Ming Yue's hand reached out, grabbing Lao Gan by the edge of his cloak.
A careless step made him lose balance, almost slipping off the mountain. With Ming Yue's assistance, he recovered and checked his belongings before looking at her.
"Thank you", his tone was grateful but weak, almost shaking.
That was a common occurence for the group: slipping on the wet stone, tripping on uneven ground, losing balance from the strong winds. If not for their vigilance and looking after each other, they would have died long ago.
It was a perilous path and one with few opportunities to rest.
Despite trying to keep themselves going, there didn't seem to be an end in sight. There was only more stone and grayness as they continued further. Ming Yue had lost the spirit to cultivate under these conditions. Perhaps this was a great place to focus on the Lightning Dao but with her current strength, she was more likely to die before furthering her accumulations in the Dao. Lao Gan stopped speaking about the Ying Long Sea for it no longer had any effect on his mentality.
All that mattered was to pass this forsakened land.
Along the way, they felt something strange. Gazes on their backs, looking at them, as if waiting for them to drop from exhaustion. There were constant stares, watchful, and patient. No doubt, these were the denizens of the Merciless Storm Peak, powerful beasts that thrived in the chaotic storms. Fortunately, it seems that they were not very interested in Ming Yue or Lao Gan.
However, that discomfort only added to the stress they felt.
It wasn't long enough before they found themselves close to one of these beasts. It was one of the rarest but deadliest.
Hiking through a rather even mountain pass, they found themselves standing in front of a Qilin. It wasn't hiding or waiting for them. It was just there, out in the open for all to see.
Smaller than the Thunder Roc or the Purple Storm Tiger, its body resembled that of a goat with hooves and a tail. Its head was that of a dragon with one ivory horn. Its skin was not fur by scaled like a dragons's, colored gray to match the stone of the mountains. If it weren't for its eyes, they would've believed that it was a statue.
They stood still, facing the stone colored Qilin in front of them. Xiao Yin and Hei Yue's head emerged from the opening of Ming Yue's cloak, staring at the Qilin. They too, found themselves mesmerized by the Qilin.
Its eyes gazed at them. They were calm and lucid but there was power within them. It had authority and those eyes were piercing.
It didn't feel as if the Qilin gazed within their souls, it was more than that.
Ming Yue felt trapped within its gaze. Suddenly the Qilin seemed to tower over her, studying every fiber of her being. The ferocious storm surrounding them no longer existed, it was only the eyes of the Qilin she saw. Nothing seemed to matter when one stood before the Qilin.
Mere seconds passed before the Qilin's eyes changed, revealing an uninterested look at them group. It said nothing to them, as if allowing them to pass.
Ming Yue turned towards Lao Gan, seeing that he had also recovered from its stare. Looking at each other, they turned to the Qilin before bowing and leaving it alone. They were silent, not daring to show any disrespect.
Qilins were rare and peaceful beasts, who did not eat flesh and this one was not an exception. They were considered heavenly beasts and highly auspicious. It was said that benevolent rulers and great heroes would be approached by a Qilin and given a blessing of good luck. To meet one was a blessing in of itself.
But apart from these features, there was one detail that many omit.
Qilins were also known as executioners of evil. True heavenly judges that killed whoever had an evil nature. With their horn, they would charge into the body, piercing the soul and destroying it.
It would be nigh impossible to avoid such fate, should one be deemed evil.
The fact that the Qilin had not made its move, showed that they were not of evil nature. Still the experience was certainly something they would not forget. This was a creature that would rarely appear, a meeting that would happen to one out of millions.
After a short distance away, Lao Gan spoke of the encounter. In his mind, he could not believe what had transpired and at the same time, he wondered about something else.
"I wonder what it's meat tastes like", he muttered just loud enough for Ming Yue to hear.
"Don't even think about it", Ming Yue looked him straight into the eyes.
Even as a young girl, she had heard stories of the Qilin. Their title as both an auspicious creature and judge gave them a special status.
Lao Gan saw the look in her eyes and gave up. Still, he pondered when he would meet a Qilin again.
Ming Yue lingered on what she had felt. She thought about the piercing gaze and wondered if that masked figure had come across the Qilin like them. This person must have a good nature if he was able to pass by. Then again, there were many paths when traveling through the Black Peak Mountains and Qilins were wanderers. It was unlikely.
Pushing those thoughts away, she looked at Lao Gan, seeing him energetic and motivated.
Meeting the Qilin renewed their spirit. It was a sign of good luck and it smiled upon them.
The group trudged on, slowly the stone became muddy dirt. The bottom of their clothes were brown from the wet soil. Mud stuck to the bottom of their shoes.
Then the rain weakened, the gales of wind lost its strength, turning into a gentle breeze. The storm clouds passed by, revealing the night sky as a glittering sea appeared in their view. The sky was clear of clouds and sprinkled with stars. There was a half-moon gazing down, relecting on the sea.
Lao Gan's eyes strengthened as the weak dim in his eyes grew brighter.
"There it is! The Ying Long Sea!" he pointed and yelled to Ming Yue with happiness.
He didn't wait for her to respond before running forward to admire the sea. Ming Yue took off her cloak, letting Xiao Yin and Hei Yue out in the open.
Actually seeing the night sky and the sea was refreshing. Something different from the ocean of gray they passed through.
"Hahah! We're finally through the Black Peak Mountains."
Lao Gan grinned as he took in a big breath of air, enjoying the calm weather. Everyone else could not help but do the same.
There was satisfaction in those sighs, the thought that they finally made it was truly rewarding. Making their way down, the mountainous terrain became a lush forest as they stopped in a valley to rest.
Not far into the valley, there was an inn. It was a simple one, two floors and with several dozen rooms.
A quick exchange and a bit of gold was all it took to sevure two rooms.
"Finally, a bed!" Lan Gan rushed into his room after say good night to Ming Yue.
From the halls, you could here a muffled thump as he dropped his wooden backpack on the floor.
Ming Yue glanced at his room before entering hers. It was a simple room with a bed, a closet and a table with stools. Still it was a welcome sight compared to what she had been sleeping in for the past several weeks. She washed her clothes and bathed herself, switching into some white robes. She also washed Hei Yue and Xiao Yin, cleaning the dirt and grime off of them.
"Just another day", she thought, "Another day before I reach the Dark Water Kingdom."
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