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The day was bright and sunny. Tigu stood on the roof, her eyes peeled as she watched the horizon.

 

“Still watching for Jin?” Gou Ren asked as he clambered up onto the roof.

 

“Yeah.” She said, before sitting down and sighing. “I don’t think Master is gonna be here.”

 

Gou Ren looked to the horizon too, before he reached over and ruffled her hair. “He must’ve got stuck in the city, or held up by something. Maybe Bi De ran into a bunch of bandits again and he had to take care of them.”

 

“Like bandits could stop Master.” Tigu scoffed.

 

“Even if he's not here, Yun has plenty of pictures. You can show off your fights and tell him everything that happened.” Gou Ren said.

 

Tigu leaned into him and nodded her head before springing up. “You’re right! I shall tell him a tale that far eclipses Wa Shi’s! Of my battles with strong opponents, and the greatest feat of all, finding a woman worthy of you!”

 

Gou Ren coughed. “You hardly found her…”

 

“I have already defeated the Blade of Grass in this battle, so today is merely a formality! Damp Pond may ask Master and Mistress for your hand when she gathers her courage. I shall allow it!”

 

“Shouldn’t she be asking my parents—Wait, only guys are supposed to do that!”

 

“Really?” She asked before shrugging. “Huh.”

 

“Shaddap and come down. Food is done,” he grumbled.

 

Tigu smirked and skipped after him. The house was pretty empty save for Ri Zu and Yun Ren. Ri Zu was making notes while Yun was carefully polishing his recording crystal. He even had some expensive oil he had brought, using the money he had from selling his images. It made the piece of blue crystal almost glow.

 

The Blade of Grass was in the main manor with the Petals. They claimed there was a “conflict of interest” to sleep under the same roof that night, which was a bit of a shame. Tigu had to content herself with sleeping with Yun Ren, even though Xiulan was the better pillow.

 

She would have gone with Gou Ren, her second choice, but Damp Pond had stayed quite late, forcing his head into her lap. Though it was less forced this time. Gou Ren appeared to have given up resisting.

 

She ate her meal and went back up to the roof.

 

The time until the last fight passed unbearably slowly. She kept an eye on the paths into town, but nobody showed up. The rest of the time she stared out at the crowds and at the peak.

 

The waiting itself was worse than what was waiting for her. She knew what fighting Xiulan was like. This? This was just annoying. So she distracted herself. She played games with Gou Ren, and listened to Ri Zu talk about Misty Boy’s leg, as the sun rose higher in the sky.

 

Finally, it was time. She had been instructed to go to the east side of town… where a surprise was waiting for her.

 

She knew that the Blade of Grass would be escorted by her sect to the mountain for the last time, but she had expected to be alone.

 

Instead, those that had been “sectless” at the beginning of the tournament were arranged as an honor guard for her. Several clapped her on the back. Others nodded firmly at her. They closed their ranks, forming a circle of nineteen. A mix of rough clothes and silk. Blues and browns, and violets, with every color represented.

 

“The first independent in the finals in one thousand and twenty four years.” The man, wearing the tournament organizer uniform, whispered to her. “We had to dig through the archives for the proper protocols.”

 

Loud Boy smirked as he hefted the flag, the symbol for Azure Hills upon it.

 

Tigu kept her head held high as she walked through the streets. People howled and cheered her on, and she waved occasionally at them with a smile on her face. It was fun, and it drove them wild when she did it.

 

She was paraded through the streets to the mountain itself. The sun was at its zenith as she entered the yawning cavern and proceeded to the lift.

 

It was silent initially, save for the clanking of the chains as they rose higher and higher before Tigu stepped out of the lift.

 

And stepped into a cacophony just as loud as the entrance ceremony.

 

There were people in the stands shouting her name. Blue Man’s Tattooed people stomped their feet. Handsome Man’s friends slammed their hammers into their anvils, Handsome Man himself pounding out a truly thunderous beat on three separate pieces of metal.

