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Chapter 70: Practice Makes Perfect
The table was silent. Everyone’s gazes landed on the jade powder on the table.
This slip of the hand was so particular.
Ling Bo’s gaze moved between Kong Hou and Huan Zhong thoughtfully. Chang De felt that Radiance Sect’s Huan Zhong did not seem to like Primary Luck Sect. Yesterday, he was cool towards Spirit Master Shuang Qing. Today, in front of the sect eldest disciple of Primary Luck Sect, he was even more undisguised. Had Primary Luck Sect done something to offend Huan Zhong that he acted like this?
Zhou Xiao stilled. Then he called a servant to bring new cutlery. Just as he stood, Huan Zhong pushed a bowl of spirit crane egg soup in front of Kong Hou. “Eat this early in the morning; it is good for your health.”
“Oh.” Kong Hou raised the bowl to eat. While she did not know why, her intuition told her, if she did not eat it, something bad would occur.
Until that pigeon soup turned cold, Kong Hou did not have a chance to drink it. Huan Zhong reached out to touch the bowl and said with a calm expression, “The soup is cold. I will give you a new bowl.”
He handed the bowl to Kong Hou. After she took a sip, Huan Zhong had a gentle expression. “How is the taste?”
“All right.” Kong Hou drank half of a bowl and stopped.
Huan Zhong nodded. He put down his chopsticks and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. “I have already finished. Path Friend, thank you and also your honorable sect for your care.”
“Spirit Master Huan Zhong is too polite.” Zhou Xiao smiled openly and turned to ask Kong Hou, “Does Celestial have something else you would like to eat? I will tell the kitchen.”
“I will follow the host. Path Friend Zhou, as you please.” Kong Hou thanked him. “Us cultivators should not put too much importance on food.”
Lin Hu thought, a good girl was learning to lie from Master. This crime was too big.
“Does Celestial want to visit Kui City? This one is untalented and is willing to guide Celestial.” Zhou Xiao’s face was flushed, and he did not dare to look straight at Kong Hou.
“No need.” Kong Hou waved her hand. “I have already made an appointment with Huan Zhong. Path Friend Zhou, you do not have to entertain us—do as you please.”
Zhou Xiao looked at Huan Zhong, and then looked at Kong Hou. He thought of how the two had left in the same carriage that day, and suddenly guessed a certain truth. He looked dazedly at Kong Hou. A small flame in his heart which had not completely ignited was immediately covered by thick snow.
“Since that is the case, then I wish Celestial and Spirit Master to have fun.” Zhou Xiao bowed and quickly walked away.
“Huan Zhong, let’s go.” Kong Hou pulled Huan Zhong’s robe. She looked at Chang De and Ling Bo. “Path Friends, will you come as well?”
Chang De said, “I may as well.”
Ling Bo said, “No.”
Chang De looked at Ling Bo. Hadn’t Shimei said last night that she wanted to go to one of Sky Sect’s shops to buy the latest dresses? Why was she not going now?
“We have some other business to attend to. Path Friends, please go first.” Ling Bo did not wait for Chang De to speak and pulled him away. Chang De saw his shimei so rude but could not criticize her in front of other people. He followed her in leaving.
“Ling Bo.” Coming out of the courtyard, Chang De said helplessly, “You should interact more with other cultivators.”
“Eldest Shixiong, the two are in a relationship. Why would we go interfere?” Ling Bo felt hopeless at Chang De’s slow perception. “Did you not see how ugly Spirit Master Huan Zhong’s face was when Zhou Xiao tried to gain favor with Kong Hou?”
“Spirit Master Huan Zhong and Celestial Kong Hou?” Chang De thought for a moment and then shook his head to refute this. “Spirit Master Huan Zhong has skill with the sword—when have we sword cultivators thought of illusory love as important? Also, Celestial Kong Hou is just in her teens and a disciple of Splendid Cloud Sect. Their two sects have different cultivation philosophies, and their management styles are different. How could they have feelings for each other?”
Ling Bo said hesitantly, “Did I think too much?”
