Liang Chen had never been one to pay attention to the passage of time, but now he found that time passed far too quickly, one month quickly passing. His days were spent in a monotonous fashion, almost constantly training, the only breaks he had being the time he spent with Qing Chun. Whenever he was with Qing Chun, the two of them would walk through the city, Liang Chen wearing a warm smile as he politely greeted others, acting much like he had done before his parents were executed. At first, he had found it rather hard to keep the warm smile on his face, but as the days dragged on, it got easier and easier for him to pretend, to lie about how he felt.
His training never eased up throughout the one month, it instead got harder and harder. He tried to do as Qing Chun said, sleeping and eating properly, but every time he went to sleep, he would relive the day of his parent's execution. Because of that, the amount of sleep he got started to steadily decrease, replaced by more training. The only times he got to sleep properly being the times he collapsed from training too hard, or the times Qing Chun sat next to him as he fell asleep.
After hitting and kicking the wooden pole for half a month, his fists and feet were sore, but they had gotten harder than they used to be, slowly getting tougher. When his fists and feet got tougher, he changed up his pattern, hitting the wooden pole with his knees and elbows, doing his best to strengthen them as well. But even after spending an entire month ruthlessly training and cultivating, he found that there was nearly no progress in his cultivation, not even the faintest outline of his Ascending Tower appearing in his dantian.
Liang Chen was angry at his lack of progress, but he did not let it get to his head. He had already figured out that he had to keep a calm state of mind while cultivating, so he could not allow his anger to overtake him, it would only slow him down, something he could not afford.
When Liang Chen ended his daily cultivation, it was already late at night, a breeze of chilly air entering the house through one of the open windows. Liang Chen took a deep breath, standing up and stretching his body. He had only been cultivating for a few hours, so his limbs were still trembling and aching from the training he had done earlier.
"Gotta get some water."
Liang Chen's throat was dry, his voice slightly hoarse because he had not had anything to drink for most of the day. Today was not one of the days he had spent with Qing Chun, so he had been able to spend the entire day training. Liang Chen picked up the bucket from the kitchen, leaving the house and was just about to head to the well to pick up some water. But when he left the house, he spotted a crouched figured leaning against one of the trees in the courtyard. His lips curled into a slight smile as he walked forwards, kneeling down in front of the figure.
"Big Sister Chun, why are you here so late?"
The crouched figure leaning against the tree was Qing Chun, who raised her head when she heard Liang Chen's voice. Her eyes were a bit red and moist, so it looked like she had cried recently. When her eyes met with Liang Chen, she quickly opened them wide, speaking out in a slightly loud voice.
"Little Chen? Why are you awake now? You should be sleeping already, just look at how late it is!"
Qing Chun pointed to the sky, at the moon that was still a good distance away from the horizon. Liang Chen also glanced at the moon, but then turned his eyes back onto Qing Chun, flicking her forehead as he spoke.
"Don't think that you can avoid my question like that, I asked first."
Qing Chun lowered her head slightly, rubbing her forehead slightly. She did not immediately respond, the two of them sinking into a slight silence as Liang Chen waited for her to start talking. After a little while, Qing Chun spoke out with a low and somewhat hesitant voice.
"... I had an argument with my parents. They are afraid that people will associate me with you, the son of the 'traitors' if I keep hanging out with you. We continued to argue, and they said that they forbid me from meeting up with you anymore. I got angry, so I ran away. But I didn't know where to go, so I came here, but I thought that you were already asleep, so I didn't want to enter the house and wake you up."
Liang Chen let out a long sigh after hearing Qing Chun's explanation. Of course, her parents would try to prevent her from meeting up with him, he was the son of 'traitors' after all. He raised his hand and gave Qing Chun a slight chop on the head, causing her to let out a cute yelp in surprise.
"You dummy, you know you shouldn't worry your parents like that."
Only now that he had lost his own parents did Liang Chen realize how bad it was to make one's parents worry about you. Hearing his words, Qing Chun quickly raised her head, looking at Liang Chen with a slightly aggrieved expression.
"But they said I can't meet you anymore!"
Listening to his words, Qing Chun almost believed that Liang Chen thought it was perfectly okay for her parents to prevent the two of them from meeting. Liang Chen responded with a gentle and warm smile, a genuine one, placing his hand on top of Qing Chun's head and ruffling her hair, much like his parents had done to him several times.
"And? Is that a good enough reason to worry them like this? Just imagine how scared and worried they are right now? And besides, even if we can't walk around town together anymore, we can still meet like this, can't we? We can sit here in the garden, telling each other about the day we've had."
If it was before the death of his parents, Liang Chen would surely have become sad if he could no longer walk around town with Qing Chun. But his mind had already changed, he had learned to grab onto and appreciate what he already had. If he wanted more than what he currently had, he would not simply wish for it, he would strive for it, with his own effort. Qing Chun raised her head, looking at Liang Chen's warm smile in silence for a short moment.
