Li Qingshan itched to pinch Halfmoon's delicate neck and make her die another time.
Gu Yanying said, "Little Moon, we should go." Since she didn't know how Soaring Dragon Elder had vanished, she could only tacitly believe that he'd curbed his aura on his own and fled away, no matter the reason. It would probably really provoke a war if he'd truly died a violent death. This wasn't something she wanted to see.
Halfmoon had come back to life, but she was still extremely weak. She had simply no way to use even a single Shadow Blink, had simply no way of escaping right from under her eyes. "Fine, fine, let's say you won, I'll just go along with you."
Halfmoon helplessly walked toward Gu Yanying. She suddenly said to Li Qingshan, "Lower your head!"
Li Qingshan lowered his head, having no idea why. Halfmoon suddenly stood on her tiptoes and lightly kissed his cheek, stuffing an item inside his hand at the same time.
The gentle and moist feeling came and immediately went away with the touch.
Halfmoon jumped beside Gu Yanying before Li Qingshan even had time to bask in the aftertaste. "This is a reward! If you're free then come find me in Southern Pivot City." She wanted to take him along, but it was impossible for random unrelated people to enter the province capital.
Li Qingshan looked at the center of his palm. It was a bottle of spirit medicine.
Gu Yanying merely pretended she didn't see anything. She waved her sleeves and rolled up a whirlwind, carrying herself and Halfmoon as they flew toward the sky along the trail left by that moonlight.
Halfmoon turned her head back and looked at Li Qingshan. She twisted her head back away; her smile disappeared. From her eyes resembling fresh lake water spilled out tears.
"Wait for me, I'll definitely go there." Li Qingshan roared to the sky with his loudest voice.
Halfmoon suddenly turned around and loudly said something. The snowy wind actually swallowed her voice, but by spying the motions of her mouth, one could read the five words "I will wait for you."
Gu Yanying also exposed amazement. The clouds closed up under their feet.
The last of the moonlight vanished atop the Ice Sword Cliff.
Li Qingshan still maintained his posture of roaring to the sky. That roar was a promise for the green bull, for Halfmoon, and even more so, for himself.
I'll certainly go to the nine skies, I'll certainly take you to the Dragon province.
I'll certain find answers, I'll certainly obtain power.
The waterfall gushed downward. Li Qingshan once again stood in front of this waterfall. There wasn't a bull with a bullishness soaring to the sky beside him anymore, and there wasn't any young woman bathing inside the waterfall in front of him either.
He rubbed Little An's head. At least you're still by my side.
Without Halfmoon showing the way, he'd relied on his strong memories and followed the way they'd come to once again return to this place. He had the spirit turtle to restrain his aura, but he still met untold amount of dangers along the way before finally returning to this waterfall.
Winter had gone already. The earth began to return to spring.
It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Within these three short months, someone had told him, the Verdant province was thirty thousand miles across. Someone had told him, my goal is to leave the Verdant province. And finally someone had told him, I'm waiting for you on the nine skies.
Li Qingshan lowered his head and smiled as he said to Little An, "For now let's see how far I can go!" Then he leaped down inside the deep pond.
The first thing Li Qingshan did once inside the water wasn't to cultivate, but to sum up the lessons of his experience, to weigh the pros and cons, the successes and failures.
It was difficult for a small shrimp to obtain good results when drawn into a war between sharks. The shreds of meat exposed between the sharks' teeth could make the small shrimp greatly increase in strength, but most likely it would also lead it to a definite death.
The reason he had been able to survive was entirely thanks to the protection of a monster from the depths like the green bull, but this monster from the depths had already left him, leaving him with the goal of becoming the same kind of monster from the depths.
If he wanted to achieve this goal, then he couldn't rely on luck to survive, he couldn't risk dangers he had absolutely no way to control. No one possessed an undying halo, and he would still be easily ground to pieces under an absolute power even if he had one.
A man didn't only need the bull's unwavering will and the tiger's fierce courage, he also needed the spirit turtle's profound patient endurance. This kind of endurance wasn't about enduring anger and swallowing insults, being timid and gutless. It was about setting one's aspiration high above, enduring what others couldn't endure, achieving what others couldn't achieve.
The reason the green bull hadn't acted from the beginning to eradicate Soaring Dragon Elder was perhaps to make him understand these principles. Anyone could talk about great principles, but only those who'd experienced them could truly understand them and engrave them upon their heart and mind.
Without the roaring despair above the precipice, how would he have understood the value of power, the significance of friends.
He longed for a stronger power.
