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Bao bi woke up to the sound of a woman screaming. He was surprisingly well rested for spending the night hidden in a tree. That was the way of things for cultivators though. This world was very rich in spiritual energy. It felt vaguely reminiscent of the home he grew up in before it had been stolen by Xaoi sect hooligans. Perhaps, that had contributed to him sleeping so deeply that it had taken a scream to awaken him.

Bao bi didn’t worry about it though. Even though this was a dangerous world, he had hidden himself very well and even had a few perimeter defenses if someone got close. He wouldn’t have slept if it hadn’t been someone screaming outside of his vicinity. He still got up and grabbed his bloated bag before he started moving, jumping from tree to tree. He wanted to assess the situation while remaining out of site. Height usually provided that advantage and Bao bi’s unique training had made him very familiar with this kind of moving.

It was only a short distance away when he finally saw the source of the scream. It was a young woman I didn’t recognize. She was a bit older, possibly sixteen, and she appeared to be cornered by two creatures. They looked similar to wolves, but they didn’t have hair and their facial features resembled something like a warthog. They were snorting at her, saliva dripping from their mouths.

Bao Bi pulled out his spear from his storage ring. This one was quite a bit better than the casual stick Liao An had once made him. This wasn’t something she had made, but one she had given him one day. She had simply said he needed a real weapon after seeing him continue to use the stick she had made and throw it at him. He hadn’t brought it out during the competition. He was going against children, after all.

His storage room had a bit more than Jiang Bo’s ring. If anyone had seen the size of Bao bi’s ring, they would have instantly grown jealous. Elders would have fought to the death to obtain a ring of that size. It had been the smallest and most insignificant one Liao An could find, which meant it was the size of a small room. In comparison, Jiang Bo’s ring only contained the space of a single locker, and that was most a prince like him could acquire. Few disciples could acquire a storage ring, and even elders acquired them at great cost.

Bao bi didn’t understand how valuable the ring was, and he didn’t bother to put very much in it besides his weapon and some basic goods. Those who had rings were able to carry that advantage to this world, but other than bringing his weapon, he hadn’t bothered to take advantage of it. He felt only very valuable and necessary items should be put in the space, and even then, he didn’t trust it. He had a hard drive once that failed and caused him to lose a few hundred photos including a vacation he liked. He applied that logic to the ring and considered it unreliable. If Liao An heard this, she likely wouldn’t know if she should cry or beat him up. The result was that he carried anything that wasn’t too bulky or heavy to do so.

With the girl in distress down below, he couldn’t just attack with the bag, so he took it off. After hesitating for a second, he pulled off his badge and then stored the bag into the badge. That was the max the badge could hold at the moment, but he supposed if something happened, at least his death would have been for nothing. He then slipped the badge into his pocket. He prefer directness, but he wasn’t a fool either. He didn’t appear to recognize the girl below, and he decided it was best to hide his identity.

Only once making those preparations, he jumped down. Liao An had taught him to never waste a first strike. Tigra had always been notorious for being dishonorable in battle. It was so bad as to the point many believed she was weaker than she was because she’d often resort to tricks and manipulation rather than showing her true strength.

Only Midnight knew that her tendency to depend on tricks came from her background as a prostitute. She lived a life of being weaker than the other party, and it was usually cleverness and manipulation that kept her alive rather than showing her strength. This might also be why she was able to control Liao An so well. Being a weaker person against those stronger than her was a situation Tigra was used to. Since an intelligent mind was necessary for cultivation, Midnight had never corrected this problem in Tigra, and so Tigra had grown into a dirty fighter. She naturally passed on her knowledge to Bao bi.

Bao bi had always been an opportunist himself. He had no dreams of being some hero or champion. It wasn’t that he was a pessimist, but a realist, and he understood that it was sometimes better to work smart than work hard. Thus, as the spear descended, he didn’t hesitate to skewer one of the warthog wolf creature. It let out a squeal but died almost as soon as the spear struck. It should be noted the spear was acquired by Liao An, and she naturally selected what she thought was the best for Bao bi’s level, which made it a powerful spiritual weapon that would leave any disciple envious. It came close in strength to what an elder might yield, a weapon obtained after years of bloodshed and struggle, often harvested by a superior opponent only defeated by luck.

Bao bi didn’t know his weapon was such a high level, or that the creature he was killing, the warthound, was known for having a tough hide that weapons could not penetrate. It was exactly this tough hide that had made the girl have to run in the first place. She didn’t have a weapon that could pierce them. She seriously believed she might die, but a moment later she witnessed a spear come from nowhere. Blood splashed her face as the warthound was instantly impaled.

