Shin Sumi stepped out of the mountain pass a few hours after Xiao Yue.
She could have left much sooner but she wanted to show that she wasn't going to follow her friend for any longer now that they had gone out of the maze. It was also a way for Shin Sumi to keep her from changing her mind and staying close to Xiao Yue.
The neverending thunder from the dark clouds that obscured the top of the mountain abruptly stopped from entering her range of hearing as soon as she stepped in the delimitations of the fourth ring of the floating continent.
The plain that looked desolate and grey a second before suddenly turned into a massive expanse of bright yellow.
"Sand?" Shin Sumi instantly felt the coarseness of the ground beneath her feet. Because she had spent all her life in the Silver Sea Region, she was familiar with the sand of the coast.
But here there was no sea, just a desert. A scorching hot desert. Dark red rock formations here and there stood proudly, but apart from that nothing seemed to disturb the yellow expanse.
With the Copper Bell active in her bag of holding, the impact of the overwhelming Yang type Shinsoo was greatly dimmed but even so Shin Sumi could feel the burning.
"This region ist the complete opposite of the icy tundra of the second ring. Here everything seems Yang related. If I didn't have the Copper Bell, I too would be crushed by the oppressive feeling..."
All the female disciples would feel this way. Women were of the Yin type and men were of the Yang type. That was common knowledge not only in the Immortal world but also for every apothecary and doctor of the mortal realm.
"But even the icy ring was not that overbearing" she recalled. Until she had found Lan Hui's Affairs Pavillion insignia, Shin Sumi had spent most of her time in the second ring hidden as Bai Fulong, a male cultivator.
At the time she didn't know as much as she did now about the Copper Bell's ability, but certainly her male self had not been that affected by the Yin type environment.
What the Copper Bell allowed Shin Sumi to do was not only to change her identity and the imprint of her divine sense, it completely turned around all of the Shinsoo type of her and her surroundings.
As proof of that, Shin Sumi still had in her bag of holding the unusable ice spear, which was nothing but the Yin version of Tai Bu's Flaming Whip.
Shin Sumi also recalled how the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword wouldn't cut even a leaf when she had powered it with her own Shinsoo. It was only after the Copper Bell had converted her energy to Yang type Shinsoo that the sword finally allowed her to link to it.
"The ice tundra was not colder for male disciples and yet this desert solely affects Yin types on a deep level. This is unfair!!"
The way she understood the fourth domain, Shin Sumi was convinced that female disciples were at a complete disadvantage. Suddenly the Rising Star Tournament didn't seem to give all disciples an equal chance!
Shin Sumi was infuriated for Xiao Yue and the other powerful female trial-takers although she herself didn't care much.
"As long as I still have a few Confusion Pills with me I won't be bothered by it. When I find the fourth Vein of Hell Fire I just hope the pill won't run out of power while I'm in meditation..."
Now that she wasn't underground anymore, Shin Sumi had ways of finding the direction to the Vein of Hell Fire. While it was too difficult to do in the maze, it should be a piece of cake to find traces of the Shinsoo source in open land.
"Okay, where are the biggest creatures? The bigger and most powerful, the closer I am to the Vein, right? Show me the way, monsters!" she said enthusiastically.
She had obviously realized that every time she had come across a big creature or a place in which the concentration of spirit beasts was stronger, the Vein of Hell Fire was sure to be close.
The giant crocodile in the first ring had been roaming close to the hole where she had met Bai Xuengen. The Ice Flowers and their domain had been right above the blue Vein. And of course the Blood Wolf Nest and the terrifying mother wolf.
Shin Sumi was a bit frightened about what she would find this time around by looking for the vein but she was also prepared and excited.
She wasn't courting death, and being so close to dying encased in a block of Shinsoo-sucking ice or being demolished by the mere roar of a wolf were the worst experience she ever had.
Nevertheless, Shin Sumi felt empowered by having survived all these tribulations and even learned from them.
Finding relief from the scorching heat in the temporary shade of the big rock formations, she advanced quickly and carefully through the fourth domain of the dimension.
The Rising Star Tournament was getting progressively harder as time went on and Shin Sumi knew that once again she would have to be brave and never relax too much.
The number of disciples in each region was also getting lower and lower. In fact none of the trial-takers had managed to set foot on the central and final ring yet. The uncertainty of that fact remained stuck in everybody's heads, pushing them to move forward even in the difficult moments.
Apart from a number of lizards the size of a finger, Shin Sumi didn't encounter any sort of spirit beasts for the first few days in the fourth ring.
The lizards were bright red and didn't even qualify to be considered beasts of the Immortal world. Although they rushed towards Shin Sumi with all the will to fight, crushing them was as easy as turning over her palm.
The tiny reptiles hadn't even formed a beast core yet and after getting rid of a few of them, Shin Sumi didn't bother taking out her sword anymore. It was maybe cruel but dealing with the small attackers with a stomp of the foot proved sufficient.
