Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
Yi’An really was a big and bustling city. Lu Ye had no idea as to who were the founders of this vast city, but he could see that the activity here was not what the usual hamlets and towns that he ventured to before could compare with.
Sitting inside walls more than fifty meters tall, the main gates of the city—there were twelve in total, each large enough for carriages to pass through—towered over two or three times his height and it was the south-eastern gate from whence Lu Ye arrived.
The threshold of the gates was wide enough for several coaches to pass through at the same time and the passages that led to roads stretching far into the city were flanked with rows and rows of shops and other commercial establishments each peddling all kinds of wares and services.
Pedestrians swarmed the road, weaving to and fro as they hurried about their lives, their shoulders rubbing against one another while they jostled through the crowd.
The darkness of night had already descended over Yi’An, but the cityscape remained brightly lit like day, a night which was still very clearly young for all of Yi’An.
Lu Yu walked through the streets, feasting his eyes on various sights and scenes that he had never seen before in all his life. At the same time, he noticed something peculiar: most of the people in this city seemed to be ordinary humans.
In the beginning, he wondered if the people swarming around the city were using some magical technique or instruments that could help mask the aura of their powers. Then he knew that was impossible. Not everyone possessed such wherewithal, at least not in a city with so many people. Until he stumbled upon a drunkard who crashed to the ground, utterly knocked out by the intoxication, and only then did Lu Ye realize that most of the people here were not Cultivators at all, but ordinary common-folk.
[But how could there be common-folk in the Spirit Creek Battlefield?]
But if Lu Ye were to think closely, he would know better. Cultivators who were members of militant sects and orders were able to rely on the Divine Opportunity Columns at the outposts of their native orders and sects to return to the world of Jiu Zhou freely. But the same could not be said about independent Cultivators. Using the Divine Opportunity Columns too flippantly might only incur the ire of the sect that the Columns belonged to, making life more difficult for themselves.
For this reason, most, if not all independent Cultivators who entered the Battlefield never chose to go back to the world of Jiu Zhou.
They would intermingle and marry, then usher in their offspring, which not all of them would have the potential to be Cultivators. Through time, more and more, progenies of former and old independent Cultivators teemed the Battlefield, causing quite a sizable population of ordinary common-folk.
In fact, it was not uncommon for ordinary commonfolk to rediscover the natural gifts that their forebears were once bestowed to be Cultivators. The immensely-rich natural energies that pullulated the Battlefield made the chance that an ordinary person here could unlock his or her Spiritual Points possible, making it also a regular occurrence that militant sects and orders often recruited new members into their ranks of fresh acolytes and initiates from dwellers of this world.
But unseen dangers and perils posed by wild Spirit Beasts abounded the Battlefield and impromptu fights often broke out between over-eager and irascible Cultivators. That contributed to the reason why ordinary common-folk often kept to large cities—large human settlements with better defensive infrastructure governed by proper law and order—and not the usual villages and towns that Lu Ye had seen before.
A river passed through the city. Basking in the soft gossamer illumination of the silvery orb shining in the dark sky above, tiny little boats waddled idly in the casual and lazy flow of the water with mostly young men and women onboard.
Lu Ye walked around the city for more than two hours, enjoying the sights while he replenished his supplies.
Most of what he bought was food and clothing.
The first was self-explanatory since both he and Amber were rapacious eaters with gluttonous appetites.
Every meal meant meat of at least three to four pounds but he did not have to buy much since his Storage Bag was already filled with quite a lot of Spirit Beast flesh—fresh meat he acquired from the carcasses of Spirit Beasts mauled to death by Amber when they were fighting in the Dragon Spring Conference.
Spirit Beast flesh was Lu Ye and Amber’s absolute favorite and compared to the flesh of ordinary animals, it provided far more nutrients and nourishment, most notably the flesh of serpent-type Spirit Beasts which tasted extraordinarily succulent. It was a shame that Lu Ye might never be able to enjoy that flavor ever again since he left Green Cloud Mountain.
As for fresh clothing, that had turned out to be a necessity after each fight. It was either his blood or his enemy’s blood and washing the blood and stench away from any soiled clothes was almost a nigh-impossible task.
Lu Ye asked around for directions, then he rode Amber towards the local branch of the Divine Trade Association.