There were no months nor years inside the mountains. Soft shoots turned into green leaves. Flower buds blossomed into luxuriant flowers.
The flow of the waterfall became stronger than in winter, the noise also more deafening.
Li Qingshan sat under the waterfall. All these every noises, all these every changes, they fell into his ears but didn't cause the slightest turmoil to his mind.
He was already not only cultivating in the space between extreme quiet and extreme motion. He was even more experiencing nature's whispers of changes. Or perhaps these two matters were the same thing for him to begin with.
The spirit medicine was eaten pill by pill, transforming into spiritual power surging like seas and rivers. But their use wasn't only limited to this for him.
Amidst the absolute meditation, he dimly sensed the existence of that incomparably vast spiritual power between heaven and earth. There was no place it wasn't present, ruling every whisper of change in the whole world.
When he became like a spirit turtle hiding inside the deep seas, forgetting his own existence, then these spiritual powers no longer rejected him, naturally melting inside his body on their own.
Just as the Daoist scriptures said, "Strengthen their bones, weaken their wills, empty their hearts, fill their bellies1." It was also like what the green bull had taught him at the beginning, only eating to a full stomach and strengthening oneself to a healthy body was the foundation of everything. And only with a weak will and empty mind would one not be perplexed by distracting thoughts, achieving the genuine oneness of man and nature, sensing the existence of the spiritual qi between heaven and earth.
For humans, this was only something that could be easily achieved after passing through one heavenly tribulation and achieving the foundation building stage from the qi refining stage. Otherwise one would require the greatest of opportunities and perceptions.
But this was an innate instinct for monsters. The birds and beasts in the wildness of the mountains were undoubtedly unthinking in the eyes of men, only able to follow their instincts to copulate and hunt, to reproduce and survive. It followed they were nevertheless a part of the great nature, and could innately sense things many humans couldn't sense, spiritual qi but one thing among them.
Humans had also lost the ability to merge in harmony with nature at the same time it obtained wisdom and intelligence. They needed various kinds of methods to cultivate in their desire to prolong their own lives. Meanwhile, the life span of any random monster was much higher than any human whose strength was close to it.
You gained some and lost some. Perhaps this was precisely the fairness of nature.
The green bull had once said that Li Qingshan could only be regarded as half a monster, because although his body had transformed into a monstrous demon, his spirit was still the spirit of a human. That was why he hadn't been able to perceive the spiritual qi of heaven and earth yet.
There were boundless amounts of magical powers in the world. There were countless techniques that could make a human transform into odd creatures, but that was only odd creatures and not monsters. The green bull's plans would also not have been that much extraordinary either if it hadn't been so. However it seemed he'd actually prepared everything for Li Qingshan a long time ago already.
Along the cultivation of the [Spirit Turtle Sea Guarding Secrets], Li Qingshan was able to temporarily put aside the wisdom of a human as well as those random thoughts coming along such wisdom, then start to genuinely transform into a monster, using the eyes of a monster to look upon the world, using the soul of a monster to sense this world.
There no telling how much time went by once more. When the flourishing flowers started to wither one by one.
A great amount of spiritual qi gathered around Li Qingshan. This place the green bull had chosen was a land with thick spiritual qi to begin with.
Every spiritual pill had been eaten. The entirety of the monster qi inside Li Qingshan rushed like sea waves to be then suppressed by the [Spirit Turtle Sea Guarding Secrets] and continuously compressed and condensed.
Little An who was amusing himself alone suddenly lifted his head and watched the deep pool in front of the waterfall. He'd been quietly waiting all these days, playing by himself, never leaving far away.
Spirit Turtle Sea Guarding!
An invisible power calmed the turbulent pond; it became a flawless water mirror. The waterfall flying down no longer stirred any splash either.
Li Qingshan had finally cultivated the [Spirit Turtle Sea Guarding Secrets] to the first layer. A huge rumble echoed in his soul at the same time. His body once again grew taller and bigger, close to twenty feet, exuding an aura that caused even the waterfall hammering down to surge open.
All the monster qi inside his body had condensed into a small round bead big as the pad of a small finger!
He'd finally achieved the most important step in becoming a monster, the cultivation of a monster core.
Li Qingshan lowered his head and watched the mirror-like water surface. He lightly stroked the pair of horns on top of his head. The two words "North Moon" on them appeared not as obvious as before, but they appeared to have integrated with the pattern lines of the bull horns, seemingly indelible.
