A half-crescent moon shimmered up high in the night sky, surrounded by plumes of nimbuses floating lazily around it.
About fifty miles still stood between Li Mu and the center of warriorship pilgrimage in the Northern Steppes, Rydorburg. His fyresteed was soundly asleep under an old pine tree, snoring very sonorously and leisurely. Since Li Mu liberated it from its former job of pulling carriages, it looked like it preferred to just carry him instead.
Shen Jia was just a few meters away, practicing his moves. Every punch and kick he delivered looked impeccable and strong enough — a testament to how hard he has been training.
When Li Mu decimated all the militant orders and sects which had once been complicit in the plot to kill him and his fellow Creed of Divinity acolytes, he did not neglect to plunder away their libraries and collections of tomes and volumes containing knowledge about combat techniques and sorcery, in addition to supplies and resources — all of which he used to great efficacy on Shen Jia.
Even Li Mu was impressed by his tenacity and grit, and not without reason. Shen Jia bore the weight of resolve and conviction to both avenge his family and rescue his sister and these could be the driving force behind his progress.
With Li Mu as his mentor, Shen Jia ascended into Class I in just ten days, gradually stepping into the shoes of a true warrior.
Gossamer rays of the moon shafted down from the slits between the thick leaves overhead, mottling the ground with silver-like glowing flakes. The swaying boughs turned the moonbeam that shone down on his face into a playing concert of lights that for one moment his face was luminescent as phosphorus, then his face was as dark as ash in the next. The well-chiseled angles of his lean face where beads of sweat rolled down his jawline accentuated his hard and unshakable mien.
As light as a leaf, Li Mu sat at the topmost point of the bough, basking in the moonglow’s splendor while he meditated on the cultivation of his Xiantian Skill discipline.
Having mastered all twelve stages of the Xiantian Skill discipline has allowed him to construct twelve Small Circulatory Cycles inside him — imaginary cosmic systems that would help him absorb the purest and most pristine amounts of Mana that he could assimilate and consume as his own power.
Li Mu could say with absolute certainty that he had never felt so comfortable before. Being able to fully master the Xiantian Skill to its complete entirety has allowed the tiny cosmic systems in him to fully form and that has afforded him a never-before-experienced level of attunement to Nature.
But it was also due to such a high level of attunement to Nature that he could feel how thin the concentration of Mana was in the atmosphere of this world and how imperfect were the laws of Nature that governed the inner workings of this dimension and that was what hindering his progress.
“If only I could master all twelve levels of the Xiantian Skill discipline in my former life. That would have helped me to feel and perceive the truths of this universe and unravel its secrets. That would have helped to increase my pace by leaps and bounds.”
Li Mu mused pensively.
He opened his eyes slowly. Then he said to no one in particular, “You might as well just show yourself, friend. There’s no need for any subterfuge. Unless a Class VIII warrior like you are not beneath such lowly behavior?”
Shen Jia was still practicing when he heard Li Mu’s words from down under the tree and he stopped, stupefied with shock.
Green-glowing blobs shimmered and massed together over a rock more than a hundred meters away before the figure of a man appeared when the glow finally died down. As gaunt as a pole and with a weird-angled face as narrow as a wedge, nothing about him screamed friendly at all, despite what Li Mu addressed him as. If anything, he exuded the presence of a man who was no stranger to blood and gore.
“Hahahaha, the Aspect of Vengeance Li Zhiyuan. You’re the talk of the towns around here. The invincible prodigy of the Creed of Divinity is now on a northbound crusade where he has been undefeatable. ”
The stranger guffawed smugly, his cloak shimmered hues of green underneath the soft and pale moonglow like the skin of a reptile.
“Let me guess. You must be from that warren of scum, the Priory of the Four Seas, am I right? From your skulking looks, am I right in addressing the Emerald Prelate, the Four Prelates of the Priory? What about the rest of you? Might as well just show yourselves since the cards are now on the table.”
Li Mu’s person bobbed up and down, the boughs of the pine undulating to the wind’s movements.
“Insolent pup. For the sacrilege of heresy against the Priory, I sentence you to die, Li Zhiyuan,” said another figure cloaked in yellow, shimmering into appearance at his flank not far away. Short and stout, this stranger has brows long and orange like flames blazing over his eyes.
“The Topaz Prelate?”
Li Mu guessed correctly, pausing for one beat before saying, “Where are the Amethyst and Obsidian Prelates? Come on, show yourselves. Quit wasting my time.”
