Two months later, at a small port on the Dragon River in the suburbs of Kai Yang City, Zhao Zhou district just south of the Heavenly Qi Country.
It was early in the morning, and the sun just barely rose above the horizon, the first glimmering of light slowly revealing the river was covered in a thin layer of white fog. People did not normally come here but today, small groups of people were constantly streaming in, among them were elegantly dressed travelers who walked on foot, as well as tired riders in ordinary clothes who had covered a long distance before arriving at the port. But regardless of what they looked like, there were teenage boys or girls in each group, the older ones had worried expressions while the younger ones were filled with excitement. Within a short period of time, as many as forty people had arrived at the port, with teenagers accounting for nearly one-third of them. Though so many were gathered in one place, all of them were relatively quiet. A thick fog started rolling in, obscuring vision and making the scene ever stranger.
The influx of people gradually stymied, with each new arrivals staying just as quiet as those who came before them. Around half an hour later, anxiety started to build up in the crowd, but just then a booming sound came from the river, as if a huge creature was rushing out. The sight boosted the travelers’ spirits, and they all started staring into the fog, as if trying to catch a glimpse of something.
The fog was pushed aside as a huge ship, over eighteen meters tall and a hundred meters long, emerged and moved steadily into the port. The crowd stirred with excitement as the ship approached. Finally, it stopped in the deepwater area around twenty-five meters from the port. Then someone from the ship rose into the air and moved swiftly toward the port.
As soon as the man steadied himself on the ground he was immediately surrounded by the crowd.
Someone loudly asked, “Are you are the Black Tortoise Sect Elder?”
Another person, with a nasally voice, asked, “What is your name, honorable Elder? One of my ancestors used to be a scholar in your honored sect.”
A third one asked, “Are you carrying the sect’s token with you?”
“All of you shut up! A token? Do I really need a token to prove myself to you? You should be thankful I wasted my time to come here, and you can consider yourselves lucky that you even got the opportunity to join our sect! Just be quiet and board the vessel. Feel free to stay here if you think I’m lying.” The blue-robed man who was shouting had a large build and looked to be in his thirties.
The crowd was completely silent after the man roared at them.
“That’s about it, if you made it this far you must have been through the test of our representatives who are responsible for discovering warriors with potential all over the country. So just shut up and follow me, but remember this, whether or not you can acquire a good place in our sect depends on your performance in the enrollment test. Right, all the candidates, come here with your tokens and don’t waste your time trying to flatter me. Hurry up! I still have other places to go after I finish picking you candidates up.“ The blue-robed man said seriously.
The crowd was overwhelmed by the man’s brash manner. Many of the people gathered here had left their homes for the first time to change their destiny. Now they were faced with hundreds of questions and zero answers. They nervously shifted around looking at each other before, finally, a thin boy gathered up his courage and walked up followed by a few others.
The large man pulled an old palm-sized bronze mirror out of his robe, checking each of the approaching teenagers with it. A white light flickered each time one of the candidates walked past, the intensity of the light was different for each of the candidates, but he did not seem to care about it at all. After a short period of time, all fifteen candidates had finished the check and found themselves standing behind the blue-robed man.
“So I guess that’s all at this stop...” The man glanced over the other travelers who had accompanied the candidates here and was about to say something when faint footsteps were heard. Shortly afterward a figure approached the port along a path. The entire crowd turned to look at the figure in surprise.
The newcomer was a teenage boy in a blue shirt, his skin slightly tanned, and he was taller than the average teen, looking nearly as mature as an adult. He was carrying a huge pack over his shoulder which contained a bow and arrows, while a blade was dangling from his waist.
Seeing the crowd, the tall youth was taken aback. Before he knew it the blue-robed man had flashed the bronze mirror in front of him, and a ball of white light also flickered in response.
“Why are you so late? You are the last one and we’re all waiting for you.” The man snorted in discontent, waving at the youth, signaling him to aboard the ship.
The youth stared at his peers behind the burly fellow and tentatively asked, Are you a senior from the Black Tortoise Sect?”
“What else I be? “ The man was irritated by the innocent question. He suddenly appeared at the youth’s side and grabbed him without a word. The youth started reaching for his sword, then stopped when he realized he wasn’t being attacked.
“Peng!” The man grabbed the youth's shoulders, and rose into the air, heading toward the ship. Midway, he caught a teenage girl, and with great force, he flung the youth and the girl in the direction of the ship.
“Ah!!!” The girl was shocked into a cry. But the youth was still with his usual cool face. A second later, they thudded onto the vessel’s deck, steady and uninjured. The girl’s face was now as white with fear, her legs trembling, but the youth only sucked in a cold breath. The way the large man effortlessly flung the two of them made him awestruck. It seemed that his entering the Black Tortoise Sect was, indeed, the best choice for him.
The youth in the blue shirt was undoubtedly Shi Mu, coming in a hurry from Quan Zhou.
Half a month ago, immediately after Red Herb of the Ethereal Phoenix Sect gave him the reference letter and a paper charm, she smashed the ice crystal, of the fifth master, into pieces in a single strike and left with Zhong Xiu not saying any other words. Shi Mu did not stay there any longer either. He left the mountains and found a quiet place to recuperate for half a month before he made his way here. But meeting the crowd and the blue-robed elder, before he had a chance to burn the paper charm, made him suspicious. Before he had a chance to figure out what had happened, he was thrown into the vessel by the large man impatiently. He was caught so unprepared that for a while he just stood there, speechless, watching the large man throwing all the candidates to the deck. Finally, the elder turned his body and returned to the vessel himself.
“Go!” He demanded.
The vessel slowing left the port and sailed into the mist.
“Good. Now report your names and where you used to live. I’ll record them on this sect register.” The elder ordered the candidates as he took a thick roll from his sleeve.