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(An unexpected challenge)

Zen who had experienced the state of forgetting himself through soul refining could sense the intent of the dragon head.

What confused Zen was why a dragon head carved out of rock by craftsmen would emanate intent.

Since Zen could not figure out this mystery, he decided to drop it and followed the other disciples into the Dragon Fort.

As he entered, Zen could hear the cracking sound released by kerosene-filled torches.

The torches shed light and created shadows, adding to the mystery of the fort.

Martin directed the followers toward a building before telling them, "You can rest in this building for now. You are requested to follow the rules of Dragon Fort. Whoever wants to hunt the blade locusts with the Imperial Army should wait for assignments. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to face the insects alone can leave at any time!"

Martin's proclamation prompted a mixed response from the disciples of Cloud Sect.

Four disciples stepped forward and saluted to Martin before the leader spoke, "Martin, it is very kind of you to rescue us today, but we have decided to operate at our will."

Martin waved his hand and replied, "Suit yourself!"

The four bid farewell to their fellow disciples and took their leave.

After their departure, the remaining Cloud Sect disciples began talking among themselves. Slowly, each group decided to follow the example of the four that left first.

Finally, only four disciples remained including Zen.

This was Zen's first experience with participating in an Insect Aggression. He saw no harm in joining the Imperial Army as he was currently non-allied.

The other three disciples that had chosen to stay back also had their reasons for hunting the blade locusts with the Imperial Army.

Zen recognized one disciple to be the youth with a ponytail who saved him in the gigantic flying chariot.

Now that a few disciples had decided to work with the Imperial Army, Martin smiled and nodded to them before dismissing his soldiers. He turned and instructed the soldiers, "Today's task has been completed You may enjoy your free-time!"

After the dismissal, Martin guided the four disciples into the building.

The gray-painted building was virtually a tavern.

All four disciples were overwhelmed by the smell.

Martin had expected their antipathy and smiled as he explained, "I hope you will understand the living environment of the Imperial Army stationed at Dragon Fort.

It is inferior to the environment to which you are accustomed at the Cloud Sect." The Imperial Army stationed here fought beasts all day.

"We are supposed to observe customs and be mentally prepared for harsh environments," the young man with the ponytail smiled as he replied.

"A good attitude, indeed!" Martin had a table brought in and shouted to the barkeeper to serve an aging.

The aging was a jar of wine. It must have been old as the jar was covered with dust. The barkeeper opened the cap and poured the liquid without removing the dust.

'The Aging', though poor in appearance, was aromatic and fresh.

The four disciples drank at will. Martin wolfed down his cup before asking their names.

The four disciples smiled before sharing their names with Martin.

"Zen Luo."

"Sun Zhao!"

"Tank Yang!"

"Roger Meng."

Now that the introductions had been done, Zen finally learned the name of the youth with the ponytail. His name was Roger Meng.

Martin committed the four names to memory and lifted his cup to express his appreciation for their alliance with the Green Haze Group.

"Martin, there is no need for such formalities. We are joining you in the hunt for blade locusts," Zen drained his cup before continuing, "I expect a greater likelihood of victory through this alliance. I cannot figure out why the other Cloud Sect disciples are unwilling to stay."

'The Imperial Army has developed an esoterica to hunt down blade locusts, but the most of Cloud Sect disciples are hesitant to ally with them. Is there a reason behind their decision?' Zen wondered.

Somewhat challenged by Zen's question, Martin managed to say, "Zen, since this is your first time at the Dragon Fort, you are naturally unfamiliar with the rules."

As Zen nodded and admitted his unfamiliarity, Roger added to Martin's explanation, "When the disciples form a group of four or five people, they cooperate well and coordinate when hunting blade locusts. Their success leads to handsome rewards. However, cooperating with the Imperial Army would mean fewer opportunities to maneuver. There will also be a division of crystal cores collected from blade locusts. Disciples, therefore, prefer to complete missions separately."

Roger's elaborate explanation enlightened Zen.

Most Cloud Sect disciples worked separate from the Imperial Army to ensure high efficiency in performing tasks.

Roger chose to exclude one reason from his explanation.

Most Cloud Sect disciples at the nature level naturally felt themselves superior to the soldiers in the Imperial Army.

Martin, a centurion, was half-step into the nature level, but his subordinates were at the bone, organ, and marrow refining levels respectively.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Army cast a slur on Cloud Sect disciples for their lack of military-like discipline and excess of willful arrogance.

However, some leaders in the Imperial Army were willing to seek short-term assistance and support from Cloud Sect disciples with superior martial arts, which was why Martin invited the four to drink together.

"Roger, I take the liberty to ask about your reason for allying with the Green Haze Group." Zen could not figure out why Roger had chosen to stay. As for him, he stayed because of his unfamiliarity with the Dragon Fort and the situations here.

Roger shrugged his shoulders and smiled as he replied, "I came here to enrich my vision, mindless of crystal cores and points...."

Just as Zen was about to ask Roger to elaborate, a voice from a neighboring table caught his attention.

"I have expected great powers from every Cloud Sect disciple. And now I see the falsity of all that I have been told at the sight of a nobody!" a man challenged truculently.

The five turned and saw a man with a beard who seemed pleased with himself.

All five were aware that the man was referring to Zen when he said 'nobody'.

Roger was at the nature level, and Sun and Tank were half-step into the nature level while Zen was still at the marrow refining level.

"Wu, stop your drunk roaring. You are only going to stir up trouble!" Martin dismissed the trouble-maker nonchalantly before turning to Zen and asking him to ignore the outburst.

Zen nodded and stayed calm. He didn't mind being underestimated.

But the bearded man, heedless of Martin's advice, rose from his seat, strode toward Zen, and continued challenging, "Martin, I am telling the truth! The Cloud Sect, also known as the Top Sect, is losing its influence and power! It is ridiculous for the organization to give such an important assignment to a nobody!"

At this statement, the tavern became alive with gossip and chitchats.

The Imperial Army's soldiers seemed to think of the trouble-making as amusement.

Most of them had developed a dislike toward the disciples of Cloud Sect. The bearded man was purposely challenging Zen to please them.

Martin, sensing the growing tension and hostility, tried to discredit the trouble-maker and placated Zen by saying, "Zen, do not take it to heart! Wu's roaring is due to his previous conflict with some disciple of Cloud Sect..."

"How could any disciple of Cloud Sect provoke me beyond measure? Martin, no more your inter-mediation!" The trouble-maker dismissed Martin's reconciliation and pressed his advantage. "Bloke, why not come to blows with me to display your martial art?"

Zen remained unperturbed at the blatant challenge.

His purpose for coming to this part of the Empire was to hunt blade locusts to gain points and experience in his quest for immortality.

He ignored the challenge as it didn't suit his purpose.

Meanwhile, Roger also made light of the instigation.

But Sun and Tank could not contain their anger anymore.

"I am willing to show you my martial art level to uphold the reputation of Cloud Sect!" Sun braced for the challenge.

"How could you, a soldier half-step into the nature level challenge Zen who is at the marrow refining level like this?" Tank said sardonically.

Although Tank's reference to Zen's inferior martial art level was intended to speak in favor of Zen, he unexpectedly hurt Zen's feelings.

Zen could ignore the challenge and show his strength in the presence of his fellow disciples.

After the comment, he rose, stood in front of Tank and Sun, and then said, "Tank and Sun, please let me fend for myself!"


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