Yam Chi-Keung was a young man who had just turned twenty-three years old. He had been part of the first batch of students who aspired to attend the Martial Art Schools from the age of five years old. Although he did not have the talent to enter the Royal Academy, he had managed to reach the fifth star Student Rank a few months after the admission test by cultivating on his own.
Yam Chi-Keung’s parents were poor. However, his uncle owned a shop and had just enough money to assist the young child in his cultivation. The uncle had considered it an investment as cultivators were in high demand, and he had been right.
Yam Chi-Keung was currently a first star Practitioner Ranked expert. Although he had reached the Practitioner rank, he had braved the toilsome battle with the first bottleneck every cultivator encounters in their journey, before his eventual breakthrough, as the quality of his Qi was just below average.
His Qi was of such quality that it was currently impossible for Yam Chi-Keung to open his middle dantian; however, if he were to consume a large amount of Qi Refining Pills, then it might turn possible. As to whether or not he could open the upper dantian, it would prove an ungodly endeavor against his favor; like trying to fuel an engine with soil. He would never be capable of doing so.
The first many years had been spent at his uncle’s shop where he would be working hard on his cultivation, moonlighting as a security guard; but as soon as he broke into the student rank, Yam Chi-Keung had joined a mercenary group and travelled to the Magical Forest time and time again.
Back then, his cultivation had been very low, and his job as an errand boy earned him some coin. Although they considered his job to be of the least importance in their midst - making it the least paid job - it kept Yam Chi-Keung out of danger, as nobody expected him to partake in the fights against the magical beasts.
After five years of working within the mercenary group, Yam Chi-Keung had finally reached the last few stars of the Disciple rank, and it was now possible for him to join the army, which had been his goal from the very start.
The Taiyang Kingdom’s army was a well-known army. The lowest-ranked infantry all had to be seven star Disciple ranked soldiers, and since they had to be cultivators, they were able to request a much higher pay rate than non-cultivators.
The monthly salary from the Royal Army that Yam Chi-Keung received was equal to half a year’s worth of revenue from his uncle’s shop, and this sum of money alone enabled him to bring his entire family out of extreme poverty - and still allow him to set money aside for future purchases of Qi Refinement Pills.
Just as Yam Chi-Keung had planned on entering the army, he had come across a recruitment poster about the Ma family’s recruitment drive in search of guards to strengthen the Black Market Auction House’s security. Although the royal army had a marginally better pay, there were a lot more benefits in joining the Black Market Auction House.
One of these benefits were obviously that he did not have to participate in wars. It was true that the three kingdoms were currently in an alliance, however, terrifying magical beasts kept leaving Shenyuan in hordes every few months each year, and it was the army’s job to ensure the safety of the kingdom by killing these beasts. Joining the Ma family ensured that Yam Chi-Keung did not have to participate in these skirmishes.
Another benefit was that Yam Chi-Keung would not have to leave his home but was capable of staying together with his family and friends. He had always been incredibly grateful to his parents and uncle for allowing him the possibility to cultivate, and now he wished to pay it back by ensuring their safety.
Another, and the final, benefit was that every guard within the Ma family were the first to know of the gossip spreading around in town, and these sporadic, sometimes important pieces of information more often than not fetched a decent price to keen ears and plump pouches.
The Ma family had worked its way into the ranks of the nobles by relying on themselves, and their family was still doing everything within their power to expand.
Since the Ma family was a newly established family, it had no use for notions such as possessing an ancient bloodline from a certain lineage or words like honour; to them, those were unaffordable luxuries. The only thing that mattered to the Ma family was how much money things were worth and also how much potential a certain individual had.
It didn’t matter if the family leader’s son proved inferior to the son of an elder, or any other child within the family for that matter, the entire clan would indiscriminately and collectively appoint the most skilled of their younger generation as the heir.
This could also be seen on the way they handled their guards. Anyone that joined the Ma family had equal possibilities for promotion. As long as a person had a specific talent or was specifically hardworking, they could land themselves a steady and well-paid future.
Yam Chi-Keung was one of those people who had forged a path with their own hands. Although his cultivated Qi was of poor quality, he still had a very high rank for someone his age, and he had gone all the way from a mere patrol guard to become a guard of the front entrance.