 

Rags’ hooligans and ruffians let out howling whoops, somehow managing to make themselves heard.

 

Tigu’s head twisted from side to side as she waved at everybody, provoking more laughter and cheers.

 

This was fun!

 

In contrast to Tigu, Xiulan was doing that boring “head held high” thing she did. Her eyes were focused solely on Tigu.

 

Both groups came to a pause. The Petals in their uniforms stood across from the sectless. It was a contrasting image. The single block against the wild styles of the independents.

 

They stared each other down across the arena. Tigu may have been their adversary at one point, but to many she was suddenly proof that they, despite their lack of backing, could rise up as high as Tigu.

 

Tigu stopped waving, staring only at the Blade of Grass.

 

A hint of a challenging smile appeared on her face.

 

Tigu grinned back.

 

The flags were once more planted under the banner of the Empire.

 

Announcerman, Bai Huizong, stepped onto the dais. His grin stretched across his entire face. One of his men had a recording crystal out, staring intently at them.

 

Tigu waved to that too.

“Honoured Guests. Honoured combatants. Thank you for coming. Before the final bout, we do have some last rituals to take care of…”

 

========================================

 

“Sorry.” Gou Ren called, as he bumped into somebody. He kept a firm grip on his prizes.

 

“Sorry.” the other guy apologized, his hands out and ready to catch any of Gou Ren’s stuff should it fall. Gou Ren jerked his head down the stairs, and the other guy nodded, scooting back a bit and letting him pass, before walking towards the vendor himself.

 

Gou Ren squeezed past another person as he headed back to his seat. After the flags had been planted, there was a brief intermission, as the rest of the people filed out of the arena and went to their seats, and Tigu and Xiulan had been sent to meditate, as one last chance to prepare themselves. Gou Ren had used that to get a bit more food and drink—mostly because their collection of seatmates had steadily grown… and they might not be able to get anything later.

 

If the stands had been crowded previously, they were absolutely jam-packed today. It was a sea of people. More people than Gou Ren ever saw at one time in the city. The talking and shouting was even more than at the opening ceremony, a droning buzz that echoed out over the arena.

 

After a few more awkward dodges, he reached the section where they were seated.

 

He handed over drinks to Bowu and Rags’ friends, who were teaching the kid several words that probably shouldn’t be used in polite company. He sat at his seat beside Xianghua who had claimed the spot beside him. She smiled warmly at him, and entwined their arms. Something that made Gou Ren’s face heat up.

 

He still didn’t know quite how he felt about Xianghua. She was a bit strange, and a little intimidating, but anybody who loved their brother that much couldn’t be a bad person.

 

So he just “went with the flow” as Jin had suggested once.

 

And the flow had a pretty girl smiling at him, asking him earnestly about his home, and listening intently about how to grow rice.

 

For all that she shouted and boasted, she was surprisingly good at listening. Though she did get a rather intense expression on her face, like she was committing what he said completely to memory.

 

Gou Ren glanced at the top of the arena, where what looked to be a bunch of the fights were replaying themselves in mid air. And not just the fights from this tournament. There were people who Gou Ren had never seen before smashing into each other. Were they previous fights? As he watched the strange illusion fuzzed out and stopped, to angry boos from the crowd.

 

His brother, on the other side of Xianghua, clicked his tongue in annoyance.

 

Gou Ren’s attention wandered around the arena. Massive braziers had been lit, and he was rather glad they were up so high, because otherwise the summer heat combined with the flames would have been unbearable. Instead, it provided just enough warmth to keep away the chill.

 

Gou Ren noticed movement from the corner of his eye and looked over at the approaching people. Gou Ren scooted over, pressing into Xianghua as Rags, Loud Boy, and a few other people who had been with Tigu finished making their way up into the stands. An Ran and the rest of the Petals would be up in the Verdant Blade Box for this one. Loud Boy grinned appreciatively at Gou Ren as he handed over a baozi.

