This chapter has been brought to you by me, and Adnana.
Chapter 44: Returning Gift
In the morning when the light appeared, Lin Hu opened his door and saw Huan Zhong standing in the courtyard. He looked at the grey sky. “You woke up so early?” The disciples of Radiance Sect had the habit of getting up early to practice their sword in the morning when they were not in seclusion. However, Master could not casually move his sword right now. Why did he come out so early? Was he admiring the beauty of the courtyard?
Huan Zhong turned back to look at Lin Hu, his gaze pausing on Lin Hu’s black sword. “I coincidentally woke up.
“Go through a sword routine for me.” Putting his hands behind his back, Huan Zhong said, “You have travelled with me so far these recent days—you’ve worked hard.”
“Master gave me this life—why does Master have to be so polite to me?” Lin Hu pulled his sword out. “Please, Master, give me guidance.”
As a Mind Manifestation cultivator that countless cultivators in the cultivation world looked up to, Lin Hu’s sword routine was almost free of openings. But just almost. When he finished his routine, Huan Zhong said, “Your wrist is an inch higher in the sixteenth move. This is akin to leaving your abdomen open to your opponent.”
Lin Hu repeated the routine. Huan Zhong nodded and said, “You are extremely practised with your routine. The biggest problem is that it is not alive—you and the sword are not one. When you have spare time, try to comprehend.”
“I will remember.” Lin Hu knew his own weaknesses. But he did not have Master’s talent. He did not know how long until he would understand how to be one with the sword.
One only had to point out the problems. Huan Zhong did not speak more. A thread of red rose in the east. The sun was about to rise. Huan Zhong looked at the sky, his jade-like appearance as cold as jade.
“Continue to practice,” Huan Zhong said without turning his head. “Cultivation is like rowing a boat against the current; you cannot slack off.”
“Yes.” Lin Hu silently continued to practice.
As Lin Hu practiced, Huan Zhong watched from the side until the sun rose, and the door on the east opened. A young girl dressed in ivory walked out.
“Elder Lin, Huan Zhong.” Kong Hou seemed to be in a very good mood, her rosy face smiling. She skipped in front of Huan Zhong. “You rose so early?”
Huan Zhong looked towards her hair, the rising sun infusing his brow with color. “Lin Hu is practicing. I’m just looking around.”
“Elder Lin has such good swordsmanship.” Kong Hou felt slightly embarrassed as she stood next to Huan Zhong. “When I first met you, I thought that Elder Lin was a Core Formation cultivator, not a Mind Manifestation cultivator.”
“Your cultivation is low, so it is normal you cannot accurately judge other people’s cultivation.” Huan Zhong turned sideways and looked at her. “Lin Hu will finish in a while. I will accompany you to breakfast.”
“All right.” Kong Hou knew that one should not interrupt others when they were practicing and agreed to Huan Zhong’s suggestion.
The inn worker saw the two walk out of the courtyard and went forward to greet them. Guests who could rent small courtyards were important people with money. They had to be carefully served.
Putting the food the guests needed onto the table, the worker wiped down the tables as he eavesdropped on the conservations between guests. His method of overcoming boredom when working in a large inn was to listen to the guests speak of all kinds of news: which cultivator betrayed their cultivation partner, which major sect disciple caused trouble, which family produced a genius, which pair of master and apprentice became enemies. He enjoyed listening to all these things.
“In next year’s Conference of Sects, Radiance Sect will be first again, and the other nine sects will also give spectacular displays. I want to go see it. Supposedly, the entrance ticket for the Conference of Sects has reached more than one thousand spirit stones a ticket. I’ve traveled so many years, had everything, just never spirit stones. I won’t be able to see this event.”
“Those hawkers who inflate the prices are evil. At the last conference, the price of an entrance ticket was one thousand and two hundred spirit stones only. The conference is still a year away and the price has already reached the highest price from last time. Next year, the price might reach two thousand spirit stones.”
“No way about it, the cultivation world has too many fools with money.”
“Ha, if people with money are fools, then people without money are smart?”
“Path Friends, Path Friends, let us talk peacefully and not anger each other. Let us talk about which sect other than Radiance Sect will perform well next year.”
“Of the ten major sects, other than Splendid Cloud Sect, all others are possible.”
