“Encounter something we shouldn’t encounter? What are you referring to?”
Along the way towards the lake in the valley, Kang Zhi turned his head to ask as his chubby face revealed a bitter smile, his worry evident.
“Ice Soul Pythons!” Qin Lie kneaded his eyebrows and said, ”There are Ice Soul Pythons living in the vicinity of the lake. They will occasionally go to the lake to wash the mud off their bodies. If we unfortunately come across one of them, we’ll be in serious trouble.”
Ice Soul Pythons were Rank Two spirit beasts, with strength similar to martial practitioners at the Natal Opening Realm. Their combat prowess far outstripped the Umbra Lightning Condor. Martial practitioners at the Refinement Realm would find it very difficult to endure even a single breath of these serpents that were filled with frost energy.
Ling Family’s Ling Feng, together with Ling Chengzhi and some others, came across an Ice Soul Python a few years ago and got sprayed with a full breath of frost energy. Luckily, he blocked most of it with his Firecloud Hammer, if not, the frost energy would have invaded his heart and killed him.
In the end, he survived at the cost of his spirit artifact, the Firecloud Hammer. If Qin Shan hadn’t helped to repair the hammer for him, it would have been scrap metal by now.
From this, one could see that Ice Soul Pythons were not easy to deal with.
Qin Lie carried with him a sculpture of his grandfather. According to his grandfather, the sculpture would be useful within the territories of some specific spirit beasts.
However, the Ice Soul Pythons were not included in the list of spirit beasts mentioned by his grandfather. Thus, the sculpture was of no help to him now.
Upon hearing the presence of Ice Soul Pythons, the expressions of the party changed slightly as fear grew within their hearts.
Other than Tu Ze and Zhuo Qian, everyone revealed a face of reluctance. At this moment, Zhuo Qian addressed them coldly, ”Ice Soul Pythons are stronger than Umbra Lightning Condors. However, this particular spirit beast does not live in groups. We will likely come across them at most one at a time. Which is more troublesome, a single serpent, or over thirty Umbra Lightning Condors? We have seven of us, and if we count Ling Lie in, will we not win against a single Ice Soul Python? On top of that, it isn’t guaranteed that we might even meet one. Look at your own fearful appearances, don’t you people feel ashamed of yourself?”
After her speech, the group of people dryly laughed as they realized their behavior was truly lacking.
“Brother Lie, this matter is not your concern, you do not have to accompany us any further,” Tu Ze said suddenly as he exhaled deeply and continued, ”We’re already grateful that you gave the valuable information to us. There’s no reason to allow you to risk danger together with us. Mn, we can part here…”
“No, I’m coming along with you guys.” Qin Lie replied as he shook his head, revealing a look of calmness on his youthful face. “You need me to give you directions. Besides, I’m also going there to look for something…”
Stellar Iron was a Common Grade Seven spirit material. Legend has it that it came from meteorites created from the explosion of stars. Melting the Stellar Iron and imbuing it into spirit artifacts would greatly increase the artifacts’ toughness. The Stellar Iron was definitely considered to be a rare treasure.
However, the reason why his grandfather was affixed on that lake was not due to the Stellar Iron. It was because of the Ice Stalk Grass at the sides of the lake.
Ice Stalk Grass was a Common Grade Five spirit herb and also the main ingredient for refining the Hundred Vein Pill. The Hundred Vein Pill could be consumed to improve the tenacity of the muscles and veins within the body, and increase the speed at which spirit energy flowed along the meridians. This would allow martial practitioners to refine spirit stones and beast cores even faster.
Directly ingesting the Ice Stalk Grass could also give Qin Lie similar benefits, which would allow him to rapidly refine the lightning energy within the beast cores and quickly accumulate more spirit energy.
He was willing to travel together to the lake precisely because of the Ice Stalk Grass. It definitely had nothing to do about caring for Tu Ze, Zhuo Qian and the rest.
Besides, if he were to head towards the lake alone, he would be doomed the moment he came across an Ice Soul Python.
Without Tu Ze’s group of seven, he certainly would not have attempted such a suicidal move at his level of cultivation. Therefore, when opportunity presented itself in the form of Tu Ze and the others, he definitely had to give it a try.