Not having eaten in a while, Shin Sumi even ate a couple, after roasting them on a small fire in the shadow of a rock formation.
"So far I haven't found any sort of beast or test or even a treasure for that matter. Somehow it is refreshing, but it gives of a strange feeling..."
In a trial like the Rising Star Tournament, one could at least expect obstacles in their way. Even more so considering that it was the fourth domain out of five before the exit!
"Or maybe I am just lucky" she considered after another few days of tranquil travelling even if it was more of an attempt at easing the eerie feeling that had been growing inside her.
On the seventh day in the hot desert, Shin Sumi came across something that changed from the barren land. On top of a sand dune was an array of rocks forming an arrow.
Shin Sumi was approaching with curiosity when the arrow-head suddenly started to rumble. Soon the entire dune was slowly being lifted from the ground. Yellow sand crystals glittered under the red sky as they fell from the rocky arrow.
The curled form of a winged creature rapidly unfurled, a shrill cry erupting from under the arrow-head.
The rocks that made the strange arrow pattern were actually bone spurs from the terrifying looking creature!
Shin Sumi didn't wait for the beast to completely wake up before summoning the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword.
"Finally some action" she rejoiced. The Shinsoo fluctuations were strong but not something Shin Sumi couldn't deal with.
"A yellow level creature, this is a good omen!"
Shin Sumi jumped over the spirit beast, directly attacking the point of the arrow. If she was not mistaken, that was where the head would be.
Slamming down her arms, Shin Sumi descended with all her speed and power on top of the last bone spur.
The sound of metal on rock distorted her eardrums. Immediately, Shin Sumi's arms felt numb and somewhat painful. Unaware of what was happening, she fell on the sand at the side of the now awake creature.
A long beak with a downwards curve slammed down onto her the next instant, Shin Sumi evading the blow by sheer luck while she was tumbling on the sand.
The Sand Hawk looked mad. Letting out a second shriek, it flapped its wings sending all the remaining sand on its body towards the red robed girl, like small tornados.
"Urgh!" Shin Sumi protected her face with her arm. The sharp wind combined with the sand crystals cut her skin on multiple parts.
"Why isn't my sword working?" she asked herself, realizing that her first blow had done nothing.
Considering a beast of that level and the three times refined Gold Tyrant Flying Sword, slaying the Sand Hawk should have taken one strike or two at most!
She didn't have time to think further as another wing movement sent even more sand in a straight line to where she was.
Shin Sumi evaded to the side but the uneasy footing due to the coarse sand made her jump less effective.
"Aeeigh" now it was her calf that had received the wind blade.
The Gold Tyrant Flying Sword was a great weapon but proved ineffective to shield its master from long range attacks like that.
"But what it's great for is cutting into things... Take that!"
The golden blade blurred into motion, thrown directly under the large wing of the Sand Hawk. If Shin Sumi had been unable to break the bone spurs in the shape of an arrow, then a more fragile part of its body would have to do.
The tearing sound of the fleshy wing that she was expecting never came, the golden sword instead bouncing back with another 'clank'.
"%$#€! This stupid bird is made of metal or what??!"
Another wind blade followed as retaliation. The Sand Hawk was not only powerful but fast and precise!
Shin Sumi had avoided being hit directly but her body was now covered in superficial cuts. Even her red robes now looked tattered and torn in all places.
Shin Sumi wished she had more exploding paper talismans when she suddenly realized that they wouldn't work.
"That's it! Fire wouldn't work because this is a powerful Yang type bird!"
Normally even a given attribute would work to a certain extent on a beast with the same Shinsoo type. But in this trial dimension, anything was possible!
After all Shin Sumi had seen a land covered in ice, a luxurious jungle and a scorching desert sharing the same continent.
Somehow the laws of this place made it so that even the living things shared an absurdly strong compatibility with Yang Shinsoo.
And the Sand Hawk was obviously strong enough to resist physical attacks of that level, which rendered the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword completely useless!
Shin Sumi evaded another sand tornado all the while slapping her bag of holding. Besides her sword, Shin Sumi still had a bit of arsenal left.
During the time in the maze with Xiao Yue, she had picked up a few random weapons, all flying swords of low grade but not enough to replenish her losses from the battle with the Blood Wolves.
What she took out of her bag though was something different. It was a curved blade with no handle. A hole in the moon crescent shape served to hold it.
"I wish I could use the Ice Spear but that should work too. I'm still not strong enough to overpower the restrictions on the Ice Spear."
With the power of the Copper Bell, Tai Bu's Flaming Whip had been transformed into a Yin type Shinsoo weapon which was exactly what Shin Sumi needed, but the backlash from the times she had tried to bond with it had taught her a good lesson. Whoever the master of the weapon was, she was too inferior to steal from them.
Instead she had opted for the crescent shaped blade she had found within the bloody remains of a giant worm, wrapped in the parchemin with the Liquid Realm cultivation technique.
