“Ready for today’s check?” Mary asked Solus, setting down her cup of tea.
“Yeah,” Solus mumbled glumly, her shoulders were slouched, and dark semi-circles hung under her eyes.
Mary placed one of her wrinkled hands on the girl’s stomach and sent a short burst of Qi into her abdomen. The Qi darted straight towards where the Dantain was supposed to be.
They had repeated this process every morning for the last two and a half years, so it didn’t take long for Mary to find the spot she was looking for.
When she did, Mary gasped and Solus’ head snapped up, “What?”
Mary hugged the girl and burst out laughing. “It’s there Solus! Can’t you feel it?”
“Feel what? Is it my Dantian?” Solus wheezed as Mary, who was much stronger than the average old woman squeezed the life out of her in a big bear hug.
“No, you’re pregnant… of course it’s your Dantian!” Mary cheered and tossed Solus up in the air joyously.
Solus squealed in excitement and the pair began to hug again.
When the excitement calmed down, Solus only had one thing to say: “Took long enough!” She growled furiously.
“Now, now Solus, 11 years old is pretty average,” Mary chided comfortingly.
“Average, Pah! Was my mum average? NO! How can I ever catch up to her if I’m average?” Solus exclaimed.
Mary sighed; she would have liked to argue but the girl was right. Besides, she had been looking forward to this moment just as much as Solus had and she wasn’t about to let the kid’s bad mood spoil it.
As Solus scampered to her room to put on a proper robe, she failed to notice Mary cracking her knuckles. And, if she could read minds, Solus would have certainly been much less excited about the occasion.
‘Now that she can cultivate, I can finally ‘Train’ the little brat properly. I’ll show her not to look down on a peak Foundation Establishment Cultivator,’ Mary thought grimly.
“C’mon Mary,” Solus shouted from the hall.
“What’s the rush?” Mary asked.
“I need to find out what talent I have as soon as possible, every second counts,” Solus shouted back.
As Mary made her way to the hall, she had to hold back laughter when she saw Solus, who was standing right by the door, stamping her foot impatiently like a horse, raring to go.
Looking at the girl now, Mary smiled softly. Solus’ had Brown hair tied back in a Ponytail and the same freckles on her nose and cheeks that her father had.
“You look just like him?” Mary said while patting Solus’ head.
“Who? Dad?” Solus asked impatiently.
“Yeah,” Mary said with a soft smile that made the wrinkles on her cheeks and eyes stand out prominently.
Solus grabbed hold of the heavy wooden door handle with both hands and yanked back, barely able to open it even a crack.
“Why do they make these doors for immortals?” She grumbled.
Mary laughed and reached out, opening the door with a wave of her hand.
Golden light streamed into the marble hallway, illuminating the many tapestries that lined the walls. Each tapestry captured the image of a great immortal in the middle of a trademark heroic pose or slaying a mighty beast.
Solus herself had been practising her pose for when she finally made It onto the wall by the door. At the moment, she liked the idea of having her hands on her hips and one foot planted on the back of some sort of demon. All she needed to practice was her winning smile.
Mary led Solus out into the street while the girl shielded her eyes from the blinding light that streamed in through the door.
That was one of the problems that came with making a city almost exclusively from marble, gold, and jade. The glare was horrendous.
Solus held Mary’s hand as she skipped through the wide streets of Terra. After every few steps she took, her attention would be snatched away by some flashy object in a shop window, or a cultivator dressed in particularly gaudy clothing.
“Mary, Look I can see her…” Solus tried to say before Mary grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away from a female cultivator who had decided to forego clothing.
“Damn seduction techniques,” Mary grumbled and pulled Solus away from the naked woman who had a rather sizeable crowd of spectators, most but not all were male.
As they travelled through the marble streets of Terra, Solus and Mary would stop at each street corner and bow to the Jade statue that stood there.
These statues were of particularly famous cultivators who had completed a great deed of some sort and, the closer you got to the city’s centre, the more extravagant those statues became.
Likewise, the people who the statues depicted became increasingly famous and powerful the deeper you went into the city.
Solus fiddled with her green robe as she walked beside Mary. It was loose in all the places it should have been tight and tight in all the places it should have been loose.
“Leave it be,” Mary chided.
“But I want to look good, this is a big day,” Solus whined while trying to tuck a particularly uncooperative piece of silk into her sash.
Mary shook her head and they continued to walk deeper into the city.
As they got closer to the city centre, Solus became increasingly more reserved and began to stick close to Mary for support.
Mary smiled and patted the girl on the head comfortingly. She knew just how oppressive the atmosphere could be when many powerful cultivators were gathered there.
When they arrived at their destination, Solus was practically clinging to Mary for support.
The pair were standing beside two enormous marble pillars that were so impractically gigantic it was as though they were trying to hold up the very sky itself.
On the surface of these two pillars were countless golden carvings of mighty heroes and legendary immortals, each one seemed to shimmer with energy and life.
Solus gazed up at all those great heroes and shrank back towards Mary, intimidated by the oppressive atmosphere the pillars gave off. as they seemed to thrum with power.
Although Mary and Solus were standing still beside the Pillars, everything around them continued to move in a hectic swirl of noise and motion.
Hundreds of cultivators rushed up the marble steps between the pillars, disappearing from view just as quickly as they had appeared.
“Come on,” Mary said with a smile as she led Solus up the daunting steps.
Feeling the strength of the wrinkled hand that pulled her up the steps, Solus calmed down and followed Mary.