He once again remembered Halfmoon, remembered that pledge never completed. He lightly closed his eyes. Wait for me, I will definitely free you from this bird cage and accompany you to the Dragon province.
He suddenly opened his mouth. The monster core flew out and circled around his body, as if it were under the traction of a certain invisible force. His thoughts revolved and the monster core shot out sharply, piercing through countless huge boulders inside the water pond in an instant. It was simply unstoppable, more frightening than any hidden weapon.
Monsters and demons didn't understand how to cultivate a core, therefore they knew from birth how to absorb spiritual qi. Monsters and demons didn't know how to refine weapons either. A monster core was the strongest weapon.
Although there was the danger of the monster core being snatched away once it was released, that could only be done with an absolute disparity in strength. So this kind of danger couldn't be really said to be any great danger either, because they would be done in all the same even if they didn't use their monster core, then have their monster core taken out. It was just the same as when human cultivators fought each others. There would simply be no more use in fighting if even your flying sword could be easily caught by the opponent.
Li Qingshan looked at the monster core floating in front of him and thought, now there wouldn't be anyone who'd believe him even if he said he was human.
He observed carefully and found out the monster core wasn't wholly round. It was assembled by countless hexagonal fragments instead, seemingly a little different from ordinary monster cores. It was probably an effect of the [Spirit Turtle Sea Guarding Secrets], but he'd also only seen a single monster core and didn't dare be certain.
Li Qingshan stretched his right hand. One transparent wave after another gathered inside his hand, condensing into a water ball, then transforming into various shapes. If one were to theorize it from the point of view of the five elements philosophy2, then he should belong to the category of water monsters, with the power of manipulating water spirits.
He casually tossed the water ball aside, swallowed the monster core down, and shouted, "Spirit Turtle Dark Armor!"
No turtle shell actually appeared behind his back. A ball-shaped shield of spiritual light filled up instead. This spherical shape was the same as the monster core under closer examination, also formed by countless countless hexagons joined together.
The flow of the waterfall flying down fell on the Spirit Turtle Dark Armor. There was not a single drip of water bead that could fall on Li Qingshan's body.
This was an innate supernatural skill he'd comprehended after forming his monster core, but it didn't stop there.
Li Qingshan straightened his body and sucked in a deep mouthful of air. He lifted his head and issued a wild howl. His monster qi triggered sound waves and set off a fierce gale soaring straight to the sky. The waterfall was split open by the surge. There were even deep fan-shaped marks left behind on the rocky wall.
The "Tiger Demon Wild Howl" seemed awe-inspiring, but it could only cause oscillations to be used when bullying weaklings. It had almost no use against an opponent at the same level. Now this howl of his had a reduced area of influence, but it could split water apart and crack stone, causing genuine killing wounds.
This was the second supernatural skill he'd comprehended. He gave it the name of "Tiger Demon Killing Howl."
"Bull Demon Hoof Stamp!"
Li Qingshan jumped into the water and heavily stamped on the bottom of the pond. The rocks that had gone through an untold amount of impacts from the flow of water suddenly shattered to pieces, the circular shockwaves raging to all sides. Reefs broke loudly wherever they went.
It seemed ten thousand tons of explosives had detonated at the bottom of the pool, pushing the entire pond of water flying up the sky, exposing the completely shattered bottom.
Bull, Tiger, Turtle, three types of creatures, three types of innate supernatural skills that had been comprehended at the same time the moment Li Qingshan had formed his monster core.
Afterwards was precisely the moment to "become a man again."
End of Book 2
TN: A little explanation about the term "monster." Most of the time it refers to the term (yao) or (yaoguai). The best translation would probably be "yokai," the evil monsters/spirits from Japanese lore, but I was reluctant to use a Japanese term in a CN novel, not because I have anything against Japanese people or culture but because it might have broken immersion in a CN novel themed after Chinese mythology.
So the "monsters," for lack of a better term, refer to intelligent creatures of mostly animal origin who are often said to be man-eating, to be often disguised in a (mostly) human shape, and so on, but not exactly embodying evil like "demons" even if they are seen as evil.
There is also the term (yao mo), which technically means yokai and demon, and commonly just refers to evil creatures in general. It's usually translated as just demons, and here I've translated it as monsters and demons, monstrous demons, or simply demons, since there's no distinction between them in the story so far.
1. "Strengthen their bones, weaken their wills, empty their hearts, and fill their bellies" is a twist on a passage from the Tao Te Ching: "Hence the sage, in the exercise of government, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones."
2. The five elements philosophy is more accurately called the five phase philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.