Chapter 241 – Before the Ceremony (Three)
She placed the sword on the marble table in the courtyard. The westward sun turned the sea of clouds into a blazing ocean, which reflected on the long blade. It suddenly added a glorious splash of colour to the ordinary sword.
Yu Zijian squinted her eyes and crouched by the table, staring straight at the sword.
The sword laid there quietly, without moving at all.
Yu Zijian suddenly stood up. The sound clearly seemed to originate by her ear, but it also seemed to come from the bottom of her heart. She stood up and opened the door, stepping onto the small path covered in verdant grass.
She was in a daze, as if she was in a dream. She was unable to control herself, as if something was calling for her in her heart.
The small path twisted a few times before suddenly opening up. Presented before her were a series of dilapidated walls, like the ruins of an ancient city.
The stone pillars that once held up the hall laid in the wild grass. The hall had already collapsed, while the statues had been weathered to a point where they were disfigured. However, she could still vaguely see their former glory.
Since when was there a place like this on the Green Vine mountain?
A question flashed through Yu Zijian’s head, which vanished in a split second.
The setting sun added a splash of bright red to these ruins. No matter how unsophisticated or vulgar a person could be, they would still sigh involuntarily and in emotion at this sight.
As she strolled through these ruins that had almost been swallowed by the green grass, she felt like she had returned home, like she was an exiled princess and this was her home country.
After passing the white stone path covered in vines, she suddenly stopped.
A tiny pond sat in the embrace of verdant trees. The setting sunlight from the west reflected in the water, dyeing it in a beautiful colour.
A man in green robes sat on a round rock by the pond with his legs crossed. His young, thin face was stubbly, like he was sighing. He gave off agedness and weariness that only seemed to appear on old people who had seen and understood everything the world had to offer. He was like a lone king sitting on his collapsed throne, reminiscing his former glory and lamenting over the state of his current empire.
He was fishing, but he did not use a fishing pole. He used a sword. He held the hilt with both hands as a thread dangled straight down from the end of the sheathe into the mirror-like pond.
Yu Zijian’s eyes were not set on this sight, or this person, but the sword. She seemed to be drawn in for no reason. She was confident that the graceful thrum from earlier originated from this sword.
“Have you seen this sword before?” The man in green turned around and looked at her in some surprise.
As if Yu Zijian had suddenly jerked awake from her dream, she looked around and almost tried to ask how she had ended up here. She was in a daze. “I haven’t. You’re not a disciple of the Green Vine mountain, are you?”
At a closer glance, while he did wear green, it differed greatly from the uniform of the Green Vine mountain. It seemed extremely worn-out, just like the sword in his hand.
The man in green said, “I’m not. Are you?”
Yu Zijian said, “I’m not either. You must be a guest invited to the mountain. You’re not allowed to fish on the mountain!”
“Since you’re not a disciple of the Green Vine mountain, why do you care?”
“I… Forget it. Fish. I’m going back. I’m not going to disturb your fishing.” It was slightly inappropriate for a man and woman to be alone here. However, her gaze remained fixed on the sword. The familiar feeling was just like when she first met Niu Juxia.
The man in green said, “Do you want to take a look?”
“Can I?” Before Yu Zijian had even finished talking, the sword landed in her hands. It was weighty, and the thread automatically retreated into the sheath.
The sheath was an inky green, due to a combination of its original colour and the marks left behind with time. The material seemed like jade, yet also like wood. There was a fine image engraved on there, like the silhouette of a city, but it was incomplete and damaged.
“What is this sword called?”
Yu Zijian gripped the hilt and drew the sword. The familiar thrum rang out by her ear, just as expected, lingering for quite some time. It did not glow at all, but the shine of the sword was withdrawn like light through clear, autumn water.
“It’s a fine sword!”
The man in green’s expression revealed even more surprise than when he first saw Yu Zijian. He was shocked as a matter of fact.
“I’m done. I need to go,” Yu Zijian sheathed the sword and tossed it back to the man reluctantly.
The man stood up. “Can you wait for me here?”
At this moment, the afterglow in the horizon began to subside.
“I can’t. I’m busy.” Yu Zijian skipped into the distance as she thought, Who are you? I don’t even know you, yet you want me to wait for you. What a weirdo!
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Yu Zijian,” Yu Zijian said without looking back.
“I- I’m Fu Qingjin,” Yu Zijian had already left the ruins and vanished into the thicket, so Fu Qingjin’s voice tailed off, like he was talking to himself.
She could easily walk out of the Green Ruins Illusion, and she could draw the Green Ruins sword. The Divining Elder was right…
The first star lit up on the horizon. His gaze shone like a star’s.
The scenery around him suddenly twisted like a mirage before vanishing. Only the pond remained, reflecting the black shade of the embracing trees.
Fu Qingjin’s gaze passed through the vegetation and landed on the main hall at the top of the mountain.
There was only a single lantern within the dim hall, illuminating a tiny area. The three old men huddled around the lantern. They bore Hua Chengzan’s warning in mind, afraid to split up and be taken out one by one.
The disciples of the various sects were on patrol outside. They were not there to help out, but to immediately report to Hua Chengzan as soon as they heard any disturbances.
