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Published at 13th of November 2018 07:13:39 PM
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Chapter 10

Five masked figures descended from the sky .



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Without a sound, they landed upon a wide, dirt track used for hauling carts between villages . Far off in the distance, towards their right, several small villages dotted the otherwise plain grassy slopes . On the left was the hulking mass of the mountain they were here to search .

They had flown in an arrow-head formation, with one man leading at the front and two people flanking him on each side . While the others wore plain silver masks that covered their entire face and hid all their features, the man at the arrow-tip wore a mask that exposed his chin .

It was a gleaming silver and embedded on the forehead was a black crystal that emitted a strong spiritual power .

The Division Leader, Silver Sign, turned to his subordinates and barked out an order, his demeanour imposing .

"Silver Marks Two to Four, you will follow me to Mount Steady, One, you will head to the villages nearby and ensure nothing escapes our attention! Understood?"

"Yes, sir!"

The formation split, four robed figures veering off towards the mountain and one zooming towards the villages to the west .

________________

Van emerged from the pond, steam rising off him in billowing waves . It was the last day before the effect of the Soft Fragrance powder would wear off, and he was making the most of it .

He was able to and deeper and deeper in the water, and for longer periods of time . Somehow, instinctively he felt that he would be able to reach a new level once he reached the bottom of the pond .



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Hu!

He breathed in and punched out .

Pak!

A fist-sized indentation appeared in the solid wood of the tree before him . His fist was completely unharmed .

Van grinned but drew his fist back again .

PAKK!

This time, a hole formed in the wood . It penetrated to about halfway through the thick trunk of the tree . Van's fist stung . When he inspected it, his skin was red and tender-looking . But over the past day or so, Van had started to grasp the essence of the Thousand Saint Sacrifice method .

The qi seemed to follow the same pathways as the pain did, and the more pain he was in, the better the effect! This applied to whether he was absorbing qi into his flesh or utilising his bodily cultivation! The only limit to his strength was how far he could push himself .

Quickly chewing a few pinecones, he flipped through the Thousand Saint Sacrifice manual . Several images of the bald man sitting down in a meditative pose could be seen . Van had already memorised these but had yet to try any out beyond the first one . He kept flipping, and eventually saw another type of crude sketch . This time, the man was in various fighting stances, a fierce expression on his face .

Heartbreak Palm, Van was able to read from the chicken-scratch handwriting . Immediately, he became excited at the thought of having a move . However, he was not an idiot . This miraculous pond would only be freely available to him for one more day, and after that the area would be under the guard of tens of vicious wolves . He knew his priorities .

Calming himself, he returned to the meditative stances and memorised the second one .



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With barely a change in his expression, he leapt into the pond and sank down .

1 metre

2 metres

3 metres

At 4 metres, Van moved his limbs into the second meditative stance . The buzzing qi around him, in a much larger radius than before, spun and turned towards him . At a much superior density and speed, they struck viciously . Their bloodthirstiness made their behaviour under the first meditative stance seem like little puppies running up to give him licks!

Brows deeply furrowed, Van readied himself for their impact . Unerring in their accuracy, they pierced his skin . Instantly, they penetrated over two millimetres into his flesh, over four times deeper than he was able to achieve with the first stance!

Van gritted his teeth as the cold energy bounced around violently under his skin . Much more vigorous, and much more painful . When it finally absorbed into his flesh, the effect of the tempering was much better too!

He was only able to repeat this one more time before the level of qi in the water grew to levels he could not endure . At 7 metres depth, he released his meditative position and swam back up to surface .

Two hours later, he was able to last until the 9th metre, but the day was quickly ending, and he had still yet to reach the bottom!

Van stared at the dark waters . He was convinced that such a mysterious pond had to have some good things within it, and surely, they would be at the bottom!

Gritting his teeth, he came to a decision .



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This time, upon reaching the 7th metre, he resolutely changed into the third stance . Like spears, the dark qi within the water rushed towards him, as if sighting an enemy they would fight to death . Face pale, Van opened his pores and prepared for the pain . The spears of qi slammed into him, penetrating a full four millimetres into his flesh . Van shook silently . If he was above ground, one would see sweat drenching his forehead . A moment later, it was over, and Van felt as if his muscles would collapse at moment .

