Blood Spirit Valley
It all happened so fast that neither the Armored Lion King nor his subjects could break free of their stupor. And while the monstrous giants stared like dazed retards at their flame altar, a Three-Eyed Tiger returned with fruit baskets and wine cups in the dozens.
"Great King, I've brought you your favorite fruits and drinks! How will you reward me?" Instead of the domineering bass tone expected from a ferocious beast, the Three-Eyed Tiger's voice echoed like an odd blend between a shy castrate and a pouting missus. Satisfied by how well he'd handled his king's command, the tiger trotted towards the Armored Lion, shaking his head left and right as if dancing on a festival tune. The seductive scent of spiritual fruit and wine forced the dazed beasts to snap out of their stupor. Unfortunately for the tiger, when the lion king's eyes darted between the feast and flame, he flew into a rage—sending tiger and feast flying with a paw strike.
"Dog! Raggedy dog! This King knew that the half-baked pig-butt of an ape was too foolish to handle this critical task! Why didn't any of you mongrels stop him from volunteering?" One after the other, the Armored Lion King swiped at his subordinates, shifting the blame for this disastrous result on their innocent heads.
'I did warn you that this butt-crazed golden freak wasn't suitable for the task. But because you wanted to watch him pound people to death while enjoying a wasteful meal, you wouldn't listen and forced him to go! How did things suddenly become our fault? Has the world ever seen such a shameless king? One day, we must revolt!' The Steaming Ape wanted to say, but knew that such words would send him on a first-class trip to the Kings of Hell.
"Steaming Ape, are you criticizing This King in your thoughts?"
"Great King, I wouldn't dare! We were foolish! I am foolish! But Great King, that monk's reaction speed and resourcefulness are far above what any of us could imagine. Did he somehow trick the Blood Yang Gorilla General into chasing the pretty boy? Perhaps the pink fluid is to blame. Humans are so cunning that it wouldn't surprise me that they all carried top-tier aphrodisiacs in their storage rings! Great King, now we know what we're dealing with. This is a blessing in disguise!" The Steaming Ape pleaded his case, making the Armored Lion King wonder if, had the roles been reversed, he wouldn't be the one carrying Xia Hu into a cave-room. Then again, with that boy's exquisite features…'Evil thoughts, begone!'
The Armored Lion King shook off the disturbing thoughts and peered into the flame altar. The scene changed, and once again, the flickering flames displayed the location of Xinzi who, to the Armored Lion King's delight, had landed in a dark and eerie valley.
"At least that damn gorilla got something right. Good, very good. Since things have reached this point, we can no longer conceal this debacle. Have our troops slaughter all remaining White Immortal sect disciples, then post them at all corners of the Ice-Fire cave. Should the brats try to teleport their way out, we will be waiting to tear them to shreds! In the meantime, I will contact that person, and let them decide how to handle the punks if they choose to cross the Blood Spirit Valley instead," the Armored Lion King said, and all beasts lowered their heads—bowing as low as the ground allowed them to.
"As you command, Great King!"
Meanwhile, Xinzi's damaged teleportation talisman landed him in an unknown valley. Here, a veil of darkness clouded the sky, preventing any sunlight from passing by. Sinuous arcs of blood mist pervaded the atmosphere, stressing human nostrils with the odious scent of blood and carcasses.
With Dong Ling in his right hand and Chun Xu in the left, Xinzi stared at the veil. But whereas the ladies' eyes shifted between awe and apprehension, a smile flashed by Xinzi's lips. "Heavens, is this…" Dong Ling started, glancing at Xinzi, whose face now sported a grimace. "Yup, welcome to the Blood Spirit Valley," Xinzi said, shoved Chun Xu to the ground, and spun towards Dong Ling.
"Phewww…that was so scary! A'Ling, I thought I'd never see you again!" Without a care for decorum, Xinzi hugged Dong Ling's waist—pressing her fleshy mounds against his muscular chest while shedding crocodile tears.
'Humph! Since you didn't get your priorities wrong, I will let you enjoy some small benefits.' Though she knew that Xinzi exploited the moment to harass her, Dong Ling pretended to share the "fears," and rubbed her cheeks against Xinzi's. The sight made Chun Xu want to puke, but as she recalled the details of their escape, her eyes narrowed at the monk.
