3:7 – Envious Moon
Time passed and Xinxin returned to training after finishing her lunch. It was quiet, the clan either leaving her along out of respect or through intimidation by her father. Even Xiaomei had left Xinxin to her own devices after bringing her food to eat later.
The sun was sinking into the horizon. Evening was approaching, yet Xinxin didn’t notice it, too busy with her training.
Standing in the courtyard outside the pagoda on a patch of grass, Xinxin let out a slow exhale and raised her bamboo stick. Sweat glistened on her pristine skin, crystal drops scattering as she moved.
The air drew still, as if it was captivated at the sight of the ethereal girl with emerald robes standing amidst the flowers.
Xinxin swung her stick. Power welled up from every part of her body as she moved, spiritual energy and qi combining as one in her slash.
The air shrieked as the stick tore it apart and an invisible wave surged throughout the courtyard sending a few flower petals scattering into the air.
Xinxin stood perfectly still, watching the invisible wave travel. When that wave reached the edge of the courtyard, it suddenly crashed against an invisble wall and vanished. Onle then did Xinxin relax.
With all the energy drained out of her, Xinxin slumped over and gasped for breath. Her body trembled, sweat scattering like rain, and she saw her vision slowly blacking out. Yet, before it could, Xinxin felt a cold surge sweep across her body, wiping away the fatigue.
Xinxin took a deep breath and her body returned to normal. After exhaling, Xinxin decided to take a small break and headed back into the pagoda. She brushed off the sweat on her forehead with her sleeve and sat down on a chair.
There was a jug of water in the corner, left behind by Xiaomei, as well as a few cups. Xinxin poured herself a cup of water and then opened the manual that her father gave her and that her Sifu had annotated.
“Zhan Clan’s secret arts: Jade Mountain, Emerald Forest. Stick to the mountain and scatter the seeds to bring forth the forest.”
The explanation written on the first page of the manual was, as expected, abstract and profound. But right below it, a few tidy characters had written an alternative reading.
“Strengthen the body to stand against even a mountain and strengthen the spirit to attack from myriad directions.”
Xinxin glanced between the two explanations. While she respected her heritage and the fact that her father had given her the manual, the explanation provided by her Sifu made more sense. After flipping through the pages and seeing the pictures having nothing to do with the original explanation, Xinxin decided to ignore the original text entirely.
As she read more and more of the manual, Xinxin began suspecting if her father really intended for her to train in the clan’s secret arts and cultivation technique. “None of this makes any sense.”
The diagrams shown didn’t match up with the text written and there were times the texts seemed to be talking about a different technique entirely. For example, to cultivate the Jade Mountain part of the technique, the incantation said to draw in the natural energy of the world like the Jade Mountain 1 (Yù shān) depicted in the manual. Yet, the image there wasn’t of a mountain but a figure in imperial robes drawing in energy from its surroundings.
Xinxin felt a surge of anger. Did her father really want her to fail? Did he really not care for her anymore? After mother had vanished, he had grown more and more distant… did he just not want to see her face anymore? Did he want to get rid of her that badly?
The beautiful young girl pursed her lips and then returned back to reading.
Next to the diagram, like on the first page, tidy characters were written.
‘Dumb idiots transcribed it wrong. After cross-referencing, Jade Mountain here should be something like Imperial Scythe or Imperial Mow 2 (Yù shān) . This is a technique to use the strength of nature to cut down your opponents.”
Xinxin giggled after reading those words. Dumb idiots… to her Sifu, they must really seem like it. When she calmed down Xinxin whispered, “Thank you, Sifu.”
Even if her father and clan just treated her like a resource, he at least was looking out for her… though he had an odd way of showing it.
After flipping through the manual a bit more, Xinxin found out that all of the techniques required developing her spiritual sense and spiritual energy. With that, she could begin cultivating her qi by drawing in the natural energy and refining it as her own.
Thus, the first thing she had to do was become accustomed to her spiritual sense, something she could do now that she was a Foundation Establishment cultivator.
After rereading the manual’s description of how to utilize spiritual sense… or rather, her Sifu’s abridged explanation of it, Xinxin placed the manual down and closed her eyes.
“Like how focusing on breathing lets you direct it, focusing on reaching out with your mind lets you direct spiritual sense…”
Xinxin found it hard to believe, but trusted in her Sifu’s words.
She slowly focused on the thought of reaching out with her mind… and then her world expanded.
The finest veins on the flowers surrounding the pagoda. The tiniest ant crawling in the dirt. The faintest traces of water left behind from the morning dew, trapped beneath the grass.
Xinxin opened her eyes, but the changed world remained. No, it was enhanced. In addition to being able to see the most minute of details, she could see colored streams in the air, drifting about. Currents once invisible but now clear to her.
Amazed, Xinxin said, “This is spiritual sense?”
