“Xaoi Bao bi! As soon as Ying Yue told me, I raced on over here!”
“I swear, I didn’t see anything!” Bao bi cried out as Jiang Bo burst into his mansion’s front door.
He wasn’t in a mood to be challenged by the guy for some perceived slight. Even he recognized that bursting in on Ying Yue likely caused the girl a fair amount of trauma and that she’d run to her brother and tell.
“Huh?” Jiang Bo blinked. “I’m talking about the people who dared to attack a future disciple of the Xaoi sect.”
“Ah… well… after you guys left, I had a bad feeling, so I stayed at the entrance. My sister returned looked flustered, saying that you had been acting odd. I had her take me and I found the bodies and realized you had been attacked. Jiang Wenyan wasn’t willing to give up his spot or his chance to impress Xiong Menyao with spirit food, can you believe those two said it was your problem and not a concern of theirs?” Realizing that he had said a bit too much, Jiang Bo’s face turned red.
Bao bi let out a breath, happy that at least for now, Ying Yue hadn’t told him anything unfortunate. He put a hand on Jiang Bo’s shoulder.
“You’re a good friend.”
This seemed to cause Jiang Bo’s bravado to shrink even more as he grew shy. “Well, it’s just… huh, what happened here?”
In his bursting into my home, he hadn’t noticed the attack. As he did so, the rage on his face returned once again.
“It seems my home was attacked while we were away.” Bao bi responded weakly.
“Who would dare?” He snapped. “Once the Xaoi sect hears of this…”
Bao bi shook his head. “Don’t you get it? It was the Xaoi sect who did this?”
Jiang Bo gave Bao bi a disbelieving stare. “That’s impossible.”
In his mind, the Xaoi sect was infallible and noble. To most people, even the leaders of countries, the Xaoi sect was a higher existence, one that belonged to the realm of immortals. They both admired and feared an institution of that power and influence. Bao bi had early on been shown their uglier side. The Xaoi sect had cast his family out as soon as they decided they were no longer useful, and not only did they do that, but they then proceeded to threaten and rob his family once they proved to have something the Xaoi sect wanted.
Although Bao bi was trying to join the Xaoi sect, it was a matter of necessity. His opinion of them was quite low, and he saw the majority of them as no better than bullies who preyed on the weak. He did know that his views were unique though, and he didn’t want to push the issue with Jiang Bo.
“They took my mother.” Bao bi redirected the conversation.
“Your mother?” Jiang Bo’s eyes popped open. “This… your father?”
It should be Xaoi Yun’s responsibility to rescue his wife, but that bum had taken off on another extended journey, and Bao bi had no clue when he’d be getting back. This was something that Bao bi had to do on his own.
“They won’t do anything to Xaoi Lan until the results of the trial are in. They wouldn’t dare.” The person who spoke was Liao An.
She had gone upstairs to clean herself up, and now that she returned, her appearance had seemingly changed so drastically that Jiang Bo had to look twice to make sure this was the girl he had met before. She was wearing all black now and had even done her nails in black lacquer. It was like she was in mourning. Her hair that she used to let run over her shoulders was now tightly bound in a knot behind her head, and she had an extremely refined appearance. Her clothing looked straight and orderly, without a single seem out of place. Compared to the aloof girl from before, this one seemed far more serious and intense. Even her voice was like a razor’s edge.
“Liao An was also hurt.” Bao bi sighed.
“My injuries were minimal. You don’t need to worry.”
Bao bi shot her a pitiful glance. Midnight was extremely perplexed by this look, but in Bao bi’s mind, Liao An was just putting on a strong face. It was clear she had been mentally scarred by whatever had happened after they took his mom. Bao bi was barely able to suppress the rage he felt inside over what they had done. However, since Liao An was willing to stay strong, then he would as well.
“What do you mean by that?” Bao bi asked, trying to keep himself under control. “They may be hurting my mother this instant, just like they-”
He stopped himself just before saying that they were doing to his mother what they did to Liao An. He didn’t even want to imagine the possibility, but he knew his mother was a beautiful and desirable woman, and that the reason they had attacked in the first place had been because they wanted to take her away from Bao bi’s father. This was done in lust and revenge. Just the thought of what might be happening to his mother while they chatted away was enough to make him shake.
However, Liao An only tilted her head, as if not understanding what the rest of his sentence would be, and when Bao bi didn’t say more, she gave a small shrug. “Immortals are typically a careful lot. Although they can seem reckless in their actions, life is more important to them than anything. They will have factored in all of the gains and losses before taking an action. In this case, they are almost certain that you will never become a disciple of the Xaoi sect, but they will not act recklessly in harming your mother. If despite all odds, you do succeed and become strong, then they could face horrible repercussions. If they are only holding your mother, exchanges can be made and it can all be swept under the rug. If they have done something awful to her though, it would be as this child has suggested, and the Xaoi sect will punish them swiftly to hide their dishonor.”