 

“Thanks, Brother.” The kid said, before shoving his food into his mouth, and chewing loudly. He stared excitedly down at the arena. “Who do you think will win?” Loud Boy suddenly asked, as he shoved himself into the seat beside Gou Ren.

 

Gou Ren paused, and considered. “I think Xiulan? I’ve never really seen them go all out on each other, but I know Tigu has won a couple of times before she managed to transfor—er complete one of her moves.”

 

“So… she has a chance?” Loud Boy asked.

 

“Maybe? I’ve certainly seen her shove Xiulan’s head into the pond enough times…”

 

Abruptly, there was a hiss, as Bai Huizong stepped onto the crystal dias and tapped on it. The talking started to peter out.

 

“My friends, my friends. Honoured Guests. Honoured Combatants. It is time. Our combatants are now prepared.”

 

The crowd grew quiet.

 

“What a tournament it has been. A tournament that will be spoken of for generations. A battle for the ages. And now… “

 

The man clapped his hands together. The sound thundered out.

 

“On the east side! The relentless, unyielding Rou Tigu! The dark horse of the tournament! The little monster who came out of nowhere, and has taken the tournament by storm!”

 

Tigu sprung to her feet, seeming to be glad the meditation was over. Her body practically vibrated with energy.

 

“On the west side! Cai Xiulan! The Demon Slaying Orchid! The Young Mistress of the Verdant Blade Sect!”

 

Xiulan’s steps were more measured, moving with a grace that Gou Ren didn’t know was possible before he met her.

 

They approached each other in the center of the ring—

 

And bowed without prompting from Huizong, who nodded his head.

 

“We can expect an honorable fight from these two, there is no question about that! But that is enough from me. The Elders are prepared. The stage is set. Combatants, to your positions!”

 

Both girls walked a few paces from each other, and stood across from each other. Xiulan’s swords floated up behind her.

 

“Look at your rival! Your fated opponent! Let them know your strength!”

 

Xiulan’s lips quirked into a smirk, and she said something to Tigu that Gou Ren couldn’t make out, but it got Tigu rolling her eyes so hard he could see it from here. Xiulan took an obvious breath, and closed her eyes.

 

Qi flowed from her. It flowed around her, saturating the air, and becoming almost solid. With the blades pointing towards the heavens, and the light of the sun above her, it looked like a gateway to a small field. The Azure Hills in high summer, bright green, verdant grass that stretched for thousands of Li. For a brief moment, the grass and blades waved in the breeze, seeming almost peaceful.

 

Until Xiulan opened her eyes and the grass stilled. Each blade of grass was ready for what was to come. Not just a person, but a landscape, ready for battle.

 

A tiger formed behind Tigu. It slunk into view. Instead of the mass of furious, dominating Qi that had characterized her spirit in other matches, the tiger was silent. Hazy and shrouded. Its blazing eyes were intent, focused solely on Xiulan. Its haunches coiled and tense. A predator on the hunt.

 

There was silence. The man in the crystal podium looked up to the top of the arena, where the massive gong sat, and raised his hand.

 

Gou Ren looked up with him.

 

Instead of a couple hundred men with chains, there were barely thirty. Gou Ren recognized one of them—Xiulan’s father. The Master of the Verdant Blade Sect. The rest were unknown to him, but they were mostly old men. Yet instead of the gasping, grunting masses who normally pulled back the giant piece, the men who stood atop the arena moved with ease and grace. Thirty pulled back with only one hand a piece on their burden. The striker, etched with characters from millenia past, burned. Each ancient character lit up one by one, spreading down the single massive piece of wood like blue fire.

 

“Let the final match of the Dueling Peaks Tournament—” Bai Huizong thundered while throwing his raised hand down. “Begin!”

 

The elders thrust the piece forward. It swung, a battering ram that would surely shatter any castle’s walls in a single blow.

 

For a brief moment Gou Ren was worried that the gong would break as it was struck. But instead, the gong too lit up.

