Cruel Joke
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Ryu awoke from the images with a headache that threatened to exit the ethereal and split his head in two in the real.

He knew exactly what this sort of feeling was, he had experienced it many times before in his first life. His Focus Qi had been completely drained in what amounted to less than an instant of time.

The edge of the prayer mat fell from Ryu’s hands, leaving him with an incredulous expression.

‘Little Ryu, this dual cultivation mat should be placed upon core vein of Shrine Mountain. There’s clearly a leak here, but this prayer mat astonishingly has the ability to seal it off and reap all of the benefits for itself! This is likely the greatest treasure of this place.’

Ryu blinked. Could it be that this was related to the qi infestation riddled beast he met before? Shrine Mountain was actually leaking its vital energies?

But even more curiously, what series of events led to this prayer mat being laid here?  

Let’s say this Zu Clan Elder stumbled upon this treasure, that in itself was fine. But, whatever qi surge it was blocking right now was definitely not within normal levels. It was impossible for a mere Divine Vessel Realm expert to survive this qi surge. No, actually, whenever it was the Zu Clan Elder found this place, he was most definitely far weaker than the Fifth Order. It should be precisely this treasure that allowed him to reach the peak of the Divine Vessel Realm so quickly.

It was the very same concept as the pools of Spiritual Qi that once defended the crystalline jade. It was the law of nature that substances in high concentration would flow to areas of low concentration. If one stepped into such a region of qi without appropriate protections, not only might that qi shred you from the outside and leave you as a pile of bones, it could also infiltrate your meridians and blow you up from the inside out.

Ryu simply didn’t believe that that Zu Clan Elder had the capabilities.

So… That left another possibility… That this prayer mat had been in this place long before the Zu Clan Elder ever stepped foot inside. Maybe the Zu Clan Elder experienced the same shock Ryu did and realized that moving this prayer mat was futile, and as such made this place his base.

Ryu sighed. ‘Could it be I risked my life for a treasure that I can’t even move?’

If Ryu had known this would happen, he would have directly run after blowing up the Mortal Qi Small Realm. With his speed, he’d likely already be a good way toward the Death Worm Immortal Cave by now… And since he exploited the Loom Clan into buying the materials he needed to fix it up, no one would be able to find him again until he chose to appear.

But here he was, in quite the dangerous situation.

In truth, he could simply slip away using his cloak. But he was reluctant to leave this place to his enemies.

Ryu’s mind started churning. It actually wasn’t very long before he thought of something…

The last time he ran into this situation was with the crystalline jade, no? So why not use the same solution he had back then?

With his massive increase in strength, his ability to evoke spatial qi and teleport materials into his Inner World had substantially increased. Before, he struggled with large objects and objects with dense qi, but he was already far better at this point.

Currently, even without Ailsa’s help to merge materials into the Ethereal Realm first, Ryu could easily envelop Earth Grade Spiritual Herbs into his inner space. And, now, even if an object was tens of meters across, as long as its qi density wasn’t too high, it wouldn’t be difficult for Ryu to handle either.

The trouble here was that this prayer mat was definitely an object with extremely high qi density, or else Shrine Mountain would be nothing more than a joke. Luckily, Ryu still had Ailsa.

‘How are you feeling?’ Ryu asked tentatively.

‘I still can’t do anything strenuous… But shifting an object into the Ethereal Realm never took much effort for me to begin with, it’s a simple matter of touching it with my qi. But this treasure may be a bit troublesome. Touching it with my qi will likely drain my Focus Qi much like yours, and despite my cultivation, I likely won’t last much longer than you either. So, you’ll have a few seconds at most to make it work.’

Ryu nodded solemnly. He may have been weak in his last life, but he had still become familiar enough with his inner space to use it comfortably then. Now that he had some strength, it would be even easier.

However, he still faced two major problems.

First, his Focus Qi had been completely drained already. Trying to execute anything in his current state was simply asking for failure.

Still, this problem was the easier to manage of the two. Though it would be allowing the Ember Clan pair to catch up, just meditating for a few hours should be fine. The real issue would be what happened the moment this prayer mat slipped into the Ethereal Realm…

Instantly, it would lose its ability to block the onslaught of qi, thus thrusting Ryu into the very situation he himself was certain a normal Divine Vessel Realm expert couldn’t survive.

