Zhao Qiang felt as embarrassed about the affair as his sister, and the two siblings looked at Rong Yueshan in outrage.
However, she only said, “That’s the fish-core pearl! I saw Yun Ruoyan take this pearl from Zhao Ming’s corpse with my own eyes! Yun Ruoyan, you’re trying to prove your innocence with your stolen goods?!”
The Zhao siblings hesitated, not understanding Rong Yueshan’s words. Rong Yueshan looked at Zhao Qiang and continued, “What are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to retrieve your sister’s fish-core pearl?”
The Zhao siblings finally understood: Rong Yueshan was going to claim that Yun Ruoyan’s pearl was theirs all along!
Yun Ruoyan understood Rong Yueshan’s ploy the moment she said those words. After all, no one present had seen Zhao Xu’s fish-core pearl for themselves. If the Zhao siblings were to claim that the pearl in her hands belonged to Zhao Xu, that would be a difficult claim for Yun Ruoyan to refute.
“Look carefully. Are you sure this pearl is yours?” Yun Ruoyan’s eyes glinted.
“This isn’t…” As soon as Zhao Xu began to speak, Zhao Qiang tugged at her hand and shook his head almost imperceptibly. If they couldn’t retrieve the fish-core pearl, Zhao Xu would receive severe punishment from the family, and Zhao Qiang would have to kowtow to Yun Ruoyan and amidst his mistake in front of the crowd.
To have him kneel to her… he would rather die! He could never admit that he had been mistaken to blame Yun Ruoyan! 
“This is indeed my sister’s fish-core pearl.” Zhao Qiang looked straight at Yun Ruoyan. “You’ve lost!”
“You’re lying! This is clearly my cousin’s possession, so why are you claiming it as yours?!” Lin Qingxue shouted.
“You’re the thieves, trying to snatch my cousin’s pearl away!” Lin Qingchen added, furiously. “Miss Zhao, surely you don’t intend on maligning my sister?”
Zhao Xu’s thoughts were in turmoil. If she were the only one to be punished, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but she couldn’t let her brother embarrass himself in front of everyone!
In the end, she grit her teeth and said, “This is my fish-core pearl. Miss Yun, please hand it over.”
Yun Ruoyan sighed. Although she had had quite a few clashes with people from the Chen kingdom, she didn’t have a very bad impression of them. Although their tactics were rather vicious, they weren’t underhanded. Now, however…
“Why should I?” Yun Ruoyan’s attitude suddenly hardened, and she stored the pearl once more.
Rong Yueshan stepped forward and claimed, “Because you’re a thief! If you don’t return the fish-core pearl to the Zhao siblings, I won’t let you go!”
“Rong Yueshan, I’ve seen my fair share of shameless people, but never one as shameless as you.” Yun Ruoyan snorted in derision. “If you want to rob me, you’d better make sure you have the skills to do so.”
“Brother Zhao, as an honorable man, you surely wouldn’t bully the fairer sex. In that case, let me punish this thief on your behalf!” Rong Yueshan clawed at Yun Ruoyan’s chest.
Rong Yueshan’s cultivation had improved tremendously over the last two weeks. With the second elder to back her up, she had been wanting to seek revenge on Yun Ruoyan for quite some time. Now, she had finally found an opportunity to do so!
Yun Ruoyan took two steps back and dodged the sneak attack, but Rong Yueshan wouldn’t give Yun Ruoyan the time to retaliate. She continued striking at her with vicious blows, keeping her on the back foot.
Yun Ruoyan was equally surprised by the sudden offensive capabilities that Rong Yueshan had demonstrated, far beyond what she had been capable of during the trial. It seemed as though she had truly advanced after her near-death experience.
With the Feilai Blade sealed, Yun Ruoyan had lost one of her biggest advantages. In front of this crowd, with the provosts and some students having a higher cultivation than her, she also didn’t dare use the silver bracelet’s augmentation power carelessly.
For the time being, she could only defend without retaliating.
The crowd began to spread out as the two girls began to fight.
“They’re taking it seriously, aren’t they?” one of the provosts on stage murmured to his colleagues. They’d wanted to leave, but the altercation between Yun Ruoyan and Rong Yueshan had made them stop.
After all, neither of the students involved were ordinary students. Yun Ruoyan was the disciple of the head disciple of the first elder, and the student who had seized the sage-grade treasure from the trial. Rong Yueshan had been accepted into Kongming Academy as a special exception and taken in as the second elder’s own disciple.
Even the provosts were interested to know which of the two students, representing the northern and southern colleges, was stronger!
“That Yun Ruoyan’s supposedly a jewel to the first elder and his disciple, but she doesn’t look particularly special or talented.” The one who spoke was a provost from the western college. The western college was led by the fourth elder, who had initially tried to recruit Yun Ruoyan. He had been unsuccessful, of course, and the provost’s voice sounded a little sour.
On the other hand, Cang Song watched on without commenting.
“Yun Ruoyan, I’ll have you taste what it’s like to be grievously injured today!” Rong Yueshan suddenly stopped pressing forward. She held both hands in front of her, and spiritual energy began emanating from her palms. She made a hand motion, and that spiritual energy morphed into the shape of a white dagger, heading directly for Yun Ruoyan.
Yun Ruoyan ducked her head and narrowly avoided the blow. The dagger fell on the ground, vanishing into nothingness as it did so. It didn’t look like a particularly strong attack, but Yun Ruoyan could feel a suspicious icy aura from when it brushed past her.
