"Go away I'm training."
Hearing the waspish tone, Xiao Ma silently scurried off back the way she had come. The little maid knew better than to disturb her mistress when she was in one of her moods.
Assuming the lotus position, Fen Ling closed her eyes and sought out her meridians with her consciousness then began to circulate her qi.
Today was her twelfth birthday, not that she cared at it. It would be spent in bitter training like any other day.
Fen Ling had dried her last tears two years ago, then thrown herself body and soul into a brutal cultivation regime. However, that traumatic day had carved scars across her heart and still haunted her nightmares.
Screaming and struggling as she was, Fen Ling had still seen the shame darkening her cherished brothers' faces as the watched her get snatched away. Her childhood heroes had been reduced to bystanders... Even now, the shame her brothers felt back then hurts her more than her own uncertain future.
While Jian ge-ge and Li ge-ge weren't here to guide her, their words remained writ forever in her mind. Brother Cheng had constantly said that in the jianghu, only power was important. Given sufficient power she could flee this hateful sect and return to her village. She missed her doting father and even her hands-on mother dreadfully. And her dear brothers of course... Unfortunately, true power was surprisingly hard to come by . Even after two gruelling years she found herself still somewhere near the bottom rung.
She'd arrived in the Misty Cloud Sect amidst much fanfare - one of only 14 new inner court inductees. Each had been officially presented with the secret sect cultivation method, then later with several specific techniques, each was tailored to either her wind or lightning affinity.
Her Dragon's Breath wind technique, while very basic, had proved to be a lot better than the Diamond Infusion Lightning method, which only allowed her to temporarily store small lightning shocks in certain metallic objects. This discrepancy between the effectivity of techniques was only natural, as the Misty Cloud Sect was founded on wind and earth methods and was not a lightning specialist sect.
A month ago, Fen Ling had broken through to tier five and her progress was widely considered to be pretty steady. To her dismay, she discovered her lightning attacks still couldn't kill, only hurt or stun the average adult. She was severely disappointed, as she'd hoped to be heading home soon, with her powers striking fear into any potential gainsayer. Sadly her erstwhile escape plan had become a long-term plan...
Her wind power, while eminently useful, didn't have a killing stroke either. At most she could lift several small objects or restrict an opponents movement somewhat. Mainly she used it to dry washing... Or smash vases when she was in a sulk...
The sole saving grace was, Fen Ling no longer had to learn letters, numbers or musical instruments, allowing her to focus solely on intense training. Her dedication had been duly noted by the higher ups and consequently, many cultivation resources had been shunted her way.
Fortunately, due to her shut-in status, her seething resentment had not been noted or even noticed at all. In fact, within the inner court she had somehow garnered a mysterious erratic genius reputation. The upper echelons never suspected she was a malcontent, as the details of her induction had long since been glossed over. Those three in the know assumed she would come around anyway. After all, thousands of youngsters would give an arm or leg to be sitting in her stead. A pampered inner court disciple with everything handed to her on a silver platter, which cultivator wouldn't want that? How could the Misty Cloud Sect know they had a disgruntled unicorn on their hands?
Sigh. It was all such a far cry from what Fen Ling wanted from life. She stood up and went to the cupboard to fetch the short wooden sword, she'd demanded upon arrival. She would practice her sword-work and get a good sweat up. Sword forms was the only thing that calmed her unsettled heart these days. She smiled recollecting the carefree days spent at the Rusty Creek stream. Such fun...
"Though Brother Cheng and Brother Feng would be no match for me now - I'm too fast! Especially if I push myself with my wind at my back... Or push them back with it..."
Hmm, maybe she should incorporate her affinity skills into her Slash and Dash sword form. That would be super fun! If she had a metal sword she could add a shock attack too! Brilliant!
Fen Ling knew her family and friends regarded as being impulsive and even a bit ditsy at times. But every now and then, like a bolt out of the blue she'd have a stroke of brilliance. She also had enough horse sense to realise that this was one such moment. - Slash and Dash was about to evolve into Push and Shock!
Hmm... She thought a moment more.
"Xiao shi-mei, come quickly," she called out in her most imperious tone.
An eleven year-old girl rushed into the room a few seconds later She was none other than Xiao Ma, the only other girl accepted as a disciple at the Rusty Creek qi testing ceremony. While only a tier two water affinity at that time and destined for the outer court, Fen Ling had insisted she accompany her into the inner court as a maid.
In this whole stinking sect, Fen Ling only felt she could only trust those from her own small village. The younger girl had thrived within the superior qi of the inner court too. Little Xiao was now closing in on tier four and a breakthrough was imminent. She'd also been taught sword work to accompany her mistress in training, thus over the years she had become a trusted confidante.