She had paid no mind to the blade at first but she remembered sensing that it was an Yin blade.
The curved shape was very reminiscent of a late moon and the silvery metal even shone with a bit of darkness. Of course it was far from exuding black smoke like Xiao Yue's impressive Black Devil Spear.
Concentrating the energy in the blade, Shin Sumi threw the strange blade with an arc, ending its silver trajectory directly through the Sand Hawk's wing.
The flesh of the wind ruptured, accompanied by a loud cry of pain. The silver moon blade flew swiftly back into Shin Sumi's hand, the strange shape making it into a boomerang.
The low flying Sand Hawk now was red with rage. With each flap of its wings, it sent multiples sand tornados barrelling towards Shin Sumi.
In order to avoid being hit, Shin Sumi had no choice but to throw the blade again. It was the only thing that seemed to stop the bird from attacking her over and over. The unsteady surface of the sand combined with the scorching heat was slowly sapping away at her strength.
"The blade works but it is not enough. I need to power of the Copper Bell to reverse!"
Shin Sumi had previously been using the little bell in order to change her own energy into Yang type Shinsoo. Now what she needed was the opposite!
She needed the bell to convert the overtly Yang environmental Shinsoo into Yin type energy into her own body.
Suddenly Shin Sumi understood the complexity of the fourth domain.
"So it is not completely unfair for female disciples. Yin type cultivators are more strongly affected negatively by the ambient energy, but they are in better shape to fight. Whereas Yang attributed people are not having their strength sapped away too fast, but their attacks are more or less ineffective!"
Of course, provided one had sufficient physical strength, or a high grade enough artefact, even male disciples could easily win in a fight. But transformed into Bai Fulong, Shin Sumi only relied on the strong Yang of the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword.
Infusing her divine sense into the Copper Bell, Shin Sumi redirected the flow of Shinsoo from her dantian. The process was a bit more difficult to put into practice than in theory and she had to avoid being hit too much in the meantime, but finally Shin Sumi succeeded.
"This fight has been going on for way too long. Now goodbye, big rock chicken!"
Infuriated by her tone as if it had understood her words, the Sand Hawk doubled its speed of attack. Powerful Yin fluctuations now rolled off of Shin Sumi's golden sword, at least enough to make her opponent uneasy.
The left half torn wing of the creature was damaged and its wind blades were reduced in power, so Shin Sumi powered up her legs in the direction of its left side.
Opting for two strikes in one go, she threw the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword towards the wing, instantly recalling it to her hand after it blew up another hole in the middle of the yellow feathers.
The Sand Hawk now had three holes in one wing and could not support itself, landing heavily in a cloud of sand with devastating force.
Shin Sumi was swept back by a wave of sand. She spat out a mouthful before resuming her offensive.
Now that the spirit beast was on the ground, she could reach it and use the full strength of her arms to deal massive blows.
"The power of the sword is greatly reduced when I use it with Yin type Shinsoo. It should be enough to cut that chicken into two, though!"
As it turned out, Shin Sumi had to leap twice in order to reach the Sand Hawk, her first attempt ending with her arm being shredded by a sand tornado.
Ignoring the blood gushing out of her arm, she still used both hands to raise the golden sword above her head. The Gold Tyrant Flying Sword still looked as elegant and fiery as before but imbued with Yin Shinsoo it had lost some of its luster as it descended in a semi-circle above the Sand Hawk's head.
The golden metal vibrated powerfully, cleaving the Sand Hawk right below the first bone spur on its back. The cry reverberated into Shin Sumi's eardrums, making her feel a bit dizzy.
The mass of the creature finally fell down, death having come to it at last.
Shin Sumi fell down on her knees. Using up that much energy to power the Copper Bell, as well as the entire fourth ring sucking the Yin out of her, combined with the heavy wounds she had received, she was almost completely out of strength.
"Urgh, I am not used to long fights. I always find myself at a disadvantage and I get hurt. For now it's best if I end fights in one go, I lack defensive strength..."
Using the Sand Hawk's corpse as a source of shadow, Shin Sumi recollected herself. She already felt a bit better after prompting the bell to resume its normal use. As Bai Fulong, she at least didn't have to worry too much about her energy being sucked out of her.
She tied a piece of cloth around her arm, stopping the bleeding as best as she could.
Shin Sumi thought about Xiao Yue for a while as she ate to regain a bit of strength. The orange robed girl had the Black Devil Spear, so she would be okay in fights but Shin Sumi hopes that the Yang type environment would not get to her before she could reach the final ring.
I am a French PhD student in condensed matter physics. But I also draw a lot on instagram, make YouTube drawing videos, and of course: write.
I've started writing intensely mid 2018 and haven't stopped for a single week since. I used to publish my english novel to Webnovel.com but I decided to move to this better platform. I hope you enjoy my content, bye !