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Chapter 51: My Friend
“Study Master?” Lin Hu saw An He standing motionless at the door. He thought the other did not dare to enter as Master’s expression was too cold. He went to the doorway and looked. Master’s expression was calm, and there was nothing wrong with the decor in the hall. Then what was it?
An He forced a smile and stepped into the room. He gave a deep bow to Huan Zhong. “This one’s master was the previous master of Harmonious Wind Study, Spirit Master Wu Mi. My master passed away a few years ago. This one thanks Benefactor on his behalf.”
When he finished, he lifted his robes and knelt down. “An He thanks Benefactor on behalf of Master for saving Master’s life.” When he finished, he kowtowed.
“I and Spirit Master Wu Mi only met by coincidence. Study Master An He has no need to be so polite.” Huan Zhong lifted his hand, and An He who was preparing to kowtow stood up involuntarily. He looked with undisguised shock at Huan Zhong. In front of this person, he, who had Mind Manifestation cultivation, could not control his own body.
Who was this person? Better-looking than him, and stronger as well. When did the cultivation world have such a person, and why had he never heard of this person before? In the entire cultivation world, those of similar age to him but with higher cultivation could be counted on one’s fingers. If not for his outstanding talent, he would not have become a Mind Manifestation cultivator in a short two hundred years, and even taken over the position of study master of Harmonious Wind Study.
Spirit Master Zhong Xi of Radiance Sect was one, Chang De of Clear Dawn Sect was another. The former had not appeared in the cultivation world for a long time. They said that Spirit Master Zhong Xi was obsessed with the sword, his heart as cold as steel, and that he had a terrifying appearance. The people who had seen him before were so frightened they could not speak. Chang De of Clear Dawn Sect was slightly younger than him and had completed Core Formation Stage. He did not know when the other would have a mental breakthrough and become a Mind Manifestation forebear.
Also, Wu Chuan of Splendid Cloud Sect and Ling Yue of Nine Phoenix Sect could be called geniuses. But he had seen the former in the past. That one was a stoic and dull person. If the other had not stated his identity, others would think he was a disciple of Radiance Sect. He had also seen Ling Yue of Nine Phoenix Sect before. That was a woman.
“This one will not be able to forget Benefactor’s grace. For Benefactor, it may have been a minor matter, but for our lowly sect, Benefactor is a saint who rescued the sect.” Even though An He was filled with shock, he did not dare to show it on the surface in fear of causing Benefactor’s dissatisfaction.
“Back then, I saved Spirit Master Wu Mi from the evil cultivators. He paid me back with this small courtyard. We have no debt between us. Study Master An does not need to keep this matter in mind.” Huan Zhong pointed at the seat beside him. “Study Master, please sit. I cannot accept your great greeting.”
The other talked in a calm tone and his presence was the same as an ordinary person’s, but An He felt slightly weak in front of this person. Huan Zhong told him to sit, and he could only sit, not daring to say another world. As a sect master, he had his own temper and eccentricities. But when he appeared in front of others in the role of study master, he had to put all this aside.
“This one is even more impressed by Benefactor’s noble character. If Benefactor has any need in the future, this one will not shirk.” Seeing the other really did not plan for him to repay the debt, An He could only give up.
At this point in the conversation, there was almost nothing for them to say. Huan Zhong did not bluntly tell An He to leave, but his eyes contained such a meaning. An He could not sit still even though he had just sat down. “Yan City has beautiful scenery. Benefactor should experience the scenery here.”
Huan Zhong nodded.
“Then… this one bids farewell?” An He stood. He felt that this situation was so solemn he could not breathe.
“Take care.” Huan Zhong nodded slightly at him. As a disciple of Radiance Sect, Huan Zhong forced out a stiff smile in order to show his friendliness.
What did Benefactor’s smile mean? An He was both shocked and suspicious. Did the other feel he was not sincere in his intentions to pay back? He wanted to say a few words to express the gratefulness he felt. Yet when Benefactor became expressionless again, he could only swallow the words that had reached his lips.
Just as he was about to cross the doorway, he heard Benefactor call him.
“Wait a moment.” Huan Zhong walked next to An He.
A faint layer of sweat appeared on An He’s forehead. When Huan Zhong came close to him, he almost instinctively took out his talisman fan to defend. This person was so mysterious and unfathomable. He could not avoid feeling wary.
