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Chapter 46: Dream Ordeal
When Lin Hu stood at the door, Huan Zhong already knew he was present. Seeing Kong Hou in a dispirited mood, he turned towards Lin Hu. “What is it?” With Lin Hu’s personality, if he did not have anything to report, he would not appear here.
“Elder Lin?” Kong Hou’s attention shifted when Lin Hu appeared. She looked at Lin Hu with curiosity.
Seeing them finally notice him, Lin Hu stepped over the threshold. “Master, Willow Speech Sect has canceled Bian Hong’s status as the sect’s eldest disciple.”
“Cancelled?” Huan Zhong took out a handkerchief and handed it to Kong Hou. The soft white handkerchief appeared like a cloud. Kong Hou held the handkerchief and did not know what Huan Zhong meant.
“Here.” Huan Zhong laughed and motioned to his neck. “Sweat there.”
“Oh.” Kong Hou gripped the handkerchief and wiped towards her neck. When the soft handkerchief came in contact with her skin, she felt great comfort, like that of a mother’s gentleness. Her movements unconsciously slowed.
Huan Zhong turned to look at Lin Hu. “Have you found the identity of the green-robed female cultivator?”
“Not yet. However, our disciples found a female corpse where the green-robed female cultivator used to live.” Lin Hu looked at Kong Hou who was wiping her sweat while looking into a mirror. “Also, a few days ago, when Miss Kong Hou and I were in the inn’s hall, we met an old male cultivator with strange conduct and speech. When he left, I left tracking incense on him. Yesterday night, I discovered that he is in contact with a suspicious cultivator. I suspect that he is deliberately sowing discord between major and minor sects.”
A female cultivator bewitching others, a passerby cultivator with strange eyes. These were just the ones they had encountered. How many similar conspiracies were targeted against them in places they could not see?
The evil cultivators were most skilled at tempting others. But as the cultivation world’s sects became more strictly managed, matters such as disciples fighting to the death for cultivation resources had almost disappeared. After life had been peaceful for so long, people with other intentions would appear and attempt to overturn the present order, and try to reach the highest position when the world was in chaos.
If Miss Kong Hou had not gone to watch the spectacle yesterday, had not stopped the fight between Willow Speech Sect and Green Jade Sect, had not argued against the old cultivator, how would the matter have developed?
Would Willow Speech Sect and Green Jade Sect’s enmity increase and burn their ties? Would they pull in the sects on good terms with them, and create turmoil in the cultivation world? Normal cultivators would feel more and more fear towards the ten major sects. They would then have the thought that they would only be able to rise if they overthrew the ten major sects.
At that time, the sects would be fighting among themselves, and the evil cultivators would take over the cultivation world.
This was the first time Lin Hu had the thought that wanting to watch a spectacle was useful. He gazed at the young girl still looking in the mirror and gave a great exhale. No matter what, they could prepare in advance now that they had discovered this. There was still time.
“Tomorrow is the day we go to Spirit Master Nameless to get the pills?” Kong Hou put down the small mirror. “Should we prepare some gifts for Spirit Master Nameless? This way, we build ties, and in the future, we will be able to ask him for more help.”
Huan Zhong was not in good health right now. Interacting with pill masters was not detrimental to him.
“Thank you, Miss Kong Hou, for the reminder. I will prepare immediately.” Lin Hu who usually did not have any emotional changes looked at Kong Hou with warmth in his eyes. He nodded towards Kong Hou and left the forging room.
“Huan Zhong—” Kong Hou looked at Lin Hu’s back with puzzlement “—did Elder Lin encounter something good today?”
“Maybe he doesn’t like Bian Hong of Willow Speech Sect and is in a good mood hearing that he lost his position as sect eldest disciple,” Huan Zhong said. “Do not worry.”
“Oh.” Kong Hou nodded. She hadn’t thought that Elder Lin would dislike Bian Hong so much. It seemed that Elder had clear likes and dislikes.
On Splendid Cloud Mountain, several female apprentices were already waiting by the gates when the morning arrived, as though they were waiting for an important person. Newly joined disciples saw this and wondered, were elders from other sects visiting? Why did only the female shijie and shishu wait; where were the other shixiong and shishu?
Gao Jian Yan pulled on his belt which had tightened recently. Before leaving home, his family had worried that he would not be accustomed to living in the sect and would lose weight, so they had prepared several smaller-sized sets of clothing for him. But Splendid Cloud Sect had such good food. He did not slim down but gained more weight. He couldn’t fit in most of the clothing he had brought from home.
