[BL, Part 1] To the Start of a New World

This is a 3-part continuation of the oneshot At the End of the World, where the events are told from the perspective of the male lead Lu Hao. Part 1 is about childhood, Part 2 is about the apocalypse events from the first life, and Part 3 is about their rebirth.


 

There was a little boy sitting in the shadow of the apartments. He looked as small as a cloth doll, especially when hunched over. The strange boy never left the shadow of the apartments, and he watched everyone playing in the park with dull eyes.

“He’s like a ghost,” the kids whispered to each other. “It’s so gross!” They waved their hands and yelled to shoo him.

“Lu Hao, make him go away,” one of the girls whined, tugging Lu Hao’s shirt sleeve. She was one of the cuter girls in the neighborhood, her long black hair held back by a shiny flower pin.

Lu Hao smiled happily. “Okay, wait for me then.”

He jogged across the street to the old apartment. The little boy sat in the dark shade of the awning, his unreadable eyes tracking Lu Hao’s movement. When Lu Hao stood next to him under the shade of the corrugated metal, the boy looked like he had shrunk, becoming smaller and paler than before.

The little boy’s head had turned slightly to keep Lu Hao in his sight. His eyes had no light in them, like a dead person’s.

Lu Hao thought this was a little scary, but also kind of cool. “Are you haunting this place?” Lu Hao asked. Ma had told him about bad kids that played in the streets and got run over, and when they died they had to stay there and never come back home. Maybe this little boy got run over and turned into a ghost, and that’s why he couldn’t leave.

The little boy didn’t say anything, silent just like a ghost would be. But when Lu Hao reached out to poke him to see if his finger would pass through, the little boy flinched.

Lu Hao frowned and stepped forward. The boy moved away. His blank face turned wary, little mouth and eyes tight with tension. The boy’s spine coiled with energy, like he would bolt at any second.

But the boy moved just a second too slow when Lu Hao darted forward to poke him, a finger jabbing into the soft white skin of the boy’s arm. Lu Hao only had a second to realize it wasn’t a ghost before the boy ran away.

“Lu Hao, you’re so cool.” The girl blushed when Lu Hao returned to the park.

“Mm.” Lu Hao looked at her. Even with her hairpin glittering under the sun, he somehow felt the girl looked less interesting than before.

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[BL Oneshot] At the End of the World

i.

The end came as Hong Sheng expected. When he saw the zombies reaching for Lu Hao, Hong Sheng ran forward.

The girls screamed, the zombies advanced, Lu Hao looked grimly at death. The elevator was almost there, and so was Hong Sheng.

The elevator dinged.

Hong Sheng took Lu Hao’s place in front of the zombies, shoving Lu Hao and the girls into the elevator. He smiled at their shocked faces.

The metal doors slid shut just as the claws and mouths of dozens of zombies sunk into Hong Sheng’s skin.

Everything after that had been flashes, brief and vivid pictures of darkness and blood and pain. Hong Sheng as a zombie didn’t have enough of a working brain to hold complex memory, but he remembered the feelings of pain, and fear, and most of all: the hunger.

He had stumbled in the darkness for who knows how long, his desecrated corpse falling apart.

There was one day where the light came back.

Hong Sheng remembered a voice. It came from the warm body standing in front of him, rich and fragrant with blood and living flesh. Hong Sheng was so hungry. He wanted to eat. His rotting eyes rolled in their sockets.

The body in front of him had been making sounds. It had one arm outstretched, cold metal held in its hand. Two trails of water flowed from the body’s eyes when it saw Hong Sheng, and Hong Sheng rattled out a breath. It looked so delicious. It was everything he had ever wanted.

Hong Sheng had stumbled toward the light, and the body’s mouth kept moving, but Hong Sheng couldn’t understand.

Then, there was a loud sound, and the world fell away from Hong Sheng’s feet.

In his last dying moments, Hong Sheng had a moment of clarity. He remembered. The body in front of him was Lu Hao. Lu Hao, whom he’d loved since childhood. Lu Hao, who’d become a hero of the survivors. Lu Hao, who had always been beautiful and popular, who always had a cluster of women and men adoring him, leaving no room for miserable little Hong Sheng.

Hong Sheng had just been Lu Hao’s pitiful childhood friend, but today, in his last moments, he received everything he could ever hope for.

Lu Hao’s tears and Lu Hao’s bullet, Hong Sheng received them both. And now, in exchange, Lu Hao had taken Hong Sheng’s life.

The boy known as Hong Sheng had died twice, and each time he gave his life to Lu Hao.

That was supposed to be the end of his story.

And yet…

An alarm shrieked by Hong Sheng’s ear. His eyes snapped open and he gasped, hands clutching soft bedding, feet trapped by warm blankets. Sunlight filtered in from the window. Outside, songbirds chirped their morning songs, and car horns blazed.

Hong Sheng sat up slowly. His hands fumbled the alarm clock, having forgotten the shape of it. He turned off the alarm, and when he flipped the clock over to check the date, he inhaled sharply.

It was the 14th of April, 2017. Three months before the start of the apocalypse, and eight years before the time Hong Sheng died.

Hong Sheng fell back onto his bed with a thump, his ears buzzing, unable to understand anything.

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I Shouldn’t Have Pretended to be the Female Lead

Thanks to Xiii for giving me this prompt~

Also posting to RRL, link incoming
/bows to support ticket gods

—–

 

“Ah, it’s really true, isn’t it.”

The signal bar on the phone screen displayed a clear red X. No wifi and no data either.

A vast spread of rolling hills lay before me, a dirt path trailing down and leading to a peasant town. There were a lot of trees and forests. It looked like a promotional advertisement for a European getaway. However, there were very clearly some floating islands here and there, and some giant monsters flying around, and I think if Europe had these kinds of sights they wouldn’t have any financial crisis to worry about.

I looked back at my phone.

… Hey, other worlds, hurry up and invent Satellite signal. I want to call 911 and have a policeman escort me home, please.

 

The policeman that came for me was tall, buff, and coated with heavy chainmail.

“We’ve arrived at the Castle, milady,” he said.

“Ah,” I said.

I’m a man though.

However, when the villagers found me, they explained that the newly discovered otherworlders had very specific tasks.

1) If you are man, you’re given a sword and asked to go out and slay the demon king, and the demon king’s generals, and their lieutenants, and their captains, and their vast army of demon grunts that numbered in total over 10 million, oh and there’s no army backing you up. You can take maybe five people with you, but otherwise you’re on your own.

2) If you are a woman, you’re asked to stay in the Church and inspire the warriors who will go out and fight or whatever.

Now I don’t know about you, but when someone gives me the choice of becoming a valiant hero that risks his life to journey across the land, slaying monsters and saving the kingdom, or pretending to be a woman in the safety of the city, the answer is obvious.

I’m a woman from today forth, please treat me well.

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WSIH – Chapter Eight: Opportunity after a Loss

The girl’s sharp gaze fell upon me. She quickly ran in my direction, and stuck her foot out as if trying to crush me like a common bug. Yulin’s eyes grew wide. He began running toward us, but his speed was nowhere near fast enough.

If I were any other snail, this girl would easily have killed me. Unfortunately for her, I was much stronger than I looked. Without even worrying, I watched the girl come closer. When she was about to step on me, I leisurely plopped to the side of her foot. She looked down in surprise. Hm? Did you expect me to just get stepped on? I continued dodging her feet and sailed my way to Yulin. He looked at me with heavy relief and picked me up.

Uhuhu, that’s right! Just let me stay by your side when you fight from now on. There’s no point in us being separated. I happily leaned my head against his neck. Meanwhile, the girl turned and stared at me and Yulin with mixed emotions on her face. Ahh, she’s probably jealous of the deep bond Yulin and I share.

