Time passed and life at the Rising Fist sect continued without significant changes. Bai Chen slowly began to recover to Lin Xue's relief, but he didn't return to his usual self. Most of Bai Chen's time was actually spent on consciously cultivating. Unlike in Lin Xue's case, this only increased his cultivation speed by a small but not insignificant amount. While Lin Xue was already tackling the barrier to the 11th stage of Qi Gathering, Bai Chen had just reached the 8th stage. On the other hand, Lin Xue was slowly attracting the attention of various elders and disciples within the sect.
To their surprise it seemed that the longer Lin Xue cultivated, the easier it became for him which was mind-boggling for them. Normally the speed slows down significantly in the higher stages, simply because the required Qi for the next stage increases exponentially. Yet instead of slowing down Lin Xue's cultivation became easier with each passing day.
On top of that, the two had begun participating in the Ranking Competitions each month. Bai Chen did fairly poorly and could barely contend with the lower ranks. Any trace of his previous aggressive fighting style had disappeared, instead, it looked like he was mimicking Lin Xue's movement by staying on the defense. However, Bai Chen neither had the necessary experience nor the talent and patience Lin Xue had for this particular fighting style.
Contrarily, Lin Xue quickly became known as a rising star by most disciples within the sect. Not only his fast progression in cultivation but also his fighting prowess became a hot topic of debate and numerous rumors spread across the sect. Even some elders had taken notice of him and reevaluated his Innate Talent Rank but there was no change. Confused they asked him some more questions but no matter what Lin Xue said they all dismissed it as nonsense and wondered what secret medicine he was hiding. If it was only his talent in cultivation then that would have made him quite popular but not to this extent. There was also his ranking within the Ranking Competition. Lin Xue fought himself into the top two hundred among thousands of Qi Gathering disciples. This ranking alone might not be too impressive but there was something else.
Except for Hao Yu whom he had yet to fight, there was not a single disciple who was able to win against Lin Xue in close combat. As disciples of the Rising Fist sect close combat was obviously their forte yet they could not overcome Lin Xue's defenses. Therefore his fights mostly ended in a draw since Lin Xue likewise didn't have a lot of methods to decide the outcome of the fight on his own and as long as it was a draw, the challenger wouldn't replace the challenged in the rankings. The Ranking Competition was fairly simple. As long as your own rank was below the others you could challenge anyone you want. Everyone had to accept any challenge until you participated in 5 challenges and the order of challenges were decided by first come first serve. After the Competition was over at the end of the month, resources were handed out from the sect according to your ranking.
Techniques for Qi Gathering disciples didn't really exist and were mostly a collection of fighting styles that would collide with what they had already learned. Neither of them was particularly skilled in the use of weaponry and therefore opted for some medicines for now. They wouldn't ingest them as their teacher had told them but if nothing else they could be sold for money when the need would arise.
“You have to predict and get a feeling for where the strike is headed.” Lin Xue explained to Bai Chen. They were at the backyard of their lodging that was an open field with enough space for numerous disciples to practice and spar.
Lin Xue didn't know why but Bai Chen was apparently serious about changing his fighting style. Although he provided some decent guidance it didn't seem to work out for Bai Chen.
“Feel the contact and rely on that to redirect the strike. Your eyes are too slow to follow and your sense of touch allows for a much faster reaction. Keep in mind your own and your opponent's center of gravity. It gives you the hints to where you can direct the attacks without using your own strength while at the same time exposing your opponent's flaws...” Lin Xue stopped at that point. This was where his own flaws lied the most. He was able to throw his opponents but he seemed to lack force behind his punches to properly exploit the advantages he created. This also resulted in the stalemates he was now famous for within the entire sect. His rank was now solidified at 64, yet unable to rank any further and at the same time avoided by all challengers, this number became a trademark of his.
“Sure sounds complicated...” Bai Chen mumbled as the two went through some slow training exercises that helped using your leverages when making contact with the opponent. There was less need of your own strength if you could properly use your arm as a lever to guide the force away. This was also further increasing the difficulty of parrying attacks as you had to choose the right point of contact and for each attack, there was only a single chance.
“Sigh... Third Brother I know you don't want to tell me but is this really necessary? If you fight as usual, even with your cultivation base you would surely rank high enough.”
However, Bai Chen only shook his head and the two continued their exercises until the day ended.
“Hao Yu has disappeared?” On the next day, Lin Xue asked Huang Yun with surprise who brought him the news. Although Huang Yun was a personal disciple of an elder, he wasn't well-liked by most of the common disciples. Apparently, it had something to do with his incessant need to fight someone but Lin Xue didn't have any of these troubles. In turn, Huang Yun spent most of his time with Bai Chen and Lin Xue as long as his teacher wasn't forcing him to cultivate or do other chores.