“Child?” Jiang Bo blinked.
He was the oldest one there. When did Liao An suddenly become such a wise sage? She had always seemed knowledgeable, but she felt much more snobbish now, like she was superior to everyone else. Bao bi seemed to be going along with it though, so Jiang Bo decided it was best to ignore it. Besides, if he pushed into some business involving Liao An, he would have assuredly never heard the end of it from Ying Yue. Just getting her to back down and return to the palace instead of racing to Bao bi’s house had taken a great deal of effort and several choice promises he was sure he was going to regret later.
“What are you saying, An’er?” Bao bi asked.
Jiang Bo jerked as Bao bi called Liao An with such an intimate address. When had the two grown so close? If he told Jiang Ying Yue about this, she would be devastated. Then again, if he didn’t tell her about this, she would punish him. There was no winning here.
Liao An’s eyes flashed in surprise, narrowing slightly. “You…”
Bao bi blushed. “Ahem… Liao An.”
He had called her An’er before and she hadn’t minded. This time, he had just spoken without thinking and it came out. However, he quickly realized it wasn’t appropriate to do so, especially after the traumatic ordeal that she had been through. Being close to a man was probably the last thing she wanted to think about. Thinking of what happened to her only caused his anger to burn once again.
Somewhere, in a palace orbiting this world, Tigra was gnashing her teeth as Midnight casually undid all of the progress she had made with the boy. However, she couldn’t say anything, let alone critique Midnight’s near-constant stream of relationship mistakes. If she didn’t do something soon, she feared Bao bi would end up hating or resenting Liao An. While it was true Liao An wasn’t a real person, but a puppet made from a girl Tigra had accidentally lobotomized years ago, she had spent a lot of time invested in this little girl’s development, and seeing someone else in the driver seat left her feeling unsatisfied.
Back on the planet, Midnight had recovered from the shock of a boy speaking her name so familiarly. It was true that her true name was not Liao An, but she was skilled enough to recognize the name for what it was and be rightfully shocked when he addressed her so intimately. They weren’t even married yet, and she certainly wasn’t his mother, so what right did he have to call her that? This was Tigra’s fault. She would need to come up with some way of punishing the other girl when she had the chance. In the meantime, Midnight decided to focus on what was important. This boy’s manners could be refined at a later date.
“If you wish to save your mother, you must grow stronger and succeed in entering the trial.” Midnight gave her proclamation, through the puppet Liao An.
Midnight had Tigra give her a rundown of everything happening, so she was more than adequate in understanding the situation. With a wave of her hand, she could understand the entire Xaoi sect, the levels of everyone in it, down to even the hidden treasures that they depended on to maintain their strength. Like all sects, their reputation spawned by bravado made up more of their power than actual strength. Then again, Midnight would have probably said that about any sect, even in the heavenly realm.
“With all due respect, I don’t think you need to worry about that.” Jiang Bo spoke up. “Bao bi is frankly quite amazing, especially for his age group. He should have no issue entered the Xaoi sect.”
Bao bi glanced at Jiang Bo, appreciating his compliments. He didn’t think he was that amazing. Compared to Liao An, he was only so-so. After all, he hadn’t even been able to protect his mother from getting kidnapped and his best friend from being brutalized. How could he have any sense of superiority after such a blow?
“You expect them to provide Bao bi with a fair and normal competition?” Liao An, sneering at Jiang Bo.
Jiang Bo’s eyes widened, feeling a bit shocked. “Y-you’re suggesting that they would cheat? This is the Xaoi sect disciple selection! It will be under the supervision of all of the Xaoi sect.”
“People die in such selections. It’d be very easy to have an accident with one of the contestants, especially one whose only available mentor is now mysteriously missing.” Liao An suggested casually.
“That is…” Jiang Bo shook, trying to come up with an argument.
Accepting her words was the same as accepting that the Xaoi sect was full of petty and petulant people. For an idealist like Jiang Bo, such a statement pushed on his values. He wasn’t willing to call out Liao An directly, but it was difficult to listen to such words.
“Whether it is true or not…” Bao bi spoke up. “If I wish to recover my mother, I must assume that it is true.”
Bao bi skillfully found a middle ground between the two. Jiang Bo slowly nodded, accepting that much. If it was a matter of getting stronger, wasn’t that every man’s goal? When your family was on the line, there wasn’t a risk that wasn’t worth taking. Jiang Bo imagined if it was his sister who was on the line, and realized that he wouldn’t take any chance on the assumption he would be able to pass.
“It’s not simply a matter of becoming a disciple. Even after being selected, you could face additional problems.” Liao An explained. “The higher your rank, the more pressure you can put on whoever kidnapped your mother. Without you knowing who they are specifically, they may continue to hold onto her, and even use her as a means of controlling you. At the very least, there would be a time before you found out who had her, as you tried to accumulate knowledge and find your place.