A cunning expression flashed through her eyes. “Hey, you! What’s with that snail of yours!” She yelled, pointing at me. “Don’t you know that spirit familiars are forbidden!”

After the girl’s yell came a pause as the crowd processed her words. Then, a wave of jeers and boos erupted. Between the shouts I heard various conversations and mutters:

“Is that a spirit familiar? Someone’s actually trying to cheat at the Tourney?”

“Yeah, didn’t you see how Nanna’s strikes had been interrupted? Obviously someone had to have been interfering…”

From the third floor…

“Ai, so the Cerulean Mist sect is actually raising such devious children,” the eighth-rank cultivator muttered.

The lazy man in the back said, “Pretty girls have to have their thorns!”

That Saint Zhen snorted. “She’s insulting the entire Tourney. As if any of us would let a spirit familiar slip into the matches.”

So that’s what’s happening… What an unlikeable girl! You can’t win by force, so you’re trying to slander my Yulin and have him branded as a cheater? Too bad for you that won’t work. See, those high-level mortal cultivators know that you’re just lying to get out of having to fight.

The moderator stepped forward with a deep frown.

“Silence!” His voice boomed through the arena, quieting the crowd. He waved a hand. “Continue the match!”

The girl scowled for a fraction of a second before smoothing her face into a neutral, lovely expression. Yulin tightened his grip on the sword and raised it. I held onto his shoulder while Yulin dashed forward, pressing upon his opponent.

The girl parried his sword slashes, her thin arms shaking against the force of Yulin’s blows, but although Yulin hadn’t landed a single hit he refused to give up. His indomitable strength pushed the girl back until finally she stood at the edge of the platform.

“Nanna, watch out!” some guy called from the audience. The girl’s eyes widened when she realized her position, and she quickly dug her hand into a satchel. She took out a pair of spiky, dark walnuts. With just a sweep of my senses I identified them as highly toxic seeds. Before she could toss them, I pushed them out of her hand with a slight gust of wind.

Her last-ditch move gone, the girl had no choice but to desperately struggle against Yulin’s martial ability. Unfortunately for her, she just couldn’t match up and got pushed out of the platform and out of bounds.

“Winner, Su Yulin!”

The uproar from Lamane Arena shook the surrounding city.

 

 

Yulin walked out of the Arena. Angry glares pressed down on us from all directions, but Yulin didn’t pay them any mind. I would have cursed the lot of them, but Yulin reached up and lightly patted my shell. Forgetting my anger, I snuggled up to him.

Before Yulin reached the exit, a worker of the Arena came up to us. The man bowed politely and said, “The Officials of the Origo Junior Cultivator Tournament have something to discuss with you.”

Hearing that, Yulin obediently followed the man through the siheyuan into an office. There, a group of stern-looking men and a beautiful big-breasted woman sat around a table. The woman was incredibly out-of-place, especially through her high cultivation: she had an eighth-rank cultivation, while the men only had up to fourth.

Upon seeing Yulin, the woman’s eyes narrowed slightly, and her seductive red-tinted smile grew cold.

“Su Yulin, welcome,” one of the old men said. He coughed lightly. “Ahem. We have a few things to discuss regarding your previous match.” He shuffled through some papers on the table. I glanced at them and saw that they were a copy of the tournament rules, along with some tax papers on the bottom to help pad the stack. “Now, our records say that you are an independent cultivator, yes…?” the man asked.

Yulin held a trace of apprehension in his aura, but nodded truthfully.

“Do you have a master, sect, clan…?”

Yulin shook his head.

The old man hummed and stroked his beard. The other men around the table only looked solemnly off into the distance, as if the entire meeting had nothing to do with them.

The beautiful woman’s smile sharpened.

“Su Yulin. Unfortunately, the allegations against your performance are quite serious.” The old man folded his hands and sighed regretfully. “We of the Origo Junior Cultivator Tournament are quite sorry to say that you have been disqualified due to infringement of martial integrity.”

… Eh?

Yulin and I had absolutely shocked expressions on our faces.

What do you mean, disqualified??

“If you would, please exit the Lamane Arena peacefully. It was bad luck this time, but you’re welcome to try again in the next run of the competition,” the old man said while smiling.

W-what are you doing! I wanted to shout. My Yulin is the most hard-working, talented, and coolest cultivator here! How could you turn him away!

Yulin’s eyes turned dark. Gripping his fists, he bowed stiffly and exited the room. Standing in front of the closed door, Yulin looked down, body tense with disappointment.

My heart trembled for him.

Those cruel officials… Yulin wanted to compete so badly, and now he was disqualified because of them.

It would be easy to get revenge for him by chopping down those officials, but it wouldn’t give him back the chance to be in the competition. There was nothing I could do; I was just a clueless snail god that had no idea how society worked. I cuddled against Yulin to give him comfort. Through my touch, I tried to convey: Even without this tournament, you’ll still grow to become the greatest immortal hero in all of history!

Yulin sighed and patted me. Gathering himself, he straightened his back and walked out of the Arena.

The sky above was a clear bright blue. The sun shone down on us. Yulin held a hand up to block the light from blinding him.

Standing at the entrance to the Arena, Yulin looked around listlessly, like he was unsure of what to do next. Hoisting his sword up on his back, he began to walk down.

“Hey, you!”

A loud and resentful voice called out.

Looking to the side, I saw the bristling figure of the other disqualified contestant, Vinai, marching toward us. A fierce scowl twisted his lips, and he glared at us like he could flay our skin with his eyes.

Yulin glanced at him with offended confusion, his face silently expressing, ‘What in the world do you want now?’ Since he was bothering Yulin, I glared at Vinai, too. He paused for a split second, a shiver running through him, before he gathered himself and continued his stride toward us.

I debated whether to just shove this boy away. On one hand, I wondered if maybe Yulin wanted to fight him to release his stress? But on the other hand, his foul mouth and disrespectful attitude was unpleasant to deal with…

His scowl growing ever fiercer, Vinai snarled, “I don’t know what trick you pulled on me, but you’re going to regret it!” He reached behind himself. Though there wasn’t anything on his back, I sensed him open a dimensional pocket; from there he pulled out a sharp spear, and whipped it into his grip. The point gleamed in the sunlight, reflecting the blinding white light.

Yulin tensed. His sword was wrapped up, so I crawled over and threw the cloth off of the handle. Yulin reached back and pulled out his sword, ready to defend himself.

Ah, to think this guy already had enough mastery to open dimensional storage! He was just a bit dangerous compared to a normal 6th-rank cultivator, wasn’t he? He still wasn’t much, but he surely had much more knowledge than Yulin right now.

I prepared myself to get rid of Vinai at any moment. Vinai sized Yulin up, and his muscles bulged as he leaned forward, preparing to strike.

A fluctuation of energy caught my attention. The eighth-rank cultivator whom I had written a letter to this morning had exited the Arena.

Vinai ran towards us, the bright sunlight flashing blindingly from the tip of his spear. Yulin swiftly moved to parry, and I watched for a moment to give Vinai a good kick in the stomach.

But before Vinai’s attack reached, a large hand reached down and grasped his spear.

Vinai nearly fell forward from the sudden interruption, but channeled qi to his feet to stay steady. He and Yulin glanced at the eighth-rank cultivator in surprise. The man simply regarded them, his gorilla-like face unreadable.

“Tch!” Vinai clicked his tongue and straightened. Throwing an offended glance out of the corner of his eye, he asked in a strained voice, “Elder of Ash Mountain Sect, may I ask why you’re interfering in this duel?”

The elder’s heavy brows fell over his shadowed eyes. “A duel is an agreed-upon match between two sides.”

