Intoxicated in his monologue, the angry young man was posturing around with aggressive body language. His cleanly shaven head shimmering accordingly. When he finally found that the echos around him had died down, he turned around and saw Master Fang and Jin Xiaochai watching him. Embarrassed, he reluctantly shut his mouth.
“What’s happening, have you all completed your missions? How dare you waste your time quarreling here!” Master Fang scolded seriously.
“Master Fang, the truth is….” Mountain Green was lost for a second as to how to deal with the matter, then, taking a deep breath, he hurried to the angry old man’s side and whispered in his ear about the whole event. As it went, it was all because Shi Mu had gotten preferential treatment to use the Kun stone room - the second best of all - as soon as he had arrived, so it aroused other Adepts’ resentment, of whom the shaven-headed man was the most irritated. The commotion was, thus, led by him.
Master Fang heard these words and turned back to shoot Jin Xiaochai a blaming look, but the beautiful girl stood behind him like an angel, with a dazzling smile in her eyes, completely keeping herself away from the difficult matter.
“Qiu Ming, do you have any objections to my decision, and think that Shi Mu doesn’t have the qualifications to use the Kun room?” Master Fang said, with a sullen face.
“I dare not object, but brother Shi has just joined our stronghold and has not made any contributions, and yet he gets the best treatment. Though all the other disciples said nothing about it, they won’t be genuinely convinced.” The shaven-headed young man slighted bowed and answered respectfully, not without a hint of indignation in his voice. He was rather tall and thin, a half head taller than Shi Mu, and had quite a regular, yet proud, look. When he was speaking, he glanced at Shi Mu sideways, full of enmity. Judging from the expensive-looking purple clothes he was wearing, with every complex embroidery invented by human hands on them, he must be a disciple from the Dark Charm Palace of the Huang Bright Country.
The Dark Charm Palace was not a strong sect of all the seven sects, but quite famous for its charm and formula arts, and thus was known as the leading sect in making charms, with its disciples all being professional charm Adepts. To prove its strength and influence, the disciples from the Dark Charm Palace accounted for at least thirty percent of all in this stronghold.
Master Fang swept all the people present with his scathing eyes, and the disciples all lowered their heads one after another, though still with resentful looks on their faces. So it seemed that Shi Mu’s occupying an individual room as a new man really broke a taboo here. Now even Master Fang began to feel himself caught in a dilemma, cursing Jin Xiaochai silently in his heart as he tried with an effort to remain his outside calmness.
Just then, the shaven-headed man suggested to Master Fang, in an insinuating tone,”Master, I have an idea. May I say it?”
“Go ahead.” Master Fang’s face was expressionless, but inwardly he felt the young man’s voice was like music.
“Now that the missions of the union are becoming more pressing each day, we understand that it is inappropriate to keep the Kun room empty. I think it would be fair to let the best charm Adept in us use it. If brother Shi can convince us, I will not say a word.” With master Fang’s permission, he was more forward in tone as he stated his advice.
Master Fang frowned, as if quietly weighing the suggestion. Of course, he could refuse the advice with his authority, but it seemed unfair to the other disciples and would only bitterly disappoint them. The poor Master Fang turned back and glanced at Jin Xiaochai again, with a pair of pleading eyes, asking for her help like a troubled pupil, but she just kept smiling, as if the meaning did not make it to her.
“Of all the magic scholars in this stronghold, you are the most skillful in drawing charms, Qiu Ming. So now you and Shi Mu can have a competition and the winner will have the Kun room.” Master Fang declared painfully, cursing in his heart that Jin Xiaochai was such a “sly little fox”.
The shaven-headed man was quite satisfied hearing the decision, and he instantly answered, filled with joy. Then he tilted his head, throwing Shi Mu a provoking look and demanded sardonically:”Brother Shi, let’s have a competition of drawing charms.”
“Well, now that you insist to compete with me, I will not refuse.” Shi Mu smiled politely and replied without hesitation.
“How about drawing the Body-Lifting Charm for two hours. The one who draws more wins?” The shaven-headed man “asked” proudly.
All the disciples around broke into heated discussions, eyeing Shi Mu excitedly in anticipation of his response. They were clear that Qiu Ming was a Wind adept and that he was the best at drawing the Body-Lifting Charm, despite its high difficulty. At this moment, Feng Li was standing in the crowd and he shook his head, almost indiscernible, at Shi Mu, attempting to persuade him to give up.
“Well, that’s a deal.” Shi Mu promised light-heartedly, turning a blind eye to Feng Li’s action. A half-smile appeared on his lips.
