Hope you all enjoy 🙂
Early in the morning, Zhang woke up, glad to be alive after his ordeal within the Graveyard and back in the comfort of his home. With a yawn, he slid out of bed and onto his feet, ready for the day to begin.
After a good night’s sleep his body felt invigorated and his mind relaxed, the torture that he had to mentally go through had taxed him and what Zhang had needed the most was a hearty meal and a good night’s sleep.
Now that he was fully recharged he made his way out of the room and climbed onto a large boulder sticking out of the courtyard. Cai Cao was still sleeping so when Zhang left the room he had done so as quietly as possible.
Once he climbed atop the boulder and sat cross-legged, after closing his eyes he began to absorb the essence that was flowing within the air and circulated throughout his body. As the essence flowed into his channels and flowed through his vessels, Zhang’s body slowly began to absorb it and use it to strengthen his bones and muscles.
Of course, the effects were very minimal and would hardly show unless he continues to do this over and over again over a long period of time. But if Zhang manages to reach a certain threshold with what he is currently doing, his body will become as hard as iron and perhaps grow to be as strong as steel.
Regular swords and spears wouldn’t even be able to break through his skin at that point, but there is still a very long way to go before he reaches such a level.
As Zhang continued to do what he was doing, light footsteps could be heard going down the stone staircase that led to his room.
“It’ll take forever if all you do is try to absorb the essence within the air, have you tried refining those demonic cores yet?” Cai Cao’s voice could be heard.
“Refine the demonic cores?” Zhang asked as his eyes opened, not long after his gaze was on Cai Cao who was walking down the stone steps.
“Here give it a try, all you need to do is hold the core in front of you and inject a tiny bit of your essence into it. Once your essence is injected the core will start to vaporize and all you need to do is to absorb the highly condensed essence that it releases.” Cai Cao said as he tossed one of the demonic cores that they had collected to within the Graveyard to Zhang.
“Alright, I’ll give it a try.” Zhang said as he caught the demonic core and began to refine it. Moments passed before a palm-sized demonic core within his hand began to shrink and give off a purplish smoke.
“This is ten times more rich in concentrated than the essence that I’ve been managing to take from the air.” Zhang thought as the purplish smoke was absorbed into his channels.
It did not take long for the core to disappear within Zhang’s hands and not long for him to notice the effects that had occurred on his body. Although he was not at the point where he could repel swords and spears yet, Zhang’s body was not as hard as stone.
The palm-sized core alone had provided his body with enough essence to compare to what he would have been able to absorb over a span of a month or two.
“I wonder what would happen if I tried to absorb that huge core we got from Little Blue and Little Red’s mother.” Zhang thought.
“Don’t even think about it. If you absorb that huge core in one go then you’ll explode. Demonic cores that belong to demonic beasts who are two or more realms higher have such a high essence density that they’ll cause your body to overload and explode.” Cai Cao explained with a laugh after guessing what Zhang was thinking.
“The best thing we can do is either save it for later or sell it and try to buy demonic cores that could be used by those at our level.” He added.
“Where would we sell it?” Zhang asked.
“The Outer Sect Hall of course. We have to head there in a few hours for the gathering so afterward we can either directly sell it or place it in an auction.” Cai Cao said.
So after an hour or so, Zhang and Cai Cao departed from their courtyard and headed down the mountain toward the outer sect hall. Along the way, they saw countless other outer sect disciples who were also making their way down the mountain also.
There were even a few familiar faces mixed into the crowd of people descending the mountain, within the crowd Zhang had spotted a few people who had tried to rob him and Cai Cao the previous time they had gone to the outer sect hall.
It did not take long for the Outer Sect Hall to come into view, as hundreds of buildings that were laid out on the valley floor could be seen.
Although Zhang had been here before he couldn’t help but admire the otherworldly feeling that the Outer Sect Hall gave off. Despite never having seen other places where cultivators gather, Zhang believed that the Outer Sect Hall was what a city of cultivators looked like.
After making the last leg of the trip down through the mountains, our two adventurers arrived at the Outer Sect Hall. Like the first time they had gone to the Outer Sect Hall, all of the stalls and stores were closed. This was because, on days where disciple gathers were held, not business was to be conducted within the Outer Sect Hall until the gathering was over. Despite no business being conducted, the streets were crowded with people who were all heading to the gathering.
Pushing and shoving their way across the sea of people, Zhang and Cai Cao soon reached the gathering hall whose massive gates were tightly shut, waiting for the sect’s elders to arrive.
“What do you think the gathering is for?” Zhang asked Cai Cao.
“I’m not sure either.” Cai Cao replied while shaking his head.
Thankfully they did not have to wait long to find out because dozens of streaks could be seen cutting across the sky. These of course were the elders of the sect who were flying atop their flying swords.
Once the elders appeared, the massive gates that lead into the gathering hall opened and the sea of outer sect disciples flooded inside. Some were hopeful that another pill distribution would happen while others were anticipating the possibility of some of them being promoted to the inner sect.
Upon landing on a large stage at the far end of the hall, one of the elders began to speak.
“Disciples of the Misty Mountain Sect, I know that many of you are filled with questions as to why this gathering is being held and your answers will soon be given to you.” An elderly man said with a smile.