Vinai’s face soured, but it seemed he didn’t have any retort.

The elder let go of the spear. He stared Vinai down until the boy stepped back and put his spear back into his dimensional pocket. Conceding defeat, that arrogant young master bowed to the elder and swiftly retreated.

Seeing how this eighth-rank cultivator chased the unpleasant Vinai away, my liking of him grew much more. Certainly I was right earlier; this man had much better eyes than the average human.

The elder turned back to Yulin, who looked at him with suspicion. Yulin had no idea who this man was, or that I had sent him a message the other day. The elder was very well-mannered, however, and introduced himself. “Greetings, Su Yulin. I am Bassem, the Fourth Elder of Ash Mountain Sect. I would like to speak with you.”

Yulin blinked, his eyebrows scrunching in confusion. Before he could reply, the sound of swaying buyao chimed in the air, and a cute girl popped up next to them. Mayrelle smiled, her bright-eyed and delicate face looking quite lovely, and said, “Master, you disappeared so quickly! I was worried.” Her eyes swept over Yulin, and she blinked. “Oh! I remember you. We met at the market the other day!”

Yulin looked back at her with a complex expression, unsure of whether to be annoyed or wary now that he’d seen her skill in battle.

Bassem glanced at Mayrelle, his stern expression unchanging. “Let us avoid blocking the entrance to the Arena. Follow me.”

The elder led this group of two cultivators and a snail to a quiet teashop nearby. Sitting down at a bench, he motioned for Mayrelle and Yulin to also take a seat. An attendant quickly ran over to take his order, and in the meantime Yulin hesitantly lowered himself onto the seat. Don’t be nervous! I wanted to convey, tapping Yulin’s face. Yulin’s shoulders relaxed a fraction.

A strong gaze fell upon us. I turned and saw Mayrelle looking this way with an adoring expression. Her lovely cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were bright and sparkling.

… Don’t tell me you fell for Yulin? He’s my cultivator!! I plastered myself onto his cheek.

O-Of course, I knew that most godly cultivators had a huge harem of beautiful wives that they could go through like used tissues, but my Yulin was still only a young boy! I wasn’t going to let some girl sink her hands in him that quickly!!

While I panicked, Mayrelle sweetly smiled and gushed, “Your snail is just too cute! She’s even climbing your face!”

I forgot. The one this jingle-jangly girl wanted to sink her hands into was me!

Yulin hadn’t forgotten; he glowered at Mayrelle while I was still hanging off of his cheek. He reached up, plucked me off his face, and put me on his other shoulder – away from Mayrelle.

Bassem quietly sipped his tea.

He set down his cup with a clunk, catching the attention of the two young cultivators.

“Su Yulin.” Yulin regarded him warily. Bassem met his gaze and calmly said, “I would like to formally invite you to become a disciple of the Ash Mountain Sect.”

Yulin looked stunned.

Mayrelle’s jaw dropped.

Meanwhile, I was quite pleased!

Bassem continued, “You would not begin directly under my tutelage. Your foundations are lacking; you must learn the basics of martial arts first and foremost. In this period, you would be among the outer sect. Should you prove your discipline and determination, you will reach the status of an inner sect disciple.”

“I- Master, I didn’t know you wanted another disciple!” Mayrelle’s smile looked a bit forced.

Bassem dipped his head. “I believe Su Yulin has potential,” he rumbled. He swiftly stood, startling the young cultivators, and motioned for them to follow.

He led the way through thin back alleys to a spacious abandoned courtyard. Yulin and Mayrelle stood, looking around. It was an ordinary square with a tall tree and a well beneath the shade, enclosed by tightly-packed old houses.

Bassem regarded the two of them, and turned his face to Yulin. “If you wish to see the power of Ash Mountain’s training, spar with Mayrelle. Though your level of cultivation is the same, you will find that you are not an equal match.”

At this, Mayrelle’s eyes flashed, and she turned toward Yulin. She pointed at Yulin’s sword peeking out from over his shoulder and said, “Go ahead and take that out if you want to, but I’ll tell you now: you won’t get a single hit in!” She had a neutral expression while saying such confident words, giving the impression that she was only stating facts.

Though he was usually cool and unruffled, Mayrelle hit Yulin’s pride, earning her a sharp glare. Yulin pulled out the sword; I crawled to the back of his neck to stay out of the way. He gripped it in front of him in his typical stance, and began charging qi through its blade.

Bassem observed the two young cultivators, nodded, and stepped back. “Begin.”

Yulin stepped forward and slashed at Mayrelle. Without even changing the expression on her face, she swayed to the side, effortlessly dodging the blast of energy. She stepped forward and, in a moment, had her fist resting on the curve of Yulin’s neck.

Her abilities were actually so refined! Wrapped invisibly that fist was a fierce aura of qi; if her fist had met Yulin’s skin, his head would have blown straight off. It was only after seeing she had no intention to harm that I decided not to interfere.

A bead of sweat dripped down Yulin’s head and fell Mayrelle’s wrist.

“Your sword is sharp but does not cut. Your body is strong but has no finesse. Our Ash Mountain Sect can guide you on these things, if you are willing to learn,” Bassem said.

Yulin stood there, frozen, until Mayrelle withdrew her fist and stepped back.

His hands fell to his sides, the sword tip dragging on the dirt. He breathed in deeply, eyes closed.

After repositioning himself, he sheathed his sword and faced the other cultivators.

Yulin’s eyes held a shining light as he said, “I’ll join.”

WSIH – Chapter Seven: The Sixth Origo Junior Cultivator Tournament

Yulin and I struggled to move through the crowded streets. Lamane City sprouted people overnight; you couldn’t sneeze without hitting at least a hundred of them. Everyone bustled toward Lamane Arena like fish caught in a tide, and I did my best to shield Yulin from stray elbows and pushy shoulders, shoving others away until a small bubble of space formed around him. Somehow this slight gap in the crowd became quite conspicuous.

“Damn! We’re going to be late!” A boisterous voice yelled. Behind us, the Jade Sky cultivators shoved their way forward. “Yulin, wait up!”

Yulin paused his steps, the crowd parting around him and allowing the Jade Sky cultivators to catch up. Troy led the way, his bulky figure cutting a path for his smaller fellows to follow. With this many people, it would be easy for them to get swept away. I graciously expanded my bubble of force to include them.

“We’re both going the same way, so let’s stick together,” Derrus said. Troy echoed this heartily. Vita and Lauran stayed behind, muttering to themselves with haunted expressions, though each for different reasons. Vita still couldn’t look at me on Yulin’s shoulder. I truly am such an intimidating figure.

Yulin nodded in agreement. The five little cultivators moved together toward Lamane Arena. The crowd was so noisy that you had to yell to be heard, though for Troy, his natural voice boomed so loudly that he could just speak normally.

“Hey Yulin!” Everyone around glanced over with the interest of someone having just heard a distant explosion. “You weren’t being serious with yesterday’s fight, right?”

Yulin turned his head and nodded solemnly. A relieved expression broke across Troy’s face, but it quickly disappeared when Yulin elaborated, “I was serious!” Troy’s face fell in sheer disappointment.

“What the hell!” Troy shook his head. “Damn. When you said you weren’t taught, you really meant it.”

Derrus shouted, “Then how did you cultivate? You must have some technique, right?”

“Meditation!” Yulin answered simply. What a cool answer! Though Troy and Derrus both looked unsatisfied. Hey, you greedy duo, if you want Yulin’s talent you should just ask to be reborn.

We had finally reached the plaza in front of Lamane Arena. The crowd thinned to only cultivators, the normal humans filtering into side streets which lead to the audience sections. It was no less noisy, however.