 

The thunderous peal made the entire arena shake. It was a perfect, clear note. The sound roared down from the peak into the hills beyond. And as the note held, ancient runes around the arena lit up, carvings that had been dormant glowed. The braziers and torches burned blue, reflecting the flaming runes. The barriers around the arena were visible for a brief moment as the peal of the gong reverberated and doubled back on itself until it felt like the entire world was drowned out. It made Gou Ren’s heart thunder in his chest and he could feel it in his bones. Beside him, his brother had lowered his recording crystal amazement plain on his face. Loud Boy and Rags were gaping with open mouths. Others had their hands on their chests as the gong resonated within each and every one of them.

 

Slowly, the long drawn out tone faded into silence. And in the last fading note, the battle began.

 

[Verdant Blade Sword Arts: Thirty-Two Blades of Grass]

 

[Claw Arts: Tenfold Reaping Blades]

 

Xiulan’s swords shot forwards like arrows loosed from a bow. A forest of blades aiming to end the fight instantly.

 

Tigu dropped to all fours.

 

Her sandals had already been kicked off. Her fingers and toes digging into stone.

 

Tigu exploded into motion. She threw herself into a storm made of blurs of green.

 

Gou Ren remembered the care with which Guo Daxian had to navigate the blades of grass. The cuts that formed at the slightest touch. The crowd gasped as Tigu slammed into the blades attempting to impede her path.

 

Tigu caught some of the blades on her flesh. They skittered off, drawing lines on her skin, while others penetrated deeper and drew blood. But her assault carried her through.

 

Xiulan was forced to dodge. No, not merely to dodge, but to block. Qi blades clanged into Xiulan’s jade-green ones, a shriek of metal on metal that sent Xiulan skidding backwards slightly. But to clash had never been Tigu’s intent. She scythed past Xiulan, keeping ahead of some of the blades that had wheeled around to follow her, and attempted to strike her from behind.

 

That was her plan, or at least the one Tigu had told him. She got talkative when she was bored, and now Gou Ren knew rather more about Xiulan’s fighting style than he ever expected. Tigu was faster than Xiulan’s swords—albeit barely. She had to keep moving. She had to burn energy, to stay one step ahead of defeat.

 

Tigu landed. The air screamed in protest. She spun around too fast to see, closing from another angle, and smashed into Xiulan’s defense like Chun Ke. A living battering ram of Qi blades and muscle.

 

She slashed past Xiulan once, twice, three times, cratering the ground wherever she landed and ricocheting off, searching for an opening.

 

“And for the first time, somebody manages to press the Demon Slaying Orchid!” The announcer called to the cheers of the crowd. “A realm behind, and still putting up a fight!”

 

But she was not idle.

 

Xiulan was as calm as ever. Each pass, she adjusted. Each time Tigu slammed into her, she blocked. Her eyes were calculating. She seemed to press a bit more at each pass.

 

Until on the forth pass, she stepped into the strike. Blades deflected Tigu’s assault. A fist hammered into Tigu’s stomach. The smaller girl gagged, and slammed into the arena floor. She bounced from the impact, flipping to her feet.

 

Both women paused for a moment, assessing their opponent. Xiulan raised a delicate eyebrow.

 

Tigu’s face split into a savage smile. Xiulan smiled back, amusement dancing in her eyes.

 

“And this set of rapid exchanges is just the warm up—” Bai Huizong shouted. “My friends, we are in for a treat!”

 

The markings on Tigu’s face seemed to feather and turn jagged. Her muscles flexed and hardened. Gou Ren grimaced. It almost made her look like she had been skinned alive when she did that. No fat. No softness. Just muscle. A predator through and through. The look in her yellow eyes as she focused on Xiulan made his spine tingle.

 

Tigu moved. Xiulan met her.

 

And Gou Ren stopped being able to fully follow the fight.