“Gao Shidi, several apprentices are over there.” Another disciple pulled his sleeve. “I feel that Splendid Cloud Sect recruits apprentices not just based on talent and conduct, but also on their looks. Look at the shijie—each of them is beautiful.”
Gao Jian Yan slowed down and peeked towards the gates. Touching his round face, he sighed. It appeared he had no chance of becoming an apprentice this lifetime.
“Why are so many female apprentices over there? Is something happening?” The newly joined disciples mostly had just reached Energy Refinement. However, they had already learned the habit of watching spectacles from their shixiong and shijie. Seeing so many beautiful shijie, these new disciples, regardless of gender, peeked over from their corner.
Gui Ling, who was walking with them, saw their sneaky state and impatiently walked away. However, after he took a few steps, a shimei who was small in stature but not weak in strength pulled him back. “Gui Ling, do not leave—what if the shijie find us?!”
Pressed to the wall, Gui Ling strugged… and could not break free. What did this woman eat growing up? She looked tiny but had such great strength.
“What is there to see? Yesterday, Peak Master Pei taught a new sword routine I have not yet mastered.” Giving up on struggling, Gui Ling tried persuasion. “Shimei, release me.”
Why was a woman looking at other women with such great interest?
“Sword routines are not as good-looking as the beautiful shijie.” The small shimei did not let go of him. “If I see the shijie, I feel better. When I feel better, I can practice the sword well. This is called doing half the work with twice the effect.”
Gui Ling neatened the clothing the shimei had pulled. “It will just be elders from other sects visiting. What is there to see?”
“Wrong, there is another kind of person other than elders that could cause so many beautiful shijie to appear together.” Gao Jian Yan shook his chubby head. “You are too inexperienced.”
“What else?” another disciple asked curiously.
“Also—” Gao Jian Yan pointed at the person flying on a sword “—the flying sword messengers that will deliver everywhere and are everywhere.”
Gui Ling wanted to say that Gao Jian Yan was speaking nonsense. But when he saw those apprentices excitedly circle the flying sword messenger and leave in contentment after taking a storage bag from the messenger, he became silent.
He turned to look at the Immortality Questing Path stretching down endlessly and his body swayed.
“Go, go, go, let’s go practice.” The shimei released Gui Ling and sprinted towards the practice field. Gui Ling stumbled. When he lifted his head, the other disciples had run a long way ahead. Even Gao Jian Yan seemed to have rolled away.
“Hey, why are you not moving?!” After running a stretch, Gao Jian Yan turned and saw Gui Ling still standing frozen in place. He ran back and pulled Gui Ling to run together. “Let’s go, let’s go.”
Gui Ling ran instinctively with an expressionless face as he was pulled by Gao Jian Yan who was even more nimble than he was.
“Why are you so stupid? You have to withdraw promptly after watching a spectacle; otherwise, you will get caught.” Gao Jian Yan pulled Gui Ling along as he sprinted. “You are too weak. I told you to not be picky with your food, but you didn’t listen. See, even the youngest shimei is faster than you.”
Looking at the shimei who had pressed him to the wall and was now running at the front, Gui Ling started to doubt his life. Why was he here, why did he come to this sect?
Heng Yan sat on the thick lazyboy and read several times the letter that Kong Hou had mailed back. Splendid Cloud Sect actually had one of the ingredients Kong Hou asked about.
Wu Chuan sat silently at the nearby table as he looked at the reports the branch halls had delivered and did not look at Heng Yan who flipped through the letter repeatedly.
“Wu Chuan, isn’t there a box of merpeople scales in the sect’s storage?” Heng Yan handed the letter to Wu Chuan. “Kong Hou is the most talented disciple in your generation. When you become sect master, her cultivation will catch up. If she finds out at that time the sect has a medicine that she asked for, will she blame us?”
“Master.” Wu Chuan lifted his head to look at him. “In just the last decade, almost twenty cultivators sent letters asking you if you had merpeople scales. You told them all no.” Also, Kong Hou Shimei would not blame the sect for an outsider. Even if she learned the truth in the future, she would only think that the sect had their own considerations and would not blame the sect.
“Is an outsider asking the same as one of the family asking?” Heng Yan coughed. “Also, we have a large box. There is no problem in giving a few scales.”
