“Xu Ling… What do you think of us?” The voice of a girl sounded by his ears. The child turned and looked at the woman sitting beside him with a smile. She had a red skin and red hair, her features were incredibly beautiful, her curves generous and her red lips alluring.
The child look confused and asked “You are my brothers, my sisters, my friends, what could I ever think of you?”
The woman grinned, showing off two perfect rows of white teeth, and nodded “Of course you would!”
The boy hesitated then said “But…”.
The woman tilted her head “What is it?”
“Well… Do you ever have the feelings that you would want to become more than friends with anybody?” The boy looked at the scenery in front of him: at the moment, they were sitting on the border of a flying island, looking at the sun setting down over the horizon.
The boy gazed the colored sky and pointed “A feeling that you would want to share such beautiful things with somebody? I have… Recently I have been feeling a bit strange…”
The woman hesitated and then explained “Well, that is called love, and it is something that is perfectly normal!” She smiled and patted the boy’s head.
“Love?” The boy’s eyes widened “How do you know if it is really love?” The child tilted his head and laid on the woman’s lap.
She smiled warmly and caressed him as she looked at the horizon “The feeling that you would want to be with that person forever, that your heart would jump out of your chest whenever you meet that somebody, that you want to protect this person, that you would pay any price for her to be safe from all harm… This feeling shows that you Love that person. Who is this person that you become like that around to?”
The boy closed his eyes and muttered under his breath “Well… It is Sister…”
“What was that?” The girl asked but she was met with silence so she looked down “You silly boy… To fall asleep like this”. She chuckled and kissed him on the forehead “Sleep tight brother, good dreams!”
A man walked up a hill cursing. He had white hair tied in braids and dark skin, a snake coiled around his shoulder and two voices sounded out “”Damn, where did those two run to? Look and see if we don’t give them a lesson!””
He walked past the last step of a long set of stairs and he froze. His previous anger turned into tenderness as he saw the two figures sleeping on the grass while hugging each other.
The woman held the boy close to her chest, her forehead and nose touching with the boy’s. The man sighed “”How could we ever ruin such a scene…””
He walked up to the two and caressed the both of them with his tow large hands “”Ling ‘Er… Hong ‘Er… A Human and a Divine Beast. This is just amazing, for the two of you so different, yet to be so close…””
He turned and looked at the sleeping child with gratitude “”That girl, she never smiled before, she never joked, played or spoke with anybody ever since her mother died… It was as if her time had been stopped and her world turned into black and white!””
The man sighed “”But now, thanks to you, that time began to move again, her monochrome world has now become full of colors. We can see she is now happy. Thank you, Xu Ling, you have the gratitude of us three brothers for letting Hong ‘Er enjoy her life!””
“”We, The Black Turtle, thank you for that!”” Rei Hei smiled and headed back.
Xu Ling yawned and opened his eyes. He saw that the girl was still sleeping so he didn’t dare move. He smiled happily when he saw the girl’s soft lips were also arranged into a happy smile.
He closed his eyes and fell asleep again, he dreamt of flying in the night sky, the stars shining around him as he walked hand in hand with the red girl until the end of time...
“Brother? Cheng Hao? Brother Cheng Hao?”
The boy opened his eyes wide and looked around him. He yawned ‘Wow, I really fell asleep! Not sleeping for two months is finally paying the toll on my body…’
“Brother, are you okay? You fell asleep back there, are you sure you are fine?” Bi Liang asked.
Cheng Hao shook his head “I am fine. You needn’t worry about me, just focus on the task ahead” the boy stretched and yawned. Surrounding him, he could see an ocean of people. Some talking, some meditating, some playing around.
He shook his head to wake himself up but couldn’t help but ponder “What did I dream of? I cannot remember, I feel like it was something important…”
Cheng Hao and the Golden Tiger Faction’s other members were in the Grudge’s End valley in the third ring, an area in the Core Sect of the Mysterious Light-Shadow Sect. Although people in a lower position should not be able to visit an higher ranked Ring, this valley was the only exception.
Located just a few minutes away from the entrance to the Third Ring, the Core Sect, it is the only place where Inner disciples can roam around in the Third Ring.
There was a gigantic Arena in the middle of the valley with a lot of seats built around it. Most of them were occupied by now as tens of thousands of people had flown in to look at the match that was about to take place.
They had been stationed here for a few hours now already. The reason was simple: a few minutes from then, the Nine Protectors would appear, each with their disciple, and they would have a showdown in between the younger generation to decide whose master would become the Sect Head.
The Golden Tiger Faction were mixing with a crowd of a few tens of thousand people or so: the news had been disclosed to a few disciples in the Inner Sect and above and to the Elders in the Inner Sect and Core Sect, so there weren’t just a few people watching the fight.
Instead, most of the Inner and Core Disciples and Inner and Core Elders were present. Now, the only people left were the Nine Protectors and the stars of the show, their Disciples!
The crowd had begun to gossip and dispute on who had the highest chances to win. Cheng Hao listened to the opinions of those surrounding him to get an overall view of the situation.
“There is no need to discuss: it is already clear as who the winner will be, it will of course be Lady Sou Rou! Matchless talent and beauty, who else should you cheer for!” A man nodded and explained excitedly.