 

Qi blades met Xiulan’s swords in peals of rolling thunder. Her hands blurred as she thrust forwards, trying to get inside Xiulan’s guard as the taller woman deflected the blows. Jade blades crept up behind Tigu, laying a trap. They surged forwards from Tigu’s blind spots, and Gou Ren thought that was the end—

 

[Claw Arts: Crescent Hunter!]

 

The blades this time formed on Tigu’s heels like a rooster’s spurs as she threw herself into a flipping kick. A ring of energy surrounded her, blasting the swords backwards. Xiulan was clearly surprised— and even more surprised at the foot that hammered into her jaw, snapping her head backwards.

 

“And the Demon-Slaying Orchid takes a solid blow! A powerful hit! The first time in the tournament she has truly been touched! Rou Tigu does the impossible!” Huizong shouted, spurring the crowd into a frenzy.

 

“Ha! You dare try that one on me?!” Tigu shouted gleefully, loud enough to be heard over the roar of the crowd, as she threw herself forward again, intent on capitalizing on Xiulan’s surprise.

 

“It worked enough times before, little sister.” Xiulan called back, as she backpedaled, spitting out some blood from her split lip. “Taking lessons from the First Disciple? I thought you said it was beneath you!”

 

Tigu laughed as she tackled Xiulan, managing to grab onto her arm. Tigu pulled her downwards and attempted to headbut the taller woman.

 

Xiulan obliged her. There was a nasty crack as both of them connected. Gou Ren winced in sympathy at the sound. They were thrown back—but Tigu seemed to get the worst of it. Xiulan merely skidded backwards while Tigu hit the floor of the arena, rolling three times before springing to her feet and rubbing at her forehead.

 

Xiulan made no move to follow up as her swords once more formed up around her.

 

“Unfair!” Gou Ren heard Loud Boy shout as Tigu once more had to push herself through the storm of blades to close the distance with Xiulan. The kid seemed angry at Xiulan retreating rather than closing in again.

 

“Unfair?” Xianghua demanded, glaring at Loud Boy. “She's taking Tigu seriously. What sort of fool closes the distance so readily with that little monster? Look at her, she's already healed some of the cuts from the beginning!”

 

Xianghua was right. The blood that had been leaking out from the deeper wounds had stopped. All that was left on her shoulders, arms, and legs were little white lines, standing out starkly on tanned skin.

 

Tigu braced herself for the arrival of the blades. She pulled her arms up and tightened her guard. Her hands lashed out, tipped with Qi claws. She began her charge again, smashing some of the swords into the ground so hard they stuck there, and Xiulan grimaced as instead of pulling themselves out to continue the chase, they jerked and rattled, stuck fast. Tigu closed the gap— and Xiulan’s swords, the originals that she held, met Tigu. claws met the blades again, as Xiulan artfully deflected each and every strike, flowing through and into Tigu’s savage blows. With a gentle tap, and a feint, Tigu’s arms were thrown open. Xiulan’s blade descended. Tigu barely managed to interspose one of her Qi blades, but the force of the strike still threw her to the side, slamming her into the dirt.

 

Xiulan descended on her.

 

Tigu managed to shove off the ground, rolling away from the follow up blow. She twisted and contorted like she didn’t have any bones, slipping through the strikes with only scratches. With a kick, she managed to both knock a blade away and create distance, rolling up to her feet.

 

But her stance was low and crouched. She was panting.

 

Tigu was tiring. And while Xiulan did have a bit of sweat beading down her face…her breathing was far more even.

 

Tigu laughed and stood up, bursting into a sprint. She assaulted Xiulan’s fortress of blades again and again. Each time she was rebuffed. Xiulan calmly and methodically surrounded her opponent under a relentless, grinding advance of blades and counter attacks.

 

“Tough little brat.” Gou Ren heard somebody mutter.

 

“Go on, Tigu!” Loud Boy thundered. His voice rose well above the crowd. “Tigu!”

 

The crowd took up the chant. First Rags, then Tie Delun. Then the random people of their section as Tigu got slammed into the dirt again and managed to avoid defeat by the skin of her teeth.

