“Brother, no!” The girl let out a cry as her brother lunged to impale Bao Bi.
Bao bi took a step to the side, avoiding the slice easily and causing the brother, who expected to cut into his skin, to stumble forward. Bao bi then reached and caught the back of the boy’s shirt, stopping him from stumbling directly into his sister. Although he had little power left behind his blade, it was still sharp and he might cut himself or her if he continued forward and tripped over her.
The boy stopped, staring at his sister in wide-eyed wonder as if he couldn’t reason out where the man he attacked had gone. He still had his blade in his hand, wet with blood. Had he not been so young, it might have been a very intimidating sight. A second later, a set of hands touched his and pushed the blade he was holding toward his sister down to the ground.
“Let’s put the blade away for now.” Bao Bi spoke gently.
The boy leaped back, pulling away from Bao Bi and raising his blade again. However, the red in his eyes had diminished slightly, and he looked to be more in control. He was wary, but he didn’t immediately attack again.
“Brother! He protected me!” The girl cried out, finally getting to her feet and stepping in front of Bao bi.
“Name yourself!” He said, ignoring his sister.
Bao bi did his best to give a bow. “My name is Xaoi Bao Bi.”
The boy’s expression turned a bit embarrassed. Upon seeing Bao Bi acting polite and respectable, it was making his actions seem panicked and impulsive. Having just been fighting for his life, and killing someone for the first time in his life, the boy’s blood was flooding through his body and he was hot with anger. That had ended up lashing out at someone who had helped him. Now that he looked at Bao Bi clearly, he could see he was a boy not much older than him. However, given how he moved, that meant that he had to be a cultivator!
“My name is Jiang Ying Yue, and this is my brother Jiang Bo.” The girl turned around and introduced herself just as politely with a curtesy.
“S-sister! You can’t tell strangers our identity!”
“I-it’s fine! He’s a cultivator… he probably doesn’t even know who we are.” She argued back and then turned to Bao Bi. “Do you know who we are?”
“You dare! I’m Prince Jiang Bo!”
“Weren’t you trying to protect your identity?” I scratched my cheek. “Ah! But a prince! Should I bow!”
“Yes!” He insisted.
“No!” Jiang Ying Yue cried out, “Didn’t you hear his name? He’s Xaoi Bao Bi! He’s part of the immortal Xaoi sect!”
Jiang Bo’s eyes popped out. “A Xaoi sect disciple!”
He suddenly fell to the floor, putting his head on the ground. Jiang Ying Yin lowered herself too, but not to her knees.
If anything showed the difference in rank between a kingdom and a sect, this made it clear. Even a King would bow to the lowest outer disciple of the sect. Kingdoms and countries may be at the apex of the mortal world, but sects were part of the immortal world. There was a barrier there so thick that it was the difference between heaven and earth.
Power was everything in this world, and a single cultivator could overturn a kingdom with ease. Kingdom’s had no choice but to bow down to the sects. The support a sect could keep a kingdom and its rulers in power for hundreds of years, and the derision of a sect could cause them to crumble in a single night. The Xaoi sect’s territory, in particular, spanned across dozens of countries. This country, known as the Jiang Province, was special in that it had a closer connection to the cultivators than any other city.
The reason the Jiang Province held a special place in the mortal world is that it was within this city where the Xaoi Sect disciple selection would occur. For this simple reason, it had made the Jiang province the most notable province in the area. Loose cultivators often came to this city, profound objects such a spirit stones would occasionally show up in their commerce, and the people here saw themselves as close to the immortal realm as mortals could be.
Yet, even then, the royalty had to step lightly around anyone from the Xaoi sect, less this balance be broken with the single wave of a hand. The Xaoi sect gave and took away in equal parts.
“Although my surname is indeed Xaoi, I am just a loose cultivator,” I explained.
The boy’s face turned red and he stood up angrily. “Deception!”