“I heard that the Hundred Flowers Ball is very popular?”
“This one does not dare say so; it is just for people to gather together.” An He thought inside, did Benefactor have some objection toward the Hundred Flowers Ball?
“Since that is the case, I will trouble Study Master to leave three good seats for me,” Huan Zhong said. “I have a path friend interested in your honored Hundred Flowers Ball.”
“It is this one’s honor that Benefactor is willing to come. This one will arrange the best positions for you.” An He turned and looked at the other person. While he was not a match for the other man, he felt safer facing this person instead.
“Thank you.” Huan Zhong heard an answer to his satisfaction and smiled again at An He.
Seeing that smile, An He bowed at him. “Farewell.”
Lin Hu looked at the departing figure and turned to say to Huan Zhong, “He is the apprentice that Spirit Master Wu Mi frequently praised when he was alive.”
“He has good talent,” Huan Zhong assessed. He turned and asked, “How long has Kong Hou been in her trance?”
“Master, Miss Kong Hou only entered her trance yesterday.” Lin Hu looked at the sky. “It is still early—should I accompany you to go shopping?”
Huan Zhong looked at him and shook his head. “No need.”
Lin Hu was not sad at being rejected. Young people liked to be with young people. He was old. It was normal that Master was not willing to go out with him. “Then you can shop on your own.”
Huan Zhong: “…”
“I am going to meditate.” Huan Zhong turned around and returned to his room.
Outside the courtyard, the disciple of Harmonious Wind Study saw An He striding out. He hurriedly straightened and prepared the horse. An He’s shidi who he was close to saw An He’s expression was not very good. He asked quietly, “Eldest *Shixiong, that benefactor’s temper is difficult?”
An He did not speak. He could not say if the other had a good temper because they had not spoken many words at all. But he was sure of one fact—the other had no ill intentions towards Harmonious Wind Study.
“Shidi, do you think that women crossdressing as men would be better-looking than men?” An He was silent all the way back to the study. After closing his door, he finally voiced the question he had contained inside.
“A woman crossdressing as a man?” His shidi laughed. “Eldest Shixiong, this is not a play. With your cultivation, are you not able to see if the other’s skeleton is male or female?” What was going on with Shixiong these last few days? A few days ago, he suspected a young girl was a man crossdressing as a woman, and today, he suspected a woman crossdressing as a man.
An He’s expression grew uglier. “I know. Go and cultivate.”
The shidi did not ask more. He left An He’s room and closed the door.
The sun fell and rose again. After three cycles, Kong Hou’s door opened. She was in a good mood after reaching Mind Activation Stage and reinforcing her mental state. Her skin was flushed with the pink of good health and even her steps were joyful.
“Miss Kong Hou, have you finished?” Lin Hu who was holding a bowl of medicine saw Kong Hou and stopped to look at her expression. “It seems that you have progressed this time in your trance.”
Kong Hou nodded with a smile. Seeing Lin Hu carrying medicine, she asked, “Huan Zhong’s sickness has relapsed?”
Lin Hu stilled and then nodded. “No need to worry, just a minor problem.”
“I will come with you to visit him.” Kong Hou followed Lin Hu. “Has he not been well these past days?”
“Oh …” Lin Hu nodded vaguely and asked, “Miss is still angry with Master—is it suitable for you to go now?”
“The twenty hours passed a long time ago. People who are ill usually are not in a good mood, so I have to cheer him up. We will not mention past events temporarily.” Kong Hou still remembered that she had said she would ignore Huan Zhong for twenty hours. “I am angry with him—I am not cutting ties with him.”
Lin Hu showed a smile. He knocked when they reached Huan Zhong’s door. “Master, Miss Kong Hou and I have come with medicine.”
The door quickly opened. Huan Zhong, dressed in a wide-sleeved robe, stood at the door. His inky black hair was loose behind him rather than tied up in a jade coronet. With his pale bloodless face, he seemed like a beautiful and sickly young master.
“Huan Zhong, are you all right?” Amazement and worry alternated in Kong Hou’s eyes. In the end, worry won out.
“Go sit on the couch.” Kong Hou pulled on his wide sleeve and made him sit on the couch. She turned and said to Lin Hu, “Elder Lin Hu, come in. Do not let the wind cool the medicine.”
