"How dare you!" the elder shouted, his anger turning into fury.
If before he was moved by the sight of the beaten-up disciple, now his rage was directed at me instead.
"A prodigy like you beating up some useless disciple of the first stage?" the elder spoke in a slow, cold voice. "I will give you that. No one would bother causing a ruckus because of this. But now that you continued to disrespect me, the situation changes!" he shouted, stomping his foot on the ground.
'What?' I thought when the ground below my feet trembled. It was as if this single stomp managed to cause a slight earthquake all on its own!
'So this is the power of the people standing at the top of the sect,' I thought, regaining the stability of my position and looking up at the elder.
So far, all he did was show a part of his strength. He didn't attack me directly, proving that my previous words sang true.
The only reason I could come up with for the elder not attacking me... was because he didn't dare to!
"Before I squash your smug look down your throat, I want to know something," the elder said, seemingly calming down. He then fluttered his robe and locked his hands behind his back. "What makes you so arrogant?" he asked. "No, how could you be so arrogant when facing an elder?!" he howled.
"I'm just playing my cards the best I can," I replied calmly. Against the wrath of this elder, I was nothing more but a stay pebble on the road. No matter how hard I would flex my strength and wits, I could do nothing if he were to decide to kick me aside.
But even a pebble, when positioned just right, could twist the ankle of its abuser!
"And what cards could those be?" the elder asked, once again calming himself down and looking at me along the bridge of his nose.
"Me, for example," a familiar voice entered the scene. Turning my eyes just a bit, I also recognized its owner's face and robes.
It seems that the cavalry finally arrived.
"Vaner?" the old elder stumbled on his feet and took two steps back. Then, as if realizing that he had just presented his weakness, he stabilized his stance and looked at his younger counterpart. "What are you doing here? I'm the one in charge of overseeing the training grounds!"
My soul trembled with excitement. It was one thing to beat that man up with my words and another to see the shock and terror on his face when my backer finally arrived!
"I was just taking a stroll nearby when I felt the ground shake. Given how you can do nothing but lick the shoes of your betters at the summit, I figured it is your usual routine of bullying the innocent..." Vaner took a glance over to the bloodied body of a disciple hanging from the training pillar.
His lips twitched as if he was trying his best to hide a smile.
"Innocent disciples!" he finished his sentence nonetheless, moving his eyes back at his opponent.
"Bullying?!" the older of the elders muttered, his eyes opening up wide in shock. His arm then flurried upwards, only to point at the man who Mia and I treated as a training bag. "You call monsters who did this... innocent?!"
"Come on," Vaner smiled lightly. "It's just a little bit of fun between disciples," he said, pushing the cloth of his sky-blue robe to the back as he approached the training pillar.
"Wake up," he said, smacking the face of the disciple with what seemed like a gentle slap.
'Damn,' I thought, recognizing the sound. This guy's body made the exact same noise when Mia punched him with all her might.
'Unless it was that guy's jaws breaking...' I thought, raising my eyes at my backer.
"Oops," Vaner smiled gently. "It looks like I accidentally killed him," he said, turning his face back to his elder's counterpart. His expression appeared to scream, 'and what are you going to do about it?'
"I... I will report this to the patriarch!" the elder shouted, pointing his finger at Vaner's face.
"Huh?" Vaner pretended to be surprised. "Report what? That I slapped an unruly disciple that dared to disrespect me?!"
His face changed. The smug attitude that he held so far disappeared without any trace, replaced by wrath.
The wind got stronger. The leaves of the hedge surrounding the garden's clearing started to flutter, filling the area with noise.
I could even swear that the dark clouds started to gather above my head!
"I dare you to do it," Vaner said in a cold voice, only for the physical manifestation of his wrath to cease all at once.
'Awesome,' I thought, feeling a tingling in my balls. 'Just how cool was that?'
"Tsk," the older of the elders clicked his tongue. He then threw one last stare at Vaner before turning around and leaving the place.
At this point, it was pretty clear that he couldn't do much else in here. Staying in the garden any longer would only bring him more humiliation.
"When I took an interest in you, I didn't expect you to cause such a big mess so quickly," Vaner sighed, finally turning his face to me.
"Elder!" I instantly replied, deeply bowing and cupping my hands. "This disciple is grateful for the save," I added.
"Stop with those formalities." Vaner waved his hand at me, clearly not interested in the empty gestures of respect.
Even if this time, they were actually genuine.
"Rather than trying to lick my ass, you better show what you managed to achieve so far," he said, his smile turning vicious.
"Elder?" I asked, feeling a tingle of fear on the surface of my soul. "Wasn't the inspection scheduled for tomorrow?" I asked, still hoping to somehow get out of the trouble I only now realized I was in.
"And I wasn't supposed to kill the sect's disciples to cover for your mess," Vaner countered, the kindness in his eyes vanishing without a sight.
I was fucked.
This man was perfectly aware that I only had a few moments to train. I could even guess that he was aware just how much of that time I wasted waiting for Mia to let the gate to the garden open!
Did he expect results now? Or was he trying to put me back in the line?
"Elder," I once again cupped my hands, "I would like Mia to present her strength," I said before raising my head and looking the man directly in the eyes. "But if she turns out to be any weaker than I was when the elder tested me, I beg the elder to give her more time to train instead of advancing her right away!" I requested before lowering my head again.
For a moment, I simply stood in place, unsure what Vaner was thinking. With my head lowered, I couldn't even gauge his thoughts through his expression.
'Now that I think about it, he doesn't appear to be someone who would allow others to read his face,' I thought, connecting the dots.
From his display before, it was clear that he wasn't just a simple elder of the sect. I would not believe that after the domineering display of influence and power from before.
"Fine," Vaner finally responded. "You there, girl," he said, moving his attention to Mia. "Come at me with all your might!"