Even when closing her eyes, Xinxin could see and recall everything with perfect clarity.
She opened her eyes again and started to reach for the manual to double-check the description of spiritual sense. Yet, before she could, she had the memory of the pages show up in her mind.
Spiritual sense was a way of directing the soul using spiritual energy, the power of the soul, to examine the world. It allowed for a truer understanding of nature and to cut through the illusory reality to what existed rather than what was perceived.
That was what was written by the manual’s author.
As for her Sifu’s explanation…
“Spiritual sense is just using your soul to experience the world instead of your body. A stronger soul means stronger spiritual energy and greater resolution clarity. As an aside, spiritual sense is usually black and white, but you can see in color.”
Xinxin slowly shook her head. “This amazing experience… and people usually only see in black and white?”
Xinxin was grateful and started to think that maybe her luck wasn’t that bad after all.
“So this is where you ran off to, Xiao Xinxin.”
And then a mocking female voice echoed through the courtyard.
It was a young woman. Her skin was reminiscent of the moon and her long silky black hair shimmered with a hint of green. Though beautiful, there was something in that beauty that lowered it a few pegs, a hint of condescension and cruelty that caused it to fall short of the level Xinxin had.
“Elder sister Yue.” Xinxin forced a smile and said, “What brings you here?”
Zhan Yue. If Xinxin could be considered the priceless jade of the Zhan Clan then Yue could be considered the elegant lotus blossom admired by countless people. She was the daughter of some subordinate to Xinxin’s father that managed the general clan affairs. Important, but not as much as Xinxin, being the Clan Leader’s only child.
One was irreplaceable while the other was pleasing, but nothing special.
From what Xinxin remembered, the only special feature of Zhan Yue was the fact that she possessed a Wood Physique, giving her a bit more vitality and greater affinity towards the clan’s secret arts.
Zhan Yue’s emerald eyes flicked towards the bamboo stick in Xinxin’s hand. She smiled and said, “It’s amazing to see that Xiao Xinxin is so diligent about training.”
The words were a barb, but Xinxin simply smiled. “And I’m surprised that elder sister has taken time out of her day to visit me.”
Xinxin stood up and began walking out of her pagoda, carrying the bamboo stick in her hand. “Did you have something to tell me?”
Evening was drawing near. For Zhan Yue to come see Xinxin at that time, the young woman was either there to gloat or scheme.
Knowing her, Xinxin thought it was probably both.
Zhan Yue gasped. “Xiao Xinxin! Big sister just heard that you went missing and had some trouble at the gate when you returned. I just wanted to make sure that everything was fine!”
As if. More like she wanted to gloat if Xinxin’s beauty was marred by a scar or injury. But Xinxin didn’t vocalize those thoughts. Instead, she nodded and gave a grateful smile. “Thank you for your concern, elder sister Yue, but I’m fine.”
“Good, good.” Zhan Yue smiled and pointedly remained standing in the courtyard.
Seeing that Yue wasn’t planning to leave any time soon, Xinxin decided to focus on her training again. She walked past Yue and into an open area of the courtyard. There, Xinxin let out a slow exhale and concentrated on the techniques within the bamboo stick.
Perhaps because of her spiritual sense, or perhaps because she had simply grown accustomed to wielding the stick, the movements and techniques felt more familiar to her.
“If you wanted to practice sword techniques, Xiao Xinxin, you can ask big sister instead of flailing around with that stick. Even if you only have a couple of years to fight, it isn’t good to resort to desperate attempts.”
Xinxin ignored Zhan Yue’s mocking voice and then stepped forward and slashed.
Zhan Yue laughed. “Xiao Xinxin, maybe you should-“
Suddenly, there was a crack.
Zhan Yue’s eyes grew wide.
Xinxin’s did as well.
In the distance, at the edge of the courtyard boundaries, a gaping hole could be seen in mid-air. Xinxin’s attack had managed to shatter the formations surrounding the courtyard and pagoda.
Thankfully, the formation slowly fixed itself since the main inscriptions were left undisturbed.
Zhan Yue slowly turned her gaze towards Xinxin and pointed a finger. “You…” She trailed off and spluttered for a few moments before saying, “You’ve reached Foundation Establishment!”
Xinxin lowered her bamboo stick and took a deep breath. The addition of her spiritual sense in the attack seemed to have reduced its toll on her body. The attack could probably be used in actual combat if she managed to reduce its cost even further. That was probably what Sifu was waiting for. After that, maybe they would go out to hunt profound beasts? That should be a quick means to improve her abilities…
Xinxin looked up to see a furious Zhan Yue glaring at her.
Zhan Yue huffed and said, “How did you do it?”
Xinxin blinked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“Don’t try to evade the subject! There’s no way that a worthless piece of jade like you could have begun to properly cultivate! You aren’t allowed manuals or techniques!”