Wu Chuan nodded. “So you mean to have everyone believe that you accidentally picked up a few merpeople scales on the path, and then generously gave them to Kong Hou Shimei‘s friend, and this friend is coincidentally a disciple of Radiance Sect?”
Heng Yan coughed again. “We can ask them not to spread this. If Radiance Sect does not say, and Kong Hou does not say, who will know we have merpeople scales?” He knew not to show off wealth. If others sects needed the scales, he would still say they had none. But Radiance Sect was different. These sword sects thought highly of their oaths and would not leak such a matter.
Of course, that wasn’t most important. Most import was that this was the first time Kong Hou asked for the sect’s help after joining Splendid Cloud Sect. If the sect did not have it, then never mind. But he felt he could not stand by when the scales were clearly in his possession.
Merpeople scales were valued for their rarity, but they did not have many practical uses. That full box of merpeople scales had been in the sect’s storage for more than a thousand years and never had a chance to be used. If they gave a few scales to other people, it was not a major matter for Splendid Cloud Sect. The reason he had not been willing to give them before was that he did not want to attract trouble. If one started doing some things, it was hard to end them.
Heng Yan thought about it and decided to send a letter back to Kong Hou. He told her to pay attention to safety while travelling and to work on her cultivation. He also said that the sect coincidentally obtained a few merpeople scales. Since her friend needed them, then they could have them. But merpeople scales were rare. They could not discuss this matter with other people in order to avoid trouble.
Putting three merpeople scales in a luxurious jade box, Heng Yan handed the box and the letter to Wu Chuan. “Find a flying sword messenger for a rush order and deliver this.”
“Yes.” Wu Chuan took the letter and the box before he left the sect in a hurry.
The entire cultivation world would never believe that the rare merpeople scales would reach the hands of another person through post.
The night was cold. Huan Zhong was preparing to turn off the illuminating talisman in the room when he heard footsteps in the courtyard. An ordinary person without any cultivation?
“Miss Kong Hou, a flying sword messenger asks for an audience.”
Huan Zhong frowned. Why was a flying sword messenger coming at such a late time? Hearing the neighboring door open, and the light and fast footsteps unique to Kong Hou resound, he hesitated and then opened his door as well.
At the entrance to the courtyard, a flying sword messenger stood behind the inn worker. Kong Hou took a well-packaged parcel from his hands.
“Thank you.” Kong Hou saw the worker and the flying sword messenger off. She closed the courtyard doors and saw Huan Zhong standing under a tree.
“You were disturbed?” Kong Hou unwrapped the blue-printed cloth on the outside of the parcel. This was an ordinary piece of cloth without any seals or formations. Inside the parcel was a jade box, and a letter on top of the box.
“A letter from the sect master.” Kong Hou felt happy and turned to look at Huan Zhong. “Huan Zhong, the sect master definitely knows something about the ingredients.”
Huan Zhong stood silently under the tree and smiled at Kong Hou.
Kong Hou impatiently opened the letter and scanned it. She held up the box from the table with trembling hands as she murmured, “Huan Zhong, Huan Zhong…”
“What happened?” Huan Zhong saw Kong Hou was stammering and her hands were shaking. He thought something happened to Splendid Cloud Sect and worriedly walked to her side. “Do not rush, speak slowly.”
“Master, what is it?” Lin Hu pulled open his door and walked out, his eyes full of rare concern.
“No, no, no…” Kong Hou said repeatedly and pointed at the jade box. “Inside, inside, an ingredient.”
“You mean that one of the ingredients that Master needs is inside?” Lin Hu was the first to react. He took the jade box from Kong Hou’s hands in disbelief and opened it.
Brocade covered the interior of the jade box and shone with light in the night. However, Lin Hu’s eyes were fixed on what was on top of the brocade.
Three blue scales the size of jade coins, so beautiful they were flawless.
Merpeople scales… merpeople scales…
He suddenly looked towards Huan Zhong, his lips moving soundlessly. A moment later, he said hoarsely, “Master, these are… merpeople scales.”
“Shh.” Kong Hou made a shushing sound and pulled the other two people into her room. She also set up a boundary outside before she said, “Sect Master said this cannot be known by others. We have to be low-key.”
“Miss Kong Hou, even if Lin Hu dies, this one will not tell others of this.” Lin Hu bowed deeply to Kong Hou. “Miss Kong Hou, this one will never forget you and your noble sect’s great favor.”