Lin Hu closed the door and held the medicine in front of Huan Zhong. “Master, use your medicine.”
Huan Zhong looked at Kong Hou and then looked at Lin Hu. He looked slightly puzzled. Two hours before, Lin Hu had said that more flowers were blooming nearby. He was worried that Huan Zhong would feel discomfort after smelling such strong fragrances, so he went to prepare preventative medicine. Why did Kong Hou look as though something major had happened to him?
“The medicine is not hot or cold, just perfect for drinking.” Kong Hou took the bowl of medicine from Lin Hu’s han and tested the temperature using the back of her hand. She put the bowl next to Huan Zhong’s’s lips. “People who are ill cannot be unreasonable.”
“Thank-thank you.” The white and slender hands were too close to him, so close he could smell the faint fragrance on her skin. Huan Zhong took the bowl and gulped it down, not even tasting what the medicine was like.
He was only thinking, he could only smell the faint flower fragrance on the young girl’s hands.
“Cough, cough.” He coughed, unaccustomed to drinking so quickly. “I reserved seats for the Hundred Flowers Ball. When the time comes, accompany me?”
“All right.” Kong Hou patted his back and did not dare to do it too hard because she feared that she would cause him to throw up blood. One had to treat ill people gently.
“Are you still angry with me?” Huan Zhong rinsed his mouth with water. After he wiped his mouth, his usually calm expression now appeared slightly lost. “Apologies. I handled matters inappropriately before and made you angry. If I accidentally get wounded in the future, I will not conceal it from you.”
“Huan Zhong, it is not just about getting injured.” Kong Hou pulled the blanket on the couch over Huan Zhong’s knees. She was both amused and exasperated by his words. But facing his flawless face, she could only feel distress and helplessness. “No one is perfect and invincible. When you are unhappy, you can be unhappy; when you are injured, you can say you are in pain; when you are ill, you can show your weakness and act spoiled. This is not being useless, but…”
Kong Hou paused and wanted to find words to describe what she thought. “How to describe this? Us cultivators pursue the path, and we live much longer than ordinary people. Over such a long time, taking everything on yourself and being so harsh on yourself will mean you will live with exhaustion. Then what is the meaning in immortality?
“In this long period of time, have a small temper tantrum occasionally, do not just endure when you are wounded, show weakness and act spoiled when you are ill—these are all things to enjoy.” Kong Hou knelt beside the couch and looked with her large eyes at Huan Zhong. “I am angry you do not take care of yourself. Is your conduct worthy of your perfect body?”
“Don’t be angry.” Huan Zhong smiled at Kong Hou. He stretched out a hand and tugged twice gently on her sleeve.
“Hmm?” Kong Hou looked at her sleeve. “Huan Zhong, what does this mean?”
“I am ill now, so I am showing weakness and acting spoiled,” Huan Zhong responded seriously to Kong Hou, his ears flushing. “I did it, so don’t be angry any longer.”
Kong Hou… Kong Hou was entranced with this man’s beauty. She nodded immediately. “Not angry, not angry, I am not angry at all.”
When a beautiful man played cute, no one could refuse him. How could there be a man as adorable as Huan Zhong in the world?!
Under the apricot trees in the courtyard, Lin Hu leaned against the trunk. He stared at the sky with his arms crossed over his chest. The white clouds in the blue sky were so beautiful. As expected, young people had the best relationships among themselves. The duo did not even detect him leaving the room.
Knocks sounded. He looked at the pair in the room, turned and went into the outer courtyard to open the gates.
“Greetings, Forebear Lin.” The visitor was An He’s shidi. He held out with both hands three embossed invitations. “The Hundred Flowers Ball is five days from now. Our humble study’s master told this one to deliver the honored guest invitations. Please, Forebear, and Benefactor, do us a favor and come.”
“Thank you.” Lin Hu took the invitations. “We will definitely disturb you.”
The shidi showed a smile. This Forebear Lin did not have many expressions but seemed easy to talk to. With a servant like this, no matter how strange the master’s temper was, it would not reach an unreasonable degree.
Huan Zhong, who had “made up” with Kong Hou, was in a good mood. When they were eating in the evening, he asked Lin Hu how to make spicy fish pieces. Lin Hu looked at Huan Zhong and Kong Hou’s enthusiasm and described the process from start to finish.