When they spoke of Splendid Cloud Sect, everyone in the inn laughed.
Huan Zhong’s hand holding a spoon stilled. He looked back at the people laughing and frowned. Kong Hou did not care about the laughter and listened with interest to their chatter.
“Splendid Cloud Sect is not weak—how come they will not perform well?” In the corner, a young master who looked to be in his teens was puzzled. “Why do you say this?”
“Young man, this is your first time leaving home?” The large man dressed in grey robes laughed and said, “Last time, Clear Dawn Sect hosted the Conference of Sects. Splendid Cloud Sect sent twenty disciples to attend. However, these disciples were occupied with watching spectacles and forgot the time. When they arrived at Clear Dawn Sect, the first competition of the conference was finished. They did not even qualify for the competitions.”
The young master gaped. He appeared to have never thought that Splendid Cloud Sect could do such a thing. Hearing the laughter of those seated, he said after a long while, “Then where is the conference being held next year? If I want to buy a ticket, who should I find?”
“Next year’s conference is at Radiance Sect. Otherwise, the price would not have been pushed so high.” The people present were gossipy when they spoke of other people, but they did not have malicious intent. Hearing the young master asking this, someone answered enthusiastically.
“Many sects will receive entrance tickets. Some sects will sell them. As long as Sir has a cultivator’s life token, and can prove your identity, you should be able to buy one with enough money.” The one who spoke was a beautiful matron who wielded a blade. She threw a flirtatious look at the young master. “However, Little Master, you have to remember, when you go to the territory of the ten sects, you have to abide by their rules.”
The young master flushed at the matron’s gaze. He hurriedly pushed a few mouthfuls of food down and hurriedly ran away, causing the people to laugh again. Some laughed at the matron for even going after a child, other at the young master for being shy and giving up on such a good opportunity.
Compared to the unpopulated inn of Three Trees Town, Yi City’s inn was much livelier.
“Huan Zhong, next year’s conference is at your sect?” Kong Hou said in a small voice. “Is the conference fun?”
Huan Zhong thought back to the conference he attended in the past. Other than the disciples in different clothing, he could only remember one easy competition after another. It could not be called fun.
“Yes,” Huan Zhong said. “When you visit next year, I will take you to tour Pei City outside the sect.”
Radiance Sect was located on Pei City’s Radiance Mountain. Because Radiance Sect was called the holy land of cultivators, Pei City was lively and outshone even the city where the imperial family of the cultivation world lived. Huan Zhong had rarely left the mountain in the past. Even if he did, he just flew over Pei City and rarely entered Pei City. To him, Pei City was too noisy. But the lively Pei City was perfect to take Kong Hou to play.
“I don’t know if I am able to go.” Hearing the cultivators say that the entrance ticket would cost two thousand spirit stones, Kong Hou was already persuaded. But she did not know which disciples the sect would send to attend. If they did not take her along, she would not shamelessly follow them.
“No matter. If your sect does not bring you, I will go to Splendid Cloud Sect to get you.” Huan Zhong’s lips curved up slightly. “I am able to make a decision like that.”
Hearing Huan Zhong say this, Kong Hou immediately became happy. She sat up straight and said to Huan Zhong, “Then do not forget to come get me when the time comes.”
“All right.” Huan Zhong’s smile grew even more clear.
“Huan Zhong.” Kong Hou bit her chopsticks and touched the flying bird hairpin in her hair. “Thank you.” Because she liked this hairpin so much, she had put the hairpin on immediately after waking up and combing her hair.
“Just a hairpin.” Huan Zhong smiled. “I’ve never given a gift to a female, so I don’t know what you all like. If you have something you like in the future, you can tell me.”
Kong Hou put down her chopsticks and smiled. “Huan Zhong, if you act like this with your friends, you will suffer.”
Huan Zhong laughed. The little girl who gave him the Vermillion Grass worth cities solemnly said that he would suffer. He did not know how Splendid Cloud Sect raised her to be so innocent.
“Path Friends, do not say too much. If this passes into the ears of Splendid Cloud Sect, I fear it would not be good.” A thin old man shook his head and said, “The ten sects are extremely powerful. You are laughing at Splendid Cloud Sect—careful you do not become enemies with them.”