“If they grew desperate, they could attempt to have you killed during this period. Even if they are caught, as a newly-joined outer disciple, they would only receive a light slap on the wrist, and any chance that they are punished for their crimes would be impossible. Furthermore, resentment would be formed, and knowing that you could potentially cause them problems, they would do their best to obstruct your progress, preventing you from advancing and even plotting for your failure.”
“I’ve heard the politics among the kingdoms can be like this, but would the members of the noble Xaoi sect be so bad?” Jiang Bo couldn’t help but voice out his dissatisfaction toward some of her theories, but Liao An seemed unmoved by his words, instead concentrating on Bao bi.
“What is the plan then?” Bao bi asked, a frown on his face.
He had grown to trust Liao An at this point. If she said the Xaoi sect wouldn’t hurt his mother, then he chose to believe her. Furthermore, if she predicted that the future would be full of hardships before he could rescue her, then this would be the case as well. Bao bi only knew one thing. He absolutely wouldn’t abandon her. His father might be a good-for-nothing who left his woman at home more often than not, but he knew the man was kind and good-natured. Although he had never truly recognized Xaoi Lan as his mother like he had the mother in his first life, he acknowledged the love and care she had for him, and he wouldn’t accept losing her when he had the power to save her.
“Ideally, you must place first in the disciple selection, and take a place as an inner disciple, perhaps even becoming a core disciple within the first year.” Liao An declared.
Jiang Bo’s eyes popped at such a statement. Inner disciple was a position he had never even imagined. The Xiao Sect was vast and full of geniuses. Even with his advantage as a prince, he never hoped to become more than an outer disciple. Perhaps, with hard work, his sister might reach inner disciple eventually, but that would be years off.
Then again, as he thought about it, Xaoi Bao bi might be able to make it to inner disciple. He had proven himself more than capable. His young age meant that he would compete in the younger age group, and among even the twelve-year-olds, who was at a high tier of the first realm? That’s when he remembered who else was in Xaoi Bai Bi’s age group this year. There was the freakish Dian Ai. She would surely take 1st place, and be the one to receive inner disciple. Only the 1st place of each age group was guaranteed a place as an inner disciple.
However, that wasn’t even the limit to Liao An’s desires. She also expected him to become a core disciple. Core disciples were hand-selected by the elders. One could only achieve such a position by being at the top of the inner disciples. At that level, age wasn’t as important, so he would be competing against other inner disciples up to 18 years of age. That was a gap that Jian Bo couldn’t even imagine. They were the geniuses among geniuses, and the thought of Bao bi, a boy he had randomly met in an alley one night reaching such a stage seemed like a dream.
As he considered all of these things, his enthusiasm quickly dropped. Defeating Dian Ai alone would be a task as formidable as a mountain. At three tiers apart, the distance was too vast. It would be another year before Bao bi reached the 2nd realm, and even thinking that much was giving Bao bi a lot of credit and making Jiang Bo feel a bit bitter. He was the same tier, and he wasn’t confident he’d reach the 2nd realm in such a short time. It could also be noted that in a year, Dian Ai would be a higher level. The chances of him catching up with a prodigy like her were impossible.
Even if Jiang Bo had known Bao bi’s true level, his opinion wouldn’t have changed. That was how vast the difference between a 1st realm and a 2nd realm cultivator was. He didn’t know enough about Bao bi’s strange body which could contain profound energy despite lacking a dantian. In truth, if Bao bi fought Dian Ai, he wasn’t clear who would win. It was true that he could fight above his level, and even a 2nd realm high tier could be defeated by him if he surprised them. However, Dian Ai was also a prodigy who had reached the 2nd realm at the tender age of ten. Her abilities couldn’t be simple, and it was possible that she could also fight above her realm.
Bao bi couldn’t chance such a match, so he had a determined expression on his face as he glanced at this new, more serious Liao An. “What is your advice, then?”
Liao An nodded as if she expected this conclusion from the beginning, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a pill. “Until the disciple selection, you will be cultivating around the clock. You must break through to the next tier. This pill will allow you to achieve this.”
Such a bold claim caused Jiang Bo to fall out of his daze and stare at the pill in her hand. He was no alchemist, but he could smell the rich and fragrant medicinal ingredients. He had no clue what the pill did, but he could tell instantly that it was powerful and rare. A pill that could bring someone from the beginning of the 7th tier to the 8th tier? How could such a simple common girl get such an item – and more, why would she hand it to another? Jiang Bo had allowed himself to previously be blinded by familiarity so he didn’t connect things when Liao An was revealed to have reached the 3rd realm. Now, he realized this person wasn’t so simple at all. She must be backed by someone very powerful. A secret master? That had to be the case.
Of course, Jiang Bo didn’t realize she wasn’t talking about reaching the 8th tier. She was talking about reaching the second realm! Bao bi was finally going to advance into the Mortal Origin Realm.
He gave a nod. “I’m ready.”