“I am not a sword cultivator. My skill at cutting fish pieces will definitely not be up to par.” Listening to the complex process of how to add spices and how to control the fire intensity, Kong Hou showed self-knowledge and decided to give up on learning this life skill.
The sword cultivator Huan Zhong: “…”
“One injures their hands when cooking. Young girls do not need to learn it.” Huan Zhong changed the topic. “I will have Lin Hu put the container and essential fire in the room on the right. Tomorrow, we will practice forging again.”
“All right.” Kong Hou still brooded over having forged just an ugly and low-level metal hoop. Hearing Huan Zhong mention this matter, she hurriedly agreed. Could a minor matter like cooking be as important as learning to forge?
A flying message seal flew through the darkness. Kong Hou caught it. She swept it with her consciousness and saw that this flying message seal was not just for her alone, but for all the disciples of the sect who were travelling.
Seeing her expression turn ugly, Huan Zhong put down his chopsticks. “Kong Hou, what happened?”
“An evil cultivator tried to trap new disciples of Splendid Cloud Sect, one of whom is a single spirit base talent. Fortunately, this new shidi was clever and discovered the evil cultivator’s disguise, and they managed to flee from her hands.” Putting the flying message seal back on the table, Kong Hou frowned.
“Your sect… is summoning you back?” Huan Zhong felt slightly empty inside and discomforted. He had become used to this lively young girl around him in this period of time. He had almost never thought about her departure.
When this flying message seal appeared, he suddenly realized Kong Hou was not his apprentice or a member of his sect. She would leave his side sooner or later and return to Splendid Cloud Sect.
“The letter did not mention it, just said for us to pay attention, not to easily trust others, and not to go to remote places. The only ones who need to be summoned back are the disciples from far away.” Kong Hou shook her head.” Disciples like myself do not have to return to the sect. But when we pass the sects or cities under the sect’s jurisdiction, we need to help the sect search and see if evil cultivators are within.”
“So that is how it is.” Huan Zhong’s brow eased. “If I remember correctly, the next stop is Feng Province. The provincial capital is not large; a small sect called Auspicious Pavilion is stationed there and is a subordinate sect of your noble sect. After we attend the Hundred Flowers Ball in five days, we can ride talismans to Feng Province.”
“A subordinate sect of Splendid Cloud Sect?” Kong Hou took out the Splendid Cloud Sect disciple’s handbook for travelling. The last few pages listed all the subordinate sects and cities of Splendid Cloud Sect. At the bottom, in the least eye-catching place, was Feng Province, Auspicious Pavilion.
In these six years, other than cultivating in seclusion, she was studying spells with her master and shixiong or she was playing with the shijie in her spare time. Therefore, she did not have a clear understanding of Splendid Cloud Sect’s state. The shijie frequently told her it was better if young children did not mature too early. If one worried too much, they would grow ugly. Master and the shixiong were not willing for her to worry about sect matters, so she lived days of getting the monthly allowance and cultivating but not working.
When she heard Huan Zhong, a member of another sect, know more about Splendid Cloud Sect than she did, Kong Hou was slightly embarrassed. She decided to memorize the list at the back of the handbook in the next few days.
“Young girls should not worry too much.” Huan Zhong put the soup in front of Kong Hou. “It will affect your cultivation mentality, and you will lose hair.”
“Lose hair?” Kong Hou touched the hair she was very satisfied with. “Really?”
Huan Zhong nodded, his expression calm. He did not show any hint of joking. “A female disciple in my sect was worried about matters for a period of time. Her hair started to fall in great handfuls. She had to eat many pills in order to regrow it.”
Kong Hou threw the handbook into the storage ring. One needed to gradually learn, and not just perform rote memorization.
After eating the meal, Kong Hou went back to her room to rest. Lin Hu practiced a sword routine for Huan Zhong to observe. Huan Zhong gave some pointers. After seeing that Lin Hu understood them, he said, “Lin Hu, do not frighten her with my health in the future; this is a young girl.”
“Master, I remember that Celestial Teng Luo’s hair fell off because she went wrong in her cultivation,” Lin Hu responded.
“That is because her mind was not steady and she thought nonsense, so something went wrong with her cultivation.” Huan Zhong looked expressionlessly at him. “Do you have any other questions?”