Hearing this, the other cultivator stilled. They had not thought of this point. Everyone followed the crowd. When they were alone, they would not dare to do something. When many people did something, their daring grew. Now that the thin old man raised the point, they realized the words they had just said would be slightly inappropriate if Splendid Cloud Sect learned of them.
“They should not. I’ve interacted with disciples of Splendid Cloud Sect before, and they are easy-going and will sometimes even mock themselves. They would not make trouble due to our few words?” The grey-robed man wavered. “Also, we did not have any malicious intent…”
“The people of large sects are skilled at acting in a play. Who can tell if they care or truly do not? Everyone, will you not fear them settling the account behind your backs?” the thin old man said mysteriously. “The world does not lack for fake gentleman who appear honorable but are corrupt inside.”
“Elder is a careful and wary person—how could you say such things in front of everyone?”
As everyone felt their hearts go up and down, a beautiful girl dressed in ivory celestial robes raised her head and looked at the thin old man. “Your words imply that Splendid Cloud Sect are all hypocrites—you are not afraid of Splendid Cloud Sect’s retribution?”
“This old one is just reminding people out of good-heartedness, not saying that Splendid Cloud Sect are hypocrites.” The thin old man stilled. He hadn’t expected someone to argue with him. “You are just a little girl—what do you know?”
Kong Hou smiled mockingly. His words appeared to be a good-willed reminder to the cultivators present but were actually sowing dissension to make people feel that large sects such as Splendid Cloud Sect were all hypocrites. They were only generous on the surface, but were actually narrow-minded and would extract retribution at any conflict.
“The cultivation world is so large—if they tried to get revenge on anyone that says a bad word about the ten sects, wouldn’t they die of exhaustion?” Kong Hou rolled her eyes. “If the people of the ten major sects were so idle, they could just become assassins of the cultivation world rather than the ten major sects.”
When a good-looking young girl rolled her eyes, people did not feel repulsed. Some people laughed out loud at Kong Hou”s words. When they thought about it, it was logical. If the ten major sects were so narrow-minded, how could they maintain their position in the top ten?
The reason why the major sects were the major sects was due to their ability and charisma. In the last two millennia, the ranking of the ten major sects had almost never changed. Which of those that dropped out of the top ten were not affected by internal conflict and improper conduct weakening their own strength?
“This beautiful young sister’s words are logical.” The beautiful matron who had flirted with the young master laughed gently. “Everyone, do not scare yourselves. Some people appear to think for the good of others, but maybe they are just sowing discord. Everyone, do not fall for it.”
The thin old man said, displeased, “Path Friend, what do you mean?”
“What can I mean?” The beautiful matron raised an eyebrow. “There is meaning for those with other intentions, no meaning for those without any intentions. Do I need to answer?”
“You…” The thin old man’s expression changed. He turned and glared at Kong Hou. “You say they will not retaliate, and they won’t? You are not a member of Splendid Cloud Sect—could you represent them?”
Kong Hou glared and said to Huan Zhong, “This old man is so shameless. He cannot verbally win over the beautiful older sister so he comes to bully me, a young girl.”
Her voice was quiet, but loud enough that many people heard her. The beautiful matron immediately broke into scornful laughter and did not leave any face for the old man. “There are always some people in the world who only grow old but never grow brains. Little sister, you are still young. You do not know how complicated some people’s minds can be.”
“Older Sister, you are right to remind me.” Kong Hou cooperated with the beautiful matron and angered the thin old man. He almost slapped the table, but he knew, if the two females worked together, he was not a match for them so he could only endure.
He paid his bill and turned to leave in anger.
The beautiful matron stared at his back and said coldly, “Old Fogey with unfathomable motives.”
After the thin old man left, the hall became lively again. Kong Hou listened to the bizarre rumors and even ignored eating.
“I heard that the sect disciple of Willow Speech Sect ended his engagement to the celestial of Green Jade Sect on the day of the path union ceremony right in front of the guests. Then he turned and got together with an Energy Refinement level three female cultivator. Green Jade Sect and Willow Speech Sect are enemies now. These two sects will most likely be in conflict at next year’s conference.”
Willow Speech Sect and Green Jade Sect could both rank in the top twenty sects of the cultivation world. The cultivation world would likely be in a fluster for a while now that the sect first disciple of Willow Speech Sect had embarrassed Green Jade Sect so greatly.
