the rewards are equally great. As the proposer of the competition, the Spirit Hall will set the rewards the first time. Two Spirit Bones."
Everyone digested the information with great waves surging in their hearts while Ja Sun understood the political undercurrents.
The Spirit Hall first developed the war alongside the Heaven Dou Empire to cleanse a greater number of rogue cultivators. Then, it recruited most of the remaining numbers and assimilated them between Silvers and Balak Kingdom alongside a few other factions. Probably using the war as an excuse to reduce the bloodshed, Spirit Hall attracted other forces with Spirit Bones, and holding a cautious nature, the factions decided to accept it but it was clear that everything was ready then the competition would have begun within a few months.
The time period meant that many details and forces needed time for consideration.
"S-spirit Bones?" Xie Xan stuttered, an incredulous look on his face.
Bibi Dong nodded calmly.
"There is another reason why I will not tutor you in the academy."
Everyone controlled their shock once again and waited for her to continue.
"Spirit Academy has various mimicry environments developed using many essence tools. Each of these environments serves to develop a particular type of spirit master. In these two years, I will lead you all into the most dangerous terrain of the continent. Not only for yourself, by myself, too."
"Teacher... may we inquire about your cultivation?" Hu Lana inquired with a soft tone.
"Rank 66 Spirit Emperor." Bibi Dong's reply stunned Hu Lana, Xie Xan, and Liu Erlong. With the way Bibi Dong was treated in the academy, they felt that she would at least be a Spirit Sage but it seems the gap wasn't too large.
"In these two years, I will teach you theory and combat as we slowly travel the continent."
Pulling out a sheepskin map, Bibi Dong pointed at the western borders dividing the two empires and stated calmly.
"This is the Spirit City. In a little over a month, the Spirit City's construction will be finalized. Right now, we're here," She pointed on a south-western location from the map, indicating that they were already in the territory of the Star Luo Empire.
"Our first destination will be the Yang Mountain Range. These are the teaching materials I prepared for this location. Read them. Ask if you don't understand something."
With that, Bibi Dong produced five booklets and grew silent. Everyone took a booklet each and began going through the information about the mountain range.
What Bibi Dong prepared was quite concise. Aside from a brief passage on notable events in the mountain range and other specific powers that reside near and acts as the ruler of the territory, the booklet also contained the knowledge on the general species of spirit beasts of the ranks 1000-year-old and above.
"Teacher, we will be only traveling?" Ja Sun inquired.
"No. Training is a part of the travels but aside from that, we will complete the missions assigned from Spirit Hall."
Now even Ja Sun looked blank, but his mask covered his expression.
"What are the missions?" Ah Yin looked at Bibi Dong.
Taking out a thick book from her essence tool, she stated softly, "Bounty hunting is the mission set by the spirit hall. All the members are encouraged to hunt the cultivators in the bounty. Naturally, we will complete the missions and gain the rewards to strengthen ourselves.
Our group is a small one. Within Spirit Hall, there are many factions present that will become our opponent in the competition itself. For them, maybe, the environment of the Academy is best. For you, the dangers of nature are far better. So we compete against the entire Continent including the Spirit Hall."
Liu Erlong's gaze brightened. She certainly liked the sound of that.
"Read the information in the booklets. We will leave in one hour."
Within a short mountain range, the highest peak of which pierced the sky, was built a stone castle. Situated within mist and cloud, despite its grainy appearance, the castle held an innate aura of majesty and might that shook the viewers. Presently, in one of the more moderate courtyards of the castle, a large middle-aged man with long grey hair and bushy beard held a parchment with trembling hand.
The man wore a spiked leather jacket and despite his elderly appearance, his clothes revealed his wild and unbridled heart.
The note on the parchment was quite informal. It stated a few statements but it shocked this man to the core, so much so that he trembled.
— Rewards for the competition, should you participate, are decided.
60,000-year-old Nine-headed Giant's Torso Bone.
40,000-year-old Saint Hell Tiger's Skull Bone.—
The words were plain and simple. Even containing a hint of disdain. That, in itself, would rile up this old man to take drastic actions but as he looked at the two spirit bones, his entire being was filled with a strange sense of sweetness.
