As the time to begin the new tournament approached, the excited air surrounding the event thickened. Not only was this competition a first, it was a chance to compare the five main Cultivation schools of Xulaphrey. Plus, first years would have a chance to compete, not that in actual fact many would, but the dream was there. Who asked them to be mainly without records of achievement, reputation and experience? No one was really expecting any first years to take part in the competition, however very few were surprised when Jin Li appeared in a team. Even if he was not well known out of the martial arts schools, rumours tended to spread and as such his reputation proceeded him.
However, seeing a short youthful first year with long brown hair and generally thin limbs in amongst the famous Bowyer's team, did cause a few ripples; it seemed Jin Li's roommate, Sun, had snagged a spot.
Actually, it was not his doing at all, he'd been nonplussed about competing seeing as it was unlikely that any first year (Jin Li being the obvious exception) would compete. He planned to cheer along, supporting his roommate and roommate's small alchemist and his two peers, Pike and Bowyer. But this unexpected event happened to occur, cause by a sequence of choices and decisions that started as long as 150 years ago, as short as last week.
The core protagonist in this story was not Sun nor immediately related to Sun in any way. She was in fact, a woman with her own ideas and morals that while might fit in some civilisations, often caused friction in others. Her name was Nereid and she was the Headmistress of the Azure Heights Finishing School's little sister, she was currently pregnant and had casually placed the blame on Corvus.
"We broke up almost 150 years ago, how could I be your baby's father," Corvus had accused her, when she had managed to corner him successfully, unlike her older sister, who Corvus had always managed to give the slip.
Nereid had not been surprised to learn that Siren could not capture him in order to make him take responsibility, this was part of the reason that she had used him as a shield. Her sister was too set in both thought and schemes. Once a person understood her clearly, there was less chance that they would be defeated by her. This was one of her weaknesses. However, she's still managed to stay in a respected position in their world for so long as just because one became familiar with her techniques, did not make those techniques any less powerful nor fluent.
"I know you are not," Nereid had openly admitted, "but you know my sister; she would not let it go if I was not to say a name."
"But you still said mine knowing that she would hunt me down to take responsibility for you and it," Corvus was not one bit amused by her careless manner.
As if she did see the irritation in his eyes, she thoughtlessly sighed; "She's just so old fashioned!" Who needed... who wanted to settle down with a man anyway! Dealing with a chauvinist husband as a little wife, peh peh peh! Watching sisters married off, watching their personalities become meek and obedient in front of their husbands, all she'd felt was disgust. It was why, when her mother had started introducing her to prospective mother-in-laws, that she had written a letter to her older sister, who'd also thrown off the yoke and chain of expectation by becoming a Cultivator, to beg her and take her away from this household! Otherwise, she'd shave off her hair and become a nun!
Fortunately, her sister had always been a sis-con, couldn't bear to see her favourite sister throw her life away like that, but it was never going to be as easy as just walking left at a forked road when she'd been told to go right. If she had had no talent for cultivation, then she would not be able to enter her older sister's world. Luck was on Nereid's side. Although her potential was not as astounding as Siren's, that which burned so brightly that her Master gave a lot of good treasures to the family in order to have her as a disciple (something that would have been unnecessary if she'd been a boy at that time), she would still have the ability to hold her own.
Her parents had not wanted to let her go though, they were about to arrange an marriage for her in order to become aligned with a House of higher status, not caring that the young master in question had a small harem already. She had taken drastic measures, drinking poison that would ruin her womb in order to prevent the marriage. For that, she'd been beaten and forced to nurse those wounds in the ancestral halls until close to collapse. She suspected, they would have sent her away to some remote place to hide their shame had her sister not forced her way in and taken her away in the end.
She'd heard that her cousin had had to take her place in the end, but she couldn't bring herself to regret her actions.
As the years went on, under the protective wing of her older sister, she'd forgotten any lessons she might have learned from her impulsive behaviour and had become even more spoiled and frivolous. Men would treat her, a rare female cultivator, like a goddess and she had basked in their attentions, but she never took any of them to bed. What they wanted from her was permanent, however it gave her ideas.
She was curious in nature, hence she experimented with pills, medicines, potions, talismans, glyphs, formations and the like over the years, never really settling on one thing for long (though she finally became the school Healer at her sister's instruction) and it was that curious nature that also had her wondering what the excitement of bedroom activities were all about. After all, men seemed so interested in that sort of thing. But she was quite careful in picking her first man, a passerby in both life and reality. She couldn't say she really liked it and couldn't say she disliked it, there was pain, there was a bit of pleasure, that was all.