“Relationships between cultivators are not like those between ordinary men and women. Our lives are too long, we see too much, and it is hard for us to fall in love.” Chang De looked at his young shimei who wasn’t yet one hundred. “You are still young—you do not know how time wears on emotions.”
When young, one is willing to live and die for their love, not regretting it at all. When one grows older, they think less importantly of love. After seeing too much death and separation, it becomes difficult to be moved by other people or matters.
In the cultivation world, who among the most powerful cultivators had had a partner? Or maybe they once did. But in the end, to pursue their own paths, they separated.
“Is there no long-lasting love?” Ling Bo asked. “No special existence?”
“No.” Chang De shook his head. “Not even one.”
While Ling Bo did not have someone she was in love with, she still yearned for beautiful feelings. Hearing Eldest Shixiong answer like this, she felt slightly dejected.
“Do not care so much. Maybe wondrous couples like this will appear in the future, but not right now,” Chang De comforted. “You and the other shixiong go and take a walk. I will go back and organize what we need to take into the secret realm.”
Ling Bo noded. Thinking of what she had to buy, she forgot that bit of disappointment.
Chang De looked at her back, shook his head and laughed. She was still young. In the past, one of the strongest and his partner had a great love that everyone in the cultivation knew of. Yet that relationship did not withstand the wear of time. Just as hotly as the two loved each other, they were just as calm when they separated. Until his partner passed away, that powerful person suddenly went crazy and searched for a way to revive his partner. However, a dead person would not return. The living one had to continue living.
That powerful person had disappeared for several centuries. Maybe he passed away in an unknown corner and merged with the soil.
Kong Hou put the things she had bought and the letter for the sect together in the storage bag. She delivered it to the post office for a flying sword messenger. Before leaving, she thought of a lot, for example, if she did not manage to come out in time, she would be inside the secret realm for several centuries. So she had to tell the sect beforehand where she went.
“Ah…” Kong Hou saw a familiar figure at a certain shop. Kong Hou found this person at a glance not because she had good eyes but because the other’s head was so rectangular. Among the crowd, he was the most eye-catching. “That seems to be Spirit Master Shuang Qing?”
In front of them, Spirit Master Shuang Qing always maintained a smile and was an enthusiastic host. At this time, when unsmiling, he seemed to give off the authority of a sect master, even though he was picking children’s toys.
When he picked a toy, he would touch it all over several times. He appeared to make sure there were no thorns before he nodded in satisfaction.
This was for his young apprentice?
“This Spirit Master Shuang Qing…” Huan Zhong led Kong Hou to walk in another direction. “This person has considerable ambition. Do not get too close to him.”
“He wants to manipulate me?” Kong Hou was shocked. She was a young disciple of a sect—what was the benefit of manipulating her?
“Have you ever thought, if Primary Luck Sect wanted to join the top ten, which is the first sect they have to defeat?” Huan Zhong did not understand how to interact with people, but he could see people’s hearts or their ambitions clearly.
“Who?” Kong Hou’s eyes widened. “Would it be Splendid Cloud Sect?”
Huan Zhong looked at her silently in answer.
“Because we look the most honest and docile?” Kong Hou frowned. “It is not good to bully honest people.”
Huan Zhong: “…”
“But it is all right.” Kong Hou was quickly relieved. “Sect Master and the peak masters will worry about these matters. Our elders and peak masters are very strong.”
Huan Zhong: “En.”
If they were not strong, how could Splendid Cloud Sect have comfortable days?
“But you are right in reminding me. I will write and tell the sect about this matter,” Kong Hou said. “One cannot lack caution against others.”
“Do not be in a hurry. If I am wrong, it will not be good.” Huan Zhong grabbed her wrist to stop her from taking out a flying message seal. “This matter is related to the peace between two sects. It is not good if a misunderstanding occurs.”
“What are you thinking?” Kong Hou slapped the back of his hand. “Just a reminder. The sect masters and the others will make their own decision, and will not be rash.” If she found something suspicious and did not tell the sect out of caution, that would give the other an opportunity.