“A low-level ice-attuned ranged spiritual technique!” an older student exclaimed. “To think that she’s learned such a technique within days of entering the northern college---it took me two years before I was able to manifest it!”
During the early stages of cultivation, most cultivators studied techniques that would help them refine their spiritual energy to improve their cultivation, rather than focusing on ranged spiritual attacks. The reason was twofold: first, such ranged, spirit-based attacks consumed a great deal of spiritual energy, and would be a burden to low-rank cultivators; second, ranged attacks were divided into four major attunements---ice, fire, wood, and wind. To discern which attunement and which technique was most suitable to a particular cultivator required a master with great experience.
Finding the right technique would rapidly speed up that cultivator’s progress, but the wrong technique would cause the cultivator to stall. In particularly severe cases, such cultivators might even go mad if they forcefully tried to study an antithetical technique.
As a result, despite the immense power granted by such ranged spiritual attacks, many cultivators chose to focus on internal techniques for refining spiritual energy before they knew the direction their cultivation would take.
Even in battle, they would make use of weapon-based techniques and simple, direct attacks with pure spiritual energy rather than rashly focusing on a ranged spiritual technique.
Even if they had studied a ranged technique, they wouldn’t use it unless the foe was truly difficult to deal with, because such techniques consumed an extreme amount of spiritual energy.
As a result, Yun Ruoyan had almost never experienced ranged spiritual attacks within the capital. She was thus wholly underprepared to deal with Rong Yueshan, who was using precisely such a technique to deal with her.
What Yun Ruoyan didn’t know was that, as the second elder was unblocking Rong Yueshan’s meridians and expanding her spiritual vortex, he discovered that she had a particularly strong affinity with ice. As a result, he gave her an extremely valuable spiritual pill to strengthen this affinity even further.
Rong Yuehong’s cultivation had improved by leaps and bounds after the strengthening of her innate affinity. Although she could only release one small ice dagger at a time for the moment, it was troublesome enough for Yun Ruoyan to deal with.
“Interesting… it seems like the second elder ended up finding a treasure for himself,” the central college’s provost responded dully. “Well, this Yun Ruoyan’s certainly going to lose, so I’ll be heading off first. Make sure Yun Ruoyan doesn’t die, though, or Li Mo’s going to be enraged when he returns.”
The central college’s provost hopped off the stage. Except for Zhuo Yifeng, who had been taken away by the sixth elder, the remaining students from the central college were all gathered around the fight, and the provost left on his own.
“Be careful!” Lin Qingxue and Lin Qingchen called out to Yun Ruoyan. She had manifested her technique twice in succession; Yun Ruoyan dodged the first dagger agilely, but the second brushed past her face.
Because these daggers didn’t have any weight to them, they moved at a startlingly rapid pace. In addition, Rong Yueshan was able to change their direction once in mid-air, causing Yun Ruoyan’s dodges to become quite forced.
Yun Ruoyan’s petal-shaped gauze patch had fallen to the ground, sliced evenly into two, and a gash had appeared over her fake birthmark. Fresh blood seeped out of the gash, and a chilling, icy energy invaded her body along with the wound.
“Oh? You’ve dodged quite a number of my daggers,” Rong Yueshan commented with a malicious smile. “But with my spiritual energy reserves, I can still summon three more. I wonder how many you’ll be able to dodge?”
Rong Yueshan again summoned more daggers and shot them at Yun Ruoyan.
“This Yun Ruoyan clearly isn’t Rong Yueshan’s opponent, Senior Cang Song. Why don’t you stop their bout now? Otherwise, someone might really die,” a white-faced provost remarked.
Cang Song agreed with his judgment, but he continued looking at the bout passively. It might have seemed like just a simple match between Yun Ruoyan and Rong Yueshan, but it was also a matter of face for the northern and southern colleges as a whole.
The southern college represented the first elder’s power, and the northern college the second elder’s. The second elder was famous for his pettiness and his desire to maintain his reputation, and he was quite protective of his students.
Except for the southern college’s provost, Cang Song, none of the provosts were willing to get involved in the affair.
“Ah, I have to head back to prepare for instruction,” the white-faced provost remarked, then ran off the stage.
“I have to leave too.”
“Senior Cang Song, I’ll be heading off now.”
The other provosts quickly left as well, leaving Cang Song alone on stage, He shook his head, then quietly crept into the crowd. Everyone’s attention was focused on the bout between Yun Ruoyan and Rong Yueshan, and no one noticed Cang Song’s presence.
One of Rong Yueshan’s daggers had cut off Yun Ruoyan’s hairband, and her hair hung disheveled around her shoulders. Another dagger came flying over---one that Yun Ruoyan dodged, but not before it cut off a corner of her robes.
One dagger left. Yun Ruoyan steadied herself as she glanced at Rong Yueshan. Once I’ve evaded all of them, it’ll be my turn to counter-attack!
“Take this!” Rong Yueshan threw out her last icy dagger.
Just then, Cang Song shot out a beam of spiritual energy from the crowd, invisible to the naked eye. It caught up to Rong Yueshan’s icy dagger, then enveloped it and doubled its speed. In the blink of an eye, it was at Yun Ruoyan’s front.
Yun Ruoyan didn’t seem to have reacted.
“Yun Ruoyan, don’t blame me for being vicious. You only have yourself to blame for not sleeping in the middle of the night and meddling in my affairs instead!” Cang Song’s eyes gleamed with a manic light.
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