Chapter 240 – Before the Ceremony (Two)
“Come with me!” Hua Chengzan lifted up Hua Chenglu with one hand and flew through the treetops like a bird, heading towards the top of the mountain.
“Wait for me, Zijian!” Hua Chenglu turned around and called out, but all she saw was a green mass. She was already very far away from the courtyard.
The voice curled upwards, and the branches swayed. Yu Zijian sighed gently inside. If she had not received the help of all these kind-hearted people, who knew what circumstances she would be facing. Regardless of the end result, she thanked them from the bottom of her heart.
If it were not for these warm feelings, what would be the point of living in this world? However, if someone ended up hurt because of her, she really had no idea what to do.
Niu Juxia, please be fine!
Advancing through the wild gales as the wind whistled past her ears, Hua Chenglu asked, “Brother, what mission brought you here?”
“It’s a secret.” Hua Chengzan smiled, but his expression was rather heavy.
Obviously, this would not escape the eyes of his younger sister, Hua Chenglu. She pouted unhappily, but she did not ask any further. She wondered, Apart from that woman, just what can give my almighty brother a headache?
“Has it got to do with the Herb Gathering ceremony of the three mountains?”
Hua Chengzan said nothing. He suddenly soared into the sky, flying above the entire Green Vine mountain.
Hua Chengzan spotted the diagram of the nine halls and eight trigrams on the square in front of the hall as well as the nine three-legged cauldrons giving off wisps of smoke. Looking down from above, the mountains all lingered in the mist, giving off an aloof and otherworldly feeling. The Green Vine mountain was quite a rare paradise.
From afar, they spotted the Green Vine Elder standing with his arms behind his back, waiting in front of the hall.
Quite a few disciples of the three mountains gathered on the square. Hearing the disturbance, they had all climbed out the mountain to see what was going on. Raising their heads, they saw a handsome man and a girl flying up to the top of the mountain with the breeze, like a white crane soaring over the mountains, untouched by human society.
The weaker Qi Practitioners failed to sense anything, but the stronger Qi Practitioners were all stern.
They had only witnessed this feeling of being one with nature from Foundation Establishment cultivators. He truly deserved his title of being the greatest below Foundation Establishment.
Hua Chengzan and Hua Chenglu landed before the steps gently.
Hua Chengzan clasped his hands first. “Greetings to senior Green Vine from junior Hua Chengzan.” Regardless of the impressiveness of his background, no matter how much talent he had, this was the basic amount of respect that a Qi Practitioner owed to a Foundation Establishment cultivator.
In the path of cultivation, the strong were revered.
The Green Vine Elder stroked his beard with a smile and returned half the gesture. “You should have let me know that you would be visiting earlier so that I could welcome you at the base of the mountain. Now, it just makes me seem like I’m taking advantage of my seniority to slight an esteemed guest like you.”
He indirectly blamed Hua Chengzan for not notifying him first, directly passing through the formation and setting foot on the mountain. However, he was also astounded by his ability to pass through the formation silently.
Hua Chengzan said, “It’s because I was worried about my younger sister, so I ignored the common courtesy. Please forgive me, senior. My younger sister has enjoyed your hospitality for all the days she spent on the mountain. I’m just afraid she has been rude the entire time. It’s all thanks to senior’s leniency to not fuss about her. Chenglu, why don’t you thank the senior?”
“Thank you, senior Green Vine.” Hua Chenglu bowed rather reluctantly.
Hua Chengzan rubbed Hua Chenglu’s head gently and said powerlessly, “My sister is young and ignorant, and she’s spoilt too. There’s nothing I can do about her either, so I hope senior doesn’t take any offence.”
“Your dear sister is naive and innocent, so how could I take any offence?” The Green Vine Elder laughed. Even if he was slightly unhappy inside, he would not stoop to the level of a little girl, or he would just seem narrow-minded.
Hua Chengzan resolved the dispute from before in a few simple words. He smiled and clasped his hands. “I have some formal affairs that I’d like to discuss with the sect masters of the three mountains. Here’s not an appropriate place to talk. Let’s go in!”
At that moment, he was no longer an elder brother apologising for his sister, nor was he a junior who respected his seniors. Instead, he was a commander of the Hawkwolf Guard, a representative of the law. His attitude naturally changed such that he treated him as an equal. As a matter of fact, he even gained the upper hand, now in control of the flow of the conversation.
The Green Vine Elder could not help but grow stern. He raised his hands. “Please!” He could not help but sigh inside. This kid was graceful, and he handled affairs with composure. He was greater than all the disciples he had under him. He could shoulder great responsibilities. If he could have a disciple like this inherit and continue the sect, would the prosperity of the Green Vine mountain still be an issue?