Doubtless, there must be taverns and inns that he could put up for the night, but Lu Ye felt more accustomed to the lodgings of the Divine Trade Association. At any rate, he felt safer there, especially since he now had enough Spirit Stones to make himself comfortable.
A female scream pierced the blazing city lights overhead that watched over the busy and energetic nighttime landscape below. It came from a woman who was desperately trying to readjust her dress as tears swirled in her eyes. Apparently, she was fondled by a young man in rich silks when she was strolling the streets.
His appearance instantly reflected how privileged he must be. But no amount of flamboyant, bespoke couture and shiny, dazzling jewelry could do much to hide his crude and savage predatory lust for women as he raised his hand and sniffed with a lascivious look of wanton hunger, “Delicious!”
The woman’s husband immediately stormed forward to demand an apology, but all he got in return was a huge round of whacking courtesy of the rich young man’s retainers that left him groaning as he rolled on the ground with pain.
A few heroic Cultivators thought that this rich young bully could do with some discipline. One of them stood out and challenged him. That was when everyone noticed that one of the retainers looked unusual.
One look at that glowing and vibrant aura was enough to show that this retainer was a Sixth-Order Cultivator.
Few Sixth-Order Cultivators ever roamed the outskirts of the Battlefield. Even more so, one who would serve as a glorified bodyguard for a rich and hedonistic young man.
The Cultivator who stood out wanted to be the one to dole out the beatings, not receive them. Seeing a superior foe immediately extinguished any passion to exact justice in him, a weaker Third-Order Cultivator.
“Revolting behavior!” he scowled bitterly and turned around to leave.
He might be a helpful Good Samaritan, but not to the extent of risking his own hide.
“That’s enough, that’s enough,” the pampered young playboy called to his men. The retainers withdrew as they were told. Heads began shaking morosely, almost everyone who lived in these parts knew what a big bully this rich playboy was.
The woman whom he molested threw herself at her semi-conscious husband and wailed. With his enthusiasm sapped away by the sight, the rich young man turned around, patting on his Sixth-Order retainer as he sighed, “What a put-down, Ding-Dong…”
[Did he just call me Ding-Dong in front of everybody?!]
The Sixth-Order Cultivator could feel the corners of his eyes throbbing with barely-suppressed annoyance. He looked up at the vast blue skies overhead, hoping to find some solace and peace, [What in Heaven’s name have I gotten myself into?!]
He had deserted his former order, suffering a deterioration in the levels of his cultivation in the process, and fled for his life. Through day and night, he journeyed all the way here, thinking that this place would be far enough to escape his former comrades-turned-bitter enemies, where he relied on some of his old friendships to gain himself employment with a wealthy and powerful family.
As a Sixth-Order Cultivator, he thought that he might at least be able to scrape himself a decent and respectable position, even if he had yet to prove himself useful. With few Cultivators of similar or superior ranks in this vicinity, he thought that he might at least be made a minor captain of the local guards.
After all, he once enjoyed a similar position and responsibilities. His former experiences and power would have made him a good fit.
The family that took him in gave him a warm welcome when he first arrived. But only after he had pledged his loyalty to them, did he realize that all the friendly and cordial hospitality was just a charade! He was made a lowly bodyguard of the young and pampered son of the family!
Never in his life! A lowly bodyguard!
[I, a Sixth-Order Cultivator, now serving as a glorified bodyguard for an ordinary and useless man?!] Thinking about the notion itself could make his face melt with rage.
But he urged himself to be patient. This was a test, he told himself. Trials and tribulations that he needed to navigate to prove himself worthy again and he should be grateful that anyone was willing to give a deserter like him who had gone rogue against his former order a second chance.
Like all other self-indulgent rich kids, his ward liked to strut around the city with his cadre of trusted lackeys accompanying him, making life hell for anyone unfortunate enough to enter his sights. Apparently, he was once beaten up before for the troubles he had caused, although the near-fatal lesson did not seem to have been enough to make him a changed man.
The young man was an ordinary person who enjoyed little love from his father, the patriarch of the family, but from his mother—a racy vamp who had the patriarch eating out of her hand—he received so much that she literally spoiled him. It was she who cajoled his father into making this newcomer her dotted son’s bodyguard to keep him safe from harm.