Loose cultivators were something else entirely. Although loose cultivators were also feared and respected by the nobility, they didn’t have the strength and resources of a sect backing them up. Some loose cultivators worked as guards for hire. Others, like the dead men on the ground, were hired assassins.
The Jiang Province was protected by the Xaoi Sect, and the prince was a loose cultivator himself. While he may grovel on the ground to Xaoi Sect disciple, he had the ability to at least deal with loose cultivators on the same ground. He had come to his assumptions about Bao Bi, but he seemed to blame Bao Bi personally for causing him to embarrass himself.
“Are you planning on taking part in the Xaoi Sect Disciple Selection?” The girl asked.
Bao Bi glanced over at her. She was a pretty girl with jade skin and a delicate physique. However, his spiritual perception told him she wasn’t as simple as she looked. She was in the 3rd tier of the purification realm, while her brother seemed to be in the 7th tier. His spiritual fluctuations weren’t stable though, so he must have just reached that tier. Bao Bi hadn’t realized it at the time, but that must have been that sudden boost he had. To Bao Bi’s eyes, he had thought it was some kind of power jump or secret technique. Instead, it was more akin to a level-up in the middle of battle.
As always, if Liao An had been aware of some of the ways Bao Bi thought about things, she definitely would have corrected his thinking immediately, but he tried to avoid using terms that she wouldn’t understand, such as references to gaming and literature from his original world. She usually ignored it when he used it anyway.
“Of course!” Jiang Bo’s eyes lightened. “You must be on your way to becoming a Xaoi Sect Disciple.”
He nodded, satisfied by the answer he found for himself. Bao Bi got the feeling that this was something Jiang Bo did a lot. He seemed a bit prideful and would try to always find the answer on his own. Once he decided on the answer, he’d blindly accept it until he was proven wrong. Bao Bi didn’t hate this kind of kid, but he did feel a little helpless.
Of course, that’s how he saw both of them. After all, while Bao Bi may look their age, he had at least thirty years on them. How would he see them as anything but children? He looked at them with a gentle smile, but even if they had seriously tried to attack him, he never would have hurt them. When Jiang Bo attacked, that’s why he had responded so gently. To Bao Bi, it was the equivalent of a kid throwing a punch at an adult. As for the girl who looked at him with a pretty smile, although she had looks that came close to Lian An, he didn’t see her as an adult at all.
“I don’t believe I qualify to enter that competition.”
“Huh? Don’t tell me, you’re already fifteen? You look a little young to be fifteen already.” Jiang Bo gave Bao Bi a look that almost seemed pitiful.
“Ah, I see… you must have failed the last two years, right?”
“What do you mean, brother?” Jiang Ying Yue seemed confused.
“Ah, the competition is open to those ages 12-14. Although he’s in the high tier so he can participate in the competition for 14-year-olds, if he failed to progress when he was 12 and 13, that might seriously weigh on his conscious. However, since you are given the opportunity, as my father always says, you should take it!”
“Just look at Jiang Ying Yue here!” He went on. “She is only 11 years old, but since the disciple competition is giving her a chance, she is going to take it!”
“Eleven?” Although she did look eleven now that her bother mentioned it, he was surprised to hear she was in the disciple ranking.
“This year, they lowered the disciple ranking admittance by two years.” Jiang Ying Tue spoke up excitedly. “I will be able to try out the same year my brother gets in!”
“Of course…” Jiang Bo puffed out his chest proudly. “I am twelve and in the high tier now. I’ll be on top of the competition for my age. My sister, however, will have to work hard. We hope she has a breakthrough to the mid-tier. At that level, she should have a strong chance.”
“I wonder why they lowered it this year?” I asked.
Jiang Bo made a bitter expression. “A special allowance. Father says there is an incoming disciple that they are convinced will be a genius. He’s supposedly only ten and has reached the 2nd great realm. The only other 2nd great realm participants we’ll find will be your ag- ah… I see why you fear your won’t qualify… my apologies. Ah! But you were able to take out the 2nd realm… he was just some lowly loose cultivator though, but it still must be possible. You shouldn’t give up!”