"...You're right, I shouldn't worry them like this, they are my parents after all."
Qing Chun stood up and brushed away the dust from her robe. Liang Chen had acted so warmly and casual lately that she had almost completely forgotten that he had just recently lost his parents. Now was not the time for her to complain about her own parents. Before she left the garden, she sent Liang Chen a bright smile, speaking out in a cheerful voice.
"Little Chen, thank you. I will return now, but I promise to come to visit you at night, in this little garden just for us."
Liang Chen watched Qing Chun leave, and then headed over to the well and filled the bucket with cold water. Once he sated his thirst, he returned to the house and sat down on the ground, closing his eyes and returning to his cultivation. The current him was weak, so he could only accept everything that happened around him, burying his true thoughts deep within him. Only once he became strong could he do as he wished.
Liang Chen continued to quietly cultivate through the night, the only sound coming from the house being the sound of his steady breathing and his quiet heartbeat. As the sun started to rise over the horizon, a loud knock came from his door, a familiar voice sounding out.
"Little Chen? Are you home?"
Liang Chen quickly opened his eyes and stopped cultivating. He quickly checked the wooden pole and the floor around it, making sure that there were no visible bloodstains. Once he saw that they were both clean, he quickly stood up and put the wooden pole back into the compartment in the floor. He then walked over to the door, opening it with a bright smile.
"Uncle Xiang, has the clan finished the meeting?"
Qing Xiang stood outside the door, clad in emerald green robes marked with the insignia of the Qing clan, a solitary green cloud pierced by a spear. Qing Xiang looked at Liang Chen, breathing out a sigh of relief when he saw that he looked fine. He stepped into the house, patting Liang Chen on the shoulder as he let out a sigh.
"Yeah. In the end, that girl is still the daughter of the Young Master, her talent is sure to be extraordinary, so the clan decided to keep her. We luckily managed to kill the girl before she got to tell the Bai clan who the real father was, so they shouldn't end up trying to kill the child."
Qing Lan Yong had incredibly high talent, so the clan was certain that his child, even if it was a child made with someone less talented, would still have heaven-shaking talent. To kill a talent like that would be a great shame, it was better to take her in and raise her as one of their own. Liang Chen reached out and closed the door, and Qing Xiang just so happened to glance over at this moment, resulting in him seeing Liang Chen's scarred knuckles.
"Little Chen, what has happened to your hands?! Did the other children do this to you? Are you getting bullied?"
Qing Xiang grabbed onto Liang Chen's hands, pulling them close as he inspected them. Thanks to his relentless hitting of the wooden pole, Liang Chen's knuckles had gotten several very obvious scars. In response to Qing Xiang's outburst, Liang Chen put on a comforting smile.
"It's nothing, Uncle Xiang. I tried to train a little, but I overdid it and hurt my hands a little bit."
Qing Xiang continued to look at Liang Chen's hands, his eyebrows furrowing. He turned his head, sweeping the living-room with a quick glance. Liang Chen thought he had washed everything properly, but Qing Xiang was still able to see a few small bloodstains on the floor. He took a deep breath, dragging Liang Chen out of the house.
"Let us go for a walk, get you away from the city for a little bit and get you some fresh air."
Qing Xiang could somewhat guess what had happened, that Liang Chen had vented his anger and sadness through a violent tantrum. While Qing Xiang was dragging Liang Chen through the city, towards the exit of the city, Liang Chen could not help but question him.
"Where are we going, Uncle Xiang?"
The two quickly left the city, entering the open plain that was located outside the city. Qing Xiang raised his head slightly, pointing towards the tall mountain that was the source of the surrounding rivers.
"The outskirts of Sky Piercer Forest. The fresh air there should do you good, much better than the stuffy air in the city."
The tall mountain that was the source of the green rivers had been given the name Sky Piercer, so the forest that surrounded the mountain was given the name Sky Piercer Forest. Hearing their destination, Liang Chen could not help but let out an exclamation.
"Sky Pierce Forest? But aren't we in danger of encountering Demonic beasts if we go there?"
Demonic beasts were the same as cultivators. They were animals, plants, or even elements, that strengthened themselves by using Qi. They were a great threat to both normal people and cultivators. Qing Xiang continued to drag Liang Chen with him, giving a slight shake of his head as he responded.
"Like I said, we are just going to the outskirts. As long as we stay in the outskirts, we won't even encounter any Rank 1 Demonic beasts, so we will be completely safe."
Hearing Qing Xiang use a term he had never heard before, Liang Chen could not help but tilt his head, questioning Qing Xiang with a confused tone.
"Rank 1 Demonic beasts? What are those?"
Qing Xiang stopped moving for a short moment when he heard Liang Chen's question, slightly furrowing his eyebrows as he looked at him.