 

Again, she closed the distance, relentless.It was not a mindless effort. She varied her approach. She tried to trick her opponent. With strength and skill, she held on.

 

“The tenacity! The drive! Rou Tigu strikes forward again!” the announcer roared.

 

But the small, orange haired hellion couldn’t keep it up forever. She snarled happily her hair growing wilder, and her body contorting, and her flesh seeming to boil as if there was something trying to claw its way out of her skin

 

Tigu gasped, and flinced. The almost grotesque cut of her muscles started to fade into something more natural. Her feral features began to even out.

 

A blade she didn’t manage to deflect cut in to her bicep, the deepest one had managed to penetrate her skin

 

Xiulan advanced. Every sword was arranged behind her, a flowing field of grass that surrounded her head in a circular formation. Xiulan flowed into what looked like the start of a dance. Her hands crossed, and thrust forward.

 

What rushed towards Tigu was a wall of swords.

 

Tigu took a deep breath. She clasped both of her hands together, pointing them in front of her and directly at her opponent. The Qi blades at her hands thickened and lengthened, touching to form a pointed shield in front of her. It looked almost like Loud Boy’s technique.

 

[Claw Arts: Thunderous Breakthrough!]

 

The air protested as Tigu launched herself forward one last time.

 

Xiulan charged to meet her, pulling back her fist.

 

Ten blades, then twenty, spiraled around her arm. Points touched, forming what looked like a drill.

 

[Verdant Blade Sword Arts: Lotus Blossom—]

 

Blades met Claws. A sound like the gong rang throughout the arena, making the barrier flare with the force. Tigu, for a valiant moment, held out. She took one step forward. Then another. She opened her mouth and roared.

 

Her shield cracked.

 

[—Bloom]

 

Then shattered. The blades struck home. The small, orange haired girl was thrown backward, slamming into the side of the arena and going still.

 

Her shirt had been blasted open, showing off the cuts from the final attack, resembling flower petals carved into skin.

 

Tigu grimaced and tried to push herself up. Tired to get back into the fight. Blades floated above her in warning.

 

Groaning, she slumped in defeat.

 

The crowd exploded.

 

“What an ending! An explosive match! I must admit, I had my doubts that this could be as exciting as Tigu Versus Xianghua, but Rou Tigu held on valiantly! She truly showed the power of one at the cusp of the Profound realm! Though she failed to bridge the gap this day, she showed what even a cultivator in the initiate’s realm is capable of!”

 

Xiulan held her hand out to Tigu.

 

The cat turned girl took it, pulling herself to her feet—before continuing to pull, and embracing Xiulan.

 

There were several noises of appreciation as Xiulan with obvious affection brushed some of Tigu’s hair from her face.

 

And then raised an eyebrow. Tigu’s legs were still shaky. But she shifted, managing to slip around Xiulan, and duck down, scooping the taller woman onto her shoulders.

 

“Ha! You love to see it, my friends. A bond undiminished by defeat! Truly, this tournament has been something special.”

 

There was an answering cheer from the words. Gou Ren added his voice to it.

 

His brother, Loudboy, Rags, and the rest of the people sitting with them howled and stomped their feet.

 

Xiulan and Tigu’s eyes found their section.

 

Both of them waved.

 

=========================

 

Xiulan was alone. Alone in the center of the arena.

 

Her eyes wandered through the crowd. To the approving smile on her father’s face, before he disappeared, to hoist the arena.

 

The crowd was defining. The sun was warm, and the breeze was cold. Xiulan closed her eyes.

 

A victory. One she had actually earned this time. She sighed, as some of the tension in her shoulders bled out.

 

She was satisfied with this.

 

The great gong sounded.

 

And then, the Earthly Arena moved.

 

One last rise. The highest one out of them all. From their position, it rose smoothly. Higher and higher, until they were at the very peak of the mountain—and then above the mountain.