When they reached the top of the steps, Solus gasped in astonishment. Her eyes were transfixed on what lay in front of her. Never before had seen so many cultivators in one place.
At the top of the stairs between the Pillars was a seemingly infinite marble plateau. It was perfectly flat and had golden lines swirling everywhere within it in majestic patterns that pulsed with energy.
What really caught Solus’ attention was the large crowds of people gathered around Jade circles that decorated the Marble flooring at seemingly random intervals.
All these cultivators were staring at the jade circles with rapt attention, and it wasn’t long before Solus saw why.
A glowing green figure faded up from the jade circle in a pillar of light and began to punch and kick in a measured rhythm that made Solus gasp.
“Is that… cultivation?” She asked in a meek voice.
“Right, you are girly,” replied a voice she hadn’t expected.
Solus and Mary turned around to see a withered old man with a long flowing white beard.
“When cultivators feel their life coming to an end, they come here and record themselves using their most famous techniques, all in the hopes that the next generation will learn something, even if only a little from them,” the old man explained.
“Is it that obvious she’s new here?” Mary asked while nudging Solus playfully.
“Normally, people who have been here a few times don’t gasp that much.” The old man said with a laugh.
“Anyway, I assume you are here for an evaluation,” He continued.
Solus nodded eagerly from where she peaked out behind Mary.
“Hahaha, I thought so. Right this way then,” The old man chortled and led Solus and Mary towards a group of small golden circles beside the entrance.
“Is this it?” Solus asked in disappointment.
“Is this it? She says. Girl, do you have any idea how many formation experts had to work on these circles?” The old man scoffed.
“It looks like we aren’t the only ones here,” Mary spoke up, saving Solus from any further embarrassment.
She looked over and saw that, in total, there were 10 golden circles inlaid on the marble. The circles were spaced apart evenly in a larger circle, at the centre of which was a black pillar with an empty slot inside.
Sitting in four of the circles were children around her age. A few of them looked skittish and nervous while others looked calm and composed.
“Finally!” A nervous looking thin man who was standing beside one of the children exclaimed when he saw the old man return.
“Did you find another candidate?” The thin man asked anxiously.
The old man snorted dismissively and gestured to Solus who was hiding behind Mary.
Despite the old man’s disrespect, the thin man just looked relieved and patted the child he was with on the shoulder comfortingly.
“Go stand in one of the circles,” the old man told Solus.
As she made her way with shaking legs to the nearest circle, Solus truly felt the weight of what was about to happen pressing down on her.
This was all or nothing. Her entire life was about to be decided.
When she thought about this, her breath caught in her throat, and she nearly tripped on absolutely nothing, stumbling as she tried to regain her balance.
“Solus,” came Mary’s voice from behind her. “I’m with you,”
Solus steadied her shaking steps and finally arrived at the circle, taking her final step into it.
While Solus was trudging towards the circle, the old man walked to the black pillar with comparative ease. He casually glanced around at all the candidates and nodded before plucking a glowing stone from nowhere and placing it in the notch on the pillar.
Glowing black light spread out from the pillar and spiralled around the five circles with children in them.
The light seeped into the circle Solus was standing in and she felt it pass through her shoes and enter her body through her feet.
An icy feeling seeped into her feet and snaked its way towards her abdomen and into her Dantian where it paused for a moment, and then split up into hundreds of icy threads that travelled along her meridians and all throughout her body.
Just as quickly as the icy feeling entered her body, it dissipated from her skin leaving Solus drenched in sweat as steam rose from her shaking body.
Mary dashed forward in a blur and wrapped the shaking little girl in a soft linen blanket that she had pulled from nowhere.
Unfortunately, Solus wasn’t aware of Mary’s magic trick, instead, her gaze was fixated on the old man who had one hand on the black pillar. He was frowning and tutted in disappointment.
The second she saw that; Solus felt her stomach drop and she almost collapsed.
The old man sighed and raised his head to glance at the five shaking children, only now, they were shaking from fear as well as exhaustion.
First, he pointed at a red-haired boy. “Mortal.”
The old man didn’t stop to look at the boy who had just collapsed to the ground before turning and pointing to his next victim.
Solus felt a looming terror wash over her; the old man’s hand was like a guillotine. If he pointed at her next, it would be a death sentence.
Thankfully, she was spared when his next target, a skinny girl collapsed as well after hearing she was a Demi-Mortal, barely better than a normal mortal.
After that, another boy, who had short black hair burst into tears when he heard the old man say, “Demi Mortal,”
Finally, only two remained. Solus and another girl with long blonde hair.
When he looked at these two, the old man’s attitude eased slightly before he pointed at the blonde girl, “Earth Body,”
The girl squealed, and the thin man who had spoken earlier wrapped her up in a tight bear hug.
Finally, only Solus remained. Without much fanfare, the old man pointed at her.
“Blessed Body,” he said in a voice that did little to hide his apathy.
Solus stood there frozen, as she watched the old man walk off dejectedly. She didn’t know what to feel. A Blessed body wasn’t bad. She could be considered… slightly above average.
Slightly above average… her mum wasn’t slightly above average. Her mum was a once in a generation talent. What was average compared to that?
When this realisation washed over Solus, she felt like the world was collapsing in on top of her. Black spots clouded her vision as the sky began to shake and crumble.
The ground spun beneath her and as she fell back, she heard Mary shout something she couldn’t make out because of the ringing sound in her ears that drowned out everything else.