Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
A hole cracked open right in the middle of the hall like a tunnel that led down into the center of the mountain. One after another, candidates who were chosen to enter the Dragon Spring stepped into the hole, their footsteps echoing loud and long as they descended deeper inside.
The passage spiraled downwards and it took almost a quarter of an hour before the candidates arrived before a large set of brass-hewn doors.
Ponderous and ancient, the heavyset doors looked like they had survived the washes of Time and remained steadfastly enduring. An intricately-carved relief depicting a life-like dragon in all its majestic splendor adorned the center of the doors.
Only, the opening of the doors was ajar with a soft red glow, veiled by gossamer mists, pouring from its seams.
No one stopped. No one could stop. Everyone who came here, filled with adrenaline and anticipation, immediately mobbed the brass doors and poured into the reddish mists like a stampede, and the scarlet gossamer fog, like a shapeless monster who had been waiting for prey, engulfed everyone into its bowels.
Following just behind Xie Jin, Lu Ye stepped into the red mists too.
He was only just inside when a sudden sense of weightlessness assailed him. A fleeting moment when he thought he was falling down an endless abyss. By the time his feet felt firm ground once more, everyone was gone. Xie Jin was no longer in sight and so were the thronging Cultivators before him.
Lu Ye wasn’t startled at all. On their way here, Qiao Qiao Er had been peppering Xie Jin with questions about the Dragon Spring and their leader had been very frank about what he knew, although there was little to what he could attest—whatever he knew about the Dragon Spring was confined to the stories and experiences he heard from others.
One of the many hearsays he had heard about was about how bizarre the trip here would be. Apparently, everyone who stepped into the red mist would be transported to a separate pocket dimension where they would be detached from the others.
As for why, Xie Jin did not have the answer to that question either. But maybe the upper echelons—his mentor or the other elders—of Green Feather Mountain might understand the arcane secrets that governed this special location.
Lu Ye spun around to survey his surroundings. The scarlet-red gossamer veil was not thick enough to prevent him from discovering where he really was—a room. A small room with a natural spring bubbling with fresh, clean water-like liquid, although instead of drenching everywhere and creating a flood, the liquid immediately seeped into the earth as soon as it hit ground. The crack in the ground where the water was pouring out from was where the scarlet-red mist was building.
Barely ten by ten meters in size, the room wasn’t spacious at all although there really was nothing else in this space aside from the effervescent groundwater source.
An amazed Lu Ye could barely guess where the others were, but he was sure that they must be somewhere inside a strange little box with strange water-like liquid pouring out of a hole in the ground.
Whatever this place was, Lu Ye realized, it must hold some unknown magic. But he was not curious enough to find out more—whatever secrets that prowled here must have long been unraveled by the factions vying for the full and absolute control of this place.
As was he was told earlier, time was of the essence. Lu Ye strode to a corner and produced a round cushion. He sat on it and began meditating and assimilating whatever goodness he could detect.
Instructions from Xie Jin told him that he only needed to meditate and his body would automatically assimilate the enriching properties of the pale reddish mist which would temper and hone his physical constitution.
But something told Lu Ye that it might not work with him. His methods of cultivating his powers had never been orthodox, to say the least.
He sat there for minutes until he had enough. He was right. Meditating alone would not help. None of the red mist was being consumed by him at all.
He needed to be able to absorb the red mist into his body or he could never enjoy its effects and have his physical strength and abilities enriched.
Fortunately, he already had something else prepared. Lu Ye immediately began activating the Spiritual Pattern “Gathering Spirits”.
The Spiritual Pattern “Gathering Spirits” could function as a funnel of sorts that would help direct and focus the flow of the red mist on him. If this scarlet-red mist was the same as the Spiritual Energies that swirled in the atmosphere, then “Gathering Spirits” might just be what Lu Ye needed.
The Spiritual Pattern “Gathering Spirits” quickly took form at his mental command and as soon as it began functioning, Lu Ye felt completely different: the red mist swirled towards him, passed through what looked like a holographic funnel hanging in midair and flowed into the pores on his skin.
If there was any difference between this and ordinary meditation, that would be the prickly sensation as if someone was poking him with a needle when the rich reddish mist swirled into him and filled up his Spiritual Point.
But he was unperturbed by the sensation. Xie Jin had told him about this too, and apparently, such sensations were said to be normal. That was the reddish mist doing its work to improve his bodily strength and abilities.
This explained what Tang Wu told everyone in his briefing before coming in here: that one should only go as far as one could and not force him- or herself beyond the limit. The more gifted a Cultivator was, the greater the boon he or she would enjoy in here. But a greater boon would also mean greater pain.
The awful throes of pain just kept on going like an army of bees swarming on him as the Spiritual Pattern “Gathering Spirits” never stopped drawing in more red mists for him.
Feeling used to the pain, he began constructing a second “Gathering Spirits”. Then a third. Then a fourth…
By the time he had constructed his thirtieth “Gathering Spirits” pattern, he was already grunting heavily at the arduous discomfort.
The red mist was surging into him at different parts of him and the pain was only getting clearer than ever. It no longer felt like a pinprick. Instead, it was like having needles piercing into him from all directions.
Lu Ye stopped constructing more “Gathering Spirits”. Any more and he might just blackout from the pain.
The agony crescendoed and it was all he could do to remain conscious. It was as if flames had engulfed him and the fire was trying to peel his skin and his flesh from his bones. His muscles and sinews tensed and flexed like well-chiseled marble and the veins at his temples never looked so obvious before while his face contorted and twisted like a grotesque monstrosity.