From top to bottom, the rarity of the spirit bones is as followed: Skull, Torso, the two upper limbs, and the two lower limbs. Outside this ranking exists external spirit bones which cannot be stored in physical form.
But the man's eyes only followed the words torso spirit bone and the— Nine-headed Giant.
Slamming the parchment on the thick rock table, the man shattered the furniture into fine dust and roared, "Second Brother! Send the message to those two bastards that if they don't win, I'll have them on supply duty for ten years!"
Within a lavish chamber inlaid with marvelous stones and glittering tile floor, a man could be seen submerged in a large bath comparable to the size of a living room. The entire surface of the water was layered with fragrant bubbles. The individual's long and soaked golden hair draped over his shoulders. His arms resting back on top of the edge of the bath. A parchment of paper floated in front of him and the contents were the same.
Slightly mocking words that failed to raise any wave in his heart but his pair of red and blue eyes stared at the rewards with narrowed eyes. His eyes were cold and his lips turned into a sneer.
"Get that foolish child to prepare heavily. The loss of this opportunity will result him his younger brother's treatment. As for the position of crowned prince, I and Zin'er are still healthy. We can have more cubs."
"Yes, your highness."
Similar parchment raised a clamor all over. As expected, the two spirit bones greatly motivated one of the two strongest factions and none other was willing to see these two factions especially get stronger. Preparations for the even two years later began at this very moment and as Qian Xunji would have expected, the preparations didn't just include training of one's younger generation but the removal of competition, too.
Yang Mountain Range, unlike many higher high-altitude ranges, didn't turn colder as one trekked higher. Instead, for some reason, the higher altitude was much more humid than usual and the temperature was distressingly high.
The rocky terrain was dry with barely any hint of greenery. A small group of masked men and women trekked one of the shorter hills. In such rocky terrain, the group also had to look out for poisonous spirit beasts and flying-type spirit beasts who consume the former.
"This is ridiculous... I need to change my clothes," Xie Xan gasped. His clothes stuck to his sweaty body and made him feel extremely uncomfortable. He pulled out his mask and gasped for air. Heaving loudly with strands of his hair stuck to his forehead, he looked at the three formidable beings in front of him. None of them were Ja Sun. As sweaty as Xie Xan, he stood next to him. Even his own breathing short and heavy. His dark robes not helping him at this moment.
In front of him were Bibi Dong, Ah Yin, and Hu Lana. Each of them dry, cool, and collected.
"How can you be so dry?" Xie Xan couldn't help but speak up.
"It's natural. I don't sweat," Hu Lana stuck her tongue out.
"Liar... when we—" before he could complete, Xie Xan was struck down by Hu Lana's glare.
"Whatever. There's someone wetter than us..." Ja Sun looked back at an incomparably soaked Liu Erlong persisting behind the two of them. Her brows twitched as Ja Sun gazed at her.
"Wetter than us..." Xie Xan repeated and chuckled before his expression changed and he glared at Ja Sun. Snorting, he stepped up.
"We're close to our first resting point." Bibi Dong stated calmly and the group followed.
"Ah Yin, come on, help me out," Ja Sun grumbled. He could use her refreshing energy at this moment. But only covering Olivia and Caihong in the shade of her refreshing energy, Ah Yin glanced at Ja Sun before sighing softly, "This is good. You should wait for a cold wind and all your sweat will make you feel good. And don't tell me that you dare flow your own blood but not your sweat?"
Ja Sun's brows twitched heavily.
'Sucking petty bitch!'
"I heard that," Ah Yin narrowed her eyes.
"What?" Ja Sun scoffed.
"You called me names mentally, didn't you?" Ah Yin snorted and turned around. She quickly followed close to Bibi Dong, establishing her dominance. Meanwhile, Ja Sun, Xie Xan, and Liu Erlong were stuck together. Reluctant and frustrated.
Now he knew why the mission's rewards were so strange.
[Objective: Trek the first hill of the Yang Mountain Range and speak— I'm on top of the world.
1) Complete the Trek on foot.
Mission Rank: F-E
Mission Rewards: Bottle of Gentle Spring—Breezy Sea's Robes.
Time Limit: 15 hours.]
