Even Lin Qingxue was looking curiously at Yun Ruoyan. After all, she was just about to beat Li Furong, even without Yun Ruoyan’s help! But Yun Ruoyan ignored the crowd’s murmurs and glances. Instead, she retrieved her dagger from the rock in which it was stuck.
Yun Ruoyan had used such precise force that only the tip of the dagger had stuck into the rock. Once she removed the dagger, the crowd could clearly see a small, black spider impaled on its tip.
“That’s a black-mist spider, and it’s terrifyingly venomous!” someone shouted.
“Ah, you tried to poison me with a spider?! How despicable!” Lin Qingxue took a few steps back in shock. Although she didn’t know about this particular species of spider, she knew how venomous they could be.
Li Furong had released the spider because she was about to lose—but instead of hurting Lin Qingxue, she was even caught in the act by Yun Ruoyan!
“Miss Li, this was just a small misunderstanding between the two of you. To use such a despicable method against my cousin...” Yun Ruoyan murmured coldly.
“I, I didn’t know where the spider came from!” Li Furong refused to take responsibility for the spider. “Perhaps it defended me on instinct upon sensing that I was in danger.”
Li Furong’s words caused the crowd to break out in laughter.
Lin Qingchen snorted, pulling her sister to her side. “In that case, what if I keep some venomous beasts on my body, let them bite you, and call them protective of their master?!”
Lin Qingchen’s retort led to another chorus of laughter.
“Girls are truly quite frightening and unreasonable when they fight,” a male student commented.
“Miss Li, in the future, please take better care of your possessions. Otherwise, you might not get off with just a finger injury next time.” Yun Ruoyan flicked the spider on her dagger onto the ground, then crushed it with her heel.
Li Furong glared hatefully at Yun Ruoyan, then looked toward Zhao Xu and Zhao Qiang. Both the Zhao siblings were looking at Yun Ruoyan, but they didn’t seem as though they were going to get involved.
Embarrassed in the extreme, she could only slink away amidst the crowd’s mocking laughter. As Li Furong left, the gathered crowd also dispersed. Yun Ruoyan was about to leave with her two cousins when Zhao Xu spoke up from behind, “Miss Yun, please wait!”
Yun Ruoyan stopped and turned back. Zhao Qiang had lost the amaranthine sun to Yun Ruoyan, so he wasn’t particularly enthused with her. His arms were folded across his chest, and he looked down on her with an air of superiority.
Yun Ruoyan glanced mildly at him, then ignored him and focused on Zhao Xu. Those who ignored her, she would ignore in turn.
“Miss Zhao, what’s the matter?” As far as she could tell, Zhao Xu wasn’t a malicious character, but it was always better to be cautious.
“May I ask if you were the last person to see Zhao Ming?”
Yun Ruoyan frowned. She hadn’t expected that the blame for Zhao Ming’s death, which Rong Yueshan had pinned on her, would still be circulating so widely.
“Again, let me emphasize: I did not kill Zhao Ming. Regardless of whether you believe me, this will be my final statement on this front.”
“Miss Yun, you misunderstand me.” Zhao Xu hurriedly shook her hands. “Although Zhao Ming and I are both from the Chen kingdom, we’re not from the same family. Regardless of the circumstances of his death, we aren’t interested in avenging him.”
Although Zhao Ming had seemed like a good person to Zhao Xu, their budding relationship had been killed with his death. Naturally, Zhao Xu wouldn’t try to seek revenge just for that inkling of a relationship.
“Miss Zhao, why do you ask?”
“Sister, why beat around the bush? Here, let me explain,” Zhao Qiang interjected. “That Zhao Ming borrowed my sister’s pearl necklace, and my sister wanted to know if you saw it on his corpse.”
Yun Ruoyan recalled seeing Zhao Ming holding a pearl in his mouth while underwater, but his corpse had sunk deep into the lake after he had been killed by Rong Yueshan. When Zhuo Yifeng retrieved his corpse, Yun Ruoyan didn’t remember seeing that pearl on his body.
At the time, the kidnapping of the two Lin siblings had so filled her mind that she hadn’t been paying attention to such a small detail.
“Rong Yueshan snuck up to Zhao Ming and killed him at close range, so I expect she has the pearl you’re looking for.” Yun Ruoyan expressed her own hypothesis: since Rong Yueshan had died, her corpse had likely been sent back to the capital along with Yun Ruoyao’s body, and to recover that pearl wouldn’t be an easy feat.
However, Zhao Qiang didn’t believe Yun Ruoyan’s hypothesis. Somewhat moodily, he replied, “You claim that my sister’s pearl was taken by Miss Rong, but Miss Rong said that you took the pearl. Clearly, one of you must be lying—who do you think I should trust?”
Zhao Qiang’s words left Yun Ruoyan rather shocked. Frowning, she asked, “Which Miss Rong are you referring to?”