"Xinzi, what did you do to big brother Xia?"
"Aiya, brother Xia's contributions to the sect will be remembered for centuries to come. But let's just say that, even if by some outlandish miracle he survives, he will never walk straight again. As a matter of fact, I'd be surprised if he could stand on his own."
"Bastard! You...are too evil!" Chun Xu's face twisted into sheer horror. A sharp mind, she'd already formed her own conjectures. Add to that Xinzi's words, and she could picture Xia Hu suffering unspeakable torments. Xinzi was right, even if Xia Hu survived by some outlandish miracle, his Dao Heart and cultivation road wouldn't.
"How did you get your hands on an aphrodisiac potent enough to cheat a rank-four Sentient Beast? No, what is a monk doing with aphrodisiacs to begin with? Xinzi, shame on you!" Chun Xu wanted to cry but couldn't find the tears—to curse but couldn't find the nerve. Though he picked Dong Ling first, Xinzi didn't leave the Sword Fairy behind—making her a direct beneficiary of Xia Hu's sacrifice. In the future, how could she face him?
Only now did Dong Ling realize what trick Xinzi used to lure the Blood Yang Gorilla away—her jaw dropped in response. Never one to let trifling details derail him from serious business, Xinzi ignored Chun Xu's inquiry.
"Let's get the pins and needles out of the way. I don't want to have to worry about you. As we speak, hundreds to thousands of mysterious beasts are likely packing the cave, eager to tear us all to shreds. Teleportation talismans have a limited range. You can use two to get back to the sect, but regardless of what landing point you choose, the first one will drop you somewhere in the cave. If you want to go back using that path, be my guest." How could Xinzi admit that he routinely burned a steady share of his fortune to acquire the latest products the black market had to offer? Neither Dong Ling nor Chun Xu needed such info, so Xinzi shifted the conversation back to the ordeal they faced.
The mysterious beasts' hierarchy mirrored a military state. The higher the rank, the more absolute their control over the lower-level beasts became. A Sentient Beast in the Ice-Fire cave meant that, at its command, all beasts within could operate like a disciplined army. Chun Xu knew that if the Gorilla had the beasts spread out and warn him of her return, he'd attempt to incapacitate her with a blast of Spiritual Qi before she could activate another talisman. Worse, no one could guarantee that more such beasts didn't hide in the cave—eager to make a move.
'Weren't the Blood Spirits meant to prevent the birth of high-rank beasts? What is this supposed to mean?' The possibility of an alliance between beasts and ghosts never once crossed Chun Xu's mind. Still, she wouldn't gamble with her life.
"What do you propose?" Chun Xu asked while rubbing her legs which, due to Dong Ling's venomous snake bites, refused to obey her.
"In theory, this is the safest place for us. The Mysterious Beasts wouldn't dare step into the Blood Spirits' lair, whereas said Blood Spirits wouldn't spare us a glance. Unfortunately, the Blood Spirits are not acting as they're meant to, giving me the nagging suspicion that once we linger here, they'll come for our necks. That being the case…" Here, Xinzi paused and pointed at the horizon.
"We have to dive deeper into the Blood Spirit Valley. Pity for the Ice-Glazed Lichen, but the deeper we go, the more abundant the Blood Energy becomes. The three of us have minuscule quantities of Blood Energy. It's hard enough for Blood Spirits to locate us, but if we hide in areas of massive blood energy, they will have no way to track us down." Xinzi made a convincing case. While the road ahead no doubt hid its fair share of perils, Dong Ling and Chun Xu would rather bet on the unknown than risk falling into the clutches of a Blood Yang Gorilla. Little did they know that the lotus monk's words concealed selfish motives.
'Hahahahaha! I can feel it. It's here. That thing must be here! Master, with it maybe I won't need to...' Xinzi trembled. But as his thoughts ran wild, a loud thud snapped him back into reality.
"Senior sister!" The poison left by Dong Ling's snakes spread throughout Chun Xu's body, sending her into shock.