The middle-aged practitioner's name was Master Lü. He came from Shangde Peak, the third peak of the Green Mountains, and he had now reached a State of Enlightenment. As he had twice failed to ascend to the next state of Undefeated, he had no choice but to stop moving forward for the time being. Now he was the training master of the South Pine Pavilion, responsible for training new external disciples.
Because of his status, he did not need to personally recruit disciples, but the aptitudes of the South Pine Pavilion disciples these past few years had been little more than ordinary, not even holding a candle, to the other places; so there was a lot of pressure on him.
Now, he did not count on being able to do any extraordinary thing, and simply sought to bring about a few good disciples, or perhaps receive the reward of the elixir of immortality from a superior master so that he could try to ascend to the next state, the Undefeated, in a final attempt.
When he heard the news from somewhere in the Ninth Peak, that this remote mountain village was worth a look, he quickly came.
He hid among the green bushes, watching the ten-year-old boy and realizing that he had heard correctly. Even watching him from a distance, he could sense his considerable talent and qualities.
As he scanned the air using his Discerning Sword, he discovered the most surprising thing: that young boy had natural Taoist qualities!
A person with such qualities had not been seen for many years in the areas surrounding the Green Mountains, not even in those populous cities and regions, including the City of Zhaoge. Master Lü, not caring the slightest about frightening the boy, emerged from the dark of night, and before he had the chance to say a word, something else had caught his interest.
The young boy was startled, and hid behind a young man in white cloth.
The reason that he was taken by surprise was that when he had been watching the young boy from a distance, he had not noticed this other youth at all.
He was sitting on a recliner by the side of a pond.
Immediately, his sharp gaze fell upon the young man in white cloth. He discovered that he was merely an uncultivated mortal without a single trace of Tao within him, which was somewhat surprising.
When his gaze fell upon the young man in white, he was even more surprised.
In all his years in the immortal practice circle, he had never met such a good-looking young man.
Forget the aristocratic children of Zhaoge city; even the nuns of Qingrong Peak, and those beautiful young female disciples of the Shuiyue Temple, could not hold a candle to him.
The religious world had always believed in one thing: the epitome of something is beyond ordinary.
Whether tall or short, thin or fat, or other external features, as long as you are special enough, then there is something unusual about you.
To put it more simply: extremes must be magical.
Beauty had always been something that the practitioners valued; whether it was the pines between the cliffs, or flying swords resembling beams of light, as long as it was particularly beautiful, there must be something intrinsically extraordinary about it.
Looking at the beautiful face of the youth in white, Master Lü could not help but be moved. He used the Discerning Sword upon him and looked him over one more time, and found that he was still quite weak in terms of the Taoist conscience, forgetting about the possibility of Taoist quality.
The youth in white was much bigger than the young boy, and yet his Taoist conscience was inferior to the young boy, and even more inferior as far as his Taoist qualities were concerned.
Master Lü, with some regret, stopped looking at the young man and turned to the ten-year-old boy. "Do you know who I am?" he asked.
Liu Shisui had been scared witless by the sudden appearance of this stranger. He did not dare show his face, and hearing his question, he didn’t say a word either, only gripping Jing Jiu's sleeve nervously.
Jing Jiu saw from this middle-aged practitioner's clothing and the sword on his back that he was probably a third-generation disciple, in a state far from the Undefeated realm, but he did not know this man's name.
This was not odd at all.
Disciples of the Green Mountain Sect and external disciples numbered in the thousands, in addition to the elders of Shangde Peak, and the women of Xilai Peak; nobody could possibly recognize every single one of them.
"It doesn't matter," said Jing Jiu.
He wasn't sure why, but when he heard this, Liu Shisui felt more relaxed, but he was still somewhat nervous. He got up and looked at the middle-aged ascetic, trembling as he spoke. "Could it be that you're..."
"Correct," replied Master Lü warmly. "I am a practitioner of the Green Mountains, and I am what you would ordinarily call an immortal master."
Hearing those two words, Liu Shisui unthinkingly looked at Jing Jiu.
Master Lü presumed that he was unduly nervous and smiled. "You may call me Master Lü."
"Master Lü... what have you come here for?" asked Liu Shisui uneasily.
"I have come to ask you, do you wish to follow the Tao and seek longevity?"
Hearing this, Jing Jiu was deeply moved. He thought back to many years ago. The phrasing had not changed one bit.
Liu Shisui stood dumbfounded for a long time before he finally regained his bearings and stuttered his response. "...Of course I... want to, it's just that..."
An unremarkable youth taken away from the village by an immortal master of the Green Mountains; this was the story of those wonderful village tales passed down through countless generations. He had grown up hearing those stories. He was dumbstruck. How could he object? But just as he had said... it was just that...
He looked at the little courtyard, the hesitation and struggle showing slightly on his young face.
Master Lü was not angry. He comforted the boy. "Following the Dao is no ordinary task, but we are not those monks. We could still get involved in the affairs of the secular world, and naturally we do not sever the bonds of family."
"Really?" said Liu Shisui, a little uneasy.
Master Lü smiled. "In a moment I’ll explain everything to your parents. I’ll give you time to visit your family. If in the future you find yourself unable of walking through the inner door, then you will need to handle the sect's matters in the secular world. There will be no shortage of money. You may return home frequently. Should you wish to look after your hometown, it will be no bother at all... however, I’m thinking you won’t have this opportunity."
