The fog had gradually dispersed.
The setting sun illuminated the mountains.
The Sword-Washing Stream was flowing slowly, like the way it had been doing in the past countless years, and it looked like a golden whip while reflecting the setting sun.
This year was a minor anniversary year for the Green Mountain. The disciples who had been practicing Cultivation by the stream and prepared for inheriting swords didn't show much outstanding talent, though.
In contrast, the visitors and the representatives sent by various sects drew more attention.
Like before, the Fruit Formation Temple, the Hanging-Bell Sect, and the Great Marsh Sect all sent their representatives to the occasion. This was the third time in a row that the Windy-Broadsword Sect had sent a representative. Yet, it was quite surprising that the Center Sect sent someone to observe the Inherited Sword Competition, and this was the first time they had done so in hundreds of years. It was interesting to note that the Cloud Dream Mountain kept reticent even during the time when the Immortal Jing Yang ascended.
The representative sent by the Center Sect was a disciple of the second generation, but the disciples of the Green Mountain didn't feel it was disrespectful, because that person was rather famous in the Cultivation world.
Standing by the stream, the young disciples looked at the cliffs nervously, not knowing whether they would be able to pass the test and masters of which peaks would choose them.
On the mountain path in the cliffs and on the platform enshrouded by the twilight, sat sparsely the observing visitors and the masters and disciples of the Green Mountain peaks.
Many gazes were fixed on the disciple of the Center Sect, some with a hint of hostile intent, though most of it was curiosity.
"As I remember, he participated in the Cultivation tournament ten years ago, so he is not young anymore; but why does he still look so tender and childlike?"
"Is this the so-called 'a person is the same as his name'?"
"It's said that he learns Dao through playing chess, and he has an exceptional talent in chess playing, knowing no equal. I don't know if the story is true or not."
"Zither, chess, calligraphy and painting are trivial methods not worth paying attention to; besides, he lost to our Young Senior Master in the chess tournament, and who can say he has no equal?"
It became quiet in the cliffs.
Somebody sighed once.
The sorrowful and regretful atmosphere filled the crowd.
The young senior master the disciples of the Green Mountain mentioned was Jing Jiu.
Many years ago, that aristocratic young master from a small village became a celebrity among the nine peaks of the Green Mountain since the day he had entered the Sword-Washing Hall from the South-Pine Pavilion.
His celebrity status came from the stories of his conflicts with Liangwang Peak, his relationship with the two people of the natural Dao quality, his laziness, and especially his handsome face.
At a certain Sword Inherited Competition, Jing Jiu had finally displayed his rare swordplay talent by the stream, and at a certain Sword Trial on Green Mountain, he stood up for a certain reason, defeating two disciples of Liangwang Peak back to back, and in the end breaking the sword of Guo Nanshan's, the principal disciple of the Green Mountain.
The masters of the nine peaks believed that he was a rare swordplay talent, hoping that he would bring a happy surprise to the Cultivation world on behalf of the Green Mountain. And he didn't disappoint their high expectation. At the last Plum Meeting, he first defeated Tong Yan and won first place in the chess tournament, and then defeated the powerful Luo Huainan and Tong Lu and won first place in the Cultivation tournament. At the time, he showed his talent to the whole Cultivation world and became a bright star.
What had happened afterwards was a story known by all in Chaotian.
The night before the significant change in the Snowy Kingdom, Jing Jiu stepped forward against tremendous resistance, saving many Cultivation practitioners' lives, including Luo Huainan's, but he vanished in the cold fog himself.
Whenever the Cultivation practitioners in Chaotian thought of this, they would feel very sorry.
In the long Cultivation journey, the most important factor was fate, besides the talent and diligence.
The disciples of the Green Mountain felt even more miserable whenever they thought of this, and missed their youngest senior master so very much.
Jing Jiu didn't have a close relationship with other disciples; and due to his conflicts with Liangwang Peak, he hadn't been liked so much on the Green Mountain.