Hearing how deeply in love the sect first disciple of Willow Speech Sect was with that Energy Refinement level three female cultivator, to the point of refusing the single spirit base apprentice of Green Jade Sect, Kong Hou felt that the matter was not quite right. It was not wrong to desire a suitable match in body and feeling, but this matter should have been cleared up beforehand. Why did they have to wait until the path union ceremony?
Their love was precious that the female cultivator of Green Jade Sect should be humiliated for their love?
”Have you finished?’ Huan Zhong touched the porridge bowl in front of Kong Hou. “The porridge is cold. Should I have the waiter change it with another bowl?”
Kong Hou shook her head. “I’m going back to meditate.”
Huan Zhong stood and walked behind her. They passed through the corridors and walked away from the noise in the front hall. Kong Hou kicked the stone bench in the small courtyard. “That sect first disciple of Willow Speech Sect is so shameless.”
Huan Zhong who had not paid attention to the chatter of other people: “…”
“Huan Zhong, what do you think?” Kong Hou splayed out on the stone table and raised her face up from her arms to look at Huan Zhong.
“En.” Huan Zhong nodded.
Looking at Huan Zhong’s calm face, Kong Hou smiled. She sat straight and said, “Huan Zhong, you are so adorable.”
Huan Zhong: “En?”
When a serious and good-looking man looked over with bewilderment, it was such a beautiful scene. Kong Hou propped her face up on her hands. With just a few moments of looking at a good-looking, adorable, and righteous man, she felt in a better mood.
Kong Hou’s mood immediately lifted. She stood. “Huan Zhong, I’m going to meditate.”
Huan Zhong: “…”
Were the thoughts of young girls this difficult to understand?
Footsteps came from behind him. He looked back. Lin Hu, who had finished practicing, looked at him from under a loquat tree. Master and servant looked silently at each other. Lin Hu wiped the sweat off his forehead. He said in a calm tone, “I heard nothing.”
Huan Zhong lowered his face. “You could practice the sword moves you did incorrectly a few more times today.”
Lin Hu’s hand stilled. “Master, I really did not hear anything.”
“I do not care if you heard or not.” Huan Zhong stood and said expressionlessly, “Your practice has nothing to do with that; do not think too much.”
Lin Hu: “…”
Among the three elders of Splendid Cloud Sect, Qiu Shuang lived alone on one mountain. Because she liked quiet, not many disciples would dare to disrupt her in a year. But today was different. As she meditated in her cave residence, she heard a disciple calling her from outside.
“What is the matter?” Qiu Shuang walked out of the cave residence and saw a junior standing with a tray outside her door. A piece of red cloth covered the tray so she did not know what was being carried.
“Elder, Kong Hou Shishu of Moon Perching Peak had a flying sword messenger deliver this to you. Please look over.” The disciple of Five Elements Hall was slightly timid in front of Elder Qiu Shuang and didn’t dare to raise his head.
“For me?” Qiu Shuang was slightly surprised as she took the tray. “Is Kong Hou all right travelling?” A few days ago, Jin Yue of Radiance Sect had sent a letter saying that Kong Hou was in the company of Radiance Sect’s apprentice. She should not be in any danger.
“Disciple does not know. Kong Hou Shishu has also included a letter for Elder. Maybe Shishu has described her present situation.”
“I know. You may go.” Carrying the tray back to her cave residence, Qiu Shuang lifted the red silk and saw the beautiful dress on the tray. The dress was made out of white cloth and embroidered with beautiful peony flowers. Other than the magnificent dress, there was a purple cape and two handkerchiefs, all embroidered with grand and bright flowers.
She opened the letter. A third of the content praised her beauty, a third insisted she would certainly be very beautiful after wearing the dress, and only the last few sentences mentioned her recent situation.
Looking at the name Kong Hou mentioned, Qiu Shuang smiled. It seemed that she was very happy with this fellow. They even encountered the rare Blue Silver Flower. As Qiu Shuang folded the letter back up and placed it back into the envelope, her gaze landed on that grand dress.
In Radiance Sect, all the female elders and female peak masters received a gift delivered by a flying sword messenger.
The dress was beautiful, the designs on the handkerchief were exquisite, the hairpins were suited to their taste. The only problem was the sender. Their shizhi who usually was indifferent, rule-abiding and did not like to say even a word suddenly sent them things that women liked. How terrifying and weird was this?