“Brother Yulin,” Derrus shouted. “Our Jade Sky Sect isn’t bad. After this is over, if you don’t have any other place in mind, maybe you could…”

Despite its low volume, a scoffing sound clearly cut through the noise of the crowd.

“Which person is so great that they’re being recruited before the start of the competition?” A cold voice muttered.

The chatter died down. Space opened up in front of us, revealing a group of almost-adult boys. All of them were tall and fit, clearly trained and strong. At the front of the group was a stern, haughty-looking boy. He had rich brown skin, braided dark hair, sharp features, and a pointy nose held up in the air.

“V-V-V-Vinai of Clear Water Sect!!” A tiny voice which stuttered itself into dying sounded behind me. It had been Lauran who released that ghastly proclamation as if announcing the rise of an ancient demon. I casually analyzed the boy in front of me and saw nothing particularly noteworthy about him. Though he was tall, he wasn’t as tall as Troy; though he was cool, he wasn’t as cool as Yulin. Everything about him screamed ‘second best vying for first’.

While they put on scared faces, I felt the auras of the Jade Sky group shift to a sharp, deadly atmosphere. Oh, what’s this? Even Vita wasn’t looking away?

Vinai’s piercing gaze locked onto Yulin, looking him over from top to bottom. He narrowed his eyes. After a pause, he snorted derisively.

“Just this piece of trash can get someone so excited?”

Oh, I’m sorry, I must have misheard something.

“Acting this pridefully in front of his betters, this piece of trash sure has guts,” Vinai continued, already laughing with his friends.

Haaaaaaaaa?

Yulin didn’t even answer. He acted like it had nothing to do with him. In fact, he was actually quietly glancing around, as if looking for whoever this guy was talking about.

Ah, I get it. Yulin must be saying, ‘Look, I’m not even doing anything. You’re the one stirring up trouble, dumbass’. That’s right! I glared at the chortling Vinai. You’re the one stirring up trouble! My Yulin has nothing to do with fools like you.

After a moment, Yulin resumed walking to the Arena. Good, good. We shouldn’t let stupid people like this get in our way. Yulin still had to win the rest of the competition; it wouldn’t do to get sidetracked before it started.

Vinai’s face turned splotchy at the way Yulin coolly ignored him.

“You piece of shit! You think you can act that way in front of me?” Vinai snarled, summoning an energy bolt to pierce Yulin’s lungs.

What did you just say?

Is your mouth also an asshole for it to be spewing such shit?

Let me help correct that for you!

With the flames of anger urging me on, I sent a powerful stab into Vinai’s bowels. The boy’s eyes widened; his energy bolt dissipated with the loss of concentration. He crossed his arms over his stomach, his face paling, and dashed away before anyone could blink. Vinai’s lackeys, seeing their boss run, hurriedly followed suit.

Yulin blankly stared after them.

Hohoho! See Yulin, you don’t have to worry about these tyrannical young masters harassing you while I’m around. I happily rubbed my head against him. Yulin blinked, and a slight expression of… something crossed his face. It couldn’t have been pity, I must have been imagining things.

Yulin and the Jade Sky cultivators safely made their way to Lamane Arena and into the competitors’ waiting lounge. All of the competitors had access to the second through fifth floors of Lamane Arena’s main building, but staying there was optional. It was only when their matches were upcoming that competitors had to check in at the front desk and wait on the first floor. Since the upper floors had a good view of the fights, dozens of cultivators were already crowding the balconies.

“The match ups are over there.” Derrus pointed to an enormous board hanging on a wall.

Vita jumped on Troy’s shoulders to get a better look past the sea of people surrounding the board. Holding a hand over her eyes, she reported each of her fellows’ and Yulin’s opponents. “Match 25, Derrus against Yoan of Blazing Cloud Sect. Match 37, me and Henning of Steel Fist Sect. Match 38, Yulin against Nanna of Cerulean Mist Sect. Match 54, Troy against Philo of Ash Mountain Sect…” Vita paused without calling Lauran’s match up.

“H-H-How far am I from M-Mayrelle and Vinai?” Lauran demanded, tugging at Vita’s sleeve with a wretched expression.

Vita said clearly, “Match 3, Lauran against Vinai of Clear Water Sect!”

Gong! Lauran’s knees knocked against the wood floor. Kneeling in despair, Lauran cried two rivers. Vita, Troy, and Derrus ignored the wailing Lauran as if this happened all the time and they couldn’t be bothered to notice anymore. Derrus dragged Lauran to the receptionist’s desk, checked him in for his upcoming match, then propped him up on a bench, leaving him to whimper by himself. I really wondered how this boy would survive.

When we arrived on the second floor, the entire balcony was swarmed. I cheerfully pushed people away to make room. Cultivators found themselves tripping and falling until a spot opened up, where Yulin and the three remaining Jade Sky cultivators promptly settled.

The arena’s setup was slightly different today. There were only two large platforms today instead of four, and between them stood a tall tower. A couple of old men climbed up the tower to announce the start of the day’s competition. They started giving boring some speech about integrity and sportsmanship, so I looked around the arena while they were talking. There were about fifteen thousand people crammed in the siheyuan’s three spectator sides, and a few more thousand in the surrounding streets. I caught wind of the eighth-rank cultivator I’d contacted earlier on the top floor of the western building. That Saint was there too, along with some other minor fogies. Don’t tell me they’re all part of the same Sect? I drooped. No way, wouldn’t it be troublesome for Yulin to have to hang around that Zhen guy… I should have done a little more research.

But, oh well!

The speeches finished, and the old men cleared away. A head moderator took their place. He called out the two match-ups, and four bright-eyed youths went up to the platforms. The roar of an enormous crowd of cheers filled the air as the youths began to fight. Yulin watched avidly with determined eyes. Ah, my Yulin is studying so diligently, he’s absolutely the coolest!

The first batch of matches ended. The moderator called out for matches 3 and 4, and the little group of Jade Sky cultivators eagerly inched forward.

Vita pointed at the shaking speck on the ground. “There’s Lauran!” She, Troy, and Derrus bellowed, “Lauran! Fight!”

Lauran flinched and turned his head to look up at us with an expression of deep despair.

He stood on the platform like a man waiting for his execution. The contestants for Match 4 had both arrived, and they looked around impatiently, wondering when they could start their fight.

The moderator frowned, and murmurs rose from the crowd.

“Where’s Vinai?”

No one had seen the famous rising cultivator. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed without Vinai showing up. And so, anticlimactically, the great young prodigy of Clear Water sect had been disqualified in the very first round.

Upon hearing this announcement from the moderator, Lauran looked struck by lightning. He wandered back into the crowd with unseeing eyes, and quickly the flow of the competition’s fights picked back up.

A few moments passed where the young cultivators eagerly watched the sole ongoing match. Abruptly, the sound of a handsome man’s laughter came from behind, and a strong aura spilled out.

Oh? I peeked out. Yulin turned around to see the newcomer. The Jade Sky sect’s disciples also turned to look, apathetic expressions on their faces.

There behind us stood an extraordinarily handsome man with golden hair. He chuckled dashingly, posing with a hand under his chin. He exuded elegance and confidence. “As expected!” he crowed in a deep, charming voice. “Of course, there was no way the Heavens would allow this prince to ever lose!” He grinned, and through some trick of the light I thought I saw sparkles gleam off his teeth.

Whoa… how disgusting…

Vita and Derrus sighed deeply. Troy stepped forward and slapped the man on the back. “Good to see you’re feeling better, brother!”

Lauran sparkled up at Troy, a smug smirk on his lips. “Of course! There’s no reason for this prince to not be in a good mood after all!” He tossed his head back and laughed. “Ahahaha!!”

