Astral Sage College, Three Star Hall.
A training arena.
The middle-aged woman called Huo Xu was examining her three students' progress, and she gave them a stern smile. "Looks like all of you have been keeping up your training. Especially Qing'e—if you keep this up, it's very likely you'll break through to the Heavenly Dipper General Stage by year's end. Your chances of beating the Seven Astral Pillars will be much higher."
Jiang Qing'e nodded.
"Now, I'm sure you must have heard the news already. The Umbra Cave will open this month. The purging missions will, of course, include you. You're not newbies, and it won't be your first time going in, so I won't repeat all the usual stuff. Just take a moment, remember the danger you know it holds. Be careful.
"Soon, we Violet Vibrance mentors will enter the Umbra Cave first. We will punch deep in to wipe out the stronger Others.
"This time, you will bring a junior team with you. As for how you choose the junior team, that will be up to the squad."
Huo Xu stood up, then waved and left.
As she left, Jiang Qing'e turned to her two teammates, who were breathing out in relief. "Mentor's as strict as ever."
Her teammates were one girl and one guy.
The guy was skinny and had sharp features, his skin dark as a coal in the fire.
He had keen, piercing eyes, and when he smiled, his brilliant, white teeth almost seemed to sparkle.
His name was Qiu Bai.
The other girl was a diminutive figure with a ponytail. She was in a white training uniform that didn't fully hide her womanly figure.
Her name was Tian Tian.
These were Jiang Qing'e's teammates in the Black Swan Squad.
"Good going, Leader. If you beat the Seven Astral Pillars, you'll have set a new record," Tian Tian said.
Qiu Bai, who was examining his own reflection seriously in a hand mirror, nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
Jiang Qing'e looked at them. "Any thoughts on the junior team we bring?"
Tian Tian's smile was cat-like. "Leader, we already have a lead."
"Who else? Your biggest fan in the Two Star Hall, Ye Qiuding," she teased.
Qiu Bai looked up from his mirror. "Ye Qiuding's quite strong. His Nature's Cauldron Squad clinched second place in the last ranking battle, just behind the Fire Fairy Squad."
"Ye Qiuding joined us on a mission before as well. It makes sense that we choose them again," Tian Tian pointed out.
"I don't intend to ask him," Jiang Qing'e said calmly.
Her teammates looked up in surprise. "You don’t want to choose Ye Qiuding? Who then? Of course the Fire Fairy Squad would be even better, I guess."
"I intend to bring the Fairness & Justice Squad."
"The Fairness & Justice Squad?" Qiu Bai ran over the name in his mind. Didn't seem like it rang a bell among the Two Star Hall teams.
Tian Tian got there first. "You mean the One Star Hall team? Their leader's Li Luo, isn't it? Leader, you..."
Even Qiu Bai put his mirror away at this. "A One Star team?" He frowned. "That doesn't seem too appropriate."
They might have given way in other circumstances, but the Umbra Cave was nothing to mess with. A mistake there might prevent them from making it out. Of course they would want to choose their best chance—the strongest team possible.
They had never brought a One Star squad into the Umbra Cave before.
"I admit it's for selfish reasons. But the Fairness & Justice Squad isn't weak. They're the top squad in the One Star Hall," Jiang Qing'e admitted. "I don’t believe they’ll drag us down. And I will do my best to cover their weaknesses in the Umbra Cave."
Tian Tian sighed exasperatedly. "They're promising, yes, but they're just a One Star team..."
"Won't you reconsider, Leader?" Even Qiu Bai was speaking up.
Jiang Qing'e was silent for a moment, then she shook her head. "Sorry. That's my stand. Even if they're lesser in any way, I can plug the gap. I hope you can trust me on this."
Qiu Bai and Tian Tian shared a look. Their cool and rational leader always had a blind spot where Li Luo was concerned.
"Leader, you know the dangers of the Umbra Cave as well. Of course we believe in your skill, but how will we cover any crisis that comes up?" Qiu Bai pleaded.
"We will cover it with my life."
Tian Tian inhaled sharply. Jiang Qing'e would go so far for this man? Weren't they only engaged? Still, it was a clear declaration of a special relationship, if she was willing to put her life on the line.
Li Luo was a lucky man.
"Well, if that's your choice... We'll have to settle it according to our squad rules," Qiu Bai casually said. He took a few steps back, and black flames roared to life, shrouding him. They parted, and a fire-tipped spear appeared in his hand.
Tian Tian splayed her hands and stepped back as well, her green resonant power taking the silhouette of a bird. Her flapping wings raised coiling gusts of wind.
The squad rule was simple. When the opinions didn't match, brute force was the decider.
Jiang Qing'e's golden eyes gleamed with amusement.
"Couldn't we have just done this earlier? Save me some breath.
Both sides understood that when it got to this stage, it meant that they had accepted her suggestion...
Because they couldn't beat her, damn it!
Even so, it was a formality that had to be upheld.
There was a grimace from the pair and then, with an upheaval of resonant power, they charged.Previous Chapter Next Chapter