Yet, it was quite different nowadays.
First of all, his outstanding performance at the Plum Meeting had gained a great deal of respect and honor for the Green Mountain, and secondly, Jing Jiu had done a series of heroic deeds during the Cultivation tournament.
Thinking about it afterwards, the disciples of the Green Mountain realized just how much Jing Jiu had shelled out physically and mentally for the event.
The nine disciples saved by Jing Jiu had become the most loyal safeguard of his reputation. One time, after Yao Songshan, Lei Yijing and two other disciples of Liangwang Peak heard Jian Ruoshan's mockery about Jing Jiu's vanity, they couldn't control their anger, the four sword lights falling down on Jian Ruoshan at the same time and turning him into a bloody pulp. Not even the pleas of the fourth Big Brother, Jian Ruoyun, who attempted to ask them to stop beating his young brother, held any sway. If Guo Nanshan and Gu Han hadn't persuaded them to stop and asked Jian Ruoshan to bow toward Shenmo Peak in guilt, they probably wouldn't have stopped beating him until Jian Ruoshan died.
It was because of Jing Jiu that the relationship between the Center Sect and the Green Mountain Sect became closer, and the Center Sect sent somebody to observe the Inherited Sword Competition.
In the story, it was for the sake of saving Luo Huainan that Jing Jiu and Bai Zao had vanished.
The most important part was that all the matters related to Jing Jiu had become rosy since he was gone.
On the cliff where the disciples of Liangwang Peak were, a sigh broke out.
"All of these are fate, someone has a better fate."
Guo Nanshan grimaced slightly, as he knew the speaker was Lei Yijing, and his target was Luo Huainan.
This young brother of his who had admired him the most had become the craziest follower of Jing Jiu; and he often expressed his discontent whenever the matter was mentioned.
Luo Huainan was indeed lucky. Though he was injured severely, the wound didn't harm his Cultivation background. It was said that he had a peculiar encounter in the snowland, that his Golden Pill became brighter, and that his Cultivation state had improved so fast that his strength was more powerful now.
Guo Nanshan had the chance of competing with him, after Guo Nanshan had entered the State of Free Travel, but the difference between the two of them had widened.
The reason why Guo Nanshan frowned was not because he was jealous of Luo Huainan or unconvinced of Luo Huainan's ability, but that he didn't like what Lei Yijing had said.
As far as he was concerned, if this was the fate, then Luo Huainan was the person who should take on the role of destined leader for the orthodox Cultivation world and achieve something great in the future.
Seeing Luo Huainan's expression, Gu Han told other young brothers, "Cultivationist Luo has been slaying demons and purging devils everywhere in the last few years without considering his Cultivation being negatively affected or his own life-and-death experience. Such a determination is really admirable and should be learned from by the disciples of our generation, so don't doubt him so carelessly."
The disciples of Liangwang Peak agreed in unison.
Looking at a certain stone platform on the cliffs, Gu Han felt a bit regretful.
The Shenmo Peak hadn't shown up yet.
The young Cultivation practitioners by the stream felt regretful as well.
They all wanted to be a disciple of Shenmo Peak.
"She has never come down from Shenmo Peak. This senior master of ours is really like that grandmaster."
"It's said that her Dao Heart is dead, so all she is doing is focus on Cultivation on the peak. Of course, she won't take any more disciples."
"How come? Is it because she is heartbroken that Senior Master Jing Jiu has died?"
"Nonsense. She had stayed on Sword Peak for a couple of years before then; do you think she did it because she was heartbroken?"
"Even though you like Senior Master Jing, you shouldn't deny that the scene where he inserted a flower in Senior Master Zhao's hair at the last Plum Meeting had been witnessed by countless people."
"They had never admitted that they were Cultivation partners; besides, the relationship between Senior Master Jing and the Fairy Bai Zao was so close. If that mishap hadn't occurred, who knows what relationship they would have by now."
"Since senior master Jing met Bai Zao the first time at the Plum Meeting, it's impossible."