Upon reaching dry ground, Van fell into a heap and dry heaved, his guts roiling . For ten minutes, he lay there . Eventually, he felt better, and sat up . After the nausea passed, Van swallowed down the nuts from the last remaining pinecone and inspected himself .

The training in the pond had visible results . Although he'd had muscle before, from his scavenging around the mountainside, his faster growth in the last year had left him looking a bit thin and stretched upwards . Within the group of boys his age in his village, he was not particularly tall, but about average height .

Now, his muscles looked a bit firmer, his frame slightly more filled out . His skin was no longer dull but brightened with a faint inner glow that gave him a vigorous, spirited aura . Though he couldn't see it, his medium-length black hair had grown shinier and thicker .

Van was satisfied with his improvement, but unsatisfied with his results in the pond . The bottom was no where in sight, after all .

He returned to the pond's depths . Over four hours later, after the sun had set, he had reached a depth of 11 metres with the fourth meditative stance . When he reached the twelfth, he finally spied a faint round object deep below in the gloom .

So, there was something there!

Unfortunately, the qi at the last few metres of the pond were much stronger, and even though the toughness of his flesh had greatly increased, especially after the use of the fourth stance, Van was only able to sink another half a metre beyond the 11th metre mark before he had to return the surface .

However, now that he knew that there was something down below, and that he was only a few metres off the bottom of the pond, Van was reinvigorated .

Pulling out the Red Pinion bird as a reward for himself, he unwrapped its carcass and roasted it over a campfire he made using his fire-starting stone . It's flesh was soft and juicy, and spiritual energy overflowing . Unlike the pine nuts, its spiritual energy was in a greater concentration and was less gentle, but no less easy to absorb .

He felt much reinvigorated afterwards and went to throw away the bones . As he did, a small object fell out . Picking it up, he saw it was a crystal about the size of his thumb nail . It emitted a strong buzz of qi, but with a slightly animalistic edge . Van had no clue what it was but put it away .



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He continued through the night, reaching the 13th metre at the break of dawn .

By now, the object was just beyond his reach . If he could descend just two metres further, he could reach out and grab it with one hand! However, no matter how hard he tried he was unable to progress further down below the 13th metre mark . He was also hesitant to progress to the fifth meditation pose, as switching to the fourth last time had left him wrecked . He was still unused to the torrent of attacking energy after many hours in the fourth stance, as the increasing depth increased the pain just as fast as his flesh could toughen .

However, he had no choice . The sun had risen, and any moment the wolves would come out of their dens .

Jumping in once again, he descended to the 13th metre and switched to the fifth pose . Immediately, a sense of danger filled his being . As if sentient, the qi in the water started to swirl around him, gathering inwards in an immense whirlpool of water . Just this physical whirlpool was enough to threaten Van's pose . The boy shuddered underneath the buffeting of the water, he knew if he lost the fifth stance he would be pulverised by the water alone, let alone the spiritual power . Filled with the sense of peril, Van locked his muscles into position and braced himself for the tornado of icy qi . Like a roaring dragon, the qi leapt for him, and thundered into his body . Immediately, the spiritual energy easily penetrated ten millimetres into his skin . For body cultivation's sake, this was a good thing, but at this moment, the sheer amount of energy and the depth at which it was going was a threat to Van's life . Like a beast come to life, the spiritual power thundered below his skin, going on a mad rampage in his flesh .

Van's veins bulged out, stark against his skin . Blood leaked out of his nose, ears and eyes .

He couldn't last long .

Without his coercion, the spiritual power coiled around him again and slammed into him . This time, one of his palms got knocked out of position . The repercussions were severe, Van's veins swelled and turned black, his muscles bulged out, as if about to burst from his skin .

Struggling, he regained his position . This lessened the effect of the qi, but it was still unbearable . Like this, Van lasted two more attacks .

But it was enough .

He had breached the 14th metre!

Steeling himself, he broke from the meditative pose and reached down below him . Like an ancient predatory beast, all the remaining qi in the pond gathered and rushed towards him .

His hand touched the object .





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