Tu Ze and company were moved by his act of “camaraderie”, and they started to look at him with friendlier eyes.
They chatted along the way and under his guidance, the party of eight reached the valley at noon.
The Arctic Mountain Range had numerous identical valleys like this. This particular valley they had arrived at didn’t have a name. Perhaps due to its proximity to the glacier region, it was considerably colder than Solitary Ridge as freezing wind blew harshly from within the valley.
They tightened their clothes and proceeded to open up a path through the knee-high vegetation with their weapons, making their way deeper into the valley.
As expected, they found a lake right in the middle of the valley. The sides of the lake were abundant in dense clusters of aquatic plants, and above its surface were thin layers of swirling fog. Enshrouded by the light blanketing vapor, the inner portion of the valley presented a uniquely beautiful and misty scenery.
“The Stellar Iron is at the bottom of this lake?” Tu Ze excitedly looked at Qin Lie, while asking for a final confirmation.
Qin Lie nodded.
Tu Ze yelled out in joy and directly jumped into the lake without hesitation.
“Ah! The water’s so damn cold!” Abruptly surfacing from the water with a drenched head, Tu Ze said as he heartily laughed out loud, ”Come on in and wash yourselves! After travelling within the mountains for so long, we have yet to see a lake with such clean water. We’d better not miss this chance.”
Being hygienic was a woman’s natural tendency. At this, even the usually casual Zhuo Qian could no longer hold herself in. With a charming smile, she gracefully dived into the lake.
The remaining six others were full of glee too. One by one, they rushed into the waters, hurriedly cleaning their bodies first before diving towards the bottom of the lake.
Qin Lie watched on for a while. After making sure they were busy searching for the Stellar Iron, he began to wade among the plants and stones at the side of the lake.
The length of a typical Ice Stalk Grass was only that of a human’s forearm and half of it was usually rooted into the ground between pieces of rocks. Only a small portion of it would protrude above the water’s surface and even then, it would usually grow in the midst of various common water grass and algaes, making it extremely hard to find.
Had Qin Lie not known in advance that there was Ice Stalk Grass to be found here thanks to his grandfather’s map, even if he frequently passed through here, it would be highly improbable for him to discover its existence without carefully digging about the aquatic plants.
However, since he was certain that there was Ice Stalk Grass around here, the result would definitely be different.
Qin Lie steadily circled the shores of the lake, maintaining his calm as he meticulously searched…
Within minutes, a single stalk of a plain-looking grass came into the corner of his vision. Qin Lie’s face shone with delight as he immediately made his way towards it, carefully plucking it from among a dense patch of aquatic vegetation.
The entire stalk of Ice Stalk Grass was retrieved. It was less than half a meter long and 2 fingers wide.
The leaves were olive in color and cold to the hands, with numerous fine veins on its surface. The pattern of the veins looked very similar to the meridians of a human body, looking as though it contained mysteries within.
“Common Grade Five……”
Qin Lie muttered under his breath. After tightly securing one end of the Ice Stalk Grass, he stored it in a leather bag at his waist and continued his search.
“Hahaha! I found it, I found a bit of Stellar Iron, it’s really here!”
Fatty Kang Zhi’s exhilarated laughters rang out from a corner of the lake. He held up a small piece of a shiny, silver stone fragment the size of a small fingernail and continuously waved it back and forth, pinched between his fingers
The piece of stone fragment shone brightly under the reflection of the sunlight like a rare metal, as though it really was a meteorite that came from the stars.
Tu Ze, Zhuo Qian and others were still at the bottom of the lake when they heard his outburst of laughter. They broke through the surface of the lake to see Kang Zhi’s smug face as he started to brag that he was “favored by the gods”, a “child of nature” and other shameless claims.
They ignored Kang Zhi’s infuriating choice of words as their passionate gazes convened on that small shiny fragment, then quickly broke out into loud cheers after which they resumed diving with renewed gusto.
Certain that the bottom of the lake indeed contained Stellar Iron, the group of seven started to act like they were injected with chicken blood. They searched furiously within the lake without pause, occasionally surfacing only when they absolutely had to catch their breath.
Qin Lie paid them no attention, solely focused on searching for more Ice Stalk Grass while conveniently on the lookout for unexpected dangers.