Yam Chi-Keung was feeling incredibly important as he stood straight and looked at the many people who were moving towards the Black Market Auction House. No matter whether an auction was ongoing or not, the building would always be bustling with merchants who wished to sell their items or buyers who came to claim their purchases.
These merchants all knew that the Black Market Auction House was a major faction within Riluo City and they even had some connections in all of the major cities within the kingdom, including the capital. It was definitely not a place to recklessly cause trouble, and so the majority of the passing crowd would typically respectfully lower their heads and show a certain amount of nervousness whenever they walked past one of the guards.
A smug smile appeared on Yam Chi-Keung’s face as he felt a certain feeling of self-satisfaction. He had been born within the poorest part of Riluo City and had been treated like trash throughout his childhood, however, now, as a young man, the people whom he previously looked up to as being rich were now covering in fear when they saw him.
This was a sanctimonious feeling which Yam Chi-Keung enjoyed thoroughly, and the smug smile spread to his eyes as he looked down the avenue in front, looking for the next person to intimidate as his eyes swept over a figure who made him somewhat frown.
Halfway down the avenue was a person walking leisurely towards the front door. The figure was dressed in a blue set of garments, which did not look like the most common material around, but most intriguing was the hat.
A hat shaped as a cone was placed upon the head of this unknown person, leaving the entire face in shade and making it impossible to make out anything from within.
Looking at the shape, the person seemed to be a woman, however, as the figure got closer, Yam Chi-Keung noticed that although this person had pearl white hands and a narrow waist, it had no alluring bosom as one would expect, causing the guard to guess that it was most likely a child.
However, as the child neared, step by step, Yam Chi-Keung noticed how no one else dared to encroach upon this unknown individual, and if anyone did get close, then they would instantly back away. As the stranger was within leaping distance to the entrance, the two guards felt as if their entire bodies grew heavy and their limbs felt like lead; their breaths were taxed and sweat was pouring down their foreheads and backs.
The tense atmosphere was beyong stifling to the point where the two guards lost all control of their bodies, feeling as through the time around them collapsed inwards; and within the moment of their stupor, the unknown expert had seemingly already covered a distance of more than fifty metres and long since entered the Black Market Auction House before they came to.
Yam Chi-Keung closed his eyes momentarily before he regained his composure and at once brought up a sleeve to wipe away the sweat on his forehead. No matter how hard he tried he was sure he’d never be able to see through this strange expert.
The bright sunshine shining through the front entrance had left a cone of light inside the Black Market Auction House, and while it usually would have taken Hui Yue a short while to adjust his sight to the dimmed lights inside, everything was now crystal clear in front of his eyes, as if nothing had changed.
What Hui Yue saw was a big hall where there were smaller stalls. Some of these stalls were buying ordinary items such as beast cores, magical gems, memory stones and so on from mercenaries, so that they could auction them off later. Other stalls were displaying the different meticulously planned out auctions, selling tickets to whoever wished to participate.
Hui Yue allowed his eyes to quickly pass those ordinary stalls, and instead he focused on a few doors further away with a sign spelled: ‘appraisals’. Hui Yue moved straight towards the appraisal-room, and as he moved through the large hall, everyone would back away and do their best to not obstruct his path.
Although Hui Yue seemed as if he was far beyond these commoners, he could not help but snicker slightly inside, and his snicker was accompanied by Lan Feng’s roaring laughter.
‘It has been too long since people feared me like this!’ Lan Feng exclaimed loudly, ‘I remember how I used to walk through towns just to scare people when I was bored back in the days.’
Hearing the Phoenix gloat like this caused Hui Yue to once again doubt the mental age of this ancient bird boy. His mentality had certainly not passed the age of thirteen.
By the time Hui Yue and Lan Feng had ended their conversation about relishing in the terror-stricken and respectful gazes following them, they had reached the queue of varying individuals waiting to get their items appraised.
The ones waiting for appraisal were a few noble servants, mercenaries and merchants who had gained treasures from trips to the magical forest or traded their way to unknown jewels from naïve sellers.
These men were all cultivators, and they were all of a cultivation base much stronger than Hui Yue, but due to the Saint ranked aura, and as soon as they had sensed Hui Yue moving their way, they all stepped aside to let him skip the queue.
This had been somewhat within Hui Yue’s expectations, however, as he reached the door, he saw a person hurrying in their direction.