"Big Brother Yao of Liangwang Peak had said that she and Senior Master Jing fought together in the Cultivation tournament. The senior master was under tremendous pressure at the time, and why would she support him so much?"
"That's right. It's obvious that the Center Sect has two Ten-Thousand Mile Seals; Luo Huainan used one, and Bai Zao had another one, but why didn't she come out from there?"
"This proves that they planned to live and die together. If their love for each other were not stronger than gold, why would they have done so?"
As the young girls of Qingrong Peak were gossiping, they didn't know that their conversations had reached the ears of that disciple of the Center Sect.
The twilight fell on his still tender and emotionless face; the only exception was that he was thinner than he was at the last Plum Meeting.
Tong Yan looked at the empty stone platform.
After the chess tournament of the Plum Meeting, he had stayed behind closed doors. He didn't leave the Cloud Dream Mountain even when he learned of what happened during the Cultivation tournament.
He came out from the closed doors not long ago. As he learned that the Center Sect intended to send someone to observe the Inherited Sword Competition of Green Mountain, he asked his sect to let him take the trip.
The Shenmo Peak was the loneliest among the nine peaks of the Green Mountain.
A figure by the cliff's edge was also very lonely.
The mountain wind was tousling her short hair, making her hair even messier.
It had been three years.
She hadn't combed her hair.
It was because she didn't know where Jing Jiu had put that effective wooden comb.
She hadn't made the pigtail.
It was because she didn't know how.
All she had done in the past three years, either in White Town or on Shenmo Peak, was one thing, that is, Cultivation.
It was like back then when she was on Sword Peak.
Nobody knew how hard she had cultivated, and how fast she had improved her Cultivation state.
She had already had the hope of entering the State of Free Travel after merely a little bit over ten years of cultivating.
This news would have shocked the entire Cultivation world if it had leaked out.
"The latest news."
Gu Qing's voice broke out behind her.
Zhao Layue said with a casual expression, "Go ahead."
"It was similar to last few times. He killed a demon in Yuzhou and was wounded. And he stopped those who attempted to praise him, and said that if Jing Jiu were still alive…"
Gu Qing continued, "He didn't say anything more after that, and he left with a sigh."
"What about his emotion?" asked Zhao Layue.
Gu Qing said, "I didn't ask directly, but based on the description, I should say that seven parts are sentimental and three parts are sorrowful, and he doesn't show sadness and pain anymore."
"What do you think?" Zhao Layue asked.
Gu Qing replied, "This is the seventh emotion he has displayed, and he has become less and less emotional; but this is expected, because the time will wipe out everything."
"But…" Zhao Layue said.
Luo Huainan had been the strongest swordsman of the young generation.
His reputation was even much better than before, and had no equal.
Many people didn't understand why he didn't take the time to cultivate, but rather, he would go out once in a while to slay the demons and devils.
His answer was: his life was saved by Jing Jiu and his Young Sister, so he couldn't spend time entirely on his own Cultivation, instead he should repay the world.
Gu Qing said, "But, I feel that his behavior is too normal; it's so normal that I feel it's a deliberate act, as if he wanted others to remember the incident on purpose."
Zhao Layue said, "Maybe, he has a guilty conscience."
"Maybe," said Gu Qing after a moment of silence.
Zhao Layue asked, "What do you think about the story told three years ago?"
Gu Qing replied, "I still don't believe it."
Jing Jiu in that story was a bit too perfect, as if he were a hero in the legends.
Zhao Layue said, "I don't believe it either. It's because the person in the story wasn't Jing Jiu, but someone Luo Huainan wants to become."
If Jing Jiu in the story was someone imagined by Luo Huainan, then the story was obviously fabricated.
The reason why Luo Huainan had fabricated this story was the key to all the other questions.
Looking at the distant north, Zhao Layue said, "It's been three years."
"Yes," Gu Qing responded.
Zhao Layue said, "It's time to kill him."
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