The boy blushed and seemed a bit genuine in his words. Anyone at 14 who had reached the 2nd great realm would be able to dominate the charts. While each tier had substantial increases and every three realms lead to a quantitative jump in abilities, the difference between great realms couldn’t be understated. Other than Bao Bi, few would be able to fight across a great realm like that.
However, although Jiang Bo’s words were a bit in error, his intentions weren’t lost on Bao Bi. Bao Bi had been planning to enter the Xaoi Disciple Competition, and if they would allow him to join, he’d be very interested. Liao An had been mentioning for a while that they needed access to better resources. If they allowed people to participate this year at the age of ten, Bao Bi would be turning ten next month, just in time for the event.
“You definitely should give it your all!” Jiang Ying Yue spoke out patiently. “Then we can be in the Xaoi sect together! Ah!”
She let out a cry and covered her mouth. Jiang Bo spun and gave his sister a shocked expression. I barely noticed though, as my mind was on my plans. However, since I wasn’t looking at them, my eyes ended up falling on the dead bodies all around us.
“Ah… maybe we shouldn’t be standing in the middle of the street talking like this?” I spoke helplessly.
“A lot of good people died protecting me.” Jiang Bo looked at the bodies around him. “If I was stronger, I could have protected them all.”
“If you were stronger, wouldn’t you have just attracted bigger and more dangerous enemies?” Bao Bi asked.
“Ah… nothing… just thinking out loud. I meant, more for your safety, maybe you should go.”
“With the assassins gone, whoever sent them won’t make a second try so easily. However, we don’t have far to go. It’s been-”
‘Would you like to join us!” The girl pipped up, interrupting her brother.
He glanced at her in disbelief once again but then blushed. “Ah… as you already know, our location is the castle. Of course, I can’t just invite a strange loose cultivator into our palace, however, if you join us, I may be able to convince my father to give you an award.”
He sounded a bit uncertain himself, and Bao Bi didn’t want to push his welcome. He raised his hand and shook his head.
“I live only a few blocks away with my family. I just happened to hear you and came out to see if you needed help. Now that you’re okay, I’m fine with returning.”
“Y-you saved our lives!” Jiang Ying Yue cried out. “You can’t leave empty-handed.”
Jiang Bo looked just a bit put off by her sister’s insistence. He had a look on his face as if it hadn’t been that bad, and he would have handled it had Bao Bi not come along. Although, even he had to admit the situation was looking pretty dire, no matter how much he wanted to interpret the situation to his advantage.
“It’s really fine…” Bao Bi wasn’t interested in accepting gifts from children.
He was just happy to be able to protect a kid. Anyone who committed evil against children deserved to die. That was one of Bao Bi’s tenants. It was one of the few circumstances where he would kill someone without hesitation. As luck would have it, every man he had killed to date were the kind of men who happened to be willing to hurt children. This just happened to be because they were willing to hurt Bao Bi, and he was technically in a child’s body.
He never really considered that though. It had been the threat they gave Liao An, and then these two royal children, that had led to Bao Bi’s ruthlessness. He had watched their unrelenting willingness to take the lives of small children, and he had returned it in kind. This kind of action didn’t weigh much on his mind at all.
“Then, please accept this!” She pulled a ring off her finger and held out her hand.
“Jiang Ying Yue!” Jiang Bo cried out in shock.
She grabbed bao Bi’s hand and then put it in, closing his fingers around it. When she was done, her face beet red, and she wasn’t meeting his eyes. Bao Bi glanced at Jiang Bo, having not moved his hand at all. Jiang Bo bit his lip and looked away.
“She handed it to you! Thank her!”
Who was it who helped who?
“Thank you, my lady.” Bao Bi wasn’t sure how to address her, so he went with that.