To make matters worse, when the prayer mat entered his inner space, whatever minor blockage it had been able to provide in an ethereal state would definitely be gone at that point, make the situation even more terrible.

It was then that Ryu’s gaze flashed with a sinister light, a plan forming in his mind slowly. Without hesitation, he plopped to the ground and began to meditate, allowing the hours to tick by slowly…

“I’ve burdened Twelfth Elder.” Fuoco said with a slightly remorseful expression.

He really did feel like a burden. Though he was a Connecting Heaven Realm expert, he hadn’t been qualified to bombard any of the array formations they had come across to now.

“It’s no matter.” Elder Ember said with a light smile. “This old man should pave a way for a talented youth like yourself. Plus, whether you were here or not, I would do this anyway. I’m very curious about what lies at the end of this tunnel.”

“Elder, there!” Fuoco said with a faint excitement.

After walking for so long in a long, dark tunnel, seeing the faint flickering lights in the distance was nothing short of a blessing for the pair. Once Elder Ember cautiously checked to see if there were any formations remaining, he burst forth.

At this point, his qi was quite spent, but it wasn’t to the point of being exhausted. At the end of the day, though the formations they found were quite good, they still fell into the small-scale category and as such couldn’t truly hold him back.

When the two appeared within the room, the first feeling they had was a faint disappointment.

Countless scattered jades, a bland worktable, and a larger than average prayer mat. Was this really all there was to this space?

Still, after putting in so much work, would they really give up so easily?

Elder Ember silently combed through the jades, hoping to find some profound technique, but was immediately disappointed. The only things here were formation calculations and profundities. These things were already useless to him. He was so old already, why would he bother learning an entirely new path? Let alone one so complex.

With a sigh, his disappointment truly set in. Luckily, his gaze swept across the room once more only to realize that the prayer mat he initially ignored was actually odder than he originally thought. Why was the qi density directly above it so much greater than everywhere else?

‘Treasure!’ Twelfth Elder Ember’s gaze glowed.

Fuoco followed in behind him, scanning the jades the elder had left behind, but he too was quickly disappointed, only to look up to find his Clan’s elder approaching the seemingly normal prayer mat. It wasn’t long before he saw its oddities as well, causing him to follow in closely.

“I guess I’ll have to thank you two for making this so convenient, then.”

Hearing this inexplicable third voice that appeared from nowhere, the pair’s heads immediately snapped backward. It was only the Twelfth Elder’s experience that made him realize there must be something wrong with the mat, making him want to get as far away from it as possible.

Unfortunately, it was already too late.

The mat seemed to fade out of existence. An instant later, a cyclone of raging qi tore through the room, followed immediately by a dense spatial qi that swallowed the mat’s ethereal form up.

Elder Ember roared, the dregs of his qi soaring as he quickly put up a shield.

‘That spatial qi… Heavenly Pupils!’ Elder Ember’s eyes widened with shock.

Unfortunately for him, the perpetrator had already turned tail to run.

Ryu wouldn’t be so foolish as to expose himself just for something as meaningless as a taunt. It was just that he knew well that if those two survived this ordeal, they would already be aware that it was him who acted regardless.

Just a few hours ago, Ryu had appeared from thin air before his grandfather’s corpse. These situations were simply too similar. Anyone with half a brain would connect them.  

However, the duo would be happy to know that Ryu himself was not in that great of a situation either.

When he used his spatial qi, he had been unable to stop part of the surging, violent qi from entering his inner space. In an instant, he was being ravaged by qi far above his abilities.

How could the qi from Shrine Mountain be as simple as mere Mortal Qi? Not only was there this level of qi, but there was even Immortal and Cosmic Qi as well!

Ryu had no choice but to ignore Ailsa’s previous warning and circulate [Divine Chaotic Annihilation] to crush this Cosmic Qi as he madly run. Unfortunately, these actions made him completely unable to remain in the Meditation State necessary to use his cloak and resulted in his true body manifesting itself as he surged out of the pocket space…

One would think that he would have reappeared in the space of grey fog, but who knew that the Heavens would play a cruel trick on him with Shrine Mountain as the main character.

Instead of appearing in the world of fog, he actually directly appeared outside of Mortal Qi Mountain…

Only to find himself completely surrounded by enemies…