Chapter 1: Fox Girl
It was a vast and barren wilderness with not a single person in sight.
Aside from weeds and shrubs, the only things that were visible on the barren, yellow landscape were countless gray rocks, all of different shapes and sizes.
A scorching sun was hanging in the sky, baking the earth with its heat, and the air was filled with yellow dust.
A petite and frail figure gradually came into focus on the bleak, yellow landscape, and she was running forward as fast as she could.
It was a little girl who was roughly six or seven years of age, and she was wearing a light yellow robe that was embroidered with pink plum blossoms. Her black hair was arranged into a pair of buns, and she possessed a set of intricate features, consisting of a pair of large eyes with bright, black pupils, a petite little nose, and a pair of red cherry lips.
The little girl was holding a palm-sized pellet drum tightly in her right hand.
The pellet drum seemed to be quite old, with the skin on either side of the drum already yellow with age, and there were several azure snake designs on its surface. The pair of pellets attached to the drum by short cords occasionally clattered audibly into the drum head as she ran along.
Despite her young age, the little girl was very fast and agile, and after just a few long strides, she arrived at a clearing in front of a patch of long grass that was as tall as the average adult person.
She seemed to be in a great hurry as her fair forehead was already beaded with sweat, and a trail of sweat was flowing along her left cheek down onto her delicate neck.
She wiped the sweat away with her left hand, and her round cheeks were as red as a pair of ripe apples, but she didn't slow down in the slightest.
Right at this moment, a harsh male voice suddenly rang out in the distance. "Stop, you little witch!"
The little girl shuddered upon hearing this, and she was so frightened that her face instantly turned pale. She raised the pellet drum in her right hand before giving it a vigorous turn, and her lips fluttered slightly, upon which a layer of faint azure light immediately appeared over the surface of the drum.
As the pellets clattered onto the surface of the drum, a burst of azure light erupted forth, landing on a patch of tall grass right in front of her.
A layer of azure light immediately appeared over the surface of the tall grass, but the light vanished in a flash, having seemingly accomplished nothing.
The little girl turned the pellet drum a few more times, and one burst of azure light shot forth after another with each strike of the drum, landing on the tall grass around her, which also flashed momentarily with azure light before returning to normal.
After doing all of that, the little girl's face had paled even further, but she had no time to rest as she dove headfirst into the tall grass.
Not long after the little girl concealed herself within the tall grass, a dust cloud rose up over 100 feet away, and a figure sped forth at an incredible speed before arriving in front of the patch of tall grass.
The figure was a tall and burly man with a coarse beard who appeared to be in his forties. He was holding a shimmering podao in one hand, presenting a menacing sight to behold. 
His gaze fell upon the trail of petite footprints in front of the tall grass, and he immediately rushed toward the tall grass with his podao raised, but right at this moment, a burst of azure light flashed up ahead, and five or six long azure snakes shot out at once, opening their serpentine mouths to expose their sharp fangs as they pounced at the burly man.
The man faltered slightly upon seeing this, then quickly pulled out a talisman with his left hand before slapping it onto his own body. A white light barrier instantly emerged, and at the same time, he slashed the podao in his right hand through the air amid a loud buzzing sound.
A burst of light that was several feet in length swept forth from the podao, and three of the oncoming azure snakes were instantly sliced into two by the attack. As for the remaining azure snakes, they were repelled by the white light barrier around the burly man, following which they were also sliced in half by the man's podao.
In the blink of an eye, all of the azure snakes had been vanquished by the burly man, and their true forms were revealed to be several bunches of tall grass.
The burly man harrumphed coldly upon seeing this, and he was just about to continue rushing into the tall grass when his expression suddenly changed slightly, and he stopped in his tracks as he withdrew his podao.
A burst of rustling rang out from behind him, and two figures quickly arrived on the scene.
One of them was a tall and thin daoist priest who was wearing a slightly tattered gray robe and holding a white horsetail whisk in his hand, while the other was a short and well-built man with a long face that was carrying several bruises, and a head of disheveled hair.
"Are you alright, fellow daoists?" the burly man asked as he turned to the two men.
"As expected of the daughter of a demonic fox, she's truly a cunning little witch. Fellow Daoist Qi and I were a little too impatient to chase her down, and we almost fell into her trap, but thankfully, we managed to escape relatively unharmed. Why have you stopped here, Fellow Daoist Yan? And where is that witch right now?" the long-faced man asked with a puzzled expression.
The burly man offered no reply as he pointed at the tall grass up ahead, and the trail of petite footprints in front of the tall grass was still clearly visible.