“How many Miss Rongs could there be in the capital? Rong Tianling’s daughter is the only one I know!”
Lin Qingchen and Lin Qingxue widened their eyes when they heard Zhao Qiang’s words. Hadn’t Rong Yueshan died? They had seen her corpse right in front of them! How could she still be alive?
The Lin siblings turned to Yun Ruoyan. Although she was as surprised about the whole affair as they were, she didn’t reveal much of her shock. Walking up to Zhao Qiang, she said, “During the induction ceremony, I didn’t see her present, so I thought…”
Yun Ruoyan stilled for a moment. “When and where did you see Rong Yueshan? Call her over, and we can discuss what truly happened that day.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Zhao Qiang commented. “I saw her a few days ago while walking in the northern college. She had been grievously injured during the trial, but she seems to be much better. Indeed, she was even chosen as a disciple of the second elder himself.”
Although the academy was officially on break, a few students who lived further away chose to remain in the academy. The Zhao siblings lived in the faraway Mo kingdom, and it would take them two weeks just to make the round-trip journey. Since their holidays were only two weeks long, the siblings had been forced to remain in the academy.
How lucky she must have been to have survived… Yun Ruoyan’s heart sank.
“Do you dare come find her with us now?” Zhao Qiang continued.
“Miss Yun,” Zhao Xu suddenly spoke up. “This pearl is particularly precious to me and my family, so if you’ve really taken it, please hand it back. I don’t want to make matters more serious than it already is.”
“I don’t want to waste my breath arguing about this matter. Let’s go find Rong Yueshan.”
The party of five left the courtyard. During these two weeks, Zhao Qiang had explored Kongming Academy in its entirety, and he confidently brought them toward the northern college.
The doors to the northern college, which had been closed for two weeks, were finally open once more. There were quite a few outer disciples around the premises, cleaning and sweeping the floor.
“Who are you? Ah, you all look so unfamiliar—you must be the new students!” A slightly older male student blocked their path with a broomstick. “The term hasn’t started yet, so you can’t be walking around the premises for the moment.”
The student was dressed in gray. He looked to be an outer disciple, but his mannerisms and expressions made it quite clear that he was likely someone who had been at the academy for quite a while. Given their ‘seniority’, they would even frequently pick on the more weak-willed of the new inner disciples.
Zhao Qiang responded disdainfully, “We’re new students, but not from the northern college.”
“In that case, what are you doing here?”
“We’re here to find someone: a Miss Rong, Rong Yueshan. There are a few questions that we have for her.” Zhao Qiang had been a scion of a noble family back home, and he was quite used to putting on airs.
When that outer disciple decided that Zhao Qiang’s party of five wouldn’t be easily bullied, he finally relented and said, “Give me a moment, I’ll let her know.”
They waited quietly as that disciple ran off, but he returned shortly after. Apparently, Miss Rong wasn’t feeling very well, and she was currently resting. Zhao Qiang’s party would have to come back another day.
“Do you know why I’m so certain the pearl necklace is in your hands?” Zhao Qiang asked Yun Ruoyan on the way back.
“Now isn’t the time to tell you. You’ll find out, sooner or later.” 
Deep within the northern college, Rong Yueshan was sitting cross-legged in the middle of an austere room. After two weeks of rest and recuperation, along with valuable spiritual pills provided by her new master, her body had recovered to a significant extent.
With the second elder and Rong Tianhai’s guidance, her cultivation had also improved by leaps and bounds. She was now a peak seventh-rank blademaster, and it seemed as though she would break through to eighth-rank soon.
“I can’t believe your talent’s actually greater than that of your sister, Rong Yuehong,” Rong Tianhai idly commented.
“I have to thank Master for unblocking my meridians for me,” Rong Yueshan replied deferentially.
She had been badly injured after taking Yun Ruoyan’s spiritually enhanced blow within the trial grounds, courtesy of Li Mo. The second elder had picked her out amidst a crowd of mortally wounded and dead students, and had infused his own domineering spiritual energy into her body to restore her spiritual vortex.
In the process of doing so, Rong Yueshan’s somewhat clogged meridians had been unblocked by the second elder’s spiritual energy. As a result, Rong Yueshan’s rate of cultivation had increased immensely.
“Why didn’t you meet those people who were looking for you?” Rong Tianhai asked. He had noticed how Rong Yueshan demurred from meeting Yun Ruoyan and Zhao Qiang’s group. “Are you scared of them?”
After all, Rong Yueshan had been sent to death’s door by Yun Ruoyan. It wouldn’t have been a surprise for her to have become fearful of her as a result.
However, Rong Yueshan only laughed derisively. Compared to her father, no one else on this world was worth fearing.
“I have to defeat them in public in order to pay back the humiliation that was dealt to me,” Rong Yueshan exclaimed bitterly. “There are still too few students around at the moment. I’ll wait until tomorrow, when the term starts in earnest, and challenge her to a fight in front of the entire student body!”
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