There was a flash of green light, and the three old men suddenly discovered that the surroundings had changed. They sat within a series of ruins, while above them was the endless night sky, filled with stars.
“Since when?” The Golden Pheasant Elder paled in surprise.
“Thank you for waiting here together. It has saved me quite the trouble.”
A voice rang out from behind. The three of them turned around at the same time and saw a man in green clothes walk down from the high steps. He was young yet aged, lonely yet noble.
The Green Vine Elder said, “Y- You’re that person!”
“This commander Hua must have told you everything that needs to be said, right?” Fu Qingjin said calmly, as if he was too tired to even explain his reason for coming here.
The three old men stood in a triangle around him. Although they were old rivals, their teamwork was still flawless.
“I haven’t come for the three mountains. My mission is not to win over you either.”
The three old men exhaled in relief at basically the same time.
“Though, it’ll be much more convenient if I win over you first. Don’t worry, I won’t harm you.”
Before the three elders could even become angry, the green shine of the sword turned into thousands of strands and dispersed like fireflies.
A while later, the three elders emerged from the hall. The door was shut firmly behind them.
“Master, do we need to keep patrolling?”
“There’s no need. You can go,” the Green Vine Elder said with exhaustion.
The three of them looked at one another, as if they could see the fear that had yet to disperse, as well as each other’s understanding. No wonder Hua Chengzan had come in person to tell them. This person’s mission was actually to…
The Sword Collection palace really was as resolute as the legends painted it to be. However, if they really did go through with this, then it would be no exaggeration that the world would be in danger.
The Green Vine Elder said, “Please go back and rest. Make your preparations! The Herb Gathering ceremony is about to begin.”
The deep, open pit was like a huge, hollow eye, staring at the sky.
Almost a thousand pairs of eyes looked back at this huge eye. They were filled with excitement, eagerness, and fear.
The whistling cold wind was unable to overwhelm the hubbub of voices. Everyone discussed among themselves.
The surroundings suddenly quietened. Under everyone’s attention, the three elders arrived by the pit.
The Green Vine Elder moved first to open the formation. Everyone only saw a membrane of light disperse.
The Golden Pheasant Elder’s hand shone with resplendent light, and the snow in the pit rapidly melted away, revealing over a dozen pitch-black caves. These caves were the entrance for the Herb Gathering ceremony. They led off to various parts underground.
Everyone gasped involuntarily, which immediately drowned out the wind.
The Green Vine Elder cleared his throat. “Gathered here, we’ll all be taking part in the Herb Gathering ceremony of the three mountains. It is an honour for me and fellows Golden Pheasant and Lone Grave…”
The dozen or so Hawkwolf guards led by Wu Gen moved through the independent cultivators, constantly examining the people around them, as if they were there to prevent anyone from sneaking into the ceremony.
The disciples of the three mountains were split into three groups, standing behind their respective sect masters. They were further divided into smaller squads.
Because of the past successes of the Herb Gathering ceremony, basically all the disciples of the mountains had been mobilised. It was impossible for over a hundred Qi Practitioners to move together. They would naturally separate from one another as they came across forks underground.
Yu Zijian peered about among them. Suddenly, someone tapped her shoulder gently. She turned around in a hurry and exclaimed happily, “Chenglu, what brings you here?”
Hua Chenglu kept her back bent. “Shh! Don’t be so loud, or my brother will hear you. I’m worried for you, so I’ll go down there with you to take a look.”
Mu Zhicong suddenly called out, “Miss Hua, you’re not a disciple of our Green Vine mountain, so please don’t stand with us! If you want to participate in the ceremony, please stand with the independent cultivators!”
Everyone looked over. Hua Chenglu pointed at Mu Zhicong furiously. “You-” Suddenly, she felt her collar tighten, and she saw Hua Chengzan as soon as she turned around. He scolded her, “Don’t mess around!” He dragged her away before nodding at Yu Zijian. “Good luck.”
Hua Chenglu called out, “Zijian, be careful!”
Mu Zhicong said warmly, “Don’t worry, Zijian. I’ll definitely protect you.”
Just when Yu Zijian wanted to say something, she suddenly spotted a familiar figure in the crowd. It was the man in green who fished by the pond. He had changed into the uniform of the Green Vine mountain, and the aura he gave off indicated that he was a fourth layer Qi Practitioner.
He just stood there by himself, without conversing with anyone beside him. For some reason, no one else seemed to notice him either. Sensing Yu Zijian’s gaze, he turned his head and smiled.
Yu Zijian asked in confusion, “Senior brother Mu, since when did the Green Vine mountain gain a new disciple?”
“What new disciple?” Mu Zhicong looked over along Yu Zijian’s gaze. There was just a sea of green clothing. Fu Qingjin had already vanished.
Yu Zijian scratched her head. “How strange!”
At this moment, the Green Vine Elder finished his speech. The three elders exchanged glances and nodded at the same time. They did not glance at Fu Qingjin the entire time. They did not even display any peculiar expressions.
Hua Chengzan, who remained in the crowd and paid attention to their faces the entire time, sighed gently in relief.
The three elders said at the same time, “The Herb Gathering ceremony of the three mountains formally begins!”