Bao bi smoothly attacked the other warthound, and it died just as quickly. The attack had only had two moves, and in two moves both creatures that would defeat any tier one cultivator was destroyed in an instant. They didn’t even have time to protest how unfair their deaths had been. They merely collapsed to the ground. The girl stared at a man standing between the two warthounds. He was untouched by the blood, and he had saved her life.

“Excuse me for a moment.” Bao bi said politely.

Her face turned red, but before she could say anything, Bao bi pulled out a knife and then started hacking away at the creatures. They were quickly turned into a gory mess, and Bao bi himself became covered in blood as he chopped away at them. The girl looked on in horror as her beautiful savior hacked and slashed the beasts like a deranged monster.

“Wh-wh-what?” She cried out.

“Oh! It has one! Score!” Bao bi reached into the side of the creature, guts covering his hands as he ripped something free from it.

The girl gagged, turning and throwing up before she could see what he had. It was only when she forced herself to look back that she saw him pulling an item from the other warthound. It was a little sphere that glowed.

“A spiritual core!” She recognized it immediately.

“Ah! That’s right.” Bao bi froze just before dropping the orb into his pocket. “These were your kill, right? Since there were two, I’ll only take one.”

Bao bi handed the core to her. She froze as she stared at the boy covered in blood. On one hand, he was like a hero from a story. Although he looked young, he was also quite handsome and fit. Saving her life only increased his attractiveness. On the other side, he was covered in the gore of his enemies, and seemed his brutal actions left her feeling uneasy. That said, she was a cultivator and no fool. Spirit orbs were valuable items, and she quickly took the one he offered.

“T-thank you.” She managed to stammer out.

“You’re welcome.” He responded with a smile pretty enough she felt her cheeks getting a bit hot. “I’ll be leaving now.”

“W-w-w-wait!” She cried out as she saw him turning.

He stopped and turned back. “Do you need something?”

“I-I don’t recognize you.” She declared. “Which sect are you from?

Bao bi opened his mouth to answer, but then he recalled a message Liao An sent him right before he left. It was mostly just a few pieces of advice while he was here. Most of them he felt was common sense, like don’t go where the spiritual energy is too strong, because it will likely possess spiritual beasts of equal strength and if an item of significant worth looks too easy to obtain, it probably is. One thing he felt was a bit novel was to keep his identity and sect a secret if he encountered any strangers. It was part of the reason he ultimately decided to hide his badge from the girl. He also noticed she didn’t have hers on display.

“I’m from the… Midnight… Darkness… sect…”

Bao bi didn’t know any sects. The only two sects he had ever been aware of were the Xaoi sect and the Black Shadow Destruction clan. He knew he wasn’t going to claim to be part of those clans, but he also didn’t know the naming structure of any other sect. Thus, he ended up using the realm they were in, and presumed Darkness made it sound more legitimate.

The girl let out a breath she had been holding, seeming to accept his made-up sect name. “You follow the same path as my sect. Good.”

“Path?” Bao bi asked. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t know?” The girl blinked, and when Bao bi shrugged she continued. “There are many Paths of cultivation toward immortality. Most of them involve battle, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. Some of these paths become counter to each other, opposed. For example, some study light cultivation, and those who study dark cultivation. One of them is evil. They strip the world of natural resources, wringing out the energy like a wet rag until there is nothing left. The other believes in pulling energy from supernatural sources, or even other cultivators if necessary.”

“I see…” Bao bi nodded along as she explained things.

He instantly figured that light cultivation were the so-called good guys, while the dark cultivators were evil. However, this was because of his inexperience. If had been truly paying attention, he might have noticed that she never specified which was which, and the Xaoi sect often extracted energy from the world and the natural resources it provided. As was, he just assumed this was one of the other disciples from the Xaoi clan that wasn’t part of his sect. He had already forgotten the elder mentioning that their sect had reserved the spot. After all, a lot had been said before and he only half paid attention.

“My name is Qi Liqiu. What is yours?” She asked.

He stopped nodding his head, wondering if he should make up a name or just be honest. Although Liao An had told him to hide his identity, she already didn’t know what clan he was with.

“Bao bi.”

He revealed. Since he didn’t give his last name, his name could be read Bi of the house of Bao. It was nonsense, but he couldn’t exactly say his last name when that name coincided with an entire sect. It felt counterproductive. The girl spoke his name quietly to herself like she was memorizing it and then nodded to herself.

“Well met, Bao bi. I don’t usually do this, but I’m here on a mission. Perhaps you would like to join me?”

“A mission?” Bao bi considered. “I’m heading toward the center tower. I don’t think I have time for those.”