“Impudence, Li Zhiyuan. The Priory has seen fit to send forth three of its four Prelates. A melodramatic exaggeration of things, if you ask me. So if you think that you’re worth all Four Prelates being fielded on your account, you’re giving yourself too much credit, Li Zhiyuan,” said a third voice. It came from the shadows in the woods nearby — a man donning a mask to go with his black armor who was keeping half of his person unseen in the darkness.
“Oh, you’re the Obsidian Prelate, I guess?”
Li Mu nodded, “What about the last one? The Amethyst Prelate? Come on, don’t be shy. Show yourself.”
“The Amethyst Prelate is needed elsewhere for other business, Li Zhiyuan. Consider it an honor that three out of four Prelates are here to deal with you personally,” the Emerald Prelate’s figure shimmered in a strange greenish glow like he was going to discorporate any moment into wisps of green fumes.
“You might call it an honor, but not me. How it is an honor to me when I’m being surrounded by a bunch of fools who are mistaking me to be as moronic as they are? Do you think I don’t know that all four of you are here? I know what you’re thinking. The Amethyst Prelate is hiding somewhere, waiting to ambush me when I’m not looking. Is that how the Priory earns its name? By stabbing enemies from behind instead of fighting them head-on?”
Li Mu stood up at last.
He drew his weapon with deliberate slowness, allowing the moonlight to slowly bath and saturate every inch of its steel.
The luminous glow of the moon cast upon Li Mu’s saber a placid but no less frosty luster that Li Mu looked as if he was wielding a weapon forged of light.
“Come at me together, all of you. I’m in a hurry.”
Li Mu declared loudly from atop the tree.
“What arrogance,” snorted the Emerald Prelate. As a master of stealth weapons — tiny and imperceptible throwing needles above all — the Prelate only needed to fling his arm up into the air and in the blink of an eye, a hail of countless needles, each of them glistening in the moonlight, rain down on his target.
Li Mu brandished his weapon casually.
He activated one of the Creed’s most potent techniques, the Divine Tranquility. Mana coursed through his sinews and muscles, creating a strange forcefield that could defeat any unnatural forces. The rain of needles came whistling down on Li Mu, but before they could get within three meters from him, they fell with a litany of harmless clinks on the ground like a puppet whose lines were severed.
But Li Mu was not going to let his chance to retaliate slip away. Just as the needles failed to reach their mark, he vanished.
Kissed by the lunar incandescence, his weapon glimmered with a blinding sheen of silver.
All the Emerald Prelate was able to see was just a whirring blur of white. When his vision finally returned to him, what he saw was the back of his own headless body. An odd, surrealistic sensation dawned upon him as he realized his own death. Then, everything went dark.
The same wordless expression of disbelief loomed in both the minds of the Topaz and the Obsidian Prelates.
“What in Heaven’s name just happened?!”
In just one exchange, a Prelate was killed without being able to defend himself at all. Just what kind of strength that was, none of the other Prelates could barely comprehend.
While the Prelates were still reeling with amazement and horror, Li Mu blazed all over the woods like a streaking bolt of lightning with the energy blades of the Sundering Clouds technique erupting in his wake wherever he went.
The Topaz Prelate flailed an arm at Li Mu. A pair of yellow web-like tendrils shot out of the center of his palm and coiled around the blade of Li Mu’s saber. That was his signature weapon, the Webs of Desolation. As flexible as the most pliable rubber and yet as sturdy as steel, nothing had been known to be able to damage the Webs at all.
Whereas the Obsidian Prelate was armed with a pair of jet-black gauntlets furnished with a crust of scale-like plates made of some unknown metal, making the ironclad gauntlets so indestructible that it was viewed by many as a prized artifact as well.
The Priory of the Four Seas was feared by everybody, enjoying a prestige that no other order or sect could rival except Arcusstone, the strongest and most influential of religious orders in Northern Steppes. For some reason, the Priory’s reach and power had stretched by giant strides in recent years, and the Four Prelates of the Priory — all of them Class VIII warriors — each had their fair share of spilling blood. It was said that whenever the Prelates rode out to war, that was Heavens tossing a coin in the air and the world would hold its breath to see how it will land.
Two Prelates working in tandem must be a formidable force indeed.
But all they saw was just the cold flash of steel that eclipsed even the omnipresence luminescence of the moon.
Then they saw blood spewing everywhere, obscuring their sights. First, Li Mu hacked off the Obsidian Prelate’s arms before he even knew it happened. Next, the Webs of Desolation snapped inch after inch like twigs snapped into pieces.
“NOOOO!” the Obsidian Prelate screamed with agony. From behind his masked face, his eyes quivered with both shock and panic. With his resolve to fight all but sapped by Li Mu’s incredible prowess, he wheeled around and ran.