No matter if it was true or not, if the sect knew of it early, would it not be better if they acted with caution? Also, this matter would be kept within the sect, and not spread—what conflict would there be?
When people were young, their thinking was direct and simple. Sometimes, this simplicity and directness could avoid many misunderstandings from occurring. Maybe not just because of age, but also because of her trust in the sect and the sect’s trust in her. To Kong Hou, Splendid Cloud Sect was her home. If she found anything suspicious when travelling, it was normal to tell her family. Splendid Cloud Sect would not blame Kong Hou if she gave them an incorrect message.
Radiance Sect would not do something like this, and would be unable to. This was a trust unique to Splendid Cloud Sect and their disciples. Outsiders could not understand, and they did not care if outsiders could understand.
After realizing this, Huan Zhong stopped trying to persuade Kong Hou. “Then we will return and take care of this.” People were passing them on the streets and it was not suitable to send a flying message seal under these circumstances.
“All right.” Kong Hou grabbed Huan Zhong. “Then we will return soon.”
Looking down at his sleeve which was being pulled, Huan Zhong laughed. “All right.”
The two did not walk far before they encountered Ling Bo who had said she had business to attend to.
Ling Bo: “…”
Kui City was so large—how could she encounter them here? She looked at Huan Zhong and at Kong Hou who was pulling his sleeve. Was this how platonic male and female friends interacted?
“Clear Dawn Sect’s Ling Bo.” Noticing Ling Bo’s gaze, Kong Hou looked down at Huan Zhong’s sleeve which was now wrinkled due to her grip. She released the sleeve and greeted the other disciples of Clear Dawn Sect.
“Please feel free. Farewell.” Ling Bo feared if she said a few more words with Kong Hou, she would overturn again what she had learned from her shixiong.
“Why is she walking away in such a hurry?” Kong Hou gazed at Ling Bo’s back. “She is going to get the new dresses from Sky Sect?”
Looking at his abandoned sleeve, Huan Zhong said, “A few days ago, I saw Path Friend Cheng Yi wearing a signet ring on his hand at Auspicious Pavilion.”
“You mean that black signet ring?”
“Yes.” Huan Zhong’s expression was stiff and serious. “Simple and stylish, good-looking.”
“I made that.” Kong Hou smiled. “I made it back in Yan City. All my success was based on the essence fire you gave me.” Seeing Huan Zhong’s thumb bare, Kong Hou said, “If you do not mind, I will make one for you as well.”
“All right.” Huan Zhong’s answer was without hesitation. “I do not have a signet ring yet.”
She couldn’t help but look a few more times at Huan Zhong’s hand. Kong Hou started to ponder what kind of signet ring could match this pair of hands?
After returning to her courtyard in Primary Luck Sect, Kong Hou started to prepare a message. When Huan Zhong returned to his own yard, Lin Hu was sitting at a stone table and drinking tea. Seeing him return, Lin Hu put down his teacup. “Master has returned just in time. The tea is done—do you wish to have a taste?”
Huan Zhong walked to sit at the stone table. When Lin Hu finished pouring tea for him, he said, “What do you want to say to me?”
Lin Hu was not a person who liked drinking tea. Making tea in the courtyard today was clearly to wait for him to return.
“Master misunderstands. I just saw the spring day is warm and the sun is bright, so I came out to soak in the sun.” Lin Hu put the teacup in front of Huan Zhong. “Also, the sect just sent a message. They will soon start advertising the dangers of the evil cultivators, and matters to pay attention to in order to guard against their tactics. The sect says that if we encounter disciples of our sect in danger, we should help.”
“I know.” Huan Zhong nodded slowly.
The tea was slightly hot, but Huan Zhong felt it was perfect. Ever since his health had declined, some of his senses were not as sensitive as before. Even his sense of pain had degraded. Due to this, Old Man Wu Ku’s talisman which made mental demons did not affect him greatly.
He looked at the orange sunlight falling on the wall. Huan Zhong did not speak.
“Master’s response this morning was too much.” Lin Hu looked at his cool expression and still spoke up.
