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.”
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.
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.”