Kong Hou was alarmed by Lin Hu’s solemn actions and hid behind Huan Zhong. “Elder Lin, what are you doing?”
Lin Hu stood up. Seeing that his actions had given Kong Hou a fright, he moved a few steps back. “This one is too excited.”
“Please do not refer to yourself in derogatory terms in front of me; I am unused to it.” Kong Hou felt slightly embarrassed. In the past few days, she had not been very polite in front of Elder Lin. In her eyes, Lin Hu was like the elders of her sect. Right now, this elder was calling himself “this one” in front of her. She could not adjust to this.
“Kong Hou.” Huan Zhong, who was in front of Kong Hou, put the jade box back in Kong Hou’s hand. “Do you know how valuable the merpeople scales are?” The merpeople had gone extinct five thousand years ago. Even when they had existed, they usually lived deep in the sea and almost never interacted with the outside world. Even Radiance Sect, which had existed for almost ten thousand years, had no more merpeople scales since a long time ago.
He had never thought that Splendid Cloud Sect would give something so valuable to Kong Hou. But no matter what, he could not easily accept this valuable ingredient from the young girl.
“It is only valuable when people need it. When it is not needed, it is a useless material item.” Kong Hou shoved the jade box back towards Huan Zhong. “Huan Zhong, since the sect master decided to give this to me, it means that he agreed for me to give it to you. The sect master is smarter than I am. If he permits this, there will not be any problems.”
A long time ago, Huan Zhong had heard that Splendid Cloud Sect loved their disciples greatly. The disciples of Splendid Cloud Sect were also extremely loyal to their sect. But could a sect spoil a disciple so much?
Seeing Huan Zhong still unwilling to accept, Kong Hou said, “I have given this away, so I do not plan to take it back. If you are still unwilling, just think that I am using this to gain favor with Radiance Sect, so that you will owe Splendid Cloud Sect a favor.”
“All right.” Huan Zhong put away the jade box. “I will remember this favor from Sect Master Heng Yan.”
“This is correct.” Kong Hou smiled. “A sickly person should not think too much; it is not good for your health. Go back and rest early. Tomorrow, I will accompany you to Spirit Master Nameless to get your medicine.”
Huan Zhong and Lin Hu suddenly remembered that they, two adult men, were in a young girl’s room in the middle of the night. They could only leave her room under Kong Hou’s smile.
Taking down the boundary outside, Kong Hou waved her hand. “Have good dreams.”
Watching as the door closed, Lin Hu and Huan Zhong exchanged a look. They feared they would not be able to sleep tonight. Lin Hu followed Huan Zhong back to his room. Out of caution, Lin Hu set up a boundary outside to prevent others from overhearing their conversation.
Huan Zhong took out the jade box he had put into his sleeve and took out one merpeople scale. This light blue scale gave off serene blue light between his fingers. “Lin Hu, you are right. I am taking advantage of a young girl.”
“Master…” Lin Hu did not know what to say. During their recent travels, at the start, he had thought of Kong Hou as a likable young girl who needed to be cared for. But he could not have imagined that they would find two ingredients in the month after encountering Kong Hou, ingredients Radiance Sect had searched for in vain for several years.
A year ago, the sect master had written to Splendid Cloud Sect about the ingredients. Splendid Cloud Sect had responded saying they had none. Today, without even demanding anything, they had delivered the merpeople scales. He had never understood Splendid Cloud Sect. Each time he thought this sect would decline, they would produce several talented disciples. Each time he thought this sect was unreliable in conduct, they were usually very reliable for major matters.
However… a sect that easily gave away merpeople scales. He had a difficult time believing they were cautious.
But this kind of lack of caution and stupid generosity caused Lin Hu to feel endless gratefulness and respect towards Splendid Cloud Sect. How many sects in the cultivation world were as free as Splendid Cloud Sect?
They did not think greatly of material items, they thought highly of the relationship between sect disciples. They understood better than others. Lin Hu exhaled deeply. His mental state which had remained still for a long time shifted, and he seemed to see the door to Projection Stage.
“Master, starting today, you have to take care of yourself,” Lin Hu said in a good mood. “Miss Kong Hou has saved your life—you will have to work very hard in order to repay her.”
Huan Zhong put away the merpeople scales. “You are in a good mood today to tease me.”