“…” Yulin turned back to watch the matches and I retreated to nap in my shell.

 

 

Though I wasn’t aware of very much while I was sleeping, a sudden roar of shouts and cheers disturbed me enough to come to consciousness.

Spreading out my senses, I found that there was nothing unusual. Only, there was a single ferocious battle happening in the platforms. I heard the jingle-jangle of buyao as a girl swiftly spun through the air and swung her foot down in a fierce chop. Her opponent dodged, and the platform rumbled and cracked below the girl’s delicate foot.

The audience cheered and clapped. The girl, without pausing, spun around and chased her opponent. The boy panicked and gathered qi to his hands to redirect the girl’s charge. Unfortunately for him, the girl dipped under his hands, her movements as smooth and flowing as water, and knocked him to the ground with a push of her palm.

Her opponent gasped on the ground, spitting out blood. Though he tried to get up, his limbs had no strength and he simply collapsed.

“Winner, Mayrelle of Ash Mountain!” the moderator called out.

A roar of cheers met his announcement.

“Hm, she’s good,” Vita muttered under her breath. Her narrowed eyes tracked Mayrelle as the girl waved to her cheering fans.

“Dragged it out for just enough time to let her opponent show off. There’s nothing anyone can begrudge her for,” Derrus said. He, too, regarded Mayrelle with an analytical gaze.

“Damn!! I wanna fight so bad!!” Troy bellowed, gripping his hands into fists. All around him, cultivators held their ears and leaned away.

Lauran, sparkling in the background, twirled a rose between his fingertips and said nothing. Wait, where did he get that flower from…

I checked up on Yulin’s expression. His eyes were bright with eagerness, and his hands fidgeted. I recognized that expression – Yulin really wanted to go practice chopping things up right now! Ahh, too bad there were still a few more matches before it was Yulin’s turn.

We waited half an hour more. Yulin’s aura brimmed with quiet tension, which peaked when the time for his match came around.

The Jade Sky cultivators wished him luck and patted him on the back. “Fight on, Yulin!!” The group of them cheered, minus Lauran who was off in his own world. Ah, they’re really such good kids after all! Yulin nodded and walked out to the platform. Under the gaze of the hundreds of cultivators and audience members, Yulin stood and faced his opponent.

The girl had bright brown eyes and cute bobcut hair. A boisterous group of cultivator boys cheered wildly for her, making a small smirk appear on her face.

The moderator glanced at the two competitors, and I took this time to obediently plop onto the ground and out of the way. I noticed the girl glancing at me from the corner of her eye, and turned my head away. W-why are you looking at me… Even if you want to admire me, I won’t agree to it.

The match started. Yulin steadily held the sword in his hands and channeled energy through it. The girl looked at him with half-lidded eyes, not a trace of worry on her face. Yulin slashed forward, the wild wave of energy surging towards the girl, but she simply ducked to dodge. That arrogant little smirk came back onto her face, and she twirled close to Yulin, whose stance was still recovering from his previous action.

Fast! This girl was super fast! I sensed her pull out a dagger and aim it at Yulin’s stomach.

As if I’d let you do that! With just the slightest shove of my consciousness, the girl lost balance and swiped into empty air. Yulin recovered and leaped away.

A small murmur ran through the crowd, but I didn’t pay them any mind. I knew Yulin would win even if I didn’t interfere, but I just didn’t want to see him get hurt. It didn’t matter if I pushed this girl around here and there since she was going to lose anyway. That said, I kept my eye on Yulin’s opponent. After stumbling, she wiped the shock and confusion off her face and span around to face Yulin again. A dark emotion flashed through her eyes.

Yulin held a tighter guard this time. He waited in his position and locked glares with the girl. They paused for two fraught seconds as they considered each other; then they leaped, weapons drawn. The girl raised her daggers while Yulin slashed his sword. Her daggers caught Yulin’s blade, and his advance jarred to a stop. With a smile, the girl used the momentum to pull Yulin onto the ground while she positioned herself at his back. With a dagger raised, she prepared to strike.

I intercepted again, my invisible shove throwing her off of Yulin’s back.

The girl rolled to her feet, and she looked at Yulin with glaring eyes full of accusation. “What trick are you pulling!” she snapped.

Yulin only looked at her with a stony expression.

WSIH – Chapter Six: The Fourth Elder of Ash Mountain

The crisp morning air carried the scent of pear blossoms. Bassem, the Esteemed Fourth Elder of Ash Mountain Sect, slowly opened his eyes. He released a deep breath, his lips pulled upwards in a rare slight smile. In this evening’s meditation he had managed to cultivate over thirty times faster than the average night. This pace was unprecedented even in the sect’s precious hidden sanctuary. Unfortunately, the rapid pace had only been maintained for a few hours; if not, he would have certainly continued cultivating for as long as it lasted.

Bassem stood, stretching his limber muscles. Though this body was already sixty years old, his appearance remained that of a man in his mid thirties. With his stocky body and flat gorilla-like face, however, Bassem had no vanity over his comparatively youthful appearance. Adding along the fact that he resided beside some of the greatest beauties of the Origo continent, his already substandard looks became even less appealing.

Even so, Bassem was not a man who cared for matters of love and warm beds. Rather, his looks were a blessing. He did not have to fend off the advances or fear for his virtue; he did not have to wonder about the intentions of any beautiful woman who approached him. Compared to the daily troubles Bassem’s more attractive colleagues faced, being an ugly but carefree man suited him more.

Bassem rearranged his robes, making sure there were no out-of-place details over which Second Elder Joslyn could mock him. Today the Sixth Origo Junior Cultivator Tournament officially began, and the elders of the sect who came to supervise in Lamane were holding a meeting to discuss the plans for the day, as well as formulating any last-minute advice and encouragement for the disciples. Bassem frowned. He had to remind the disciples not to underestimate their opponents. All too much these young cultivators believed the only true rivals could come from other large sects, such as the oppressive Clear Water. Bassem could only be grateful that the presence of Honorable Saint Zhen offset Clear Water Sect’s influence.

Turning to leave, Bassem noticed a scroll, brush, and inkstone on the desk which hadn’t been there the night before. Only someone of higher cultivation could have entered his room and left this message without Bassem’s noticing, so he assumed that either Honorable Saint Zhen or Second Elder Joslyn had stopped by and decided not to disturb his morning meditation. Before Bassem even picked up the scroll, however, he immediately knew that this was not the case.

The words on the scroll seemingly leapt out at him, the force of power and energy contained within each enormous brushstroke enough to make his heart palpitate with tension. Fierce! The writing on this scroll was simply too fierce! The wild and untamed letters, huge and unwieldy, sprawled across the scroll’s surface. With shaking hands, Bassem picked up the scroll and read:

“Dear mortal cultivator,

Su Yulin has talent, hardworking, strong, cool, lovely. Please consider him as a disciple.

Sincerely,

Pipin.”

Speechless, Bassem could only stare at the scroll’s astonishing message.

His first immediate thought was, which flighty senior cultivator decided to prank him?

 

 

With the scroll tucked into his sleeve, Bassem descended to the Phoenix Pavilion’s first floor private courtyard. Only a few of the sect’s elders had arrived at this time. “Greetings to Esteemed Fourth Elder Bassem!” They each stood and bowed to him. Bassem nodded in acknowledgment. He sat in one of the chairs surrounding the rosewood round table. One of the elders poured him a cup of tea, while another offered him dumplings. Bassem took the tea and waved off the food.