Seeing that Shi Mu agreed without thinking, the disciples burst into whispers, exchanging their opinions which were mostly gloating at Shi Mu’s brainless acceptance of the challenge. The shaven-headed man was overjoyed, busy in cupping his hands to the audience around, and abandoned himself in his blissful thoughts of moving to the Kun Room this evening.
During the following time, some helpers straightened out two stone desks and put tools in order, including ink, brushes, and heavenly stones of wind element, as well as a sandglass for marking the time. All set, Shi Mu and his confident competitor both sat themselves by a desk.
“The competition begins!”
At master Fang’s order, the proud look on the shaven-head man’s face instantly vanished, replaced by a fully concentrated expression. He took a deep breath, and, with a heavenly stone in hand, brush in the other, he started to draw smoothly, with each stroke steadily performed at a pace that was neither too slow nor too fast. Before long, a perfect green character had emerged on the paper, so vivid it seemed like it could fly off any minute. However, at the opposite, Shi Mu did not begin his drawing immediately, but shut up his eyes and sat quietly to adjust his breath after Master Fang’s announcement.
And he did not open his eyes until a good quarter of an hour later, unhurried, and refreshed. During his rest, all the onlookers were busied by a further discussion of Shi Mu’s lack of intelligence in a low voice. They were all charm Adepts, who all understood the shortness of the two hour challenge. Made up of many complex characters, Charms like the Body-Lifting charm demanded a long time to to draw, but Shi Mu’s easy manner constituted a most odd action beyond anyone’s understanding.
Meanwhile, on the paper in front of the shaven-headed man, eleven characters had been finished, and the twelfth was not far from completion.
At length, Shi Mu opened his eyes, which were as still as a deep, waveless lake, and leisurely picked up a piece of paper. Then he held up his brush and dipped it in the magic ink. All his actions were skilled and natural, exuding an air that was only seen in real experts, therefore, in a second, he had tamed the scornful looks from the onlookers, and the arrogant gleams in their eyes gradually died away.
Shi Mu narrowed his eyes and his pupils reduced slightly. But he did not apply his golden pupils on this occasion, only fixing his spiritual power on the tip of the brush, which he lifted and then gently lowered to the paper, with a heavenly stone in the other hand. The Body-Lifting Charm was the most complex one among all primary charms. The formula was formed with many characters and heavenly patterns that were quite challenging to draw out, but seeing Shi Mu’s unperturbed face, and his smooth movements with the brush, one would never have thought that he was drawing such a difficult charm.
Soon, winding and intricate characters swiftly emerged on the paper, one after the other, and Shi Mu drew so skillfully that the characters looked like rather elegant art, clear and steady, without any incoherent points.
All the time, dim yellow lights wound down to the tip of the brush, and all the finished characters shone and glittered with overflowing spiritual power, not a single sign of unsteadiness. The people standing around gradually changed their looks as they saw the dynamic characters on Shi Mu’s paper, all trying to ease away the amazement by murmuring to their companions.
After a short time, Shi Mu drew his last stroke with a flick of his wrist. The completed formula on the charm flashed, then the light gradually faded, the characters now giving off a vague green light.
So a complete charm was accomplished.
Master Fang’s eyes glinted in surprise, for it had not been more than half a quarter of an hour since Shi Mu had started drawing, and the shaven-headed man had just finished one copy and barely started drawing the second. He had his full attention on it and was not aware of Shi Mu’s performance.
All the disciples were astonished, gaping at each other. But Shi Mu did not even change his expression, and appeared as if he was not aware of the other people’s responses. He put the first charm aside and picked up another piece of paper, then started drawing again. The complex formula was rendered as if it was a no-brainer to Shi Mu’s, his brush moving nimbly and did not pause for even a second. The second charm took even less time to complete, then the third one….
He did not notice that the hall had sunk into a heavy silence. Nobody whispered, all staring at him shocked. Shi Mu remained sedate and expressionless, moving his hand like an accurately machine that produced one charm after another, without a hitch.
The deep, still look on Shi Mu’s face made Jin Xiaochai’s smile lift, bit by bit, and her pretty face hardened. Narrowing her eyes sharply, she studied Shi Mu’s face in a way a scientist would observe an object of his experiments. As the sharpness accumulated in her eyes, she abruptly turned around her body and walked towards the exit of the hall, without once looking back. She had gotten the information she needed.
Hardly anyone noticed her leave, except Master Fang, who had sensed it vaguely. But she had fast, light steps that, in a twinkle, carried her far off. Master Fang shook his head doubtfully, and turned back to gaze at Shi Mu’s movements, his eyes shining with excitement. He had not seen such a charm Adept like Shi Mu for a long time, and, in the eyes of an adept of Star Grade like himself, Shi Mu could already be counted as proficient, even beating many Adepts of the Spirit Grade.