“No.” Lin Hu shook his head. “I am going back to rest.”
Watching Lin Hu’s back as he left, Huan Zhong turned to look at the couch with slight awkwardness.
He… he, a man of more than three hundred years, played cute in front of a young girl. So embarrassing.
Hundred Flowers Ball was a good day to admire the flowers, the scenery, the dances, and the beauties. However, the beauties were separated. People could only admire but not blaspheme. A person who did not know the rules once verbally disrespected the hundred flower beauties. In the end, the disciples of Harmonious Wind Study beat him up and threw him out the gates of Yan City.
After some time, everyone who came to Yan City to attend the Hundred Flowers Ball knew that the hundred flower beauties were honorable women. Some were ordinary people, others cultivators. They only acted as the flower celestials on the stage, and made the Hundred Flowers Ball more lively.
This year was the two hundred years anniversary of the Hundred Flowers Ball, so it was exceptionally lively. For this ball, Harmonious Wind Study had prepared for half a year. When the Hundred Flowers Ball formally started, the city core of Yan City was completely filled. Even the stalls in the outer city were filled with visitors from all places. The entrance admission to the inner core was limited. Visitors who did not get the tickets could only sigh and wait to enter tomorrow.
The Hundred Flowers Ball would be held for seven days, but the first day was the most lively. Anyone who managed to squeeze into the city core on this day would be overjoyed. Disciples from Harmonious Wind Study stood on the corners of all streets. Anyone who stole, littered, shouted, or disrupted the peace, regardless of their identity, would be dragged out.
Watching the visitors being dragged out of the Hundred Flowers Ball each year was one of the favorite pastimes of the local Yan City citizens.
On the stage, the major personages who had received the invitation from Harmonious Wind Study took their seats. Soon, people found that there were three empty spots closest to Study Master An. They did not know who was so unruffled even at the ball.
The sect master of a small sect on good terms with Harmonious Wind Study asked with a smile, “Study Master An, which noble guests have not yet arrived?” An He arranging such close seats for them proved that their identities were special.
“This is the benefactor who saved my master’s life. Benefactor was busy with cultivation in the past years, and I did not have the fortune to meet him.” An He nodded towards the sect master who had spoken. “Fortunately, Benefactor finally arrived at Yan City a few days ago.”
Hearing An He’s words, everyone immediately understood. So this was a benefactor who had saved Spirit Master Wu Mi’s life. No wonder An He treated them with such importance. As everyone speculated about the identities of these people, they saw a disciple of Harmonious Wind Sect usher three people over. The handsome man at the front wore a first-class magic robe. His complexion was pale and he did not appear easygoing. The young girl next to him was young but already had Mind Activation cultivation. She had a smile on her beautiful face, and appeared gentle and friendly. The man walking behind the pair had a steely expression. The black brocade robes he wore appeared ordinary but were also a first-class talisman. His presence was also concealed well.
This was… this was a Mind Manifestation forebear?
Some of the sect masters who had complete Core Formation cultivation could manage to make out the black-robed man’s cultivation. However, Core Formation Stage was one stage lower than Mind Manifestation Stage. They only received a blurry impression.
“Benefactor, please be seated.” The moment Huan Zhong appeared, An He unconsciously stood up and walked to meet him. He bowed to Huan Zhong and said, “Path Friends, please be seated.” When his gaze landed on Kong Hou, An He stilled for a moment. Wasn’t this the female cultivator at the city gates that day who did not react to his appearance?
Huan Zhong noticed An He’s gaze towards Kong Hou and said, “Please, Study Master, lead the way.”
An He immediately refocused. “Please come this way.”
Huan Zhong did not immediately follow him. He turned and said to Kong Hou, “Kong Hou, come.” There were many cultivators today, many sect masters and peak masters. Kong Hou was young; he could not allow her to be frightened by these people.
Kong Hou reached out and gripped the edge of his sleeve with two fingers. She gave him a bright smile.
An He, who was walking at the front, noticed this female cultivator’s attention was on Benefactor from beginning to end. Other than the greeting at the start, she did not look at him again.
When the three were seated, An He bowed to Huan Zhong and said, “This celestial is?”
“My friend.” Huan Zhong’s tone was cool.
An He: “…”
Thank you, I know this is your friend, but the name and background?
Translator Ramblings: Lin Hu is the best accomplice.