Five days passed in a blink of an eye.
In these five days, Qin Lie had harvested more than ten of those Ice Stalk Grass. Whenever night fell, he would refine the Umbra Lightning Condor beast cores after ingesting a stalk of the Ice Stalk Grass.
With the help of the Ice Stalk Grass, his speed of refining the cores were greatly increased. Within the span of five days, he refined more than twenty of those beast cores. The spiritual energy within his dantian’s spirit sea started to slowly accumulate.
The feeling of having an abundance of spiritual energy, as though he possessed an incredible source of power within his body, greatly boosted his confidence.
Within these five days, Tu Ze’s group of seven were also devoted to their goal of searching for Stellar Iron. It wasn’t clear whether it was due to their unbelievably poor luck, but their total haul was relatively pitiful. There were only slightly more than ten small pieces of the Stellar Iron between them, far from meeting the required amount to refine Tu Ze’s artifact.
In the middle of the night, after borrowing a Realm Assessing Stone from Tu Ze, he stealthily separated himself from the group to test his true cultivation rank.
The diamond-shaped Realm Assessing Stone was transparent like a crystal and sparkled faintly under the moonlight. It was specifically used to measure the cultivation rank of a martial practitioner.
Holding his breath, Qin Lie slowly gathered his spirit energy to the Realm Assessing Stone within his palm. A faint blue ray of light gradually appeared on the smoothest surface of the stone.
One ray of blue light represented one level of the Refinement Realm. Following the increased output of Qin Lie’s spirit energy, the surface of the stone slowly emitted more rays of blue.
One ray, two rays, three, four, five, six rays!
Sixth level of Refinement!
“My spirit sea is still not fully filled yet. The number of rays should increase as I refine more of the beast cores. When my spiritual sea is truly filled to the brim with spirit energy, it might even reveal… that I have reached the seventh level of the Refinement Realm!”
Qin Lie breathed out slowly and cut off the infusion of Spirit Energy into the Realm Assessing Stone. His eyes started to glow faintly as he became filled with confidence and anticipation for the future.
On the sixth day, Tu Ze and the others resumed their search for more Stellar Iron while Qin Lie continued exploring the sides of the lake for more Ice Stalk Grass, just as they had previously done.
Suddenly, the sound of a snake hissing echoed out from deep within the trees.
Qin Lie was searching within a large patch of seaweeds when his heart sank abruptly as he felt a heavy aura of chill closing in. Without hesitation, he fiercely lifted the largest boulder within reach and heavily tossed it into the lake, shouting out simultaneously, “There’s an Ice Soul Python!”
Whilst shouting, Qin Lie hurriedly moved to distance himself from the direction of the hissing, trying his best to avoid the scenario of coming face to face with the Ice Soul Python all alone.
Within the lake, Tu Ze and the others were alarmed by the sinking boulders and they raced towards the surface, sprinting towards Qin Lie when they spotted his beckoning hand.
The Ice Soul Python was an amphibious creature. Its combat prowess was exceedingly high on both land and in water. It was able to reveal its true strength even in the lake as it was unaffected by the water.
However, Tu Ze and the rest were unable to do the same.
If they tried to fight within the water, their strength would be greatly impacted; many of their strongest abilities would be heavily weakened.
Therefore, when they became aware that an Ice Soul Python was approaching, they decisively chose to make for land.
Knee-high vegetations were mangled as the group barged towards the trees; the sounds of twigs snapping, gravel scattering and the spirit beast’s hissing as it slithered blended together.
Shortly after, with a body nearing nine meters in length and as thick as a bucket, a python came into their view.
There were several cloud-like patterns on the smooth body of the Ice Soul Python and its head was shaped like a triangle. White frosty mist would be spewed out between its breaths, capable of freezing one to the bones.
It slithered at a surprisingly fast speed and its body was exceptionally nimble, as some sort of a sinister glow faintly shone within its inky, dark green pupils.
“It’s here!” Kang Zhi shouted.
“Let’s kill it then!”
Zhuo Qian adjusted her stance and her healthy calves bent in a lunge position. She swiftly nocked an arrow, drawing her longbow back to be as taut as possible, becoming the first one to be ready for the impending battle.