I couldn't linger too long without drawing attention from the group. As much as I wanted to stay in Bai Ye's embrace, we had to say our goodbyes.
"One last thing," he said as he released me from his arms and reached inside his sleeve. "Twin Stars is strong in yin and might attract those demons. Keep this on you. It will help in case of need."
He placed a pendant in my palm. It was made of red jade, carved into the shape of a lotus. I rubbed it between my fingers. It wasn't cool to the touch like a typical jade ornament; instead, it felt warm and pulsed with soothing energy.
I tied it onto my sash. "Thank you," I said and wrapped my arms around Bai Ye one last time. "I'll keep myself safe. And I'll be back soon."
He kissed me. Then I watched him disappear into the rosy morning clouds.
The sun had fully cleared the horizon when I returned to the cabin, and everyone was already out of bed. Han Shu sighed with relief at the sight of me, "I'm glad you made it safely, Senior Yun. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if anything happened to you."
I was touched by the sincerity in her words. I squeezed her hand and was about to reassure her when Xie Lun suddenly said, "They are coming."
We all hushed. Xie Lun was the most experienced out of all of us, and his sense of danger was by far the sharpest. We cleared out of the cabin, stood back to back and listened intently for any changes.
I hadn't expected the demons to show up so soon, barely minutes after Bai Ye's departure. But Bai Ye did warn me, and I wondered if he had led us to this deserted cabin because of its luring location to the demons.
All was quiet for a little while, and we could only hear the sounds of birds chirping above us and roosters crowing from a distance. Then it came. A low rumble rolling towards us like thunder.
"Is that the sound of them flying?" Qi Lian whispered. "I thought they would have wings like birds, but this sounds more like … locusts?"
The rumble drew closer. With a loud whoosh, a shadow swooped down at us from the sky.
Xie Lun slashed his sword first. A pale white light flashed as his blade swept a wide arc forward, and the shadow fell with a loud screech. I glimpsed at the heap that landed on the ground. The sight disgusted me: the thing looked like a human-sized beetle, with a black carapace and thick, hairy legs. Its wings were dark red, shining in the morning sun like an overstretched film of bloody skin.
There was no time to think too much about it though. The rumble grew louder and louder, and more creatures descended on us. I raised my long sword, cutting upward as one dived down at me. I missed its head, but the tip of my blade caught its abdomen, and it convulsed in a desperate struggle before dropping onto the ground.
I recovered my stance again, readying myself for the next attack. The five of us moved farther apart as more of them came, and we each covered a small radius of space around us.
Real fights like this were different from sparring indeed. The attacks were fast, fatal, leaving no room for hesitation or mistakes. I swirled and sliced as swiftly as I could. My movements and control of spiritual power were unstable at first, and I missed my target quite a few times. But I slowly came to grasp the essence of it, and before long my blows started to land more and more accurately.
I was beginning to feel comfortable with the rhythm of my movements when I heard Qi Lian say: "Yun Qing-er, is there something on you that's attracting the demons?"
His question confused me, and I spared a glance around. The rest of the group were each battling a couple of creatures above them, but there were at least five hovering around me, buzzing and hissing with eagerness.
Bai Ye was right. Twin Stars was drawing them to me.
"Behind you!" Xie Lun's voice came next.
Suddenly all four of them shouted at the same time. I whirled around. A creature had sneaked up from behind me, its giant proboscis already within an arm's reach. I raised my sword, but my motion was too slow compared to the flying insect, and I watched in horror as its deadly body closed in on me, fast.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the rest of the group trying to move towards me to help, but it was too late. No one could get to me in time before the bite, and I could only hope that—
A white light flashed in front of my eyes and encased me in a blinding cone of brightness. The creature was a hair's width away from my head, but the moment it touched the cone, it shrank away as if cauterized. Even the rest of the demons surrounding us took a step back in fear.
Qi Lian gaped at me as the light slowly dimmed, then faded away. "What amulet did you bring that has such immense power?" he asked.
I looked down at my sash. I could still feel the power pulsing through the pendant Bai Ye just gave me.
Four pairs of eyes followed my gaze and landed on the pendant as well. "Fire Jade?" Xie Lun asked. "Where did you get such a rare amulet?"
"Fire Jade?" I repeated his question instead. "What is that?"
"The rarest of all jades and the king of amulets when enchanted," Xie Lun replied. "It's strong in the yang spiritual power and protects the wearer against anything attracted to yin." He stared at me with a strange look on his face. "Did your master give you that as well, without telling you how precious it is?"
When my lack of response confirmed his suspicion, Xie Lun sighed. "Yun Qing-er, I think you'll soon be known as the most spoiled disciple ever existed at Mount Hua."