An caravan of about thirty men were travelling down wilderness with grassland as far as the eye could see. There were eight carriages among them accompanied by young leather-clothed horsemen with a few of them only reaching the ages of twelve, but they all were in high spirits regardless.
At the very front of the caravan was an old man riding a fine yellow horse. He had sharp creases in his brow and dark-red skin. He also wore a fire-red fox hide cap, gorgeous robes, and a tri-colored embroidered belt that symbolized his position as the master of the group.
They were travelling through the north of the Endless Sky Plains, on their way to pay tribute to a temple belonging to the Soaring Tribes.
The Endless Sky Plains were what the Soaring Tribes called the Moulan Plains. This was due to Soaring Tribe's belief that their patron god, the Endless Sky Beast, had protected them for generations.
Originally, the Soaring Tribes occupied the southern portion of the Endless Sky Plains, but ever since their victory in the war against the Moulan thirty years ago, they occupied the entirety of the plains, and their strength massively surged, leaving them without match in the area.
Of course, given the huge size of the Soaring Tribes, they consisted of countless smaller tribe divisions. Smaller tribes consisted of a hundred thousand men with the largest tribes reaching around a hundred million men. Because there were many men who won merits in the last war, many new tribes had emerged with a majority of them being quite insignificant, only numbering tens of thousand of men.
The master of the escort was named Ying Lu. He was the leader of a small tribe that had split off from a larger one. Although they were considered a tribe, they only consisted of about eighty thousand men. When he was young, he was a formidable warrior and struck down several small Moulan Tribes in the war, capturing many of their nobles in the process and earning his current rank. However, he was unable to withstand the ravages of time. With the addition of the toil he put his body through over the years, he now appeared elderly despite only being fifty years old.
Ying Lu looked to the blazing sun in the sky, noticing that it was noon before turning to look at the young man behind him. He sighed.
Regardless of how small a tribe was, they had to regularly present tribute to the Immortals in case they came across calamities or demon beasts. However, newly formed small tribes like their own were unable to call upon Immortals. Even the lowest grade Immortals were unwilling to watch over tribes as small as theirs. After all, it was better for an Immortal to join more prosperous tribes, granting them more resources to further their cultivation.
However, there are a few small tribes that had low grade Immortals, but these Immortals had originated from these tribes or their aptitude was too poor to join larger tribes.
As for Ying Lu's Grey Heron Tribe, they didn't have the opportunity to nurture an Immortal for themselves. Whenever something happened over the years, they could only hire the Immortals of neighboring tribes at great cost to assist them. Their price was extremely high and would only assist them a few times at the cost of the tribe's revenue for half the year. As the tribe wasn't wealthy to begin with, this cost had put them in a hard situation.
Fortunately, twenty years had passed and the Day of Spirit Release has finally come for their tribe once more. Ying Lu handled this with care and didn't allow this opportunity to pass him. He promptly led several of the tribe disciples to the nearest Soaring Tribes Temple.
The Endless Sky Temples were originally established to honor their patron god, but after many years of development, they have become holy lands to the people of the Soaring Tribes, where low grade Immortals were fostered by the Soaring Tribes.
Every temple was managed by several high grade Immortals, responsible for imparting basic methods of cultivation. Once that was done, the lower aptitude cultivators were sent back to their tribes to receive their support there. As for the high aptitude cultivators, they were accepted as disciples by the high grade immortals and were personally nurtured. But before one could receive personal instruction from high grade Immortals, they must go through the Spirit Release Rites.
There were only about seventy Endless Sky Temples spread throughout the plains, but each of them were the heart of the regions they were located and had thousands of variously-sized tribes surrounding them.
Since there was only one temple in the region, the largest sects resided closest to it, and as a small sect, the Grey Heron Tribe resided in an area farther away. Their journey to the temple would take three months at the very least. Helpless, they could only depart four months ahead of time.