Bassem leisurely sipped at the fragrant green tea, a small frown on his lips. When Second Elder Joslyn finally arrived, Bassem’s frown deepened. He and the junior elders rose and bowed while calling out their greetings to the handsome and elegant Second Elder, who nodded absently at them. Joslyn slid into his seat; the junior elders rushed to pour his tea and place a plate of thousand-layer jelly squares, sesame balls, and steamed sponge cake in front of him. Joslyn smiled, his charming red lips causing the junior elders’ hearts to flutter.

Aiya, such a glutton… Bassem couldn’t help but scold in his head. The Second Elder was so close to purification, yet he continued to gorge on sweet foods.

“Your face is more terrible than usual today, Bassem,” Joslyn said, carelessly as ever. He held out a piece of sponge cake between his elegant, willowy fingers. “Here, why don’t you eat some.”

Ignoring the proffered food, Bassem sighed. “Second Elder Joslyn, I humbly ask that you cease provoking me in such a stressful time,” he said solemnly.

“If you don’t feel like eating, you could just say so.” Joslyn retracted his hand, not having expected Bassem to take the cake anyway.

“I refer to the scroll you left me whilst I meditated in my chambers,” Bassem rumbled.

Joslyn popped a sesame ball into his mouth. “I have no idea what you mean,” he said.

Exasperated, Bassem pulled the scroll from his sleeve.

“If you mean to deter me…” Bassem trailed off as Joslyn plucked the scroll from his hand. The bored-looking senior cultivator pulled it open. Immediately he flinched, his gaze flickering with unreadable emotions.

“What is this?” Joslyn muttered, his eyes narrowed as he peered at the scroll’s contents.

“You didn’t write it?”

Joslyn didn’t respond. Bassem watched him with a bewildered expression. If not Second Elder Joslyn, then who could have written this scroll? No other person knew that Bassem considered taking the embarrassingly inexperienced, yet highly-cultivated boy Su Yulin into Ash Mountain Sect. Moreover, to leave this without Bassem’s knowledge, the only other person could be Honorable Saint Zhen who disregarded everything except his younger sister.

Unless it was someone outside of the Sect…

“You said this was left in your room while you were meditating?” Joslyn asked. Bassem nodded. Joslyn’s face darkening, he rolled up the scroll and stood. Beckoning Bassem, he said, “Come, we’ll consult Little Zhen.”

Joslyn and Bassem stepped onto the roof of the Phoenix Pavilion, where Honorable Saint Zhen sat in meditation. His eyes opened before their feet even touched the tile. He gracefully stood and bowed. “Nephew greets Venerable Uncle Joslyn, Fourth Elder Bassem.”

Joslyn waved his hand. “No need for formalities, nephew. Bassem and I have something to ask you.”

“Of course,” Zhen smoothly said. “How can I help?”

“Last night, did you notice anyone enter Bassem’s rooms?” Joslyn asked.

Bassem wondered why Zhen cast such a suspicious look at Joslyn. “No, I did not.”

“Are you aware of anyone who could do so without your noticing?”

A slightly irritated expression formed on Zhen’s face. A tinge of petulance could be heard in his voice, “What is this about, uncle?”

Joslyn handed him the scroll. Zhen opened it curiously. The fierce aura spilled from the scroll’s surface, rising almost tangibly. Zhen shuddered, his face shocked. A mix of awe and worry formed in Bassem’s heart. Even a Saint was affected by the writing?

“Elder Bassem, this?” Zhen looked at him with open inquiry. Bassem grimaced.

“I found it in my rooms this morning, along with a brush and inkstone which weren’t there before,” he answered. Zhen exchanged a look with Joslyn, and the two of them jumped down to the window of Bassem’s rooms. They swiftly entered, eyes zeroing in on the desk. Bassem entered after them, his body not as nimble as the two advanced cultivators.

Zhen stepped forward, examining the brush and the inkstone. His finger dipped into the well of the tablet, and came away with flakes of recently-dried ink. Looking at the stiff black tip of the calligraphy brush, there was really only one conclusion to form.

“Even if it were a late-stage Saint, no one could have entered without attracting my notice,” Zhen said.

A solemn silence fell over the three cultivators.

“There hasn’t been a Demigod since the fall of Xian Kingdom several thousand years ago,” Joslyn murmured.

Bassem frowned, thinking. “The letter referred to me as a ‘mortal cultivator’. It implies that the writer himself is not mortal.”

The cultivators exchanged incredulous looks.

“Who is this Su Yulin anyway?” Zhen asked.

“An unaffiliated sixth rank cultivator. He is obviously untrained and untaught, yet somehow he possesses such a high-ranking cultivation,” Bassem answered.

Joslyn huffed. “Perhaps I hit the mark after all,” he muttered, thinking about the inane comments he threw out earlier, specifically the one about a goddess. Turning to Bassem, Joslyn asked, “Did you notice anything strange last night?”

With a conflicted face, Bassem told them of the strange increase in the pace of his cultivation. “I hadn’t been aware of it at the time, but it was as if the air itself had become laden with spiritual energy, and my body took it in like breathing.”

The elders took some time to contemplate this information. Eventually Joslyn concluded, “Whoever this Pipin is, we shouldn’t offend them. Taking in another disciple isn’t even a trifling matter for our sect. The boy’s utter lack of skills may be a stain on the face of cultivators, but as long as he doesn’t stir up trouble, what does it matter?” At these words, Zhen and Bassem nodded in agreement. Joslyn took the scroll for safekeeping, intending to show it to the Grandmaster upon his return. With that decided, Bassem and Joslyn returned to the first floor courtyard to properly discuss the important issue of the day’s competition, while Zhen stepped back onto the roof, his handsome face heavy with thought.

 

 

At the end of the long meeting, the elders called Ash Mountain’s disciples to meet in the Pavilion’s large public courtyard. The seven young faces looked brightly at their teachers. Bassem stood back while Joslyn went through the speech the elders had prepared, essentially telling the disciples to fight well and honorably; to be graceful in defeat and humble in victory; and to never underestimate their opponents. Bassem was satisfied at having slipped that last bit into the speech. When Joslyn finished speaking, the disciples shouted in assent and bowed.

“Good, good, you guys are lively,” Joslyn said, reverting back to his careless tone of voice. “Well, go on. Go chat with your masters.” He flapped his hand, and the disciples dispersed to meet with their teachers.

“Master Bassem!” A delicate, feminine voice rang out. Bassem smiled, watching his disciple Mayrelle skip toward him.

“Greetings to you, Little May. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes!” Mayrelle smiled cutely. “How was Master’s evening cultivation?”

“… It went well,” Bassem said, not intending to reveal any of the strange events to his disciple. She had more than enough to worry about right now.

The Origo Junior Cultivator Tournament was divided into two parts. The first part consisted of single-elimination matches meant to weed out the weaker cultivators. If a cultivator lost just once, it was all over. The second half of the competition switched to a double-elimination setup where cultivators could still compete after taking one loss. This setup meant that even if a cultivator was severely outmatched, they would have another chance to show off their skills in the next battle.

The most significant aspect of this tournament was not the first place win, but the chance to gain reputation. In battles between cultivators it was obvious that those with higher cultivation ranks would win, yet who could look down on a lower-ranked opponent who admirably fought to bridge that gap? This tournament was a chance to prove one’s tenacity, character, ability, and most importantly: potential. That was why high-ranked cultivators who easily trounced low-ranked ones received no particular praise or admiration for their skills. Such an obvious outcome, who would possibly cheer for it? It was only when facing an equal or greater opponent that one could truly prove their worth.

As such, Bassem had a few concerns for his disciple.

Mayrelle was the second genius child of Ash Mountain Sect. Her brother, Zhen, was the first. Only thirteen yet already in the high stage of sixth-rank cultivation, it was certain that she would follow her brother in reaching Saint level. There were only a few junior cultivators who could be her match. Her foremost rival was Vinai of Clear Water Sect, a boy who was only two years older than her. There were only three sixth-rank cultivators from the other sects, and each of them was already over twenty-five years of age.