"Xiao-Xiao, tell elder Zhu I require a top notch quigong agility technique.. And a metal sword... Or I'll cripple my cultivation!"
Fen Ling stamped her foot to show what a little madam she was.
"You used 'cripple your cultivation' last time, you should threaten to flee into the demonic beast forests... You haven't used that one for a while."
"Fine," Fen Ling smiled ruefully. "Shimei knows me too well."
"Oh little Xiao, one more thing. Be sure to tell master Zhu that I know my swords, so don't skimp on materials or be stingy with the price. Also, I don't care if it's pretty, just effective!"
Had an angel had fallen from the heavens? A moment ago, Jian Chen had warily approached the area of the meteor landing. Surprisingly a frustrated voice had risen out from the still smoking ruins . As he neared the hole of crash site itself, the voice became more coherent...
"Dammit! I've lost my ring."
Hmm, maybe not an angel... As Jian Cheng crept forward to investigate further, his boot clipped a small stone that skittered across the rocky ground emitting a cheerful metallic chime. He leaned forward and could see it wasn't a stone at all, but a small silver signet ring, featuring a scowling turtle design in the centre. Intrigued he bent to pick it up. After all the disappointments he'd experienced in recent years, the boy knew all too well that pies don't fall from the sky. This calibre of treasure was clearly the ring the Angel of the Pit was seeking.
He summoned up his courage to approach the smoky hole, desperately hoping it wouldn't become his shallow grave.
"Um, esteemed senior are you well?"
"Ahh hail young hero, greetings unto you." A dishevelled yet muscular teen gazed up at him with a pale face, but friendly eyes. "Actually I'm not well, I'm injured from battle and now my confounded ring has gone missing."
Encouraged by the response, Jian Cheng held out his hand. "This one has coincidentally found a ring, could it perhaps be the one senior seeks?"
"Hah, excellent." In a flash the ring a thin atream of water shot out and somehow sucked the ring out of Jian Cheng's palm before retreating back onto the teen titian's ring-finger and disappearing. Within another second the senior before him was crunching on a bunch of pills. Apparently they were the approximate texture and - judging by his sour expression - taste of chalk. Where they had came from was beyond him... It was so awesome!
After swallowing with a n audible gulp and a noticeable retch, the thickset teenager hauled himself out of the shoulder height hole with a groan and lurched unsteadily to his feet. Clutching at his side, he stumbled awkwardly towards a small rise and sat down on a waist-high rock ledge with a grimace.
After a minute of ragged breathing, he looked up and ruefully smiled at Jian Cheng still waiting back by the hole. Then the smile froze into a frown as his thick brow furrowed in anger. Jian Cheng felt the fear of god come over him. This expert was at least at the jidan stage, far above the Misty Sect elders he'd met. It seemed he'd offended the senior somehow and was a dead man. A dead ant more like... The teen's steely gaze locked on to him and the stern mouth below moved. Only one word came out:"Run!"
Jian Cheng ran. He ran hell for leather up the nearest hill, never looking back once.
His frantic fingers scrabbled for holds as he scrambled desperately up the cliff-face towards the relative safety of the clifftop. Seconds later, chest heaving he lay on his back staring at the stars in the heavens blinking back at him. all the while sucking in throat-scarring frosty gasps of air. After a minute he'd recovered enough to roll onto his side and survey the strange scene below.
In the interim of his flight, a second elder had arrived out of thin air and the two were clearly not on friendly terms In fact, they appeared to be mortal - or maybe immortal - enemies as an epic battle ensued before Jian Cheng's unbelieving eyes.
The elder elder held up his hand and golden lightning spewed forth like a gigantic clutch of straw stabbing toward the already injured teen. An ice wall appeared to block the golden bolts, then the teen replied in kind with a hail of jagged ice daggers. However, walls of sheet lightning sprung forth surrounding the second expert's body stymieing the vicious ice assault.
To and fro the two exchanged blows, sparking a sparkling but deadly fireworks display. For several minutes straight, energetic attacks met sturdy defence. Back and forth they went wearing each other down, until finally the youth collapsed in a tangled heap on the ledge. The elder elder was clearly exhausted too, but seemed to be summoning up enough energy to deliver a killing stroke.
High above, Jiang Cheng realised he was so far below the capacities of these two titanic talents that it wasn't funny. indeed he felt like crying...
He also felt sorry for the teenager facing imminent extinction. He'd seemed to be a good person. He'd even deemed to save Jian Cheng's little life by sending him fleeing away... If he was strong, he would help this elder brother.... Sigh. A lack of power was the bane of his pitiful existence...
Unwilling, he clenched his fists, maybe he could still do something?