“Yeah, rumors say that he is breaking through to the Foundation Establishment stage. That's why the sect master not only put him into secluded meditation but also assigned numerous Core Formation elders for his protection.”
“Foundation Establishment...” Lin Xue mumbled with a sense of longing.
“What are you sighing for? If you keep this up you'll catch up to him in no time. I, on the other hand, am still stuck at the 8th stage. Sometimes I don't know if I should be glad about this body or not.” Huang Yun complained about his circumstances before continuing.
“Anyhow, you can forget about challenging him any time soon. With all these resources thrown at him, he will definitely succeed. You could potentially still challenge him then, but this breakthrough might take up to an entire five years! Imagine being stuck inside a cave for this long at our age... The talented sure can be lonely sometimes.”
The three continued into the arena where the Ranking Competition of this month was held. As expected Lin Xue didn't have any challenges. Bai Chen was barely able to keep his place within the top three hundred and had to fight an entire five fights that he barely won or stalled long enough to let it end in a draw.
Huang Yun too had to fight five fights as his lower cultivation base still seemed to be a weakness in the eyes of some unknowledgeable ones. Without much problems, he easily kept his place within the top five.
Thus their uneventful life continued in the Rising Fist sect, existing of days of training by themselves. Although Lin Xue had garnered some attention, the interested elders were forbidden to interact with him too much and Lin Xue used most of his time to gain experiences of all kinds.
“Mei!!” A furious shout out echoed through the mountain but she didn't show any signs of stopping. Her tall figure darted through the trees and soon enough she left the small forest through the entrance. Her long ponytail fluttered in the wind and with a dazzling smile she sped off into the distance. After two years, the first signs of puberty were visible but it was still in the early stages. On the other hand, Mei had gone through a big growth spurt. Nevertheless, there wasn't much change to her babyface that still showed her immaturity and revealed her real age.
While Mei was switching between running and short bursts of flights close to the ground on her flying sword, Yi Fu was unable to catch up. Unlike her other swords, this one seemed quite different. The hilt was beautifully decorated with an azure snake that intertwined itself around the hilt. The lustrous sword reflected the sunlight like a stainless mirror but if one paid close attention, they could see a faint azure mist covering the surface of the sword.
“I'm sorry, Senior Brother Yi Fu! But I urgently need this Starlight Drunken Rose! I'll repay you later!” Mei's voice sounded out, distorted by the speed she was traveling at. Reluctantly Yi Fu could only look at her disappearing back while lamenting his misfortune.
Within moments Mei appeared in front of the mansion on the top of the mountain. From the outside, it could barely be considered a mansion as it was covered in vegetation. Vines crawled the walls of the building and everywhere you looked, flowers spread out like weed. Quickly she entered the interior where a small pot was boiling over a fire.
“I hope this works...” She mumbled to herself and threw the shining rose into the pot before closing the lid again. After exactly two minutes had passed, she opened the lid to look at the results.
“Success!” She happily exclaimed at the mixture of white and green broth inside the pot. The two liquids were separated from each other as if a wall was blocking them from mixing. Focusing her mind, she put her hands close enough to the pot and her Qi entered through the manufactured openings of the pot. As drops of sweat flowed down her face the broth churned and a small whirlpool was created through the influence of her Qi. Step by step the liquid seemed to become less and less until only a tenth of the previous amount was left. With a low grunt more Qi streamed into the pot and the final process was done. The sound of cracking echoed out and a pill became visible after the entire liquid had been condensed into a small spot.
“I think only you could concoct pills like that.” Su Hui's voice echoed out from behind her. When Su Hui stood next to Mei, her growth in the last two years became clearly visible. Su Hui who used to be an entire head taller was now directly staring Mei in the eyes when the two stood up straight. If it wasn't for her unchanging face, it would be hard to tell that Su Hui was three years older. Whether it was Su Hui who was a late bloomer or Mei that was an early bloomer didn't matter but Su Hui was almost jealously unhappy at Mei's rapid growth.
“Big Sis! Here for you!” Mei handed over the newly created pill that was shining with a silver luster. “It will help your skin. You always complain that lately, Senior Su Zhi doesn't give you time to take care of it.”
With a smile Su Hui unceremoniously accepted the pill while looking at the young woman in front of her.
“Two years passed by in a flash. What did you eat that made you grow that fast... Ah, where did my cute little sister go...” Su Hui lamented with a pout on her face and patted her on the head. “I just broke through to the 13th stage and I'm still far from the next breakthrough yet father is on my heels day and night.”
“You can't blame Senior Su Zhi. After all, you have to properly prepare yourself when you try to break through to the Foundation Establishment stage.” Mei said with a trace of loneliness on her face.
“I know, I know...” Su Hui answered while noticing her change in attitude. “Don't worry I'm sure I won't need an entire five years. We'll meet soon enough again. You need to take care of yourself properly during that time.” Mei nodded meekly and didn't show any signs of cheering up.