 

The afternoon sun was dipping low in the horizon. The sky was turning to night, and she could see every bright speck, every star above starting to shine.

 

There was a soft shudder as the outside of the arena came to a halt. The stands and the stage remained in place, but the floor of the arena continued to rise.

 

Like giant steps, each concentric ring rose to a certain point before slowing and stopping. Until the center of it… the part that she was standing on, was the last part left. Until the peak that had been split in two once more resembled a single mountain, connected by the Arena. Xiulan was at the highest point. Higher than the gong.

 

The wind flowed around her body, as she stood at the peak. How often had she dreamed it would be her up here?

 

There was a blur of movement. Around the edges of the arena, the elders leapt into place. To mortals, it was likely that they just seemed to appear, materializing out of thin air.

 

The Elders, as one, lifted their hands into the gesture of respect then turned to the gong. They raised it’s striker one last time, and heaved it forward.

 

It echoed, clear and pure across the entire hills.

 

The ancient characters burned blue, and scrawled up the rings, before bursting into the air. They flowed around her. Other victors said that they did nothing. But as Xiulan looked at them, she felt closure, and a certain kind of peace.

 

Normally, the victor was supposed to simply look towards the Heavens. Xiulan… looked down. She stared at the crowds. At their cheers and their adoration.

 

This was the end of one chapter of her life, and the start of a new one. Xiulan felt her conviction firm. She looked down the mountain to the people below. The smiles they gave her. The trust her friends had in her. The untold masses, with smiles, instead of sobbing in burned out villages.

 

Her power was to protect. And she would try her harvest, that noone down there would experience something like Sun Ken again.

 

Maybe she was arrogant. Perhaps it wouldn’t work. Perhaps trying to break down the barriers between sects would prove more than she alone could handle.

 

The rest of the contestants climbed up. From the bottom of the arena, to the rungs below her, in the order that they had been defeated.

 

Tigu grinned up at Xiulan and waved. Xianghua smirked at her. Her Petals smiled up at her with pride and admiration.

 

But… she knew that she would not have to do it alone.

 

================

 

Xiulan stared at the prizes. Three Profound Breakthrough Pills. A princely reward, for anyone other than her. The eight Spirit Beast Cores were similarly of little use;but the sprigs of Spiritual Grass would at least be useful for Master Jin—hopefully.

 

The party was in full swing—though it was a bit more subdued than the last two. It was more a formality than anything, especially with the few Elders that were actively in attendance.

 

There would be little acting up with them around.

 

“I can’t believe people are already packing up. I would have thought that they would have been here longer.” Gou Ren said as he looked over the other tables. Indeed, for while many were drinking, quite a few were saying their goodbyes or speaking with servants.

 

“The sects are, largely. They have to return to their territories. The mortals, though, will stay for another week at least.” Xiulan said.

 

“Huh, what’s the plan for us then?” He asked.

 

“We’ll stay as long as you please. Tigu wants to wait for Master Jin.” Xiulan said.

 

“Where is Tigu, anyway?” Yun Ren asked, looking around at the knots of people and expecting to see her there.

 

“With Loud Boy and Rags, they said they found a good spot to look over the city.” Gou Ren replied.

 

Xiulan nodded, then paused when she saw Bolin approach.

 

“Mistress.” His voice was apologetic.

 

Xiulan sighed. “Another meeting?”

 

Bolin nodded. “I’m sorry, Mistress. An important guest requested your presence.”

 

Xiulan got up, shaking her head.

 

“Well, Tigu will turn up sooner or later.” Gou Ren said with a sigh. “See you later, Lanlan.”

 

She smiled at her companions, and nodded, following after the disciple.

 

“Who is this guest, anyway?” She asked.

 

“Shrouded Mountain Sect, Mistress.”



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A note from Casualfarmer

one more before the break. hopefully the cliffhanger isn't too bad. 

 

Also, I might have been a little bit unclear. the end of the book is approaching, not the end of the series.


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