Huan Zhong turned his face. The sunlight dyed his pale face with gold color.
“Zhou Xiao is the sect eldest disciple of Primary Luck Sect, his personality is honest, and he was not rude,” Lin Hu continued. “Even if you disliked him, you should not have done that.”
“Whether he is good or not has nothing to do with me.” Huan Zhong’s eyes moved. His indifferent face finally showed an emotion similar to fury. “He stood too close to Kong Hou. They are not suitable.”
Lin Hu looked in shock at Huan Zhong, as though he had not expected the other to say such a thing. He wanted to hear what Huan Zhong would say next.
“His appearance is average, his talent is ordinary, his mental state has nothing exceptional, his shidi and *shimei are all troublesome.” Huan Zhong could pick many flaws on Zhou Xiao. “He is old, and his cultivation is still so low. No part of him can compare to Kong Hou. How can a man like this dare to aspire to Splendid Cloud Sect’s pentad spirit base apprentice?”
Huan Zhong’s speech was very harsh. In the past, he would definitely not have said something like this. Lin Hu was silent for a long time before he gently spoke. “But Master, all of this is something that Spirit Master Wang Tong of Splendid Cloud Sect should worry about.”
The wind rose and blew past the branches. Huan Zhong’s eyelashes trembled in the wind.
Huan Zhong met Lin Hu’s gaze and saw his own pale face. Lin Hu had followed him for three hundred years. In name a servant, but in truth a teacher and a friend. Lin Hu was silent most of the time and would not rashly express an opinion about his conduct.
He put down the teacup and moved his gaze away, pressing his lips together in silence.
“Huan Zhong, Huan Zhong!” A young girl dressed in yellow robes leaned over the wall and waved a hand to him. “I found a bottle of pills Qing Yuan Shishu made which is of benefit to the spirit platform. Take it.”
The silver ribbon on her wrist flashed beautifully under the sunlight but could not compare to the luminosity of her smile.
Huan Zhong looked dazedly at her. His ears were filled with the sound of the spring wind.
The wind was quiet, but he could hear it clearly. The spring wind blew into his ear, his eyes, his mind, and… his heart.
“Huan Zhong, what is it?” The young girl jumped off the wall and crouched in front of Huan Zhong. She waved a hand in front of his eyes. “Are you daydreaming? Lost in your thoughts? You find me too beautiful so you went into a daze?”
“Yes.” Huan Zhong smiled at her. “Your guess is correct.”
“You are too beautiful, so I was in a daze.”
“You really know how to speak.” Kong Hou put the bottle of pills on the table and sighed. “But the shijie has told me before to listen and be happy at the beautiful words a man says, but not to believe in them.”
“I do not lie.” Huan Zhong looked at her, his eyes serious and filled with warmth.
Kong Hou covered her chest and then covered her eyes. “Eat the pills, I’m leaving.” When this peerless man looked at her with such a gaze, it was easy for a woman to feel she was his entire world.
Beauty was a danger to people, great danger.
Kong Hou jumped onto the wall, looked back, and then jumped back to her own courtyard.
For the good of all her female compatriots, she would be friends for an entire life with Huan Zhong. If beauty would harm someone, it ought to harm her. Other women were innocent.
Looking at the young girl who hurriedly jumped away, Huan Zhong turned to look at Lin Hu.
“Do not look at me. I don’t know how you were able to frighten a little girl away.” Lin Hu averted his face and covered his face with a hand.
Clasping the cool jade pill bottle in his hand, Huan Zhong stood and said, “Lin Hu.”
Lin Hu put down his hand and looked at him. The sunlight was too bright and his vision was blurry. Huan Zhong’s expression was indistinct in his eyes.
“Sometimes, one does not need to think of a reason for doing something.” Huan Zhong smiled. “I do not know how much time I have left, but I am very happy right now.
Lin Hu opened his mouth but Huan Zhong interrupted him.
“In the future, this will occur frequently. You will get used to it.” He put the jade bottle into his storage ring. “Practice makes perfect; one will learn to keep their composure in front of surprises.”