After trying out other relationship matters, becoming a mistress for a few months with one man, becoming a white moonlight to another, she found she enjoyed being chased, but quickly changed her mind when the men became too lax, thinking that they had won her and she'd move on. She'd never really considered the consequences, so was especially shocked that her womb had healed itself as she began cultivating in the Body Tempering period resulting in the unexpected pregnancy! This naturally led her sister to realise that she wasn't as sweetly innocent as the older woman had always assumed her to be. She sulked inwardly; things had changed, at least for female cultivators, families being not so reluctant to nurture them for example, but her sister really had not changed in many ways. Why does having a baby mean needing a husband?!
Corvus was one of her previous men, but their relationship was one of convenience, a bit of fun without the attachments, neither took it seriously and Nereid had felt this was for the best. They'd lasted a few years before her eyes had wandered, discovering a really handsome fresh meat that she couldn't and didn't want to resist. Corvus had not been broken-hearted at their split or anything and they'd separated amicably. This the other reason that she'd spit out his name when pressed by her older sister. If it was him, married or not, they'd be able to go about their separate lives.
But the man was unexpectedly angry, she flightily placed this down to him being deep down as chauvinistic as other men, not wanting to raise another man's child, not that she expected him to. This was her baby. "Retract your statement to your sister," he demanded.
She pouted and crossed her arms. "I can't do that," she refused, she wasn't interested in going through another round of her sister's interrogations. "What's the harm? I'll only be borrowing your name. Throughout centuries, how many nominal wives have existed?"
"Things have changed," Corvus remained stubborn and she gazed at him curiously, wondering if there was a reason he wouldn't play along with her like he used to.
"You have someone?" She probed.
He hesitated, his face falling somewhat. "No..."
Her eyes narrowed and the corner of her lips curved upwards. She was not willing to lose Corvus at the moment, she needed him to get Siren off of her back, she really didn't care about the unknown third party in the background and seeing as Corvus hadn't wooed that person, that meant he was officially free to marry her. They could divorce when the child was an adult and he could go chase his person then, in her irredeemably selfish eyes it was a win-win situation. Unfortunately, no matter how she nor her sister willed it, they couldn't actually force him to wed her, just make his life difficult if her didn't. She wanted his cooperation not to become his enemy. So she was willing to make a bet; "I heard you've taken on a disciple, as it happens, so have I."
In fact, it was some brat Siren had foisted on her a couple of years ago in order to force her to take her cultivation seriously. The brat was extremely talented and given a hundred years or two, would possibly succeed her and what Master's pride could stand that? Actually, her's could...
"I wonder which one is more exceptional?"
"How could your student possibly outshine mine!" She inwardly laughed, Corvus had always been so easy for her to understand.
"Can you prove it?" She continued to tease and cajole him. "My disciple is already in third stage of cultivation and is twenty this year!" Technically they were twenty years of age and would turn twenty one in a month, but her words were not lies per say, just misleading. After all a person of third stage and not yet twenty was far more impressive. "That girl has wind roots like yourself and my disciple would also be my husband's disciple. She is also very pretty to look at as well as talented."
"What do I need your student for?!" Corvus sneered. His little student also had pure wind roots and was cute, alright! She gave him a pitying look to express sympathy, riling him up as expected.
"Alright, I'm willing to give you a chance to prove it, that your disciple is better than mine. We'll just have them both compete in the competition!" She said, leaving no real chance of refusal. "If your disciple and team win, I'll even confess to my sister that I lied? Aren't I a good person?" Those words were sang in a gentle way as she sashayed off. Corvus turned and walked off huffily in the other direction. It would be several minutes before he'd realised that he'd been played.
He tried complaining to his brother about it, only to receive no sympathy. "You shouldn't have gotten her pregnant."
"I didn't!" He wailed, but he was not believed by his older brother! Only his apprentice believed in him! Sun had just been too lazy to deal with him, at least listening to his Teacher lament about that bad woman, he got out of the harsh training. And he had his own issues with members of the opposite sex, so he didn't really disbelieve him either. He hadn't really known what to think, especially when he'd been shoved in as a last minute entry into Bowyer's team, who'd still been missing a fifth member at that point. He could only hope that he didn't perform too poorly and look like a complete fool in front of the others!