That strange boy, Su Yulin, was also a sixth-rank cultivator, but his lack of training meant he was no match for even a third-rank cultivator properly trained by a sect.

While Bassem could rest assured that Mayrelle would advance far in the competition, this also meant that she would have a difficult time balancing her strength for lesser opponents. If Mayrelle defeated her opponents too easily, her battles would be seen as boring and her memorability as a cultivator would decrease. If she artificially prolonged the battle, she might be seen as too weak for her cultivation, or worse: as an arrogant cultivator playing around with her prey. Common decency for high-ranked cultivators meant allowing lower-ranked opponents to display their skills, while also not looking down upon them. This contradiction always caused headaches for the teachers of high-ranked cultivators.

“Master, you’ll grow wrinkles if you keep making that face!” Mayrelle leaned forward and poked the space between Bassem’s brows. Smiling, she said, “Don’t worry! I already have plans. I definitely won’t let you down!” She made a manly pose, rolling back a sleeve and bending the arm as if trying to show off her muscles. Since she was such a slender and beautiful young girl, however, the action only served to show off the milky-pale, smooth skin of her arm.

Bassem couldn’t help but smile at the cheerful antics of his disciple, and reached out to pat her on the head. Another hand landed there before Bassem could reach it.

“Ah, little niece, you sure are shameless. Shouldn’t you roll down that sleeve before your brother catches you?” Joslyn stood behind Mayrelle, heartily patting her head, his handsome face gently smiling. Mayrelle was also smiling, each heavy thump causing her hair ornaments to jangle like they were caught in an earthquake.

“What~ It’s just an arm, uncle, don’t be such a prude. Master doesn’t think my arms are shameless, does he?” Mayrelle turned her wide sparkling eyes on Bassem.

“Of course not. There’s nothing shameless about my disciple,” Bassem said calmly. Though she was a bit childish sometimes, it was a good thing that she could enjoy her youth. The greater tragedy would be for her to grow old too soon on her long road of cultivation.

Mayrelle turned around to face Joslyn, her smile turning cold and triumphant. Joslyn clicked his tongue. Withdrawing his hand, he said carelessly, “Fine, fine. In any case, it’s time for us to set off. Little niece, do your best to represent Elder Bassem’s teachings, all right?”

“Of course, uncle. I would do that even without your saying so!”

Their two chilly gazes met, an intense energy sparking between them. Bassem felt the air turn inexplicably chilly and frowned. “Come, we should get moving,” he said, ushering the pair forward. They joined the rest of Mountain Ash, and after one last cheer, departed from the inn.

WSIH – Chaper Five: A Matter of Reputation

Yawn.

A brand new day. The sun peeked out of the horizon like a child under a blanket. Yulin steadily jogged through Lamane’s streets with me on his shoulder. Barely anyone was out besides the guards and a few vendors getting an early start at setting up their wares.

For Yulin, this was a perfect time for a morning jog.

Why must you be so full of energy? You’d just been beaten up yesterday, you know? Please sleep in more. I can’t keep up this healthy lifestyle.

When he had woken up this morning, Yulin had been completely bewildered. The moon had still been shining when he suddenly opened his eyes and sat up like a resurrected jiangshi, completely skipping the mm-I-should-go-back-to-sleep stage. The movement toppled me out of the snug corner of his neck and onto his lap, instantly waking me up too.

That type of falling should only happen in dreams. I really didn’t want to experience it in real life.

Yulin had held his arms up to his face and turned this way and that, checking over his freshly-healed body. His clearly confused expression showed that he had no idea how he had ended up back in the inn. He got off the bed and picked up his sword. Standing nearly naked in the moonlight, he channeled his spiritual energy through the sword as if testing whether or not yesterday’s events really happened.

Yup. Don’t worry, Yulin. They really happened.

Yulin quietly stood there. He pulled on his spare set of clothes, his old ones being mostly torn up by Harl’s attacks yesterday. Picking up his sword and me, he went for his morning run.

We had meandered through the dark streets. Eventually Yulin’s steps took him to the blue pagoda shrine. The surroundings were completely ravaged and blasted open, yet the shrine itself remained as pristine and elegant as ever. As expected of a shrine to Harl, even when no one comes it still exudes an oppressive aura. Yulin gave the stone serpent statues which guarded the shrine the evil eye and warily stepped forward.

Taking the sword in both hands, Yulin began posing and channeling energy. The way he moved his body reminded me of how Harl had moved while fighting yesterday. His motions weren’t as confident, and he was unable to bend reality around the sword like Harl had. Still, I was completely impressed that Yulin remembered enough of how Harl moved to imitate her. I completely didn’t remember how she looked.

Yulin practiced until the sun fully rose in the sky. Warm sunlight filled the air, swallowing the early morning’s chill. I happily poked out of my shell to bathe in the toasty light. Yulin looked up, dripping with sweat. He wrapped up the sword and slung it over his shoulder, heading back to the main part of the city. Passing by a few stalls on the way, Yulin bought a couple of meatbuns for breakfast. He had his second fight soon, so of course he needed to keep his energy up. He wasn’t at the level of cultivation where he could stop eating or drinking yet.

We sat under a tree, Yulin slowly munching on the buns as we watched more and more people flood the streets. A few streets away I sensed the cultivator market area growing densely populated. Since tomorrow the main competition started, everyone eagerly wanted to stock up on last-minute supplies or chat about the sects. I heard a lot of eager gossip about Clear Water and Ash Mountain Sects. Hmm. Since those two were so good, it would be awesome for my Yulin to get picked up by them! Healthy cultivation comes from a healthy environment, after all.

Do you hear that, Yulin? Do your best to attract a big sponsor! I patted his food-filled cheek with my head.


The outside world at noon was glaringly bright. Yulin and I waited inside Lamane Arena’s front lobby, wasting time until Yulin’s second match began. Today the Jade Sky group had come to watch. When they’d spotted Yulin, they cheerfully gave him words of encouragement before going outside to claim their spots.

The receptionist called Yulin up to the front. After checking in, Yulin exited the side gate for contestants and into the arena’s courtyard. Unlike yesterday, there wasn’t any ruckus. The crowd along the three sides was a bit larger – around 500 people this time – but still didn’t even fill the area even a quarter-way. I wonder if the crowd would be huge tomorrow, when the competition really started? Right now this audience was pretty sad.

“Heyyyy Yulin!! Fight!!” A booming voice erupted from the crowd. Yulin and I looked over to see Troy waving wildly, his enormous frame easily standing out from the people around him. Derrus and Vita next to him also waved. I sensed Lauran muttering somewhere in the back. What good kids! I happily waved my eyes tentacles back at them. Yulin nodded seriously and continued his way to his designated area.

Today’s opponent was another weakling. His cultivation was marginally higher, being early fourth rank. He also had sharper eyes and a deadlier aura than yesterday’s opponent. This type of man had probably killed a few people here and there. He wasn’t some bloodthirsty monster, though.

Yulin, taking a look at the man’s eyes, grew tense. Knowing that Yulin didn’t want to worry about me getting squished in the battle, I crawled down his body and plopped onto the floor.

I heard a faint strangled sound coming from the Jade Sky cultivators’ location.

“Nope, nope, if she’s gonna puke, point her in that direction.”

“Bucket, is there a bucket-”

“What’s with those kids…” The crowd of watchers moved away from the green-faced Vita, who was crouched with her hands over her mouth. Derrus knelt beside her, worriedly patting her back while sliding a container in front of her.

… That really hurts my feelings, you know.