"Brother Feng should have already told you about this, were you not paying proper attention?"
Liang Chen lowered his head after hearing Qing Xiang's words. He had indeed not been paying attention most of the time when his parents were trying to teach him cultivation or about Demonic beasts. He never really liked cultivation or training, he much preferred to play around. Seeing him like this Qing Xiang released a sigh and pat Liang Chen on the head, starting his explanation as they continued moving towards the forest.
"Haah, fine, you lazy little boy. Just like cultivators are divided into realms, so to are Demonic beasts. Cultivators have realms, and Demonic beasts have ranks. The lowest rank is Rank 1, while the highest is Rank 9, the higher the number, the stronger the Demonic beast. But a Rank 1 Demonic beast is by no means weak. Depending on what stage of Rank 1 the Demonic beast is, it can be as strong as someone at the late stage of the Mortal Tower realm. 2nd Rank Demonic beasts can be as strong as someone at the late stage of the Houtian Tower realm, and 3rd Rank Demonic beasts can be as strong, if not stronger, than someone at the late stage of the Xiantian Tower realm."
Qing Xiang stopped for a short moment, his gaze turning towards the forest that they were approaching. His gaze grew somewhat distant as he thought about the might he had seen some Demonic beasts reveal. His voice contained a mixture of fear and awe as he continued to explain.
"Can you imagine it? Only the first three ranks are already that strong, so how strong must the later ranks be? Legends have it that a Rank 9 Demonic beast is strong enough to drag down the sky and use it to rend the earth. Only the mightiest of cultivators are a match for them, everyone else is the same as ants."
Liang Chen's heart could not help but beat a bit faster after he heard Qing Xiang's explanation. Were demonic beasts that powerful? And yet they decided to build a city so close to a forest containing Demonic beasts?
"They are that strong? Then why are the cultivators still allowing them to survive if they are that great of a threat?"
Hearing Liang Chen's question, a slight smile appeared on Qing Xiang's face, because he remembered that he himself had once asked that very same question. He repeated the words that his father had told him when he was a child, his eyes shining with a somewhat greedy light.
"Because a Demonic beast is the same as a walking treasure. Every inch of their body is filled with large amounts of Qi. Bathing in their blood or eating their meat is a great way for strong cultivators to speed up their cultivation. That is why they allow Demonic beasts to continue existing."
Hearing about the strength of Demonic beasts made Liang Chen's heart beat a little faster, but hearing about the effect of their blood and flesh, his heart started furiously drumming in his chest, his voice containing and unnoticeable tremble as he spoke out.
"Their blood and flesh can allow one to increase their cultivation speed?"
Liang Chen found his own cultivation speed to be unbearably slow. If he continued with his current speed, he would never be able to surpass Qing Lan Yong. But what if he could get his hand on the flesh and blood of several demonic beasts? Could he increase his cultivation speed to a pace where he could catch up with Qing Lan Yong? Qing Xiang looked at Liang Chen with a serious expression, giving a slight nod of his head.
"Yes. But Liang Chen, you must promise me something. You must promise me that even if you are given the chance, you will not consume any Demonic beast flesh, nor bathe in their blood. You must first reach the late stage of the Houtian Tower realm, or even better, the peak of the Ascended Tower realm. You must promise me that you will stay away from Demonic beasts until you have achieved that."
Qing Xiang's voice was solemn as he spoke, staring deeply at Liang Chen. Liang Chen did not make a promise immediately, instead questioning Qing Xiang a little further.
"Why must I stay away from Demonic beasts until then?"
If he had to stay away from them because he was weak, he could easily understand that. But listening to the words of Qing Xiang, it was clear that there was a different reason he wanted Liang Chen to stay away from Demonic beasts. Qing Xiang's eyes contained traces of fear as he started to explain, the things he had seen happen to weak-willed people bathing in Demonic beast blood flashing past his eyes.
"Because only when you have cultivated to that stage will your mind be strong enough to resist the Demonic beast Qi. Their Qi is incredibly aggressive and violent, it will corrode your mind and try to turn you into a mindless monster that only listens to their most primal instincts. Only some of the most blessed children beneath the heaven's are allowed to try bathing in Demonic beast blood before they have reached a high enough cultivation. And even they often end up losing their minds. Eating Demonic beast flesh is even worse, as the large amount of Qi within the flesh might overload your veins and organs, blowing you up from the inside out."
Qing Xiang kneeled down in front of Liang Chen, placing both hands on his shoulders and looking at him with serious eyes, his voice not giving any room for discussion.
"Promise me, Little Chen. Promise me that you will never even think about touching anything from a Demonic beast until you have cultivated to a high realm."
Seeing Qing Xiang like that, Liang Chen knew that there was only a single answer he could give him. He put on a bright and warm smile, placing his own hands over the hands of Qing Xiang as he spoke.
"It's okay, Uncle Xiang. I promise."