Hua Chengzan made Hua Chenglu wait outside as he entered the hall with the Green Vine Elder. Right as he was about to step through the door, he suddenly turned around and glanced past every single face on the square. However, he was left slightly disappointed. He thought in a self-deprecating manner, If that person would appear here so easily, then there would be no need for so much trouble.
As expected, the Golden Pheasant Elder and the Lone Grave Elder were already seated in the hall. Seeing Hua Chengzan walk in, they both stood up before sitting back down again. Their eyes were filled with caution. They had to maintain their dignity as sect masters while trying to avoid offending the Hawkwolf Guard.
As if Hua Chengzan was accustomed to treatment like that, he only clasped his hands. He did not bow like he should have as a junior.
“So what brings the commander here in person?” The Green Vine Elder dismissed all of his disciples. Only the four of them remained in the large hall, such that his voice echoed through the place. The vermillion pillars of the hall seemed to extend into the darkness. They seemed extremely lonely.
Hua Chengzan paced around in thought, like he was organising how he would say it, but it was also like he was contemplating something. Suddenly, he stopped and said, “I’ve come to warn the three of you that someone will be coming for the foundations of your three mountains. The three of you should prepare yourselves.”
“What?” The Green Vine Elder was surprised.
“Bullsh-” The Golden Pheasant Elder directly sprang to his feet. He had been in an extremely horrible mood for the past few days. He blurted out foul language, only managing to stop himself half way through.
“Oh?” The Lone Grave Elder blinked his eyes a few times. Many more emotions immediately sprang forth from his corpse-like face.
The Green Vine Elder looked down. “Please don’t exaggerate to frighten us, commander. The alliance of our three mountains has lasted for several generations. How can our foundations of a thousand years be seized so easily?”
The Golden Pheasant Elder waved his hands around in an intense manner. “Who are we supposed to be afraid of when the three of us work together? Don’t tell me the White Hawk commander has taken a fancy to our sects?”
“Yeah!” said the Lone Grave Elder.
Their confidence was not unreasonable. Great Xia had stood for several millennia, and all nine provinces had experienced peace the entire time. Even battles between sects were very infrequent. Although there were some secret machinations going on behind the scenes, they could basically fend off anything if three Foundation Establishment cultivators worked together.
Obviously, they could not fend off Golden Core cultivators, but all Golden Core cultivators were well-established, possessing their own clans and sects. Why would the three mountains interest them? And, the Hawkwolf Guard never interfered with battles among sects. They would much rather stir up these battles instead, so since when were they nice enough to come and warn them?
Hua Chengzan acted like he was in thought for a while, giving the three of them sufficient time to react to the news. Only then did he say, “This person comes from the Sword Collection palace!”
The three agitated old men acted like an invisible hand had grabbed them by the throat. They all fell quiet, unable to say another word.
The Sword Collection palace was a great sect renowned throughout the Green province. It was said that only Foundation Establishment cultivators had the right to become inner disciples. In the eyes of all small to medium-sized sects of the Green province, that was the name of an existence they could not oppose.
After quite a while, the Golden Pheasant Elder managed to return to his senses first. He bellowed, “You lie! The Sword Collection palace is an orthodox sect, so why would they just attack other sects? And, what would we have that would attract their attention?”
The Green Vine Elder smiled bitterly. “If you aren’t joking, commander, then we can just go and get prepared to change sides. Just how are we supposed to oppose the Sword Collection palace?”
The Lone Grave Elder’s face darkened; his entire body had already stiffened. He seemed even more like a corpse now.
Hua Chengzan said, “It’s not an attack, but control and recruitment. Actually, you don’t have to worry too much. I’ve obtained reliable information that the person is just an inner disciple of the Sword Collection palace. He only underwent his tribulation recently, so this is his first time leaving the mountain for training. If you can defeat him, then there’s obviously nothing to worry about.”
The three elders looked at one another. The training mission of a disciple from the Sword Collection palace was actually to deal with them. That was utterly insulting, but they just could not get angry over this, as it was the Sword Collection palace. As a matter of fact, they eased up slightly. If it was just an early Foundation Establishment cultivator, were they supposed to be afraid that they could not fend him off with their cultivation?
Hua Chengzan shook his head. The understanding of people from sects still originated from rumors and stories that were passed from mouth-to-mouth. It was impossible for them to analyse and draw conclusions from detailed information like the Hawkwolf Guard.