“Master, I am not teasing you. I am speaking the truth.” Lin Hu smiled. “Also, I now see hope of Master’s illness being healed. How could I not be in a good mood?”
Huan Zhong laughed softly, and his pale face showed some liveliness. He was about to speak when a muffled clap of thunder reverberated in the sky. Spirit energy surged in the courtyard and caused great spirit pressure.
“Dream Ordeal?!” Lin Hu’s expression changed. “Miss Kong Hou is about to experience a dream ordeal?”
The dream ordeal was a major ordeal that occurred when a cultivator’s cultivation reached completion of a stage and they comprehended something in their dreams. The Heavens would detect this and send down thunder and lightning. If a cultivator passed successfully, their cultivation would go up a stage. If they did not pass, a decrease in their cultivation would be the lightest consequence. The major trouble would be if they stirred a mental demon.
But dream ordeals were rare, and those that successfully passed them were even rarer. Lin Hu and Huan Zhong’s expressions became ugly. They stood guard outside Kong Hou’s door and became more worried as they looked at the ordeal clouds above the building.
The cultivators residing in the inn noticed this as well, and surrounded the courtyard to watch. Soon, people filled the rooftops and trees around the courtyard.
“Who is living in the courtyard, so unfortunate as to encounter a dream ordeal?”
“I fear the situation is dangerous. Path Friends, do not just watch. Cultivation is not easy, and we are all travellers. Path Friends with high cultivation, take out your talismans. If the situation turns vicious, we could help by blocking. At least, we have to make sure this path friend survives.”
Soon, the multicolored light of talismans lit up the rooftops and trees. The courtyard became as bright as in daytime.
Kong Hou stood in the carved and decorated palace. Her father-emperor sat on the throne as he cursed at the officials because the treasury did not have enough money and the officials did not agree for him to build a celestial music tower. Therefore, he decided to increase taxes on the people.
The officials that objected were dragged down and their heads cut off.
“If anyone dares to stop zhen, zhen will make mincemeat of him.”
Looking at her father-emperor’s snarling face and at the trembling officials, Kong Hou wanted to stand up. But in the next moment, someone grabbed her arm tightly. She looked back. Her mother-empress looked worriedly at her. “Do not go—your father-emperor is already insane. He will kill you.”
Kong Hou stilled. She looked at her pleading mother-empress and felt extremely burdened.
“You are Mother-Empress’ only child. If something happens to you, what will Mother-Empress do?” The empress sobbed. “Child, let’s go back. Mother has the pastries you like, and has prepared many beautiful dresses and jewelry for you. Come with Mother-Empress.”
Kong Hou could not muster up any resistance to Mother-Empress’ gentle hands and sad expression. She followed her mother out of the hall. She turned to look at the tall palace walls, and strange scenes suddenly appeared in her eyes.
The inn worker with wet shoes standing in the snow, the man with worn clothing carrying charcoal and his child, the old and narrow alleys, the struggling people in poverty.
She suddenly stopped walking. These people… where had she seen them?
“Child, what is it?” The empress turned to look at her with a gentle expression. She was the warm sun in winter, the cool wind in summer.
Kong Hou let go of her hand and asked softly, “What about the people?”
“What people?” the gentle and beautiful empress asked in puzzlement. “What does that have to do with you?”
Kong Hou shook her head. “Mother-Empress, I am going back.”
The empress’ expression became sorrowful. “Child, you are going to abandon Mother?”
Kong Hou looked deeply at her, and then turned to run back towards the doors to the palace.
She knew what those scenes were. That was the kindness and love in her heart.
“Child, do not leave me!” The empress’s voice sounded behind her, a sorrowful wail. But this time, Kong Hou did not look back. She pushed open the doors that had been closed and said to the emperor on the throne, “Emperor, please take back your order.”
When she was young, she had been ignorant, but she understood now. She could stop what she could not in her youth.
People had hard lives, and she could not watch as they fell into more turmoil and hardship.
In the inn courtyard, Lin Hu looked at the moving sun. “Master, it is near night.”
Huan Zhong stood silently as he looked at Kong Hou’s door.
“You and Spirit Master Nameless agreed to take your medicine today. Spirit Master Nameless has an uncertain temper. If you cannot be prompt…” Lin Hu urged him. “I will stay here. You should go get the medicine.”
Huan Zhong shook his head. “I will wait for Kong Hou to come out.”
Translator Ramblings: Kong Hou is learning about life.