She nodded, but she still wasn’t looking at Bao Bi and he could see red creeping down her neck. He decided it was best if he just made scarce before things grew any more awkward. He crouched down and then leaped, his foot kicking off the wall as he flipped onto a roof. He then ran out of sight before thinking again and doubling back. He wanted to make sure these two could make it home without any more trouble, or he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night.
“Jiang Ying Yu! How could you give him your royal ring!”
“Th-that’s none of brother’s business!” She responded defiantly.
“It’s the same as the kingdom promising him one favor! With that, he could ask for your hand in marriage the dad would have to accept!”
“Th-that’s irrelevant!” She shot back. “You know as well as I do that in a few months, we will be Xaoi disciples! Xaoi disciples shed their mortal titles. I will no longer be a princess, and you will no longer be a prince!”
“Ah! Th-that’s true… I understand!” He nodded excitedly. “As a princess, the ring has the greatest value, but as a cultivator, it is worthless. Sister is clever sometimes, but to so absolutely dupe someone who helped us with a lame gift… I’m not sure if that sits well with me…”
“What is brother saying!” Jiang Ying Yue grew flustered. “It’s not worthless! I gave him my most valuable possession! Stupid brother!”
“Hey! What did I do?” he cried out as she threw a rock from the ground at him.
The pair seemed to act pretty carefree despite being surrounded by corpses. Then again, Bao Bi had gained a similar demeanor thanks to Liao An. These two must have had a similar upbringing. Being a cultivator wasn’t easy, it seemed.
Either way, he was a bit relieved overhearing that the gift was a red herring. He had seriously been worried that she had given him something of extreme value and that it would come back to bite him on the butt at some point. He hadn’t known that becoming a Xaoi disciple caused you to shed all former ties, but he supposed that made sense. In his case, it was for the best, because his former ties were as an outcast tossed from the Xaoi sect. Only through his hard work would he be able to get back into the sect and be acknowledged as a member once again.
To be honest, he wasn’t nuts about joining. Although he kind of wanted to meet his grandpa who was still in the sect, his great-grandpa who had kicked his father from the sect had put a bad taste in his mouth over the entire sect. If that wasn’t bad enough, he remembered all too well just a few years before when he was forced to abandon his home just because a couple of Xaoi sect immortals wanted to use it for a cultivation cave.
The two children got to work putting up all the bodies, tossing the loose cultivator assassin’s in the trash, and putting up the bodies of their guards into the carriage. Bao Bi felt bad for leaving them all the busy work, but they seemed more than capable, and despite their small sizes, they were able to pick up large men with ease and move them like a sack of potatoes.
When the pair were finally done, Jiang Bo himself picked up the cart and began to move. Only five minutes later, they had been noticed by the guards, and a regiment of men reached them. Bao Bi watched as they were brought into the castle beyond. They were nobility after all. Flipping the ring she had given him in his finger casually, Bao Bi returned to his home, which was thankfully peacefully quiet, his mom having finished her nightly routines.
Meanwhile, in the castle, Jiang Ying Yue received a terrible tongue lashing from her mother. Jiang Bo had been confused at first why she was so angry, but as it turned out, the royal ring was the equivalent of a betrothal. A man who received such a ring could ask for the princess’s hand at any point. This wasn’t tied to her title at all but was a familial tradition, and even cultivators respected familial ties. To deny family ties was to toss away all honor, even for a cultivator.
There were always stories of a man promising his daughter to some useless vagabond, only for her to grow up a powerful cultivator, and then being forced to marry him. Depending on the story, he’d either dual cultivate with her, stealing all of her profound strength through ill-gotten means, or turn her into his slave, using her as his doll to obtain power.
Either way, the point was that the ring was about the equivalent to Jiang Ying Yue’s future as a cultivator and seemingly represented her chastity. She had casually handed it to a random loose cultivator, who could come cash in on it at any point, destroying her future. How could her mother not be furious?
When Jiang Bo learned the truth, his hand tightened on his sword. He had only one choice. He had to challenge and defeat Bao Bi and win back his sister’s chastity!