“Excuse me, err” he said somewhat breathlessly as he had crossed the large hall as quickly as possible. However, as he was about to say sir, the attendant suddenly halted his speech. The mysterious and masked person in front of him was simply too ambiguous.
“Please follow me. Our manager has invited you to his office to appraise your item personally.” The attendant quickly relayed the invitation, hoping that this expert would not notice the mistake and therefore gain a bad impression of their established Auction House.
Hui Yue gave a slight nod to the attendant and followed him without looking back at the people that had previously given space for him. Although he was mildly grateful for the respect they showed him, he was perfectly aware that this respect was due to his suffocating strength; if they knew his real cultivation base, they would have treated him much differently.
The attendant was walking through the large hall, towards the stairs at the end, which led to the second floor. The second floor had two large rooms, both of which were the heart of the auctions, and although Hui Yue was curious, he knew that it would be unlike his character if he started to express interest in the elaborate doors, the picturesque auction podium and beautifully carved cabins with seats reserved for the upper-ranked nobility during the auctions.
Although no profound attention was granted to these astonishing sights, Hui Yue still managed to commit to memory the general idea of the layout and the format of everything they passed on their way. This he owed to his augmented senses brought about with the influx of power from Lan Feng’s and his merged aura.
‘Don’t fall in love with my aura,’ Lan Feng said smugly while observing everything around them, ‘I’ll not allow it to seep out too often, it will put the both of us in even more risk than we already are. Still, it is quite refreshing to see that a Saint ranked expert still gains this much respect.’
What Lan Feng had said was correct, and even if Hui Yue found himself in love with the sudden strength that had gushed forth from within the depths of his body; he was, after all, perfectly aware that this was not his own strength. This was something he had borrowed, and although it was incredibly useful for now, it was not something he sought to rely on in the future. Although Lan Feng assisted him, Hui Yue needed to grow strong by himself. To be an actual force to be reckoned with and not just have an outstanding aura; neither was the aura’s attention-magnet effect always a boon.
Step by step and room by room, the attendant brought Hui Yue further and further away, to the end of the second floor where a much more modest set of stairs lead to the third floor. The third floor was not adorned with gold and gemstones everywhere but was very practical. Every material was in perfect condition and gave off an impression of high quality and purity; Hui Yue felt that this was the most important part of the entire auction house. The atmosphere had shift in paradigm once they had reached this floor.
Attendants, errand boys and office workers scampered about within the new scene, however, as soon as they saw Hui Yue and the attendant, they, as if by routine, swiftly changed their dispositions and retreated to the walls and made a polite bow to the unknown expert.
Hui Yue kept moving forward, paying no attention to what was happening around him, and finally the attendant stopped in front of a cast iron door.
The attendant knocked on the door, and it opened on its own, allowing Hui Yue to see the manager within. He was sitting at a wooden desk, which was filled with scrolls of paper and memory stones.
“Please do come in,” he said in his most polite voice while standing up from his seat and quickly breaking into a light jog towards Hui Yue. The manager was so close that it was impossible for him to not notice the strong aura that encapsulated around and rolled off this expert’s frame like ripples on the surface of a still lake. The manager was a high ranked elder from within the Ma family, and he was a nine-star Duke ranked expert, only a step away from unlocking his higher dantian and stepping into the King rank.
This man, although only Duke ranked, was someone whom even the King ranked City Lord would treat with great care and respect, and he had met all the high ranked experts within Riluo City before, however, none of them could come close to this person when it came to sheer dominance by aura alone.
The manager was instantly aware that this was one person who they could not afford to offend. At first he had assumed it would be another King ranked expert, much like the highest ranked experts within Riluo City, but now it was obvious that he was at least an Emperor, if not even a Saint.
“I deeply apologize for not personally welcoming you earlier,” the manager said while clasping his hands together and making a welcoming bow towards the newcomer, causing the attendant to stare with big eyes.
This attendant was the manager’s personal aide, and he had worked for the manager the past few years. He was currently a youngster of seventeen. He had been following the manager since the day he had failed the admission test to the Royal Academy. The attendant was from the Ma family, and he understood all too well what position and influence the manager had, not only within their family, but also within Riluo City. To see the manager show such utmost respect towards the mysterious stranger caused the attendant’s heart to squeeze in worry.
