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(Compelled to fight(1)

In a single breath, Zen sprinted a few hundred feet, where he saw a colorful light strip hovering in front of him. Thinking it might be the entrance to the third layer. He investigated, and sure enough, it was. He plunged headlong into the light, disappearing.

Passing through the band of light was like walking into a different world. The scene in front of him differed from the second layer.

The lush trees were replaced. Instead, there were bare hillsides and stone forest composed of jagged rocks. Caves at least ten feet deep dotted the slopes, and black noxious smoke rose from the openings. It looked like a sad and lifeless site.

The disciples who passed through the band earlier were not in sight at the moment. He tried to figure out where Nory was but, Zen appeared to be off Nory's trail. 'Where on earth has Nory gone? Maybe he found somewhere safe after he got to the third layer because disciples from the noble clans might come looking for him. Hope you are safe now, my brother!' thought Zen, sincerely praying for Nory's safety as he began to make his way through the third layer.

Nory was but, Zen appeared to be off Nory's trail. 'Where on earth has Nory gone? Maybe he found somewhere safe after he got to the third layer because disciples from the noble clans might come looking for him. Hope you are safe now, my brother!' thought Zen, sincerely praying for Nory's safety as he began to make his way through the third layer.

After making his way up a hillside, Zen stepped into the jagged rocky forest. The crystal fragments he had in hand were far from being enough to pass the Blooded Test, so he hurried on his way.

He needed to get enough crystal fragments as soon as possible, as this wasn't a safe place to remain.

Unreal beasts on the third layer were all higher level and therefore more challenging to fight. Generally speaking, the strength of the three-grade beasts was comparable to that of a person at the marrow refining level. And since the unreal beasts were transformed from evil creatures, they were even stronger.

Animals of the same level were generally more powerful than their human counterparts.

For that reason alone, Zen knew that he needed to be vigilant. He looked around warily, continuously as he walked through the forest. He had taken only two steps, and he heard a sound. The hairs along his arm and scalp tingled when he listened to the hissing of a snake.

The hairs on his neck stood up, alerting him that something was following him.

Zen whipped his head around toward the strange hissing sound, scanning every inch very carefully, only to find that nothing but the jagged rocks were there. Everything was perfectly still.

Full of doubt, Zen wrinkled his brow, making a face while wondering, 'Was that an illusion, or am I just jittery?'

After listening for a little while, remaining perfectly still, he sighed in relief. Then he continued to move forward through the forest. However, as he was passing under a stone arch formed by some jagged rocks, a shadow fell, cast from the other end of the arch, heading straight at him.

Thankfully, Zen had been extremely vigilant, making his reaction time notably fast at the sight of the shadow. Leaning back, he pressed himself close to the ground, allowing him to nimbly elude the shadow. While at the same time, he rolled sideways, and narrowly avoided being whipped by the snake as it dropped, thrashing its body where Zen had been a second earlier. Zen tilted his head slightly, peering at a deep groove that was cut into the spot where he had been a second prior.

When Zen had the chance, he clambered to his feet and found a three-grade beast blocking his path. It was a giant boa! Missing him on its first go, the gigantic boa slithered out of reach, scuttled into the surrounding stone forest. The boa looked around savagely with its massive, mesmerizing eyes, and its bright red tongue lashing out, flicking the air periodically, to taste where Zen was.

Zen didn't dare take the creature lightly. He took a few steps back, leaning against a stone so that the boa couldn't take him from behind. Then stared at the boa, as long as it attacked him from the front, he was confident he could deal a deathblow.

Unexpectedly, the cunning boa snaked around the stone forest, occasionally popping its massive head and flicking its tongue at Zen, only to vanish again, just as quickly as it appeared.

Zen kept to his back pinned to the stone, motionlessly watching, unwilling to fall for the ploy of being lured away no matter how hard the snake tried.

The boa moved fast. If Zen followed it, he would end up with nothing. Although the beasts were all transformed from evil creatures, their most significant shortcoming was that they were not patient like the humans hunting them. So, Zen patiently kept careful watch of the boa's movements.

In the stone forest, a meeting between a person and a boa seemed inevitable. Yet an hour later, the encounter was still a cat and mouse game. Finally, Zen's patience paid off, as the boa launched at him.

The boa slithered behind Zen and raised its tail, preparing to strike. Since Zen's back was against the stone, the crafty serpent let loose enough of its muscular body to coil itself around the rock and Zen with it.

Controlling the energy flowing through him, Zen focused and suddenly, a purple aura burst from within his body. Unsure if it would flee or try to crush him in retaliation, Zen knew he had only this one chance, and if he couldn't annihilate it in that first strike, the prize would be lost. So, he was determined not to give it a chance. With a plan in mind, Zen offered no resistance, allowing the beast to entwine itself around the rock along with his body slowly. Soon he was lifted into the air.

The stone behind him was quickly crushed under the strength of the boa's enormous body. Gravel and dust dropped to the ground. At the same time, the hold the boa had on Zen tightened until he was firmly enshrouded in the vice-like grip.

Zen knew the habits of constrictors. After they wrapped their prey, they would slither and slowly tighten themselves with each breath, feeling the heartbeat slow, and heat coming off their victim.

They would not stop until their prey ceased breathing. The prey suffocated slowly, bones grinding as they did. Then the snake would release the victim, unhinging their large jaw to swallow the food whole.

Before the boa constricted against him, Zen inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with air and closed his eyes.

Inwardly, he focused on his limbs, drawing strength, and waited for a while. To the boa, he appeared to be a weak, defenseless being now. Suddenly, gathering all his vigor, he snapped the back of the beast.


The boa's colossal body was snapped into several pieces. The pieces scattered, falling onto what remained of the rock.

The snake's eyes grew large with a horrified look. From deep in its memories, the boa knew that once wrapped within its coil, it was impossible for a prey to escape. And shortly after that, the boa had a meal. The constrictor thought it would be happily digesting now.

Instead, the strength of the prey it had chosen was so sudden, that the boa was unable to endure. And it was instantly torn in several pieces with no time to react.

Five pieces wriggled on the ground before transforming into small bits of light, and finally, disappearing. Zen slaughtered the boa constrictor.

"Ping! Ting!" came a sound as the snake faded.

Following the sound, Zen saw a purple fragment fall from the jagged rock, clinking to the ground. After the battle he just survived, the fragment's fall was crisp and sweet to Zen's ears. Now, he only needed nine more purple fragments to pass the Blooded Test, making him realize that the third layer was a better place to hunt.

Zen picked up the purple fragment, wiping it clean with his sleeve, before tucking it safely in his pocket with the other pieces he'd collected so far. He looked to his right and jogged ahead in a hurry to earn more fragments.

Estimating that up on the fourth layer the creatures would be equal to someone half-step into the nature level and animals being what they were, the beasts would be stronger than that even. Thus, he had no intentions of going up there.

Knowing that he would only need to kill three beasts at level four to pass the Blooded Test did tempt Zen. However, recalling the strength Evil Lan exerted even when physically exhausted, and that these were half-step into the nature level for beasts, he dismissed the idea of going up there.


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