Chapter 4: The Hunt
Within the forest, Xu Min was rushing forward, his feet moving on a familiar track that he usually played on. His head was clear, with only one thought floating through it — survival.
The most important thing for Xu Min was to survive, so that he could return one day. Return to ensure that both the young and old master of the Zhong family died by his hands. But right now, he knew that his chances of survival were slim, since a horde of guards was hot on his trail.
Had this happened just a few days earlier, Xu Min would have been caught already; however, after breaking into the Student Warrior rank, Xu Min was now much faster than he would have ever believed to have become, and he also became able to store Qi within his body.
What assisted him in his escape was not only the small amount of Qi he had been able to gather in the last few days, but also his familiarity with the forest, and the physical strength he had trained to improve.
The guards never needed to enter the forest, and although it was considered safe, it was not a place people would venture into, unless they were poor and tried to harvest edible plants or hunt small critters.
Another thing that slowed the guards down was the elaborate metal armour they were wearing to show off the magnificence of the Zhong family. Unfortunately for them, it was far from helpful while chasing someone in a dense forest. After a few hours of chasing after Xu Min, the final guard gave up and returned to the mansion.
“What do you mean, you can’t find him?!” Master Zhong’s voice roared throughout the entire hall, as everyone present cowered in fear from what their family leader might do as punishment for failing to complete their mission.
“That boy is not ordinary,” Master Zhong said with a low and intimidating voice, “His talent is far above average, so we can’t afford to let him go. If we do, it will come back to haunt us. Have someone who knew him sketch up a drawing, issue a bounty of one hundred gold coins, and give it to whomever manages to provide me with his severed head.”
Having said this, Master Zhong took a small break to consider what he should do with the ones who failed to capture the boy. With a sigh, he waved his hand, ready to dismiss them.
In the middle of the motion, Master Zhong seemed to have changed his mind, since he opened his eyes once more and said, “Every day, send a team into the forest to see whether or not you can capture him. The same bounty holds true for my guards as well as anyone else. You have to kill him.”
Seated beside Master Zhong was the young master. At first, his face had been rigid from fear and regret; however, as the night progressed and he was congratulated on his actions, excitement grew in him and he felt as though he had finally succeeded. Murder was truly the way to becoming stronger.
He was also thrilled that Xu Min left. It didn’t matter much to Zhong Ji whether Xu Min was alive or dead anymore. As long as he was gone, it meant that there was no longer anyone of similar age who could overtake him while training or be more skilled than him. Thus, the young boy had a broad smile on his face.
Young master Zhong was not aware why his father was so intent on killing Xu Min, because he saw Xu Min as nothing more than a pest. Although his talent was astonishing, he was nothing but a small boy who was now all alone in the world. He could hardly be called a threat by anyone.
Master Zhong disagreed with him on this point. Allowing for the boy to live would result in a potential thorn in his side, because he had seen the sheer hate and anger burning in the boy’s eyes when he escaped into the forest.
Master Zhong felt rather uncomfortable as he mulled over the entire situation, but after shaking his head a little, he decided to return to the banquet he was hosting. With a polite smile on his face, he greeted the family members that were present once more.
At the almost unnoticeable background of the banquet, all the maids who were ordered to pour wine and serve the food did so without smiles on their faces. Instead, most of them even had almost unnoticeable tear stains on their cheeks. They all thought about how their good friend died because of a weak-willed pathetic young master who killed her just because he did not have the guts to face his rival head on.
As he sat on a branch of one of the largest trees in the forest, Xu Min gritted his teeth. His hands were filled with scrapes and his eyes shone with a red hue.
It had been days since Xu Min was chased into the forest by the Zhong family guards and he had long since realized that all the humans in the forest were after him.
On the first day, he had almost gotten caught by a group of mercenaries because he went to them for help, only to hear that they were after a bounty on his head. Since then, Xu Min dreaded sleeping because he feared being found during the night.
Leaving the forest was not easy either, because Xu Min saw that guards were patrolling the vicinity of the forest, ready to catch him whenever he showed himself. With no other options left, Xu Min decided to venture further into the forest and see what kind of landscape was on the other side.
In all the years Xu Min had lived, he had only heard a little information about the other side. The other side was a vast country, unimaginably bigger than the city Xu Min grew up in, a place where every cultivator would venture out to carve out a name for themselves. Stories, which Overseer Tian told about it, were what caused Xu Min to become interested in cultivating in the first place — one day, he would carve his own name into history.