Xinxin smiled. “Maybe I’m a slow-growing genius?”
“You!” Zhan Yue glared at Xinxin for a moment longer and then a cold smile replaced it. “I see. To think that the pure maiden would resort to Dual Cultivation to get out of the betrothal… How clever. Even if you can’t defeat Master Wang Tian in the duel, the Wang Clan would never accept an impure lady as their heavenly prince’s fiancee.”
Xinxin tightened her grip on her stick and then forcibly relaxed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, elder sister Yue. This strength was obtained through legitimate means.”
At least as far as Xinxin knew.
Zhan Yue snorted. “So that’s your story? Fine. But I’m not going to stand by and let you get away with this.” She smiled. “We’ll see how the Wang Clan reacts to their future daughter-in-law resorting to such lowly means.”
Vile and malice, along with jealousy. That was what Xinxin saw in Zhan Yue’s eyes. Because of that, the beautiful young girl decided to drop all pretenses.
“Is that so?” Xinxin smiled as well. “Then I wonder how my father will react when I tell him that you’ve been selling secrets to woo that senior brother from the Sword Mountain Sect.”
Zhan Yue thought she was being clever with her night escapades, but Xiaomei was a very thorough servant. It didn’t take long before Xinxin knew everything about Zhan Yue’s actions, especially since she was a potential enemy.
Zhan Yue froze and then began trembling with rage. “You…!” She snarled and the aura of an Early Foundation Establishment Cultivator filled the air.
Xinxin tilted her head. “Oh? I didn’t know that elder sister Yue had reached Foundation Establishment as well.” Xinxin smiled. “Did that senior brother help you with that when you polished off his saber?”
Zhan Yue let out a strangled shriek. “Shut up, you… you…!”
Seeing her act like that reminded Xinxin of her Sifu’s strange choice of words and she said, “What? Cat got your tongue?”
Zhan Yue screamed and swept her right hand through the air. A ring on her finger flashed and then she grasped a sword that appeared from mid-air.
Xinxin froze. Not out of fear or shock but instead, disbelief. Was Zhan Yue really so stupid as to attack her, Xinxin, not only within clan grounds but in her private courtyard? When she was still officially Wang Tian’s fiancee since the betrothal contract was still in effect?
Zhan Yue charged. Emerald light gathered around her sword. From the vicious look in her eyes, it seemed that it wasn’t an intimidation act. Zhan Yue was sincerely and earnestly lashing out with a martial technique to harm Xinxin.
Xinxin sighed. She knew that jealousy blinded others and that most of the females in the clan held animosity towards her due to her appearance, status, and betrothal, but to think that it would even cause the acclaimed prodigy Zhan Yue to lose her cool and attack her…
The air shrieked as Zhan Yue raced towards Xinxin. The sword in her hand lashed out, aimed towards Xinxin’s face. If connected, there was no doubt that her beautiful visage would be marred forever, if not worse.
But Xinxin didn’t panic. Faced with such an attack, the only thing she could think was that… it was slow. Compared to the Shadow Panther, Zhan Yue’s attack was a crawling worm, writhing, ugly, and slow.
Her body moved on its own, following the techniques she had been practicing for the past few hours. The bamboo stick swept through the air and clashed with the sword.
Zhan Yue sneered and put more force into her strike.
Xinxin smiled and lightly twisted her wrist.
Meet hard with soft, crossing a line with a curve… Xinxin didn’t understand the principles behind the technique that her Sifu gave her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t able to apply them.
The flexible bamboo stick that should have been severed by the metal sword brushed it aside, along with the energy wrapping it.
“What?!” Zhan Yue staggered, her sword sent wide and off balance. She stamped her foot on the ground and tried to steady herself, but it would take a few moments to do so.
In that brief gap, Xinxin moved.
The bamboo stick swept across the air and struck Zhan Yue’s chest.
The young woman shrieked and stepped back, her hands wrapped around her upper body. Her emerald eyes glistened with tears, and she whimpered. “Y-you…!”
Xinxin smiled and slightly lowered her head. “Thank you for the pointers, elder sister Yue. But I think that my path is already clear. Perhaps you should take a step back and walk your own?”
Zhan Yue gnashed her teeth and then spun around with a huff. She sent her sword away and marched off into the night. “Don’t think this is over, Xinxin! That Sifu of yours is going to have to answer for your impudence!”
With those words, Zhan Yue ran away.
Xinxin watched her leave and then frowned. “Going after my Sifu? He should still be a secret… Has he been causing trouble at the Emerald Pavilion?”
That… was likely. The Emerald Pavilion was owned by the Zhan Clan, but it was a place where young masters and young ladies from various clans and sects liked to mingle. If any of them ran across her Sifu…
Xinxin sighed. It was already late, so she would have to check up on her Sifu in the morning.
Hopefully no one would have died by then…