Chapter 77 - Matches Begin!
Shi Mu made his way to the General Sutras House. As he reached the top of the stairs to the second floor, a sonorous voice filled his ears. "That guy...he's here again!" The huge parrot, kept by Uncle Ju, flapped its wings in excitement. Shi Mu's presence made it keep moving up and down in the cage, muttering and grumbling all the time.
The sudden noise annoyed the huge mountain of flesh, sitting behind the desk, who then harshly poked the parrot with a wooden stick, making thuds that sent chills to Shi Mu's back. He, involuntarily, felt sorry for the flamboyantly-feathered announcer, that had just thrown him a warm welcome.
"Oh, little one, it's you! It hasn't even been a year since you last visited. What has brought you here today? Could it be that you just got some more Black Fire tokens?" After satisfying himself with educating his pet, the fat man turned to look at Shi Mu with a surprised face.
"Your humble disciple answers that he has passed a test which proved him to have talents in magic arts. Now he is a registered Adept, and has come to exchange for books on formula arts and martial-arts techniques." Shi Mu answered respectfully.
"You? A registered Adept!" The fat man was taken by surprise, rubbing his eyes vigorously, looking over Shi Mu from head to toe. It was most astonishing news that Shi Mu could be a registered Adept, like himself!
"Little one, what elements are fit to practice?" After a close inspection, Uncle Ju regained his calmness and asked, full of interest.
Shi Mu did not withhold anything from him, relating, in detail, his experience in the Hall of Magic.
"You've got a knack for spatial-sensing? My, my. So I guess you're aiming at learning some formula arts, right?" Uncle Ju knocked on the desk with his right index finger, out of habit. His back straightened as he asked in a serious tone.
"That is correct. Your humble disciple did not have any other choices." Shi Mu answered in a resigned tone.
"If so, I'd suggest you not waste any tokens on martial techniques."
Shi Mu was taken aback. "Senior... could I ask why?"
Uncle Ju sighed, "I mean apart from a formula art, you'd better take another art on charm magic! Don't you know that formula and charm magics go hand in hand? The two share many common skills and, when practiced together, will strengthen your abilities quite fast! Actually, charm magic is a branch of formula magic. You'd find it much easier to learn the two simultaneously, rather than troubling yourself learning one at a time! " The fat man pursed his lips as if offended by Shi Mu's distrust.
"So could I really learn charm magic at the same time?" Uncle Ju's words made him unable to close his mouth, frozen to his spot with joy. He had seen the magical power of various paper charms, but it never once crossed his mind that he could really be eligible to learn this magic!
Uncle Ju was really wounded, this time, his repeated questions meant that this little one had not put faith in his words. He snorted discontentedly and said proudly, "I am a Spirit Adept! So I know more about magical arts than you, a beginner! Plus, my years in the General Sutra House should also count for something. Believe my words or not, it's your business, not mine."
"Thank you very much, Uncle Ju! I'll think about it!" Shi Mu finally read Uncle Ju's wounded expression, bowed to him reverently, and hurried his apologetic thanks.
"Go!" The fat Uncle Ju dismissed Shi Mu with a curt nod and a wave of his plump hand.
Shi Mu then spent some time looking over the shelves of magic arts, searching each row meticulously, and did not end his voyage until coming back with fruitful results: two secret records of magical arts, one telling about the way of making charms, with the name "The Great Sutra of Magical Charms", the other being an elementary book on formulas with the name of "All You Need to Know About Elementary Formula Arts". He passed the slips to Uncle Ju, who silently took them, along with the pay of twelve tokens, before rapidly copying the contents to two jade slips.
Shi Mu bowed to Uncle Ju gratefully and left the General Sutra House in a focused mood, ready to study the slips meticulously after returning to his residence. However, on his way home, something unusual dragged him out of his own little world where he was reveling in his future plans. A commotion could be faintly heard from deeper in the valley, primary disciples were hurriedly moving in the same direction, which suggested a special occasion. Meanwhile, some primary disciples, wearing weapons, ran past, their faces burning with eagerness for a challenge or something similar. Some came in twos and threes, secretly discussing something in low voices.
Surrounded by so many passing disciples, Shi Mu felt loneliness creeping up to his heart, for the first time since he entered the sect. He frowned, smiling bitterly to himself. He had no reason to complain, after all, he had been shutting himself in his room for a whole month, immersed in training. Therefore, it turned out that he had barely any friends in the sect, nor was he well informed of the happenings out there.
Judging from the current circumstances, something significant must have taken place.
"Brother Shi!" Just as Shi Mu decided to ask somebody for a bit information, a familiar voice sounded out before a sturdy arm patted his shoulder gently. Shi Mu turned his head and saw Huo Mao standing aside. He was dressed in a black suit, with two double-edged heavy axes over his shoulder, adding to his big stature an imposing air.
"Brother Huo!" Shi Mu was overjoyed at the sight of an acquaintance, and one of the few whom he did not dislike in the sect. He felt like he was marooned on a remote island, and Huo Mao had suddenly come to aid him in a boat.
"Haha, it's so rare to see you out. Why, after all these days of hard training, brother Shi wants to show his power now in the upcoming matches?" Huo Mao was all smiles.
"The matches?" Shi Mu raised his eyebrows, enlightened by this information. It had been written, on the brochures distributed to newcomers, that there would be matches every three months. A quick count convinced him that it must be time for the first set of matches since he entered the sect. Almost three months had passed during his training. He realized that he almost forgot the flow of time, lost completely in his practice.
"Wow! Don't tell me you forgot about the matches?" Seeing Shi Mu's reaction, Huo Mao could not help but laugh heartily.
Shi Mu clasped his hands and said honestly, "That's true, brother Huo. I have been careless."
Huo Mao replied with a soothing smile, not in the least mocking him, "That's normal. It only proves that brother Shi works really hard. I heard from Stone Bai that you've got really amazing strength, and your fist art and blade art are both brilliant. These days you must have cultivated your real Qi, right? With such good strength, you should enter this match and fight for a good rank. Remember, even matches - which are more casual than annual competitions - have REALLY good awards."
Shi Mu was absolutely moved by such an earnest suggestion. He nodded his head, recalling the awards written on the brochure. For new disciples like himself, it would truly be a great bonus to win some of the awards.
"Why not come with me to the match venue? By the way, Stone Bai and other brothers have gone there too. Brother Bai has progressed greatly, since joining the Holy Spirit Group. I bet he'd have remarkable scores very soon." Huo Mao's tone became rather suggestive at the end.
Shi Mu gave it a brief thought and answered, "If brother Huo is not in a hurry, could you please wait a minute, I'll fetch my weapon real quick."
"Sure, sure, take your time." Huo Mao answered.
Shi Mu nodded and strode towards his residence. His figure disappeared in the distance. Huo Mao watched his receding figure with a mysterious look in his eye.
Suddenly, another figure approached from nowhere and joined Huo Mao, and it turned out to be the golden-haired Bright Jin, of the Holy Spirit Group.
"Brother Jin." Seeing his face, Huo Mao hurriedly saluted him.
"I saw you with Shi Mu. You did the right thing. This Shi Mu has always been free and alone, barely having any contact with anyone. But I saw he was really at ease with you." Bright Jin cast a glance in Shi Mu's distance, suggesting something to Huo Mao in a meaningful tone.