One by one, the candidates came forward to record their information into the register.
“My name is Han XiangXiu, the third daughter of the Han family in Chuan Zhou, I was led here by Senior Kong Yue.”
“Zhang DaLi, a villager of Zhang Village in Feng City, Zhang Zhou district. Led here by Senior Zhao Huo.”
Soon it was Shi Mu’s turn. He hesitated for a second before deciding to tell the truth, “Shi Mu, from Feng City. Senior Red Herb of the Ethereal Phoenix Sect wrote me a letter of recommendation.”
The blue-robed man was concentrated in taking notes when Shi Mu’s words startled him. “What? You mean Ye Hong Yao the Red Herb? Liar! You think I’d fall for such an obvious lie?” He looked up from the register, full of malicious suspicion.
“Senior, please excuse me for causing you disbelief. Here is the recommendation letter addressed to Elder Sun from Elder Red Herb. And here is the Black Tortoise token.” To prove himself, Shi Mu took out the letter and token, passing them to the large man respectfully.
As the man looked over the two items, his face softened a little. Half convinced, he continued to inquire, “Which Elder Sun? Master Sun the Heavenly Dragon, leader of the Upper House, or Old Sun of the Dark Heaven Hall, the Interior House?”
To this question Shi Mu was clueless. He only knew to deliver the letter and token to an Elder Sun. So he answered frankly.
“So, you are not a candidate, but a disciple of the Ethereal Phoenix Sect?” The man did not take the token or reference letter, instead he asked more questions, a visible trace of surprise on his face.
“Not really. I am here for the test to the Black Tortoise Sect. The letter from Red Herb to Senior Sun is only a recommendation.” The answer draw many curious stares from the other candidates. However, the burly man only pondered it for a minute, before a hostile look flashed across his eyes as he harshly waved his arm, knocking the token and letter out of Shi Mu’s hands. He snarled ferociously, “Humph! Recommendation letter? What nonsense! I could care less who wrote it! Now move it, all of you to the lowest floor! No one is allowed on the deck. Anyone found on deck will be disciplined!”
The young candidates were all frightened by the maliciousness of the man, nodding their heads meekly like little lambs.
Just then, servants emerged - all dressed in grey shirts, their faces lined with strange scars. Without a word, they led the candidates down below deck, the process was oddly silent. Doubt began to grow in Shi Mu’s heart, but without a word of protest he picked up his letter and token from the ground and followed the crowd down below deck.
The large blue-robed man had been coldly observing Shi Mu, whose silent obedience surprised him.
“Well, well, not bad, that boy seems to have noticed something.” A second voice resounded behind the large man’s shoulders. Simultaneously, a roll of black mist swirled onto the deck; from within appeared a black-robed man, his face covered by a tigermask.
The blue-robed man was somewhat irritated, arguing, “Tiger-Bone, you are not supposed to show yourself yet. Remember that the sect master set me in charge of this mission!”
“Be at peace. I won’t get in your way, I only wanted to ask a question: why not just throw that lad off the ship. After all we have already offended the Black Tortoise Sect, do you want to quarrel with the Ethereal Phoenix Sect as well? “ The tiger-masked man answered with his own question.
“Humph! Does Red Herb equate to the entirety of the Ethereal Phoenix Sect? Heavenly Qi’s three sects are always fighting with our Yan Fire Nation’s two sects. We are already at odds with the Phoenix Sect! What more can we fear? Besides, who knows if Red Herb only wanted to get rid of him by sending him to this pick-up port? I was going to teach him a lesson if he had any complaints, but surprisingly, he’s behaving well so I had to let him off.” The blue-robed man sneered.
“Alright, I’ll keep my mouth shut then. I’ll help if the Black Tortoise guys come. “ The tiger-masked man shrugged in discontent.
The blue-robed man felt assured, “All the Black Tortoise disciples responsible for pick-up have been badly injured by us. Even if they have asked for reinforcement from their sect, a XianTian Saint would have to take a whole day to catch up with us. By then, with this Speed-Bursting charm, we will have reached the our nation’s side of the river. What do we have to fear?”
“Alright then, let’s use the charm now.” The tiger masked man nodded, fumbled in his shirt and took out a patch of light yellow animal skin cut into a neat square, with profound silver characters and patterns on the surface vaguely visible.
“This Speed-Bursting charm is made from high quality tiger hide, but it’s a pity there is only one more charge left. The spirit power in it is almost out.” The blue-robed man’s eyes ooked at the hide with a trace of regret. However, Tiger-Bone was not bothered. He replied in a stony voice, “Our sect has sent us right into the heart of the Heavenly Qi country for revenge. So of course there will be a cost to complete the mission. “ His words finished, Tiger-Bone began to mutter some incantations to himself with a serious face, and then he threw the square hide high to the sky.
The hide swirled in the air a couple of times before patterned blue lines appeared around it like a ring of light, interweaving to form a blue screen of light. Immediately, after a flash the screen sank into the main sail of the vessel, bringing about a gust of wind that imbued a tremendous power into vessel’s sail to push the entire vessel forward like a freed bird.
The blue-robed man bursted out laughing upon feeling the acceleration, whereas the tiger masked man gave a sneer before he vanished into thin air again.
Meantime, in the lowest part of the boat, approximately one hundred young boys and girls were being distributed into eight different rooms. Shi Mu was herded into one room with some other candidates. The formerly silent teens were now starting to talk, feeling kinship towards those who had also been thrown into this strange situation. Some began to talk about their families, some about the matters of the Black Tortoise Sect, and soon most of them had become friends. But there was one youth sitting by himself in a corner, silent, with his head bent. A girl around thirteen - who had been thrown to the deck along with Shi Mu earlier - stole a few glances at Shi Mu, before she grinned at him and asked in a gentle voice, “Big brother, I just heard that you were recommended here by a senior of the Ethereal Phoenix Sect, is it true? If so, why not just join the Phoenix instead of traveling this far to the Tortoise? “
The youth was none other than Shi Mu, who looked up at the girl as she spoke to him. The girl has a childlike face, but had a rather mature figure for her age. She had a slender waist, yet the beginning of mature curves were starting to show, and the shape of her breasts could be seen on her robes. She would definitely be a stunning beauty in the future.
“I would have….if the Phoenix Sect ever took male scholars. It would have saved me a long journey.” Shi Mu answered slowly with a deep sigh.
Han XiangXiu: Han is a family name. Xiang is the name of a famous river in China, and Xiu means beauty.
Kong Yue: Kong is a family name. Yue means the action of jumping.
Zhang DaLi: Zhang is a family name. Da Li means great strength.
Zhao Huo: Zhao is a family name. Huo means fire. (These four names are all random.)chaptererror();