It was clear that he was very optimistic about Liu Shisui's innate gifts and that he fully believed in them
Liu Shisui looked at Jing Jiu.
Master Lü was somewhat confused.
Jing Jiu stood up. "If you want to go, then go."
The happiness showed on Liu Shisui's face. "Yes, my junior lord."
Master Lü's confusion turned to astonishment.
In such a remote mountain village, why would there be such a handsome son of a lord?
He looked at Jing Jiu and suddenly spoke. "How about you? Do you wish to follow me in practicing the Dao and seek longevity?"
Separated by a wall, Mrs Liu's conversation was punctuated with the occasional sound of weeping, but they heeded the immortal master's warning not to alarm the rest of the village, and so kept their voices low.
Jing Jiu sat by the window, looking at the night stars, remaining completely silent; it unclear what he was thinking.
At dawn, Master Lü would take Liu Shisui away... to the Green Mountain Sect.
Liu Shisui packed his bags. He was a hardworking boy, but this was still his first time packing his own luggage. However, this was not the reason for the vacant look on his face. That was because he had suffered a psychological shock that he hadn’t fully recovered from. Perhaps it was because of this that he had not even thought about the fact that Jing Jiu was not an immortal master.
"So that's the way it is..."
The young boy was still stammering. "Doesn't that immortal master still need time to see about my... moral character?"
Jing Jiu continued to watch the stars. "Your conscience."
"Yes, that's the word," said Liu Shisui.
"With this sort of thing, he can only see your innate gifts," said Jing Jiu. "Temperament can change with time, so how can he see it? Do you really think that the righteous are without equal?"
Liu Shisui scratched his head. "But aren’t they? That's what the books say."
Jing Jiu did not turn around. "Of course not. Only those without equal are without equal."
Liu Shisui did not understand what he was saying. He looked behind him, and felt a sudden loneliness.
The morning sun was still behind the distant peaks early in the morning as the day dawned. They were unsure when it would rise.
Master Lü came.
Mrs Liu saw Liu Shisui off to the front gate, rubbing her eyes silently. She was somewhat sad, and yet she was happier.
There was the sound of footsteps, and Jing Jiu emerged from the house. The dawn wind ruffled his white robes. His hands were empty; he carried nothing with him.
Looking at this scene, Mrs Liu could not help but think back to a year ago when she had walked to the village gate. It looked just like that.
Mrs Liu looked at Mr Liu, wanting to speak but saying nothing.
Mr Liu looked at her with an admonishing gaze. "My junior lord," he said reverently, "don’t you want to take something with you for the journey? Shisui can carry things on his back."
Jing Jiu didn’t pay him any notice. He held his hands behind his back and walked out of the courtyard.
Watching the scene from outside, Master Lü frowned.
No one knew that in a water jar in the back of the side room was half a blue-green pill of immortality, slowly melting until it dissipated, invisible, into the water.
Master Lü walked with Jing Jiu and Liu Shisui into the dawn mists, where they quickly disappeared.
Mr Liu and Mrs Liu wiped their tears away as they walked back into the courtyard. Suddenly, unsure why, they stood dumbounded for a long time. Finally, they got up and started sweeping the house, boiling water and making food.
Whether it was making their rice porridge or steeping their coarse tea leaves, they used the water from the water jar.
At that moment, Mrs Liu finally realized something was missing from the house.
The bamboo chair had gone.
It wasn't clear why, but Master Lü had not chosen to take a flying sword to return to the Green Mountain Sect; instead he had chosen to walk.
Liu Shisui did not think of such things because he didn't think that anyone could actually travel by flying sword in this world.
Yet Jing Jiu knew full well, this third-generation disciple of the Green Mountain Sect had reached a state of perfection. On that basis, he would have been able to effortlessly travel by flying sword; it wouldn't have been too difficult to take the other two with him.
So why had he decided to walk? Was he worried that if the other ascetics saw him doing so, he would cause some kind of trouble?
Jing Jiu did not understand. He presumed that although the current Green Mountain Sect had gotten worse generation by generation, it wouldn't be quite like this.
The distance from the mountain village to the Green Mountain Sect monastery was at most a hundred miles; for disciples of the Green Mountain Sect to still have to be cautious in this sort of place was total cowardice.
Master Lü did not know what Jing Jiu was thinking. He walked alongside the boys, one big, one small, hurrying on into the mists of the peaks, silent and subdued.
On the third day, they had passed through a great patch of fog, and their horizon was suddenly bright.
Countless green peaks appeared in their view, some graceful, some steep, some covered in stone walls as sleek as mirrors and unscalable, and yet there were signs that people lived there.
Were the legendary Nine Peaks of the Green Mountains among them?
Liu Shisui gasped in surprise over and over, but Jing Jiu did not bother to look.
The three of them walked up the green stone mountain road between the peaks, and soon came to a stone gate.
The stone gate was simple-looking and covered in moss; it seemed quite old. On it hung a horizontal tablet where three characters could be faintly made out: the characters for "South Pine Pavilion".
This was the southern mountain gate of the Green Mountain Sect.
Seeing this mountain gate, a smile appeared on Master Lü's face, and he visibly relaxed.
The mountain gate was quiet, with not even the sound of birds coming from the jungle.
Below the gate was a wooden table. On the table were a writing brush, an ink stone, some paper, and a man in grey robes, slumped asleep on top of it.
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