“Today a total of one thousand disciples will be chosen from the bulk of you and given the honor of representing our sect in the Crimson Sky Sects Grand Tournament. For those of you who do not know about the tournament, it is hosted by the Crimson Sky Sect and takes place every five years. Every sect within the southern region can send a total of one thousand outer sect disciples to compete with one another through a series of trials. The chosen who manage to make it to the end will receive a substantial amount of essence stones and magical treasures. While their names would also spread through the southern lands and be known as rising stars within the cultivation world.” The elder said loudly.
After hearing this everyone present was filled with excitement. Although Zhang did not know what essence stones were he could tell they were fairly valuable if they were being given out as prizes. So without knowing what the prizes even were, Zhang was filled with excitement just like everyone else.
“I’ll read off the names of the thousand chosen who will represent our sect within the tournament every name called will appear on this stone slab.” The elder said as he waved his hand and made a large stone slab to appear onstage. Afterward, a scroll appeared in his hand and he began reading off names.
As the names were called off, the few who were chosen shouted out in joy. While everyone else stood hopeful, believing that it was a matter of time before they would be selected. Sadly, only one thousand people would be selected out of the many thousands of outer sect disciples present.
So be to selected these one thousand individuals had to stand out amongst the rest and set themselves apart from the crowd. There were individuals who were expected to be chosen due to their fame and popularity while there were others who were chosen because the elders saw something in them that no one else saw.
After roughly five hundred names were called, Cai Cao’s name appeared on the stone slab that everyone had been keeping close attention on.
“Congrats!” Zhang said as he patted Cai Cao’s shoulder.
“I’ll make sure to bring you back a souvenir.” Cai Cao teased with a grin.
“Also brother Cai, what were those essence stones that the elder was talking about.” Zhang asked.
“Essence stones are like demonic cores and can be used to further one’s cultivation or replenish their essence. Although they aren’t used here within the sect, in the outside world they are used as a basic form of currency for cultivators. Besides gold of course.” Cai Cao explained.
“How much gold is a single essence stone worth?” Zhang asked.
“It depends on the grade of the essence stone but typically the lowest grade essence stone is worth at least a five hundred gold coins.” Cai Cao said.
“Five hundred gold coins for the lowest grade essence stone….” Zhang thought as he imagination ran wild and a mountain of gold appeared in his mind.
So while Zhang was lost in thought, hundreds of names were called out one after the other. As the number of spots available continued to decrease and the number of chosen rose, the tension began to rise ever so slightly until everyone was at the point where they were biting their nails.
Everyone wanted to be chosen and given an opportunity at represent the sect while being able possibly obtaining essence stones and magical weapons. Once there were only ten spots left, the people who were not selected began eyeing one another, trying to guess which one of them could possibly be picked. There were even looks of envy toward the lucky few who had been picked.
Soon the last name was called and all hopes were crushed for those who were not picked as they looked around in disappointment. But there was one person within the crowd who had a big smile on their face despite not being selected.
Although he was not selected, Zhang was still happy for Cai Cao. There was no hint of envy in his eyes at all as he congratulated his friend.
However, before the gathering concluded a ray of light shot in through the gates of the gathering hall and a jade slip appeared and floated in front of the elder who was reading the list of names.
“There appears to be a mishap regard the list of chosen comprised by the inner sect elders. It seems that the last spot of was supposed to be given to a disciple by the name of Zhou Zhang instead of disciple Sun Hai.” The elder said after grabbing the jade slip and reading its contents.
“You got selected!” Cai Cao said loudly in a happy voice as he looked at Zhang.
“Now I won’t have to eat tree bark and twigs until you come back.” Zhang laughed.
While our two adventurers were celebrating, there were dozens of unhappy gazes focused upon them. Of the dozen or so unhappy gazes, there was one that was especially fiery, this gaze, of course, belonged to the man whose name was called in place of Zhang’s, Sun Hai.
It's one thing to not be picked at all and an entirely different thing to be picked and then to have your hopes dashed.
“Elder Jong, how could this be? How could the list be wrong? Has there been some kind of mix-up?” Sun Hai said, voicing his frustration.
“I understand your frustration but if the inner sect elders say there’s an error then there's nothing I could do.” Elder Jong said in a somewhat apologetic tone because he could understand how Sun Hai was feeling.
“Then why him?! Why him over me?!” Sun Hai yelled in fury as he pointed toward Zhang while his cultivation exploded and gave off the aura of someone in the late level of the fragmented realm.
It was as if his rage blinded his judgment as Sun Hai withdrew his sword and lunged through the crowd toward where Zhang and Cai Cao were.
Seeing the madness in Sun Hai’s eyes, Zhang also withdrew his sword and prepared to defend. He knew that Sun Hai’s cultivation was much higher than his, Zhang knew that if it came to it then he might be able to hold his own against Sun Hai.
As Sun Hai closed in on Zhang and their swords were about to clash, a tremendous force exploded from the stage.
“Insolent! You dare to draw your weapon upon a fellow disciple in the gathering hall?” Elder Jong exploded as his cultivation level was revealed. Before he finished speaking a blast of essence traveled through the air and slammed into Sun Hai’s body, sending him crashing into the floor.
“Drag him out!” Elder Jong roared.
Soon after a few of Sun Hai’s friends picked up his unconscious body and moved him outside of the hall. Faint trails of blood could be seen flowing out of the corners of his mouth while the shattered remains of his sword could be seen on the ground.
“All chosen are to stay behind while the rest of you are free to go.” Elder Jong said as his cultivation base receded and he returned to normal.