A female elder sent a subordinate to investigate. Other than her, several other female disciples and peak masters in the sect also received the dresses and hairpins that Shizhi had delivered. But the sect master, Jin Yue, did not get any.
The female elder looked over the dress repeatedly, but regardless of how she looked, the dress in her hands was not a top magic robe but a well-crafted and refined normal dress. However, special formations had been added to give off light to make the dress appear even more beautiful. They did not have any defensive ability.
What was going on with Shizhi?
“Elder, the clothing…” The subordinate saw the elder’s solemn expression and did not dare to speak too much, only asking the elder what to do with the dress after she put it down.
“Hang it up.” The female elder though for a moment and added, “Hang it carefully; do not let it get wrinkled.”
While it was not a magic robe, it was a bit of regard from her shizhi. Thinking about Shizhi‘s present health, she sighed. A child who was usually indifferent started to learn to send things back to them.
She gathered a pile of spirit stones, seals and talismans to hand to the subordinate. “Shizhi should be still at Yi City in the next few days. Let the flying sword messenger deliver these things to him.”
Shizhi was of ill health right now. He should have some talismans and seals to protect himself.
Kong Hou meditated in her room for three days. When she came out, she saw a man dressed in robes embroidered with the words “Like the Wind” standing in front of Lin Hu. Wasn’t this the uniform of the flying sword messengers of the post office?
After receiving the third parcel delivered by flying sword messengers today, Lin Hu expressionlessly turned and coincidentally met Kong Hou’s curious gaze.
“Miss Kong Hou.” Lin Hu nodded to her and took out two storage bags from his storage ring. “Your sect had the flying sword messengers deliver these yesterday.”
Kong Hou took the storage bag and looked in. In the parcel that Elder Qiu Shuang sent, other than spirit stones, there were many talismans, as though she intended for Kong Hou to crush people to death with talismans if she could not win the fight. The other parcel had been sent by several of the shijie together and contained only some spirit stones and a letter. The letter said for her to not neglect herself when travelling, and have her buy a few more hairpins from the Embroidery Pavilion.
Counting the spirit stones that the shijie had mailed her, Kong Hou found that she would have about two hundred spirit stones left after buying the hairpins the shijie wanted. Taking off the few dozen spirit stones for the postage fee, she would have more than a hundred spirit stones left.
Were these hundred spirit stones her fee?
She shook the letter and found a few more sentences on the back. The general meaning was that Sky Sect recently released several new styles of celestial dresses and they could not control themselves from buying them. They were tight on money at the moment and asked Kong Hou not to mind this.
These really were her good shijie. When she bought the hairpins and sent them back, she would also send a letter asking them to buy the newest style of celestial dresses. She had no money travelling outside and would not give them any spirit stones.
Seeing Kong Hou counting the spirit stones one by one, Lin Hu thought of the piles of spirit stones and talismans the elders and peak masters of Radiance Sect had sent to Master in the past two days. He started to suspect the reason Splendid Cloud Sect could not recruit the most talented disciples was because they were too frugal towards their apprentices.
When his master went out travelling, the sect master would give him tens of thousands of spirit stones. Yet Kong Hou, a pentad spirit base apprentice, needed to live counting each spirit stone. What was wrong with Splendid Cloud Sect that they could give a disciple a sword worth a small spirit vein but not give them more spirit stones?
While the shijie were all stingy, Elder Qiu Shuang was generous and gave her fifty thousand spirit stones. Kong Hou, who had never been so wealthy, carefully put the spirit stones into her storage ring. She turned and saw Lin Hu was still present. “Elder Lin, these are the storage bags Radiance Sect sent to Huan Zhong?”
“Yes. Nothing special, just some spirit stones.” Lin Hu did not dare to let Kong Hou see what was inside the storage bags in fear she would feel inferior.
Kong Hou was about to say that she could lend Huan Zhong money if he had none when she heard the sound of an argument coming from outside.
After staying for a long time in Splendid Cloud Sect, Kong Hou could not stand still when hearing other people fight. She ran to the front hall to see what was happening. When she reached the door, she heard the words “Willow Speech Sect.”
Translator Ramblings: This chapter felt so long … actually, so was the last chapter