Chapter 1.1: The Masked Swordsman
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Tall and muscular. With a huge sword.

That was her opponent.

Gripping her bamboo stick, Shu Yue leaped onto the raised stone platform. Her face was hidden behind a white mask, resembling that of a fox with red markings on it. As usual.

"Introduce yourselves, participants!" bellowed the elderly man standing at the front of the crowd, dressed in a gray robe with his silver hair in a high bun. Lu Baiyu. He was the head of the Lu family and the host of this contest. The Sparring Ground was directly in front of his residence.

Around two hundred onlookers--people from various families within the Ophiuchus Clan--were gathered around the open area, their gaze fixed on the stage in the center, where a battle was about to unfold. Shu Yue used to be in the audience, watching, assessing the participants' skills, and predicting who would win, and sometimes betting.

Sparring was a popular form of entertainment for both warriors and magi. The fighting ring was the best place for them to showcase their skills and gain not only good rewards, but also fame and honor. As a spectator, Shu Yue enjoyed betting on the participants. It was one of her favorite pastimes. And she never once lost a bet. She collected a lot of gold simply by picking the team she predicted would win.

However, today she was a competitor. Because the prize for the victor piqued her interest.

A soul-binding scroll.

Shu Yue's opponent looked her over from head to toe, disappointment on his face. He cleared his throat, then performed a salute by placing his left palm against his right fist, the sleeves of his robe stretching over his bulging muscles.

"Dishan, A-rank warrior," the bulky man said with a smug smile.

Dishan of the Springbear tribe. Of course, Shu Yue knew who he was. He was a warrior from one of the most powerful families in the Ophiuchus Clan. Springbear was a tribe of excellent martial artists who had devoted their lives to the Warrior Path. There were no magi in their family; they were all warriors. They prioritized strength over magic.

Anyone could tell how strong Dishan was just by looking at him. Even Shu Yue acknowledged his strength. There was no denying that he was a talented martial artist. And with such a muscular physique and great strength, he must have spent years refining his inner chi. However, he was a regular participant here, and Shu Yue was a regular spectator. She watched him fight countless times. She also witnessed him win many times. Over the course of spectating, she learned the pattern of his movements and his fighting style.

Who would have guessed that her idle hobby of observing would come in handy at such a special moment? Dishan was strong, but he was too strength-driven, making it easy for Shu Yue to spot his weakness and plan her victory.

She desperately needed that soul-binding scroll.

With her hands folded in front of her chest, Shu Yue bent slightly forward, and as she did, she pushed out her folded hands, her long dark hair falling across her masked face. Her movements were graceful and elegant, and she exuded a calm and gentle aura.

"Chen Hui, B-rank warrior," she introduced using a disguised name. Even her voice was soft and refined.

Her demeanor stood in stark contrast to the sharp and fierce mask she wore.

Dishan's brow descended low over his eyes as he studied Shu Yue. She's dressed in a long flowing robe with loose sleeves the color of nature, almost transparent, giving her an even more graceful air of magnanimity. Then his gaze landed on the green bamboo stick in her hand, which she held like a sword. His expression conveyed a sense of judgment and scrutiny, and Shu Yue knew exactly where it was coming from.

Dishan snorted. "Just a B-ranker? And you're actually a warrior? And don't tell me you're going to fight with a bamboo stick?" He lifted his chin high as he stared down at her. "At first, I thought you were a magus. No offense, but you look too delicate to be a warrior; you give more the impression of someone relying on magic."

"Oh, you think so?" Shu Yue asked, her voice light and gentle, forcing innocence into it. "Are you implying that Magus are weak?"

Though he wasn't entirely wrong about something.

Dishan laughed. "That isn't what I meant. What I'm trying to say is that most magic users are physically weak. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're hopeless in battle, they just have frail bodies compared to warriors. That's all." He faced the crowd and clasped his hand over his right fist in front of his chest. "I'm sorry if I offended any magi here."

"I see what you mean," Shu Yue said as she twirled the bamboo stick in her hand.

She swept her gaze around the hall, looking at the spectators, and wondered if anyone would bet on her. Of course, no one. They would all bet on someone like Dishan, someone who looked strong and fierce and had actually won numerous times.

Do I really look that weak?

Behind her mask, a smile crept across her face.

Her gaze then landed on a tall young man with distinct features, his fox-like ears, almost the same color as his waist-length silver-white hair, distinguishing him from everyone else, not to mention those golden eyes of his. He tilted his head, as if to acknowledge her.

Xiao Ran.

Of course, someone would bet on her.

"But don't worry," said Dishan, and Shu Yue brought her attention back to him. "Since I'm a nice gentleman, I will go easy on you."

"Why, thank you," Shu Yue responded, grateful how the man just unconsciously lowered his guard.

"Alright!" Lu Baiyu bellowed. "Let the fight begin!"

With a roar, Dishan lunged forward, his massive sword slicing through the air.

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