I turned my attention back to Yulin. He held the sword in his hands, his solemn gaze locked onto his opponent. Yulin, you’re already going to try swordfighting? You only just started practicing this morning, you know? Yulin’s opponent, a solid-looking man in his 20s or 30s, also drew his sword. The ease with which he held his weapon showed that he already had plenty of experience using it.

The moderator indicated for them to start.

Yulin dashed forward. In a second he arrived in front of his opponent. He slashed, raw power surging out of his blade. The wave smashed against the stone floor; the man leapt out of the way, barely dodging. Yulin turned, keeping his front facing the man, but didn’t rush forward again. He quickly channeled energy back into the sword, charging it for another burst attack.

The man took the initiative. He struck toward Yulin, who blocked but was forced back a step. The man relentlessly continued his sword assault, not giving Yulin a chance to focus on preparing his sword attack. He could only sloppily run out of the way or hold up the sword to prevent the opponent from slicing his body.

Yulin, face darkening, forcefully blasted energy at his opponent the next time their blades crossed paths. The man flinched at the sting of the minor blast. Yulin took advantage of this split second to swing his sword up against the opponent’s neck.

No one moved.

“Winner, Su Yulin,” the moderator called in a bored tone. Yay! I knew Yulin would win.

Yulin nodded and withdrew. His opponent grimaced, head bent in shame, and quietly left the stage. I scoped out the audience’s reactions while Yulin walked over to pick me up.

For example, that pretty young girl over there, who was looking as if a toad had come up and asked her for a kiss.

Or that refined old man over here, who sighed like his deadbeat son had just returned begging for money.

… W-Wait a minute, what’s with those looks? Is it just me or are people even less impressed than they were yesterday?

The eyes looking at Yulin were exceedingly cold.

“What the hell was that?” I heard Troy mutter from afar. Derrus made a noise of assent.

From the third floor I heard an agonized groan. Further back, a person with a delighted careless voice said, “I never imagined it could get any worse! Bravo, little boy, bravo,” followed by slow clapping.

… I wanted to cry. Even though my Yulin is so hardworking, you want to mock him??

Get lost!

As Yulin left Lamane Arena, the hundreds of people behind him felt a stabbing pain in their bowels.


Having won in the preliminary, Yulin had the right to compete in the main competition. Without even taking a break to celebrate, he immediately headed to the pagoda shrine to practice his sword swings.

Meanwhile, I worried.

The reactions to both of Yulin’s matches were really, really bad so far. Going by the novels I read (which were all written by the most famous human immortals to reach the High Realm), people should be saying things like “How is that possible!” and “It can’t be… such a powerful person… Even though he was only a trash!” and stuff like that. Instead, people’s reactions were more…

At this rate, Yulin’s reputation would be sullied. If people considered him a joke, how would he have enough face to join a sect? This was a dire emergency! With Yulin’s future at stake, I couldn’t just sit around and let things go on.

I quickly composed a list of situations which could salvage Yulin’s reputation.

1) Have Yulin save Lamane City from a big invasion. For example, if I ordered a Saint-level magical beast to come stage an attack, and while everyone else is running away and getting squished, Yulin arrives and slices the beast to pieces! “Wow! That amazing Yulin was able to singlehandedly defeat a Saint Beast! He saved us all! Hurray for Yulin!!!” is what people would say.

Hmm. I thoroughly contemplated this plan. It has good drama and impact. However, there were several problems with it. Namely, a lot of people would probably have run away by the time Yulin won. Also, there was no guarantee that the human cultivators in the area wouldn’t come and make a mess of things.

2) Some influential cultivator vouches for Yulin. Like that young miss from yesterday who was all jingle-jangly. Since she was connected to that young and arrogant Saint, she must have a good position in some sect or another. I didn’t really want to, but I could probably seduce her with my body. See this beautiful snail shell! This frilly snail body! If you want to look at it every day, take Yulin into your sect! … … But in the end I can’t imagine myself ever saying that. Let’s shelve this option for now.

3) Have Yulin show off an amazing skill and completely beat up his next opponent.

Well, but isn’t Yulin already doing this kind of thing? I still don’t understand why people aren’t impressed with him even though he’s so cool and hardworking. I suppose it’s because he’s not being flashy enough. In the books, it’s all, “Chaos Blade!” and “Soaring through the heavens, Lightning Strike!” In that case, Yulin just needs to learn a few of those flashy moves and then people will look at him with proper respect.

But where is he supposed to learn that kind of thing? Isn’t some kind of amazing immortal mentor supposed to show up and guide him through his cultivation, teaching him incredible skills? Where is Yulin’s mentor?

I briefly thought about elder sister Harl. Ah, but instead of properly teaching him all she did was beat him up… It’s really too pitiful.

The sun had already set while I was thinking. Yulin stopped his practice, the woods around the shrine even more destroyed than before. Under the dim moonlight Yulin walked back to the inn while I drooped tiredly on his shoulder. All that thinking wore me out, and in the end I didn’t even come up with anything useful.

Halfway through our journey back I sensed some malevolent auras approaching. They belonged to some piddly fifth rank cultivators. What are you guys coming here with your ill intent for? I remotely gave each of them a punch in the stomach. My mood improved by the way they curled up like pillbugs.

Ahh, in the end, is it up to Yulin to decide his own future? Is there no place for a snail god like me to interfere? I sighed.

While Yulin went to sleep, I, for the first time in my life, stayed up at night.


After careful consideration, I came up with a plan.

I spread my godly sense across Lamane. I sought out the eighth-rank cultivator who praised Yulin’s potential the day before, and found him meditating in an upscale inn on the other side of town. That big ugly dumb Saint was there too, sprawled out and drinking wine on the rooftop. Humph! What a layabout.

Shifting to human form, I flew to the gilded and luxurious multi-floor inn. The cultivators staying here could only belong to wealthy sects. My resolve strengthened, I dove into the eighth-rank cultivator’s room through the window. The room’s aesthetic quality was the complete opposite of the barren and functional appearance of Yulin’s room. There were scrolls with paintings and carved room dividers and some kind of big jade pot in a corner.

The cultivator sat cross-legged in the middle of the bedroom, his eyes closed. Spiritual energy flowed languidly around him. He still had quite a ways to go before he could break into the ninth rank, but I saw that he trained diligently to get to where he was. Mm! I had a good feeling about him.

I stood very quietly out of his way.

Wait. I came here to talk to him.

I took a small step forward. The man’s thick eyebrows scrunched together in concentration.

I hastily moved back.

Ah, well. In cases like this I should call out to him first, right? I peeked at the human out of the corner of my eye. Memories of the last time I opened my mouth and spoke jumped out at me.

Urk!

Well, he’s training so earnestly right now. It’s rude to break someone’s concentration. Also, I don’t particularly want to be seen. Not even Yulin has seen my human form! How could I show it to some strange man whose name I don’t even know. Yeah, that’s right. It’s better not to talk to him. It’s not because I’m too afraid to speak or anything.

That decided, I rummaged around his room for materials. I couldn’t find any writing utensils, so I left his room and searched downstairs. At the back of the inn I found a locked office with a bunch of stuff like papers, books, tea leaves, and a hidden basement full of gold and jewels. I happily returned with my loot of a brush, a blank scroll, and inkstone.

I laid the scroll onto a desk and settled into a chair only a meter away from the meditating cultivator, and began the tedious process of grinding down the inkstone into usable ink. After a good few minutes, I was able to start writing my letter. I earnestly conveyed all of my emotions into the brushstrokes.

Phew!

After three hours, I finished writing a full page. Nodding to myself, I quietly passed the still-meditating cultivator and left the room without anyone noticing a thing.