Hua Chenglu hugged her knees as she sat before the hall. No matter who tried to talk to her, she would reply viciously, “Go away!”
Just as she was getting bored, Hua Chengzan emerged from the hall. The three sect masters had personally come out to see him off.
All of the disciples on the square were surprised by the treatment he received.
The eyes of the female cultivators shone even brighter. If they were to choose a partner, they needed to find a man like him.
If it were some other time, perhaps Hua Chengzan would have smiled at them and spread his romantic reputation as a handsome young master. However, he was in no mood to do so right now.
Still worried, he whispered sternly, “I’ll just be in the town below the mountain. If he appears, send someone to contact me. The three seniors must receive him together when the time comes, or the three mountains will be in danger.”
He was blatantly saying that they would not even be able to defeat a single disciple of the Sword Collection palace if they fought with just the three of them. The Golden Pheasant Elder definitely would have burst out swearing if he had heard this some other time, but he seemed very cautious now. He only nodded. After hearing Hua Chengzan’s analysis, none of them dared to make light of the situation anymore.
Compared to their pride, the three mountains were much more important. The Sword Collection palace was impressive, but they all understood the principle that it was better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.
“Just… what… does… the… Sword Collection palace… want?” The Lone Grave Elder stammered as if it had been many years since he last spoke.
This also happened to be the question that the Green Vine Elder and Golden Pheasant Elder wanted to ask the most. What did they possess that would interest a great sect from over five thousand kilometers away?
Hua Chengzan hesitated. “As for what he wants, I’m not completely sure, but you must turn down any requests that he has, or the world will be in danger!”
The elders of the three mountains looked at one another. Although they each ruled over a region, they still knew what they were capable and incapable of. Even when combined, the three mountains could not influence the world at all, so it all seemed a little exaggerated. They wanted to ask some more questions.
Hua Chengzan clasped his hands and made his way down the stairs, flying off with Hua Chenglu. They soared over the sea of trees, including the residence for outer disciples.
Hua Chenglu asked urgently, “What about Zijian? What about her?”
Hua Chengzan said, “Don’t worry. Once I finish with this, I will obviously take the two of you back to the Clear River prefecture.” He was in no hurry to demand for Yu Zijian from the Green Vine Elder. He would only speak when he felt confident, and when he did speak, the Green Vine Elder would not be able to turn him down.
Of course, it would be for the best if he did not have to speak at all. If he handled this matter properly, the Green Vine Elder would probably be grateful for his warning, and he would let Yu Zijian leave the mountain without needing him to say anything at all. There was no need to hurry.
Hua Chenglu said, “But it’s almost the Herb Gathering ceremony. Zijian is going underground with them. Who knows how dangerous it’ll be.”
Hua Chengzan said, “Didn’t you see how someone was willing to take care of her? There won’t be any danger. It’ll be good for her instead.”
“No buts. If there was danger, they wouldn’t send so many Qi Practitioners underground. It’ll be fine as long as they don’t venture too deep. How can she leave without any benefits after staying on the Green Vine mountain for all this time?”
Hua Chengzan seemed to think of something as he muttered to himself, “If you really talk about danger, I’d be worrying for the daemons instead.”
“What?” Hua Chenglu asked in confusion.
The greenery receded, and the snowy winds buffeted their faces.
Below the Green Vine mountain, the town happened to be experiencing its busiest time. The Herb Gathering ceremony was about to begin, so almost a thousand Qi Practitioners gathered there. All of them wanted to make some last minute preparations. It was the liveliest right now.
But at this moment, the ruckus near the north gate vanished. A wide path opened up on the cramped street, allowing a group of Qi Practitioners to pass by.
The leader of the group happened to be Wu Gen. His scarlet uniform stood out clearly, while the black uniform of the commanders behind him fluttered in the wind, giving off a stern and stately presence.
“Why are the Hawkwolf Guard here?”
“Have they come to participate in the Herb Gathering ceremony too?”
“Can’t be. It has never happened in the past!”
Wu Gen’s face was utterly sunken. He quietly made his way into an inn, while the commanders behind him entered too. All of them seemed to be in a bad mood.
The boss of the inn bowed to receive them. “Master Wu, you’ve finally returned! Please come in! I’ve saved the best rooms for you!”
Wu Gen said, “Shut the door!”
The boss said, “But I’m still open for business!”
“Shut the door!” Wu Gen’s voice sank.
The boss closed the door in a hurry. Wu Gen erupted with foul language, “You bunch of trash! You couldn’t even catch an injured person. Every single one of you is all talk and no action! How am I supposed to report back like this?”