“What are you saying!” Another disciple retorted “If you wish to talk about matchless talent it will of course be young lord Zhao Bu! I heard he has already reached the peak Advanced stage! Soon, he will step into the Superior stage!”
“Talk about talent and cultivation all you want, but remember that what is most important in a fight is experience!” An old man wearing the Elder Sect robes shook his head “Disciple Fang Lu will of course be the one to win! He is in his late twenties with a cultivation of the low Superior stage. He is not an Heaven defying talent but his experience is greater than both Zhao Bu and Sou Rou!”
Many people discussed but in the end, the only thing they could do was wait, wait and see for themselves who the true strongest of the younger generation was!
After five minutes passed, suddenly someone stood up and yelled “Everyone, look! Isn’t that Fourth Protector Mu Gu?”
“So the Ancient Tree is the first to step into the battlefield! [Note: Mu – Wood, Gu – Ancient, Old]” someone shouted “I bet that boy beside him is his disciple, Fang Lu! I heard he has reached the peak low Superior stage a few weeks ago, he might break through to mid Superior stage at any moment! Being only in his late twenties, that is quite the achievement!”
Mu Gu was a thin man in his late sixties, with a head full of green hair falling down his back. He had sharp eyebrows and a pointy nose. He wore a green robe and on his back were the words Mu Gu – Ancient Tree.
The robe looked like it had been weaved with hundreds upon hundreds of leaves, each slightly different in color and shape, by a golden thread. Overall, it looked really fancy and beautiful.
Fang Lu, instead, was a chubby youth. He wore the Core Sect robes but had a gigantic scroll hanging from his back and his brown hair was tied into a single ponytail. He was an amiable youth who smiled easily, still, he was by no means foolish, some even said that his go-lucky appearance was all a farce to hide his genius and abilities.
The two, master and disciple, headed towards one corner of the arena and expectantly looked up, waiting for their fellow Sect members to arrive.
“Look, Fifth Protector Shui Jing is here as well!” A man and a young woman descended from the sky and somebody hurriedly pointed that out “His disciple Te Rin, is here as well! She is really a beauty as rumors say. It seems like Fifth Protector really has a good eye for both talent and beauty!”
Fifth Protector Shui Jing looked quite young compared to the rest. His appearance was that of a forty years old man, but those who knew better wouldn’t be fooled as he was actually an old man in his early seventies. He wore light blue clothes and on his back were the words Shui Jing – Lord Crystal [Note: Shuijing – Crystal]
The cloth looked magical: with every movement, it would change in color. Sometimes it would be a bright electric blue, others the darker purple.
Te Rin instead, was a pretty, young girl. Although her figure wasn’t too prominent, nor did she use too much make up, she was still a beautiful girl, a natural beauty.
She had phoenix eyes, her hair was tied into two buns and she wore the Core Sect robes, unlike others though, she had cut off the sleeves, showing fair skinned, toned arms and the hood was replaced by a cloth mask which she currently wasn’t wearing.
Although she looked beautiful, her current appearance was slightly ruined by the slight frown and painful expression on her face.
They headed towards Mu Gu and Fang Lu, exchanged greetings with them, and then also stood beside them.
“Eight Protector Fa Guan has come as well! Uh, that is his disciple? Isn’t he a bit too old?” A man asked. Eight Protector was an old man in his early sixties. He wore a grey robe with the words Fa Guan – Great Judger [Note: Faguan – Judge] printed on its back. It was a plain gray robe, without any decorations.
His disciple, on the other hand, wore loose robes and had an unshaven beard. If one were to judge only by his looks, he would mistake him for a man in his late forties.
“Don’t be fooled by appearances! Dan Yang is actually barely in his middle thirties, he simply cultivates a technique that make his features appear older! He isn’t too much of a genius, but he is somebody to watch out for!”
“Here they come! Lord Sixth, Lord Seventh and Lord Ninth have come as well! Oh? It seems that they did bring their disciples but are not going to fight? They are not wearing their personalized battle clothing!”
A group of three young and old men also flew down from the sky and moved towards the other Protectors that had arrived before them. Although they looked calm on the surface, they were actually cursing in their minds .
‘So what? Because we didn’t bring our disciples here to fight we don’t get an introduction? Isn’t that a bit too cruel?’
One by one, all the other Protectors had come, the only ones left being those occupying the first three spots. Although they all came, only the Fourth, Fifth and Eight Protectors brought along their disciples, the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth evidently only came here to watch the show.
“But where are the three remaining Protectors? Aren’t they a bit late?” An Inner Disciple asked confused.
A Core Elder smiled and explained kindly “Those two old things, the First and Second Protectors, are always competing and deem themselves above others. It isn’t surprising that they will show up after everybody else! As for Third Protector, well…”
The old man shook his head and sighed “Well… Nobody has seen him for a few years now, it is almost as if he didn’t exist! Some say he died, others say he is on some kind of secret mission, but there are countless theories and speculations about him”
He pondered for a bit and then shook his head “Well… This is quite the important matter, so he may just show up this time!”
“Everybody, look up! They are here!” A man shouted.
The Inner disciple and Core Elder shut up and focused their attention towards the sky. That was right, the two strongest Protectors and their proud disciples had finally showed their face!