Hui Yue did not wish to answer anything while the attendant was present, so he waved his hand to accept the apology. At first he would have replied with a slight bow of his own, however, Lan Feng had stopped him at the final moment, informing him that Saint ranked experts did not bow to anyone. Instead he should show a token of acceptance and Hui Yue did just that. A relieved expression flooded in on the manager’s face.
“Xiao Wai, please visit the family head and tell him that I will be delayed for our meeting.” As soon as the attendant heard those words, he made a deep bow towards the manager and another deep bow towards the expert before backing out the door, sealing it shut behind him.
The manager smiled gently towards the expert, while his eyes scanned everything in front of him, causing him to furrow his brow with confusion.
The person in front of him made no sense. The clothes were obviously the sort of clothes one would wear underneath a ceremonial robe, but this expert wore them as though they were meant to be the used on their own. Usually experts would grow as their cultivation grew stronger, and they would mature with it, however, the figure in front of him was still incredibly petite and skinny. The waist was narrow, causing the manager to assume that it was a woman, however, at the same time, this person had no breasts! This caused the manager great confusion.
The hands visible underneath the sleeves had jade-like skin, which was smooth and white, and although the fingers were long, they had a childish appearance to them.
The face itself was hidden underneath the conical hat, and although the manager was incredibly curious as to what was hidden beneath, he was not so dumb as to ask this expert to remove his hat. If the expert felt like removing it, then he would do so, if not, the manager did not wish to cause any friction between the two.
“Ahem,” the manager cleared his throat, “I am grateful to welcome an extreme expert such as yourself to our humble auction house, however may I be of service?” he asked in his humblest voice.
Hui Yue hesitated slightly, but after a few seconds, he withdrew the two memory stones from within his pocket and placed them upon the top of the table. The two memory stones were still as black as before, with a polished and shining surface as if it had been polished before. Within this black gem swirled white mist visibly as it floated around, mesmerising anyone who gazed upon it.
The manager was quiet for a long time. If the memory stone had contained a skill created by a lower dantian ranked expert, then it would be filled with black mist which was almost impossible to see. If it contained a skill created by a middle dantian ranked expert, the mist would be grey, and if it was a higher dantian ranked expert, the mist would be white.
This mist was as white as the purest snow, and the manager could feel how he almost started salivating.
“This... this is?” He asked stuttering while slowly taking one of them into his hands.
“One Martial Art Skill and one Spiritual Art Skill,” Hui Yue said with his soft voice. Hui Yue was only ten years old and his voice had still not matured, so while speaking, he sounded exactly like a woman, causing the manager to assume that this was in fact a female cultivator.
“Milady, these two skills, do you wish for me to auction them off?” he asked gently, while looking at the two stones, almost unable to part with them. Hui Yue laughed slightly, the laughter was not mocking but gentle. Although the manager thought that he was laughing at the longing that the manager felt towards the two memory stones, Hui Yue did in fact laugh at being called ‘milady’.
“Yes, I do wish to have these two skills auctioned off. They are contained within low grade memory stones, and I will not auction off any other of these skills.” Hui Yue said slowly, allowing the manager to let every word sink in.
The fact that it was a low grade memory stone meant that it could only be used a few times. Together with that, this unknown expert said that she had no intention of auctioning off other memory stones containing the same skills again, causing it to be even rarer.
“We will be making some tests to see which kind of skills they are, and then we will auction it off. Do you wish to reside within our Ma family’s compound until we can hold the auction?” the manager asked, hoping that he could establish a great relationship with this unknown expert, but Hui Yue shook his head slightly.
“I have things that I need to attend to. I would like the auction to be held a week from now. I will appear at the auction, but I will need to leave the same day.”
The manager felt slightly depressed upon hearing this, however, he quickly regained his composure and nodded his head,
“In that case, we will ensure that the auction takes place a week from now. We will reserve a balcony for you to observe the auction. Would you mind giving me your name?” he asked again, trying his best to wrist some information from this mysterious woman, and Hui Yue smiled gently before answering.
“My name is Li Fen,” he said as he rose to his feet. “I have a dinner appointment which I need to honour, so please excuse me for leaving already.”
The manager rose to his feet quickly and opened the cast iron door in front, noticing how a lot of office workers were loitering within the hallway, however, as soon as they saw their manager and Hui Yue, they quickly went on their way while the manager personally escorted Hui Yue down the stairs and out of the Black Market Auction House.