“Aren't you happy that you'll meet your brothers and teacher again? I talked with father and I'll accompany you with him to see you off properly.” Su Hui tried to pacify her by taking her into a gentle embrace.
Unbeknownst to them, a small black cat had sneaked its way inside. Eventually, Mei noticed Yanyan and exclaimed in surprise when she looked at what it held in its mouth.
“Yanyan! Where did you get that?” But before she could further examine the item between its mouth, the answer came storming through the door.
“Mei!! I told you to look after that Demonic Beast's behavior!” Song Shi said fuming with anger.
“So what if he took some incense sticks, also she is called Yanyan!” Mei flared up in complete contrast to her usual attitude. What Yanyan was currently gnawing on was the exact same medicine Su Zhi had given her when she was injured during the competition.
“S-so what!? The sect master, Su Hui and now even you! One day the two of you will be the ruin of the entire Sword Spirit sect!” Song Shi was beside herself with anger but she realized that there was nothing she could do. Now there were two grown-up princesses that the sect master doted upon. Apparently, after Mei revealed some more of her abilities, Su Zhi even gifted her a low-level Heavenly treasure! What audacity! The entire upper echelon was against this decision but he simply ignored them completely. There were only an entire five treasures inside the entire sect, three of which were wielded by the Nascent Soul elders yet he just gifted one to a Qi Gathering disciple!
When met with the opposition that Mei would never be able to use it until she was stronger years later, they decided it with a simple bet. As long as Mei could gain control of the sword within half a year's time it would belong to her.
At the beginning, she wasn't too thrilled about spending an entire six months cooped up in quarantine because she could hurt someone. When she infused her Qi into the sword she realized what it meant to control a true treasure. Her Qi inside the sword immediately scattered into numerous pieces and out of her control. To Su Zhi's relief, this ignited her fighting spirit and with immense concentration, she willingly went into secluded training. After she finally prevented the Qi from scattering inside the sword with all of her focus, she encountered the next problem and realized why she was put into quarantine in the first place.
The room she was in was split into two different areas, separated by a wall of Qi-enforced glass where behind the sword lay. Her Qi passed through the glass as if it wasn't there and when she tried to make sword fly it went completely out of her control and slashed its surrounding apart. If it wasn't for the fortified surroundings, this would have created utter chaos.
As it turned out, the sword was void of a single center of gravity. Instead, an unimaginable amount of intangible centers were spread unevenly across the sword according to Mei's senses. Unless she was able to uphold the balance with all of the centers, she would be unable to levitate it off the ground. That was even without considering making it move delicately according to your control and the outside factors influencing every single center. It took her an entire three months to have it barely lift off the ground. While she was unsatisfied with the results, the upper echelon cried out in astonishment when they received the news. Unfortunately, Su Zhi would never let them go back on their bet.
After the six months were over, Mei was deemed to have won the bet but even after further training she still felt uncomfortable with this newly acquired toy. Nowadays she could use it to make only the simplest of movements and it allowed her to fly on the sword for a short period of time despite her cultivation base being stagnant at the beginning of the 9th stage.
After letting off some more steam, Song Shi left the mansion. While she would be reimbursed by the sect it was still a hassle to go through the formalities. Although the shenanigans of Su Hui and now including Mei were widespread throughout the sect, they needed to check thoroughly to who was lying. Else anyone would just pin the blame of some 'lost item' on the two of them to get some more resources. This created an incredible headache for the organization staff which was by now the most dreaded job for Qi Gathering disciples.
The two girls giggled without a care in the world and until the night arrived they spent the time watching the sunset on the flower-covered roof of the mansion.
“I'll really miss you, Big Sis...” Mei said, her voice filled with reluctance.
“It's not goodbye just yet, I'll accompany you to the City of Dream to properly see you off. Are you excited about meeting them again?” Su Hui giggled while she was combing Mei's long hair.
“Of course! I wonder if they have changed...”
After not having seen each other for two years Mei was also filled with a little apprehension.
'What if they forgot about me?'
“I bet not as much as you did. When they'll see you I'm certain that they won't be able to take their eyes off you.”
“Stop teasing me, Big Sis!” Mei answered, her face flushed red.
“Hehe! Don't be like that, Mei. You need to tell your Big Sis if you need any help.”
“It's not like that,” Mei replied more calmly this time. “Bai Chen and Lin Xue are my brothers. My family. Of course, Teacher is also a part of it and... you too, Big Sis.”
Su Hui gently smiled in response and finished combing Mei's hair before standing up.
“Come, Mei. Father told me to show you something. It will be my early parting gift.”
Curiously Mei looked over to Su Hui who had gained some distance. Then ten swords appeared in the air and took a formation she was very familiar with.