“That’s perfect!” she declared, and then blushed, pulling back slightly. “I mean, my mission involves exploring a catacomb. It’s supposed to lead directly to the center tower.”

“A catacomb… you say…” Bao bi didn’t sound very impressed.

Catacombs were a graveyard, right? Bao bi wasn’t the kind of guy who would go grave robbing. Although Liao An had worked endlessly to try to give Bao bi a killing spirit unlike his usual demeanor from his old world, she didn’t know about those memories and the various morals instilled into him from another world. One of those included respect for the dead. He had even turned down a scene from “Return of the Dead Boner” when they wanted him to do a girl over a real tombstone. He put his foot down until they built a fake one out of Styrofoam. The girl ended up finding the Styrofoam more comfortable to be bent over too and so they dated for a few months.

“The tower bends space to its will!” The girl saw his hesitation and immediately tried to defend herself. “The catacombs are connected to that will. If we can successfully navigate them, you cut off days of your journey.”

Bao bi couldn’t help but perk up. Time was the problem. Everyone was randomly placed across the landscape. Some were placed closer to the tower than others. Anyone could run across anything on their journey, but the best stuff was undoubtedly near or inside the tower. This was where the most contribution points could be found. Although Bao bi didn’t feel like competing against children, the older groups were nearly adults and he didn’t feel as bad going all out against them. Plus, any points he earned he could share with his friends, making all of their lives easier.

He also didn’t forget about his mother. Contribution points would allow him to buy stuff, and buying stuff might allow him to trade for information. He knew that whoever took his mother wasn’t just going to confess it, so he’d need to do some investigation first. This was all just a means to an end for him. With only two days left, it would take that long just to reach the center tower. He might go home with only herbs unless he took an opportunity like this.

“Why do you want me?” Bao bi asked rather than immediately agreeing.

The girl blushed. “I tried to enter before, and that’s when I encountered those warthounds. They were guarding the entrance. I practice a style, death by a thousand cuts. It’s effective, but for enemies with powerful hides, I lack the strength. Your techniques appear to be strength-based, so you can help me get past.”

Bao bi gave a sympathetic nod. He wouldn’t say his techniques were strong. Tigra hadn’t given Bao bi a lean in any direction. She had designed all of his techniques for balance. Under normal circumstances, he would never be the fastest, the strongest, or the more resilient. However, he was also completely without weaknesses. It was part of building a strong base. Everything Bao bi knew was simple but profound.

Of course, because the techniques were hand-tailored by Tigra, they were more profound than anyone in that world would be used to. To the untrained eye, when he used strength, it looked like he specialized in strength because he had such a powerful base, his skills lacking any finesse. That said, if he had needed to move particularly quickly, someone could just as easily be forgiven for thinking he specialized in speed.

Bao bi understood none of this, so he merely presumed she was talking about the fact he was a guy, and by nature, had more strength. Furthermore, his spear could piece where slashing would be useless.

“Lead the way then.” Bao bi gestured.

Qi Liqiu nodded enthusiastically and then began to lead him back the way she had come from. She was cautious this time and kept low. Her eyes darted left and right as she moved. Bao bi followed her, and she kept looking back to make sure he was still there. This was because he was shockingly silent. He moved through the forest like a ghost. This was something Liao An had taught him without him even consciously realizing it.

Even though Qi Liqiu kept low and crept more than walked, she sounded like an elephant rampaging through the forest. Meanwhile, he looked like he was casually taking a stroll, but didn’t let out a single noise. They both stood out to the other. Bao bi took her actions as a nervous teenager who had almost lost her life once, so he merely followed politely and smiled when she looked back.

Bao bi’s movements made her feel a bit cautious. Just who was this boy who looked a few years younger than her? He did move like the shadows! She knew elders who had this ability, but she had never seen it in someone who was only at the second level. Of course, she had realized his level after his first strike. One of the reasons she was willing to put her back to a stranger was because she was halfway to the third level. With a full 9 tiers ahead of him, she could easily deal with him if he tried anything. She truly just needed his brute strength. Even if she claimed his spear, she didn’t think she could match his attack.

“This is where the entrance is.” She finally stated, pulling apart some vines that looked to have already been disturbed once before.

Sitting well-hidden behind the vines was the maw of a cave system. Ominous sounds seemed to emanate from deep within the cave system. They could have been the sounds of monsters, but they could have also been the sounds of mud shifting.

“Shall we go?” Bao bi asked, holding out his hand.

The girl looked at his hand and bit her lip before moving past him, entering the cave. Bao bi dropped his hand awkwardly and then followed behind her into the abyss.

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