Lin Hu: “…”
Master had been stained multiple colors and even his level of culture had degraded.
Could “practice makes perfect” be used like this?
During the night, rain started to come down on Kui City. The rain continued an entire night but showed no signs of stopping. When noon came, thunder roared, and the rain still did not rest.
Huan Zhong, who was reading in his room, looked outside the window and stood up to walk out the door.
The secret realm had opened.
Meditating in her room, Kong Hou detected spirit energy flowing in the world which was different than usual. She opened an umbrella and walked outside her door. Then she saw Huan Zhong and Lin Hu standing inside her courtyard.
“Huan Zhong, Elder Lin, has the secret realm opened?” Kong Hou walked next to Huan Zhong and saw his complexion was better than usual. She felt reassured. “Should we leave now?”
Huan Zhong nodded. He threw out a flying talisman. The three jumped onto the talisman and flew to where the secret realm was.
The entrance to the secret realm was in a mountain valley which did not look special. If ordinary people without any cultivation came to look, they would think it was an ordinary cave. When Kong Hou and the two men arrived, the disciples of Clear Dawn Sect had already arrived.
There were not many cultivators present. Other than their group, there were some of the stronger disciples of Primary Luck Sect, and some nomad cultivator who had managed to get the news from somewhere.
When the nomad cultivators saw sect disciples appear, they were not angry but sighed in relief. Secret realms were filled with danger. If it was just them, they would not dare to go inside. Yet with these cultivators who came from famed sects present, it was a completely different matter. They had powerful cultivation and many talismans. If they saw others obtain anything, they would not desire to kill them to seize their treasures. More importantly, they were honest and just in their actions. If they saw nomad cultivators in danger, they would help if they could.
Due to this, the nomad cultivators present came up to exchange greetings. After learning Kong Hou and Huan Zhong’s identities, their attitudes were even more enthusiastic.
They had heard of Celestial Kong Hou and Spirit Master Huan Zhong before. Not just because they had once saved several of Cool Breeze Sect’s disciples, but due to how they had been fair to nomad cultivators. Supposedly, two months ago, some evil cultivators had pretended to be nomad cultivators and committed evil, sowing discord between nomad cultivators and the sect cultivators. Yet Celestial Kong Hou said that the nomad cultivators were free and good people who would not do what evil cultivators did.
When the words reached the ears of the nomad cultivators, it became proof that Kong Hou respected nomad cultivators. So even though Kong Hou had not accomplished any great deed, in the minds of the nomad cultivators, Kong Hou became a talented, good, rational and just disciple from a famed sect.
“Celestial Kong Hou is as beautiful as a goddess from the heavens, as pure as a lotus.”
“The secret realm is filled with danger. Celestial, after you enter the secret realm, you have to be careful.”
“This jade pendant contains a thread of my consciousness; I give it to Celestial now. If Celestial encounters danger, please crush this jade pendant, and this old man will come as quickly as possible to help.” The strongest among the nomad cultivators was a Mind Manifestation old man. He was an elder of the nomad cultivator alliance, and he had been sent by the alliance to enter the secret realm to protect the other nomad cultivators.
“Thank you, Forebear.” Kong Hou received the jade pendant and put it in her storage ring.
“No need, no need.” The Mind Manifestation old person’s smile became even more harmonious. Nomad cultivators and sects usually did not interact with each other. Under the peaceful surface was the pride of famed sect disciples and the helplessness of the nomad cultivators. If one could join a famed sect to cultivate, who was willing to become a nomad cultivator? Only a few of those who became nomad cultivators did it for freedom. Most had been unable to join a sect. The inequality of talent and cultivation resources caused the nomad cultivators to be in an unconfident state. So when they heard a cultivator of high status from a famed sect praise them, they were very happy.
More importantly, Celestial Kong Hou had good talent and was young. Her future was limitless, and she respected the nomad cultivators. Having good ties with a famed sect disciple was of no detriment to nomad cultivators.