As he thought about his childish dream, Xu Min snorted at himself for being so naïve. Currently, he was wounded, tired, and mentally unstable, but deep within, his survival instinct was still roaring, forcing him to hide day after day.
He had not slept for days and he had finally managed to climb up into a large tree, where he could spot anyone without them noticing him. The branches were all larger than he was and he finally allowed himself to rest a little while sitting leaned against the large tree trunk with his legs crossed.
Xu Min kept swearing at himself for not being strong enough to fight his way into the main house and slay his targets immediately, but he knew that now was not the right time. It was the time to continue cultivating, following the instructions taught to him previously by Overseer Tian. Currently, Xu Min did everything in his ability to stay invisible. To pretend that he was the air, that he was the essence of heavens and earth.
The sky was dark when Xu Min finally fell into a light sleep. Although he slept lightly, his body was still that of an eight year old boy which needed rest, inducing him to sleep throughout the night and the majority of the morning.
When he woke up, Xu Min was shocked when he realized how long he had been asleep. He even felt a tinge of guilt that he could sleep so soundly while his beloved sister could not sleep at all anymore.
Although Xu Min felt a bit guilty, his alertness never faltered. He kept looking at his surroundings, not daring to move even slightly. Because of his vigilance, he noticed yet another group of humans walking through the forest. This time they were led by Overseer Tian, which caused his already wounded heart to hurt even more.
Climbing down the tree silently, Xu Min went as close as he dared to without being noticed, so that he could hear what was being said.
“We are going to enter the forest again tonight,” Overseer Tian said with a cold and indifferent voice, “Perhaps I can lure him out if I pretend to be alone. When he appears, shoot him right away. We can’t afford to let him keep evading us.”
Hearing these words spoken from the one adult whom Xu Min viewed as almost a father, his eyes burned with unshed tears and his heart hardened as he climbed back to the perch that he was previously sitting on.
Xu Min stayed at the top of the tree for days without end, living on nothing but the bark of the tree and the moisture collected on the leaves. In the first few days, Xu Min would cry randomly, but as the hours went by with nothing but his own thoughts, the young boy slowly stopped crying and started thinking about everything that had happened again.
Xu Min was still just an eight year old boy, but while he was living at the top of the tree, his mentality changed. Deep within him, there was a fire fueled by anger, a fire which grew slightly brighter every day. However, no matter how strong this fire burned, it was always suppressed by the need to endure.
The season changed from the warm summer to the chilly autumn and finally, after several months passed by, it was possible for Xu Min to descend from the large tree, seeing that the forest was no longer filled with mercenaries, guards, or other men who wished to hunt down the young boy for the sake of money.
After descending, Xu Min instantly went towards a small stream where he washed himself and his clothes. The months had taken their toll on his body as he was now incredibly scrawny, with his ribs visible through the skin. His body was weaker than it had been ever before and all the muscles he worked hard to build up had lost most of their strength through the long wait and malnourishment.
His eyes, previously filled with childish happiness and naivety, became cold and distant; not even a speck of compassion for this world remained. Instead, they were filled with vigilance as he looked around.
Moving deeper and deeper into the forest, Xu Min quickly passed the furthest point that he had ever been to before. Instead of being filled with happiness and excitement from the new frontier, as he would have been just a few months ago, those childish feelings were nonexistent, long dead and replaced with seriousness and alertness as he observed his surroundings, constantly on guard for humans that could appear.
The further Xu Min went, the more careful he became. He didn’t dare to travel on roads made by humans, nor did he wish to follow too many animal trails. In the end, he chose the most difficult way to go through, believing that the path he chose would also be the hardest one to follow.
As Xu Min made his way towards the depths of the forest, he quickly found that although it was considered a safe forest by most, many demon beasts resided in it. However, when those demon beasts encountered the small boy, they quickly lost their interest, since skin and bone alone were not enough of a meal for them.
While he traversed through the forest, Xu Min finally dared to spend time on training once more, making his already slow trip become even more drawn out. He would spend hours each day breathing in and out, creating golden specks of light like Overseer Tian had taught him.
The breathing exercise was not the only training Xu Min did. He trained the stances he had learned during his time in the Zhong Family Compound once again. He remembered every muscle strengthening stance ever showed to him and he would spend hours on those every day.
One day passed another, the seasons came and went. Xu Min slowly made his way through the vast forest, moving at an incredibly slow pace as he focused on rebuilding his strength and cultivation base.