With more members around him, Ja Sun, of course, added various constraints such as a specific vocal trigger to complete the mission. He didn't use to do this in his previous life so adding such triggers was new for him, too.
Ja Sun didn't drink more than he needed to and continued to follow until they reached the relative peak and down the slope, everyone saw a small forest in the valley between this and the next hill's slope.
It was actually a rainforest in the middle of two barren hills!
"Ka-ul, you will not release your martial soul transformation within the forest unnecessarily. Let's move. We will rest within this forest for three days and move."
The group made downhill quite happily but the forest was even dangerous than barren hill because Ja Sun was barely able to identify a disguised frog masquerading as a branch that took a shot at him with its tongue, poisonous kind, he reckoned.
Ja Sun's palm gave a soft glow. Before the tongue could breach him, he caught it instead and the body of the frog trembled instantly. Falling from the branch, paralyzed, it was instantly swallowed by a yellow scaled snake hiding in the bushes...
And then the snake was paralyzed.
Sighing, Ja Sun let go of the dead frog's tongue and it was then Bibi Dong spoke.
"Control-type spirit masters are divided into elements, plants, illusions and poison mainly. Unorthodox control-type spirit masters also include pure weapons and ghost-type beast spirits. For every other form, we can rely on our spirit skills to resist but when it comes to poison, we need a professional.
Of course, in a battle, you cannot have a professional ready at your beck and call. So, this month, we will focus on getting poisoned and then removing it using the natural means to build up your resistance. Don't worry, I have a method to increase the speed of this process."
Bibi Dong's words paled Hu Lana but despite her exaggerated expression, others looked quite grim as well.
"Teacher, my martial soul is already quite resistant to poison." Ah Yin spoke calmly.
"Good, then your progress will be better than others," Bibi Dong replied with an equal calm that stunned Ah Yin momentarily.
"Let's go. For now, only follow my steps."
The group carefully followed Bibi Dong and surprisingly, they didn't find a single poisonous beast moving in their direction.
While Bibi Dong knew the worth and use of two Human-tongue Owls in Ah Yin's hand, she seemed to have a different plan entirely.
Reaching the heart of the forest, the group found a small lake. But instead of clear water, the color of the lake was yellow and a faint, pungent smell continued to emanate out of the lake.
The thicket around the edges of this lake was yellowed and strangely dry when one compared it to the lush greenery around it.
"This is... the nest of Iron Toads?" Ah Yin recalled the information from the booklet they all received from Bibi Dong.
"Star Dou Great Forest has quite a variety of poisonous beasts. But, there are three terrains considered the small haven of poison, and the four valley forests of the Yang Mountain Range are considered one of these terrains. This is the poison lake filled with toxins of the Iron Toads. These species aren't amphibians but fully aquatic.
They usually eat any critter who dies after entering the lake since they cannot move at all. For the next three days, you all will be bathing in this lake for one hour."
"Sorry, I zoned out for a moment, what?"
"A mixed bath? Are we allowed to get naked?"
"I shouldn't be here."
Different responses from different individuals. Bibi Dong replied to each one of them.
Looking at Ah Yin, she nodded, "You are excused."
"You are pardoned," Hu Lana's lips twitched at the reply.
"I said that you will bathe inside this lake for one hour for the next three days." She looked at Xie Xan sharply.
"It doesn't matter if you're naked or not. The entire body will be affected. You cannot wear gauntlets, of course," She glanced at Ja Sun.
"You are at the right place. Dragons are a poisonous species innately. This is a good form of cultivation for you." Bibo Dong cleared Liu Erlong's doubts.
"We will set up the camp before I direct your training routines."
Everyone's expression was ugly at best. They gazed at the putrid lake and when they saw a few bubbles popping, Hu Lana's body trembled and she couldn't help but cover her mouth to prevent herself from throwing up.
"Get on with it!" Bibi Dong raised her voice with a frown and the group started erecting their tents and setting up their interior. Soon, everyone came out with a reluctant expression. Although Ja Sun didn't wear his gauntlets, his hands were still completely bandaged. Even though the poison of the Iron Toads is slightly corrosive, it wouldn't matter much with the stock of extra gauze he has.