While Lucia engaged in her questionable sales, the King Province Exchange continued as planned: My grandmother obtained 42nd place in the alchemy portion. Elder Iron obtained 46th place in the smithing portion. Elder Shu obtained 45th place in the testing portion. And my grandfather obtained 29th place in the challenges portion. During the previous King Province Exchange, our sect brought a disciple who ended up thoroughly in last place—I wasn’t old enough at the time to participate. And the greatest amount of weight is placed on the disciple portion of the exchange because the best way to measure a sect is through its future potential. But this year, there’s a chance at victory because we have Lucia! For some reason, it doesn’t really feel like Lucia’s a part of the sect. Maybe it’s because she grew up outside of the sect. I wonder what she thinks about us. Well, it doesn’t change the fact that she’s representing us now. “You can do it, Lucia!”
Lucia sauntered up to the stage while counting spirit stones. She counts awfully slow for an earth-realm expert. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen an elder count before…. They normally sweep their qi over the objects and instantly know the amount. And at the rate she’s counting, it’ll take her literal years to count up to the billions of spirit stones she obtained. I think she drained the Seductive Succubus Sect’s spirit stone reserves dry. …Isn’t Lucia richer than the whole Shadow Devil Sect?
“And let the disciple portion begin,” Emperor Yi said. He was resting his cheek against his palm with his elbow propped up on his seat’s armrest. I don’t blame him. He’s already a sky-realm expert; this kind of event must be tedious for him to conduct. But it’s his duty as the ruler of King Province. If he doesn’t fulfill his obligations to the ruler of Kang Country, he’ll be replaced by someone else.
“Wait!” Lucia shouted. “Aren’t you going to explain the rules, Quick Sh—”
Emperor Yi violently coughed as he sat up, muffling Lucia’s voice. “Everyone will fight everyone else in a duel. I don’t care how it’s done. Normally sects challenge other sects.” That’s how my grandfather was forced to fight thirty-eight times in a row. “Your placement depends on your wins and losses. The only rules are to not interfere with other fights and don’t kill each other. Do you have any other questions, Jun…, Lucia?” It seems like Emperor Yi hasn’t forgotten his lesson of addressing Lucia as Lucia and only Lucia.
“Then let the disciple portion begin.” Emperor Yi sighed and slumped back into his seat, resting his cheek against his palm once again. I wonder when he’ll confront Lucia about her stealing his royal crest? There’s absolutely no way he hasn’t noticed its absence.
“I challenge the bald, fat grandson!” Lucia hopped onto the stage before anyone else could react and pointed at the chosen of the Righteous Buddha Sect. For a brief moment, the peaceful countenance on the chosen’s face flickered as his eye twitched. He sighed and climbed to his feet before walking up onto the stage.
“Challenging me so early? Truly, the ignorant have no fear.” The chosen pressed his palms together and smiled at Lucia. “My name is Smiling Pig. Are you—”
“Wait.” Lucia raised her hand. “Is that a nickname or is that your actual name…?”
Smiling Pig puffed his chest out. “It’s my actual name.”
“Jeez, and I thought my parents were bad for selling me off,” Lucia said and scratched her head. “I’ll feel bad if I beat up someone who was hated by their parents….” She sighed. “Ah, wells. There’s nothing that can be done.”
Smiling Pig’s smile stiffened. “How dare you make fun of my family?” he asked as his eyes shot open. Before, they were just crescent moonlike slits. “Even a buddha will get angry when you provoke him three times!” A golden aura appeared around him as he pulled out a bell. Wasn’t that…?
“Lucia! Cover your ears!” I shouted before covering my ears with my hands. Everyone from the Shadow Devil Sect did as well. That was the Sin-Devouring Bell, the strongest treasure of the Righteous Buddha Sect! It was actually entrusted to the younger generation! And it seemed like Lucia didn’t listen to my advice….
Lucia hunched over and vomited out a fountain of black blood before falling to her knees. The golden aura faded as Smiling Pig stowed the bell. I uncovered my ears, and immediately, Ilya tugged on my sleeve. “What was that?”
“That’s the Sin-Devouring Bell. It draws the sins out of a person!”
“Isn’t that a good thing…?” Ilya asked. “Wouldn’t that mean Lucia would become less greedy and mean?”
“No matter who you are, there’s always some sin inside of you. With the Sin-Devouring Bell, the Righteous Buddha Sect can draw out their enemies’ sins, then destroy it with their mantras, but everyone’s sin is a part of them. Suddenly having a portion of your personality destroyed can do catastrophic damage to your mind, sometimes halting one’s cultivation permanently. How could that sect claim to be righteous when using such heavy-handed techniques!?”
“Then you’re saying, that thing is Lucia’s sin?” Ilya pointed at Lucia. A black mist was rising out of her, leaking from every one of her pores. A cultivator shouldn’t have many sins since cultivation is all about diligence and separating oneself from mortal pleasures. But Lucia’s different….
“W-what’s going on!?” Smiling Pig asked as he took a step back, his face pale. He turned around and shouted, “Grandfather! Is the Sin-Devouring Bell broken!?”
The mist pouring out of Lucia completely obscured her body from view, becoming denser and denser while expanding at the same time. As if night were spreading from the ground, the mist around Lucia continued to grow, devouring all the light in the area, filling up half the stage. It bubbled and rose upwards like a pillar, but its ends split into four upon reaching the clouds. Emperor Yi had set up a barrier to prevent the mist from affecting the audience, but at the same time, he had trapped Smiling Pig inside the arena with Lucia. A golden aura was keeping the mist away from his body, but it was rapidly dimming.
“Is it just me, or is that a really big predator’s claw?” Ilya asked and pointed up at the clouds. The four branches of the pillar had curved, their tips narrowing into sharp points that could tear the sky. Black, billowing fur blossomed along the pillar as some kinks appeared, bending the pillar like an arm. Without warning and without a sound, the claw descended and shattered the barrier that Emperor Yi had erected. The Righteous Buddha Sect members screamed as their region of the arena was covered by the misty claw. The claw clenched, and the screams stopped. Then, as if it were all an illusion, the mist fell apart and was sucked back into Lucia, who was lying face down in the center of the arena. There was no one else on the stage.
“Lucia!” Ilya shouted.
Lucia’s tail twitched once. Then it twitched again. Her torso suddenly shot straight up, and she blinked a few times. “What happened?” she asked as she looked around. “Mm. There was that annoying sound. And then I fell asleep. A lullaby? But where did he go?”