It has been days since his guard-dog-duty job began and he had been liking it not one bit at all. The indolent and good-for-nothing man-child was just the very devil who loved conjuring up havoc everywhere, even if he wasn’t anywhere near to being wantonly wicked yet.
For one, he just loved molesting women. Not a day went by without him having eight to ten women fondled by him, and most of these poor ladies could do nothing but swallow the shame and indignity that he had inflicted upon them with impunity.
Still, it was amazing enough that this young brat had the sense to never antagonize any Cultivators, demonstrating a certain flair for selecting his prey well and picking out Cultivators.
One could argue that those seemed to be his only gifts.
Besides that, he had always been careful to not cause any loss of life. The husband of the woman he just fondled was only able to survive because this rich sybaritic brat was cautious enough to not let things escalate. Perhaps that could be the reason why he still lived, in addition to the aegis of protection that the power and wealth of his family afforded him.
“Let’s go, Ding-Dong!” the young man called and led his lackeys away.
‘Ding-Dong’ glumly kept up, feeling very gloomy about his future prospects.
Somewhere near the south-eastern gate of the city, a horse drawn carriage eased to a stop and another young man stepped down, leading two more people out. The other passengers of the carriage disembarked and marveled at the splendor of the huge and busy city.
The young man who brought them here was a Fifth-Order Cultivator while his fellow travelers, another young man and a woman, were both Second-Orders.
“It’s crowded here. So stick together; it’ll be hell finding each other if we get separated,” warned the leading young man.
The young lass responded obediently with a wordless mutter, but the younger boy remarked slyly, “Senior Brother’s just pulling our legs. We can still easily find each other using our Battlefield Imprints.”
“Oh, you’re right!” the girl yelped with a dawning look. Then she looked at their senior hard with anticipation and pleading in her eyes.
The elder young man sighed in resignation. “Oh, all right. Go have fun. But remember: I’ll be at the Divine Trade Association. We’ll stay a night here and continue our way tomorrow.”
“Understood!” The girl leaped with joy and dove into the crowd with the younger boy.
The Fifth-Order Cultivator exhaled heavily before he turned around and began walking toward the Yi’An city Divine Trade Association branch.
Inside one of the third-floor rooms of the Trade Association, Lu Ye was in a seated position, meditating. With the help of the Spiritual Pattern “Gathering Spirits” working on all fifty-four of his Spiritual Points, he was now ravenously consuming every iota of Spiritual Qi that he could gather from his surroundings.
There was no need to hurry. There was still something that he needed to wrap his head around.
He reached his hand into his Storage Bag and felt his fingers grasping something flat and thin: the object that came out of the water in the Dragon Spring.
He had not had the chance to examine it then and during his journey here, he did not want to take it out with Tang Wu around.
He took it out of his Bag and Amber howled and crouched with a fearful but no less furious glare at the object in his hand.
Amber was showing an extreme loathing and dislike for whatever it was!
Puzzled, Lu Ye looked at Yi Yi and nudged with his chin. Yi Yi quickly tried to calm Amber down before she communicated with him. Then she came over, “Amber’s not sure of what’s going on either. It’s just an instinctive reaction when he saw that thing.”
“Yeah,” Yi Yi nodded.
Lu Ye’s gaze panned down at the object. The slightly-acorn-shaped object, barely the size of his hand, looked like the scale of some animal. [A fish? Nah, doesn’t look like it.]
[How about a snake?]
Then Lu Ye recalled the low-relief carving of a dragon flying in the air on the big brass doors leading into the Dragon Spring. Something told him that the scales of the dragon bore an uncanny resemblance to the object in his hand.
[Surely not?! A dragon scale?!]
[But how?! A dragon scale that spouted out of one of the spring’s eyes?] He had never heard of Xie Jin saying anything like this before. If anything like this had happened before, then it would have long been news to virtually every ear near the One Hundred Peaks mountain range. Green Feather Mountain was not the only faction to enter the Dragon Spring.
Then he remembered the large pair of eyes that appeared in his mind. The pair of crimson-red eyes that were glaring at him when he was undergoing the physical reconditioning of his body.
[What was that thing and what’s this, really?] he asked himself.