A crack slowly opened up in the door upstairs. Seeing the group of Hawkwolf guards below, the door was immediately shut again.
Fang Enshang said, “Senior brother, the terrain underground is complicated. The caves criss-cross with one another, so it was difficult for us to find him. There’s nothing that we could do.”
The other commanders all nodded in agreement. Qiu Ruiliu’s hole was not just a short secret tunnel. Instead, it directly connected to the caves below. They followed his tracks in pursuit, which ended at an underground river. When they found his tracks again, they were led to the den of a daemon. It took them a tremendous amount of effort to get out and reduced them to a sorry state.
Although they administered different regions, there would be many criminals on the blacklist that would flee underground, preventing them from capturing them.
Wu Gen just happened to have nowhere to vent his anger. He roared at Fang Enshang, “Haven’t you learnt Tracing techniques from the Academy of the Hundred Schools? Haven’t you? Huh?!”
Fang Enshang lowered his head. “I have.”
“Then why couldn’t you find him? Huh?!”
Fang Enshang said softly, “Didn’t you learn it too, senior brother?”
The commanders all tried their best to stop smiling, but no one dared to laugh aloud.
Wu Gen immediately seemed like he was about to explode. Qian Rongzhi pulled Fang Enshang away in a hurry and tried to persuade him. “Sir, please calm down. We still managed to destroy a branch of the evil White Lotus cult, the Truth-seeking society. After suffering this loss, Qiu Ruiliu will probably be too afraid to show himself again for a very long time. After all, even commander Gu failed to find the White Lotus Mother.”
Wu Gen’s anger subsided slightly under the persuasions of a beauty and the fact that he was being compared to Gu Yanying. He glared viciously at Fang Enshang, and just when he was about to say something, a lazy voice rang out from upstairs.
“Oi, it’s not a good idea to talk about your superiors behind their backs.”
Wu Gen suddenly turned his head. “Who is it? To eavesdrop on us, you really are out of your… Commander Hua!”
Hua Chengzan leaned against the railing on the second floor and smiled. “Sir Wu, I see your temper has improved! So who’s out of their minds?”
Wu Gen was pained. “I’m out of my mind, okay? What brings you here?”
Hua Chengzan said, “You just let a criminal escape, that’s all. There’s no need to be like this. With the breadth of the net of justice, it’s loose, but it never lets anyone slip through and get away. Won’t you have an opportunity in the future? It’s just like what Rongzhi said. Even boss Gu failed to kill the White Lotus Mother.” He shifted his gaze and looked at Qian Rongzhi.
“I was just speaking carelessly. I hope you can forgive me, commander. Though, I never thought the commander would actually remember my name.” Qian Rongzhi bowed courteously. She did not try to tease or flatter him at all. Although she had only seen him once before, this commander Hua gave her a very deep impression. The conclusion she reached about him was that he was difficult to make use of.
She personally believed her beauty and arts of charm were nowhere near as great as the master of the Sect of Clouds and Rain. And, even the sect master seemed to struggle to gain complete control over this person. And, if she tried throwing herself at him now, it would only make him look down on her.
Hua Chengzan smiled. “I always remember the names of beauties. Oh right, did you find that person who joined the Hawkwolf Guard with you, Li Qingshan?”
Qian Rongzhi said, “Commander, although I joined the Hawkwolf Guard at the same time as Li Qingshan, we’re not close with one another. I haven’t heard from him in such a long time, so he may have died underground already.”
“Really? I have a feeling that I’ll still be able to see him.” Hua Chengzan waved his hand and casually tossed down a painting scroll, which unfurled in the air. It depicted a man in simple clothes.
The painter had exceptional skill. The man seemed to be very young, only around twenty years of age, but he gave off a bleak presence. His skinny figure held up the large, wide clothing, which made him seem a little like he was just skin and bones.
“This is your new mission. Remember this person. Once he appears near the Green Vine mountain, contact me immediately! Remember, don’t touch him!”
With Wu Gen at the lead, the Hawkwolf guards answered loudly, “Yes, sir!”
Yu Zijian paced around by herself in her courtyard. Suddenly, the sword on her waist thrummed gently. She stopped in surprise and drew the sword. The blade of the sword was clear like water in autumn, clearly reflecting her confused face.
She checked the sword several times, but she was still confused by what was going on. In the end, she could only sheath the sword.
She leapt in fright and took a step back, drawing out the sword again and checking it several times.
The scattered sunlight landed on the sword, reflecting brilliant streaks of light. However, the sword was as still as water, without producing any noise or disturbance at all.