Meanwhile, the Topaz Prelate staggered backward with a terrifying snarl, “T-This is not Class VIII, you’re Class VIIII!”
“What unbelievable skill!
“What incredible strength!”
This was skill, power, and speed well beyond Class VIII.
The taciturn Li Mu gave no response at all. Energy bolts from him swept over the undergrowth of the woods — one for both the Topaz and Obsidian Prelates respectively — separating their heads from their torsos and killing them instantly in the darkness of the night.
“Just come out.”
Li Mu drifted in the air like a god from the Heavens and landed on the ground, facing west.
The forlorn figure of a stranger stepped out into the open from the thick of the woods. The person quickly knelt down with both hands on the ground and began bowing. Shivering, the stranger did not look up, but merely said, “Please, Master Li, mercy!”
“That’s a woman’s voice.
“So the Amethyst Prelate’s a woman?”
One could almost see the milk-white corset under the translucent folds of her purple dress in the moonlight. From Li Mu’s viewpoint, the woman fully exemplified her inviting curves and voluptuous figure. That, plus her hair that brushed her shoulders, and the stature and position she enjoyed in the world of warriors in the Northern Steppes made her a very enticing creature to any men who clapped eyes on her.
“You’re the Amethyst Prelate?”
Li Mu couldn’t help asking.
The information that he had gleaned thus far revealed that the Amethyst Prelate was the most brutal, most bloodthirsty, and most scheming of all Prelates of the Priory. Never did Li Mu expect that such a person could be a woman, and for all intents and purposes, a ravishingly gorgeous one at that.
“Please, sir! I’m willing to leave the Priory and become yours!” the Amethyst Prelate lifted her head slowly.
She revealed her fair and lithe face from under her flowing locks of lavender hair. Beneath her slender neck, her cream-like bosoms threatened to peek out from the loosely-worn corset that any man would have thought that she was naked and crumble at such an overwhelming seduction.
This was definitely one of Li Mu’s most disarming moments in all his many lifetimes.
He instinctively averted his eyes.
Then he saw it. Upon the wretched and piteous face of the woman which could have easily melted anyone’s heart, he saw the hint of malice. The Amethyst Prelate’s inviting and rosy lips moved just a little and from within her mouth, a jet of energy almost as invisible as air, shot out, aiming straight for his heart!
“Heh heh heh heh, Li Zhiyuan! So what if you’re Class VIIII?! You’ve still fallen victim to my Moonlit Kiss of Death!”
She immediately withdrew in a puff of purplish brimstone, putting more than fifty meters between her and Li Mu to prevent the latter from being able to kill her in his final moments. This maneuver alone illustrated her vast experience in killing.
“Teacher!” Shen Jia cried with panic as he ran over.
Li Mu held up a hand to stop him.
An expression of rancor and malice wiped across the beautiful and captivating face of the woman who was known as the Amethyst Prelate of the Priory of the Four Seas. That and the woman’s lovely and bewitching charms formed a juxta positioning dichotomy that no one could have thought possible. “Hah, surprise, surprise. The real master in stealth attacks is not that filth called the Emerald Prelate, but me. But you don’t have to feel sorry, Li Zhiyuan. After all, you’re not my first Class VIIII kill…”
Li Mu flicked his chest like he was dusting his tunic and said very placidly, “Really? Guess I should return the favor by saying that you shouldn’t be too sorry too since I’ve not thought about letting you go at all.”
Li Mu discorporated again.
Like the others, all the Amethyst Prelate saw was the brilliant gleam of his saber.
The Amethyst Prelate froze as if a spell had been cast upon her.
Li Mu materialized right behind her. A beat of silence passed between them both before he finally sheathed his weapon.
A thin red line streaked across her neck as if an invisible hand was tracing the red line before it erupted into a massive geyser of blood gushing out uncontrollably.
The head fell off her neck and rolled on the floor.
“H-How… I-Is this possible?!”
Those were the last words of the Amethyst Prelate’s head. In its final moments, she stared at Li Mu with disbelief before life was quashed out from those eyes of hers.
Li Mu casually strode back to the pine tree.
“Careless. She might have succeeded if it were anyone else. Guess that means I really cannot underestimate the warriors of this world.”
Li Mu sat down under the tree and returned to his meditation.
Shen Jia busied himself with handling the dead bodies. He has become accustomed to the job since he was delegated such custodial duties ten days ago by Li Mu.
The next day, they made landfall at Rydorburg.
The Priory’s spies were all watching when Li Mu entered the city with Shen Jia. Walking openly in the streets, they took up lodgings at Cloud Nine Lodge, Rydorburg’s most lavish and most expensive tavern.