On the previous Day of Spirit Release, he had already established his tribe, but he wasn't able to gather enough tribute for the temple so he could only watch the opportunity pass him by. As a result, Ying Lu was unwilling to allow this chance to miss his tribe again. He even reduced the rations of the tribe and cut on other costs for the sake of this day so they could acquire an Immortal for their tribe.
However, they had to bring the tribute through wide expanses of grassland, an extremely dangerous task for mortals like them. After all, the tribute consisted of materials useful towards Immortals and even more precious towards mortals. If they weren't careful, they could be robbed, even by an Immortal. This was a common occurance whenever a Day of Spirit Release approached.
It was better for the tribes closer to the temple as none dared to be too imprudent in its proximity, but it proved extremely dangerous for tribes farther away.
It was once said that the tribute from a mid-grade tribe, a thousand year medicine herb, was leaked and made known to many. As a result, a high grade Immortal from a larger sect plundered it. Of course, the Immortals of the temple were angered by this and dispatched an Immortal to investigate this matter, but it was unknown if anything came of it.
With such events having happened, Ying Lu been extremely worried ever since he left his tribe. Although he was carrying the tribute, he didn't have the protection of an Immortal.
As the Day of Spirit Release approached, Immortals from many tribes were occupied with matters from the temple. Even if one had spirit stones, the Immortals were too busy to accept. Occasionally, there would be wandering Immortals and the larger tribes nearby would rush to hire them at great cost. Weaker tribes couldn't hope to compete.
With that thought, Ying Lu sighed and glanced behind him again.
Four of the eight carriages carried tribute, all of them pulled by the most meticulously chosen steeds in the tribe. These carriages were also crafted from the hardy red birch wood. Of course, to make sure that they wouldn't catch any attention, the carriages' exteriors were ragged and worn.
Even with these measures, they had encountered a small pack of feral wolves and nearly lost one of their members. In order to escape the wolves, they had to abandon the two slowest carriages. Although the two carriages didn't carry anything particularly costly, they did hold enough food for two months. It seemed that they would have no choice but to make a temporary stop in two days. There should be a nearby valley where men rarely tread, but there may be some wild bison or other game to hunt.
With that thought, Ying Lu stroked the hardwood bow that hung from his saddle.
"Yi! What happened?" A young woman at Ying Lu's side yelped in alarm. The woman was fifteen years old and was named Ying Shan. She was a relative of Ying Lu and was one of the few people in the tribe who possessed spirit roots. It was only natural for him to dote on her.
Ying Lu hastily raised his head in alarm and saw waves of azure light in some dense shrubbery ahead of him.
Ying Lu's heart trembled. As the leader of his tribe, he was naturally familiar with the light released from Immortal techniques. Could it be they wished to act against a group as destitute as his?
Ying Lu's heart sank and he raised his hand, ordering the group behind him to stop. When the others saw the azure light ahead of them, they instantly grew cautious from alarm.
Ying Lu firmly grasped onto his horse's reins and had it come to a stop. He then began to think of a plan to defend themselves.
But after a short moment, Ying Lu felt that there was something amiss. The azure light in the shrubbery continuously flickered but there were no Immortals or any techniques that emerged from it.
Ying Lu's eyes brightened and he hastily examined the shrubbery. The dense shrubbery were about as tall as a person and couldn't be clearly seen through.
Ying Lu's gaze wavered and he suddenly shouted, "Tu Meng! Go over there and take a look to see whether or not there is an Immortal there."
"Yes, Tribe Elder!" A young man with a sturdy and formidable appearance descended from his horse and carefully approached the shrubbery that was sixty meters away from him. When the azure light was only twenty meters away, he hesitated and his feet came to a stop.
"May I ask for the name of the Immortal here? We are the Grey Heron Tribe and we wish to pay our respects in front of your true appearance." The youth spoke with a clear tone of respect.
However, the light in the shrubbery continued to flicker and no response was given. Tu Meng couldn't help but to look at Ying Lu.
Ying Lu lowered his head in thought for a moment before silently nodding. The youth then gathered a bit of courage and walked forward with silent steps. When he arrived in front of the shrubbery, he gritted his teeth and parted the wild grass in front of him.