"Then what are we waiting for? Let's capture her and end this!" The long-faced man stepped forward to enter the tall grass as he spoke.
"She's been on the run for a day and a night, so I'm sure she's close to completely spent at this point, but she's very adept at using wood-attribute illusion techniques, which means this patch of tall grass to her will be like water to a fish. I fear that it would be unwise to rush in after her recklessly," the daoist priest mused as his eyes narrowed slightly.
The long-faced man hesitated slightly upon hearing this, then stopped in his tracks as he said in an indignant manner, "Then are we just going to let her get away? She's already this cunning at such a young age, if we allow her to grow to full maturity, who knows how much of a menace she could become?"
"We are enforcers of justice, so we naturally can't shirk our duty and allow this demon to escape. There's no way we'll just let her slip away right under our noses!" the burly man declared in a righteous voice.N0vel_Biin hosted the premiere release of this chapter.
"It sounds like you've already worked out a strategy, Fellow Daoist Yan," the daoist priest remarked.
"This patch of tall grass covers quite a large area. If we enter it blindly, we'll still be able to capture that demon in the end, but it's most likely going to be a huge hassle. I heard that Fellow Daoist Feng recently purchased a Firecloud Talisman, and as we all know, Fellow Daoist Qi's mastery of the Windlure Technique is unmatched.
“With those two things working together, we'll be able to incinerate all of the tall grass in no time, and that demon will have nowhere to hide then," the burly man said.
The long-faced man was silent for a moment, then said, "Using my Firecloud Talisman is not out of the question, but after we capture that demonic fox, I'm taking its hide, you two can share everything else. What do you say?"
"No, that demonic fox must be captured alive," the burly man immediately refused with a shake of his head.
The long-faced man's expression darkened slightly upon hearing this, and he asked in a cold voice, "So you're asking me to sacrifice my Firecloud Talisman for nothing? This is a mid-tier elementary talisman that cost me a good chunk of my fortune!"
"No need to get agitated, Fellow Daoist Feng. If I'm not mistaken, Fellow Daoist Yan should be an outer sect disciple of the Blood Sword Sect. The Blood Sword Sect recently released a mission for the demonic fox to be captured alive, and the one who completes the mission will not only become an inner sect disciple, they'll also receive a reward of one Bloodcry Pill and 1,000 spirit stones, isn't that right?" the daoist priest said as he turned to the burly man with a meaningful look in his eyes.
The burly man's expression remained unchanged as he said, "I didn't think you'd know so much about our Blood Sword Sect, Fellow Daoist Qi. Let's not waste any time by talking in circles. If you two can help me capture this demonic fox alive, you can share the spirit stone reward evenly among the two of you. What do you say?"
"I have no objections to that proposal," the daoist priest replied as he casually laid his horsetail whisk over his own arm.
"In that case, let's not delay any further." The long-faced man pulled out a talisman as he spoke, and he took a wistful glance at it before tossing it forward and chanting an incantation.
A layer of red light immediately appeared over the surface of the talisman, following which it exploded into a cloud of crimson flames. It was like a fiery force of nature as it descended from the sky toward the tall grass down below.
As soon as the tall grass came into contact with the cloud of fire, it immediately erupted into flames.
At the same time, the daoist priest uttered a daoist prayer before abruptly sweeping his horsetail whisk through the air.
A loud howling sound immediately rang out as several gusts of fierce wind appeared out of thin air before proliferating outward in a fan-shaped wave.
The flames were fanned by the wind, rapidly spreading through the tall grass like an unstoppable wave, and dense black smoke rose up into the air while ashes flew in all directions.
The trio stared intently into the sea of fire in an unblinking manner, and all of a sudden, the daoist priest declared, "Over there!"
At the same time, he shot forth toward a certain direction like a speeding arrow, and with a flick of his horsetail whisk, faint azure light began to glow on the surface of its hairs.
The burly man and the long-faced man were both spurred into action upon hearing this, and they followed along closely behind the daoist priest.
Around 200 to 300 feet in front of them, a petite figure suddenly sprang out of the tall grass, which was quickly being eaten away by the sea of fire, and it was none other than the little girl from before.
At this moment, there were already many holes in her light yellow robe, and her face had also been blackened by the dense smoke.
The field of tall grass that she had been hiding in had previously covered quite a large area, and in order to not make any sound that would draw attention to herself, she had been carefully advancing through the tall grass while occasionally changing directions. There was no sound coming from behind her, so she had thought that she was in the clear, but never did she think that her pursuers would use fire to force her out.
