Shi Mu’s encouragement was music to Red Herb’s ears. However, her face changed as Zhong Xiu spoke.
“I will enter your sect senior, but please let Brother Shi come along.” Zhong Xiu remarked.
Shi Mu’s heart leaped upon hearing such caring words. To be accepted into the Ethereal Phoenix Sect, whose power surpassed even the authority of the Qi court, was beyond his wildest dreams.
Red Herb felt she was put in an awkward situation by this request. After a moment of consideration, she shook her head, frowning.
“I can grant you anything, except this. Our sect only has a few male disciples. In our sect, from the acolytes to the elders, you can count male members with your fingers. Only a male with a bloodline or rare talent fit for practicing our arts would be accepted. Even though I am the Pavilion leader I still have to abide by the rule.”
“Bloodline warrior? Brother Shi is a bloodline warrior!” Zhong Xiu seized the chance, hurriedly revealing Shi Mu’s identity.
“What!? You are a bloodline warrior too? Which bloodline? Let’s test it right now!” Red Herb did not expect this at all; she paused for a moment and asked, half convinced.
“No need, senior. I know that I have the useless Bloodline of the Stone Ape.” Shi Mu gave a bitter smile, knowing exactly what would happen if she did test his blood.
This news relieved Red Herb greatly. She relaxed and said in a condescending tone, “The Stone Ape Bloodline? If so then there’s no hope at all for you to enter our sect.”
“Hmph! Then I won’t enter either! I will stay with Brother Shi. I owe him my life, there’s no way I will go to some unknown place without him.” Zhong Xiu immediately made up her mind. At Zhong Xiu’s words, Shi Mu was moved, his heart warmed by the girl’s innocent affections. “Miss Zhong, you don’t have to do this. Just go with senior Red Herb.” However, the girl was quite determined; she shook her head, continuing to plead in silence, her gentle eyes full of resolution and sincerity.
Red Herb had to admit that this was one of the most difficult moments of her life. But after a moment’s thought, she came up with a solution to appease the kind beautiful girl, she asked Shi Mu, “Right, I just remembered. Which one of you is holding the Black Tortoise Sect token? They had a pair and one of you should be holding the smaller one right now.”
“The Black Tortoise Sect? Token?” Shi Mu and Zhong Xiu each looked at the other in confusion, wondering what Red Herb was talking about.
“Ah, it seems neither of you know what I am talking about. No problem, I have a method to find the token.” Red Herb said upon seeing their confusion. She smiled and opened one of her hands, revealing a light yellow paper charm which suddenly burst into flames. In response to the charm, a strange noise, like someone weeping, came from Shi Mu’s chest. The item making the noise was shaking so much that you could see it moving inside inside his shirt. “What’s this?” Looking down at his shirt Shi Mu was stunned before recalling a certain scene. “Miss Zhong, hurry and take it out of my shirt. I think I know what is it.”
The girl nodded and then fumbled in Shi Mu’s shirt. Soon she brought out a black metal piece with delicate patterns that looked ancient and enigmatic. The sight of this so-called token soon rang a bell in Zhong Xiu’s mind, casting her into the gloom of sad memories. Shi Mu also became somber upon seeing Zhong Xiu’s change of expression. This metal token was the thing left behind by the zombie that killed Zhong Xiu’s father. In spite of that, Shi Mu felt like it was a good luck charm. It had saved his life on two occasions. The first time was when Jin Tian tried to stab him in the field near Shi Mu’s manor. The dagger was stopped by the metal token. The second happened just now, when the fifth master’s kick was weakened by it when he tried to break Shi Mu’s ribs. Could this be the same token Red Herb was looking for? Shi Mu stared at the metal piece before handing it to Red Herb for examination.
Just a quick glance by Red Herb confirmed her suspicions. She nodded before asking, “This is the token that was owned by a disciple of Old Sun. How did you come by it?”
Shi Mu told the story - how he killed the zombie and found the token unexpectedly - with Zhong Xiu adding some minute details to support him. Red Herb soon understood their story before explaining with a smile, “That’s true as far as I’m concerned. According to Old Sun, this disciple had been practicing the notorious Zombie Art till he died. A while ago, this disciple reached a bottleneck in his training and decided to leave the sect to temper himself out in the world. Shortly after he left, the Spirit Lamp he left in the Black Tortoise Sect went out, alerting the elders to his unfortunate demise. Several days ago one of the tokens stirred suddenly and after divination, the sect realized the token had reached this area controlled by the Ethereal Phoenix Sect. So they gave me this charm and asked for my help in finding it. However, it seems that scholar has failed in his breakthrough. But this is good news to your Brother Shi, Xiu Er.”
The last sentence hinted at something, but Zhong Xiu did not understand, “What do you mean by good news, senior?”
A trace of hope also flashed across Shi Mu’s eyes.
“Simple. We, the Heavenly Songs Sect, have a rule against male candidates, but the Black Tortoise Sect doesn’t. Moreover, the sect is well-known for its secret arts that reinforce one’s body. This one may have a ‘useless’ Stone Ape Bloodline, but that same bloodline grants him superhuman strength. Plus he is the one who found the token! If he returns it to Old Sun along with my written recommendation, I bet the Black Tortoise will be willing to accept him as a disciple.” Red Herb answered with a smile.
But Zhong Xiu’s face full of excitement slowly turned into disappointment. She murmured, despondent, “So I can’t stay with Brother Shi......”
This prospect of parting did not disturb Shi Mu at all. Resolved, he answered in a manner that denied any further discussion, “Excellent! I shall head to the Black Tortoise Sect.”
“Very wise. I shall write you a letter of recommendation. Here take this paper charm. When you reach the riverside near Kai Yang City, burn it. Someone will come to take you to the Black Tortoise Sect.” Red Herb said hurriedly, with a triumphant smile, leaving Zhong Xiu no opportunity to make a protest. Without delay, Red Herb turned her hand up again and, this time, produced a jade charm which she rubbed her forehead against while she muttered something for a while. This ritual finished, she took another yellow paper charm from her sleeve and handed it to Shi Mu with the token.
Shi Mu thanked Red Herb then his face suddenly filled with embarrassment, instead of gratitude. His body remained motionless, or rather, he was unable to move.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot about your broken arms. Well then, let me do something about that.” Red Herb hesitated for a moment before taking out two blue paper charms and placing them gently on Shi Mu’s arms.
The two charms began to glow with a blue light, the patterns on them squirming like worms. Meanwhile, Shi Mu felt an unusual heat permeating his broken arms, starting from the fractures, and finally turning into an irresistible itch all over his body.
Shi Mu tried to move his fingers. To his amazement, they could move as freely as before. “Incredible...” He gaped in awe.
“These two Healing Charms cost me quite a sum of sacred stones. Come, Xiu Er, I have to attend to some errands and we don’t have all day.” Giving the order, Red Herb would not spare another minute for the girl to linger beside her sweetheart.