Droplets of sweat mottled his back and his front as he grappled with the torment, soaking his tunic.
Then, his senses registered a huge difference. The pain was subsiding. It was still there, but to a much lesser extent than before.
Lu Ye took a beat to calm himself and began constructing more “Gathering Spirits”.
The thirty-first, then the thirty-second… Until he reached the fortieth.
That was another threshold. The same level of pain beset him again, followed by the same burning sensation that he had to tolerate until his body got used to it…
Only then did he start to construct his third round of “Gathering Spirits”.
In the end, he had “Gathering Spirits” over each and every one of his Spiritual Points, making the number of activated Spiritual Patterns he was trying to maintain at the same time fifty-four in total.
Virtually every wisp of the pale rubescent mist whirled around Lu Ye, engulfing him like a tornado because of the collecting drawing force of the multiple “Gathering Spirits” working concurrently. Clenching his fists tightly, he tried to ignore the excruciation, although his body could barely stop shaking.
All of a sudden, he thought he saw a gigantic and disembodied pair of eyes staring down at him. Malice, anger, and confusion permeated its gaze, sending ice trickling down Lu Ye’s spine.
The pair of bulbous and sanguine eyes was there for one second, then it vanished in the next when Lu Ye opened his eyes at once, leaving Lu Ye staring into thin air.
Lu Ye’s expression turned taut with apprehension. Was that just a delusion?! But he was certain that he was being watched. He was certain that he almost heard a deep and ancient voice, saying something unintelligible that he did not manage to catch.
But somehow, the pangs of agony were gone, now replaced with the pangs of hunger. He felt absolutely ravenous.
Lu Ye turned his head in the direction where he just heard the strange sound. It was coming from the eye of the spring. Something small and flat had just been spewed out of it.
He looked at it, wondering if he should pick it up, although his curiosity quickly got the better of him. He clambered up to his feet and strode over. But he only took a few steps when he felt something amiss.
His feet were wobbling. He was sure that it was not dizziness or giddiness. It was like he was losing control of his own limbs.
He tried to get to the eye of the spring, yet he stumbled past it instead and tottered into a wall, nearly falling.
He steadied himself and closed his eyes. Then he began checking himself.
His vigor had doubled and his strength greatly enhanced. Just by clenching his fist, he could feel so much power coursing through his veins.
His physical constitution really had strengthened—not by a bit, but a real spike on a huge scale! So this was why he felt like losing control of himself! The physical enhancements he just experienced had been great and come too quick, his mind needed time to get used to them.
He stood there and took a couple of deep breaths. Then he noticed it. Even the flow of the water pouring out from the eye of the spring had slowed. Everything seemed slow.
[So this is it?! The so-called physical enrichment that one could enjoy by using the Dragon Spring? That’s awesome!] Lu Ye reeled amazement.
[Wait. No. That’s not right. If this spring could really give anyone who walks in here such substantial enrichment, there would have long been an all-out war to fight for this place. The last thing they’d want would be a silly and jejune tournament every year just to contest for the chance to send their acolytes and students into this place when they could have just conquered this place and hoard its boon for their own consumption.]
He remembered full well what Xie Jin told him prior to coming here. The physical enrichment that the Dragon Spring afforded could do much good, but not to the extent of a complete upgrade or transformation. At any rate, the boon of the Dragon Spring was never expected to really eclipse whatever rare resources that these militant orders and sects had in their private stores. For this reason, the places that Green Feather Mountain had won in every Dragon Spring Conference were used mostly as gifts to its allied sects and orders for diplomatic purposes rather than an actual means to strengthen its ranks of acolytes.
Then again, Lu Ye was absolutely sure that what he had just experienced was a complete makeover, if not an upgrade of his physical constitution.
He exhaled very slowly and regained his composure. Then he wheeled around and started to pace around the tiny room.
It was baby steps to begin with. He would stagger around at first, banging into walls and almost crash to the ground. But after ambling around for a few rounds, he finally got used to his new physical condition and everything went more smoothly afterward.
Only then did he realize that the red gossamer mist was gone. The spring was still bubbling with water exiting the hole in the ground, but it no longer churned out any more reddish vapors.
All that bothered him now was the insatiable appetite as if he had been famished for days.
Lu Ye ignored the flat object that came out of the spring. He continued pacing around the room while he chewed at some dried fruits and meat jerkies that he kept inside his Storage Bag.
He wolfed down almost a stone’s worth of food until he finally felt the starvation gradually ebb away.
Dhael Ligerkeys: On the off chance that it might be misunderstood, here stone is referring to the unit of measurement for weight still used in the UK. 1st = 6.350kgs.
The raspy metallic sound registered clearly in his ears. Lu Ye was surprised at first, but he quickly settled down.
The sound repeated two more times, swift and sharp.
Three bell-like chimes. That was the signal that Xie Jin told him before that it was time to leave.
[Has it been three days already?!] Lu Ye looked up with bewilderment. It only felt like half a day to him here.
As soon as he heard the third chime, he dashed towards the eye of the spring and fished up the flat object, and stuffed it into his Storage Bag without even examining what it was.
The same weightless sensation like when he first stepped into the mist struck him again. With a blurry whirl, he found himself just in front of the brass heavyset doors once more.
And he was no longer alone. Clearly, everyone had been transported here too—along with a sour and odoriferous stench. Even Lu Ye could barely hold back from frowning at the effluvium. It was just too thick and too many to be bearable that many female acolytes squealed with disgust, choking for fresh air.
“GET OUT! GET OUT! HEAVENS, THE SMELL!” screamed a voice from the front, leading the way back out the passage.