A horrified look appeared on the little girl's face, and she rushed away as quickly as she could in a bind panic, coughing incessantly all the while.
However, she wasn't able to get very far at all before she felt a gust of cold wind sweep toward her from behind, following which countless azure threads emerged all around her.
Almost at the exact same moment, a whistling sound rang out overhead, and a black net that was around 10 feet in size descended upon her from above.
The panic in the little girl's eyes turned into despair, but all of a sudden, she caught sight of a small and withered tree that was over 100 feet in front of her. Her eyes immediately lit up, and she bit down forcefully onto the tip of her own tongue.
"We've got her now!"
The long-faced man was the slowest of the three, but he could see that the burly man and the daoist priest had worked together to trap the little girl, and he was naturally ecstatic.
The large swathe of azure threads swept over a distance of several dozen feet before surging back to ensnare the little girl, and at the same time, the black net in the sky also fell upon her.
However, right at this moment, the body of the immobilized little girl suddenly disintegrated into azure light before transforming into a small tree.
"She used a Wood Substitution Technique!"
The expressions of the burly man and the daoist priest immediately darkened upon witnessing this development, and they both descended from above.
"Over there!" The long-faced man hurriedly pointed at a spot up ahead.
The small and withered tree that had been standing there just a second ago suddenly blurred before transforming into the pellet-drum-wielding little girl, and she turned to take a glance behind her before continuing to flee the scene.
"Don't let her get away!"
Perhaps it was due to the fact that she had just unleashed a Wood Substitution Technique, but the little girl's face was now completely devoid of color, and her footsteps were also becoming heavier and more laborious. As a result, she was beginning to stumble regularly, so her speed was naturally severely impacted, and her three pursuers were quickly closing down the gap between them.
All of a sudden, the little girl yelped as she was tripped over by a rock, and she flew forward before crashing into a huge gray rock that was around 10 feet tall before falling heavily onto the ground.
"Why don't you keep running?" the long-faced man goaded with a gleeful expression.
The three men slowed down, and they formed a triangle before slowly approaching her from three different directions, cutting off all avenues for escape.
At this point, the three men had already been chasing the little girl for a day and a night, and along the way, they had fallen for many of her cunning tricks, so they were naturally feeling very resentful and indignant. Out of the three, the long-faced man was feeling particularly vindictive, having just lost a Firecloud Talisman to the cause.
As the three men approached the little girl, she pressed her back tightly against the huge rock behind her before curling up into a ball, but her eyes were filled with resentment.
The three men were naturally completely unfazed by her hateful expression, and the long-faced man took a step forward as he raised a hand with a sinister expression.
"I can't kill you, but I'm going to teach you a good lesson for making a fool out of us!"
Right at this moment, an unexpected turn of events unfolded.
A loud crack rang out, and countless thin cracks appeared over the surface of the huge rock that the little girl was pressed up tightly against.
Many small rock shards came cascading down onto the little girl's head, causing her to flinch involuntarily.
The long-faced man was quite taken aback to see this, and he stopped what he was doing, keeping his right hand suspended in mid-air. The attention of the other two men was also temporarily drawn away from the little girl as they turned to inspect the giant rock behind her.
The three men watched as the cracks on the surface of the huge quickly spread like a system of cobwebs, and many shards of rock began to split off before falling onto the ground.
The little girl clearly wasn't expecting this strange turn of events, either, and she immediately closed her eyes in fear as she threw her arms over her own head, not daring to move even a single inch.
Finally, the giant rock completely shattered amid a rumbling boom, and large chunks of stone flew in all directions before landing on the ground, raising up large clouds of yellow dust.
The three men were all quite startled by this, and they retreated a few steps with wary expressions, but their eyes remained firmly fixed on what remained of the huge rock.
"Wh... What's that supposed to be?" the long-faced man stuttered with a stunned expression.
As the dust gradually settled, it became clear that the giant rock was already gone, and it had been replaced by a male figure who was remarkably tall and broad.
The man was wearing an azure robe, and his face and hair were coated in a layer of gray powdered rock, indicating that he seemed to have been residing within the giant rock. Even through the gray powder, it was still possible to make out a set of unremarkable facial features and a complexion that was slightly on the darker side.
The man was staring forward with a blank expression, seemingly a little slow and dull, but he was significantly taller than even the burly man.
The little girl and the three men were all astonished by this sudden turn of events.
1. A podao is a Chinese single-edged infantry weapon that is basically a Chinese broadsword attached to a long wooden handle. ☜