Looking as the nomad cultivators circling around Kong Hou and speaking her praises, Ling Bo touched her face. Was it because she was not as good-looking at Kong Hou or not as famous that those nomad cultivator fawned over Kong Hou?
Was Kong Hou the only female cultivator here?
“Everyone.” Chang De used a sound art to increase his volume so everyone could hear him. “The secret realm is now open. Please pay attention to your safety. When exploring, try not to wander too far away so that you will be unable to be saved when you encounter danger.
“The secret realm will stay open about a month or so. In this month, Clear Dawn Sect will leave disciples on the outside, but for safety, please try to come out a few days before the deadline. I worry that the secret realm will close prematurely.” Chang De looked at the dozens of people present. “I hope everyone will find spirit grasses and treasures, and return peacefully.”
The elder of the nomad cultivator alliance said, “I will go first to open the road.”
He went in first. The secret realm did not react. Then the other nomad cultivators followed.
Chang De looked at Huan Zhong who had not moved. “Will Spirit Master Huan Zhong enter now?”
“Go in first. Us three will be last.” Huan Zhong made a gesture of invitation.
“Thank you.” Chang De did not hesitate and flew with his shidi and shimei into the secret realm. The Primary Luck Sect disciples followed them. Among these disciples, Kong Hou saw that female cultivator who had been beaten up by the black-robed woman.
The female cultivator saw her and hid behind Zhou Xiao. She hurriedly went into the secret realm, clearly not wanting to remember what had happened that day.
Within the span of fifteen minutes, other than the disciples who were going to stand guard here, Kong Hou, Huan Zhong and Lin Hu were the only people left outside the secret realm. Kong Hou walked to the entrance, rubbed her hands and said, “This is my first time entering a secret realm. I am slightly nervous.”
“Do not be nervous. Practice makes perfect; one will learn to keep their composure in front of surprises,” Lin Hu said seriously.
“Elder Lin, what use of phrase is this?” Kong Hou snorted. “Are you trying to fool children?”
Lin Hu turned and looked at the expressionless Huan Zhong. “Apologies, my family was poor in my childhood, and I did not learn properly.”
Huan Zhong: “…”
Kong Hou took a deep breath and stepped into the secret realm.
This did not feel like stepping through a door, but being pulled by a strange force and shaken for a moment. When she opened her eyes again, the entire world had changed.
The mountains were green and the water clear, the sky was blue, the clouds were white. Pink flowers floated along streams, and the spirit energy was so dense it seemed like thousands of spirit-gathering formations were present. The cultivators who had entered early were gone without a trace.
“Huan Zhong, Elder Lin…” Kong Hou turned around. She only saw Huan Zhong. She did not know where Elder Lin had gone.
“Do not move.” Huan Zhong walked next to her. “This secret realm is like an enormous divination array. After people enter, they may appear at different places.”
“But Pavilion Master Sun did not mention this to me.” Kong Hou glanced at the dense forests and then looked at the ground. There was a thick layer of dried leaves which had accumulated for an unknown number of years.
“The secret realm is intelligent. Five hundred years have passed, and it has changed as well.” Huan Zhong observed the surroundings. “There are temporarily no problems here. Do not worry.”
“If the secret realm has changed, will the Cloud Seeking Tree still be here?” Kong Hou’s expression changed. She looked around, her expression changing for the worse.
“Something that was here naturally should still be here.” Huan Zhong summoned the Dragon Roar Sword and held it in his hand. “Also, you should worry about the traps of the secret realm and not the Cloud Seeking Tree.”
“We came in for this. If not for the Cloud Seeking Tree, we could turn and leave right now—so who cares if it is dangerous or not?”
Huan Zhong stilled, and then stretched out a hand to Kong Hou with a gentle expression. “Give me your hand.”
Kong Hou looked confusedly at him, her starry eyes blinking.
“This place is very dangerous. You are entering a secret realm for the first time.” Huan Zhong’s expression became calm and steady again. “It is safer if I hold your hand.”
Translator Ramblings: Lin Hu’s got no ground to stand on to accuse Huan Zhong.
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