Squatting by the cliff's edge, Xiao He focused her full attention on the iron kettle on the stove, listening to the sound of boiling water. Nobody knew what tea she was to use to replace the Maojian Tea.
Gu Qing led the tour around the peak for Bai Zao.
The manor cave of the Immortal Jing Yang was the best site for any Cultivation practitioner.
After having boiled the tea in the iron kettle, Xiao He brought the kettle into the manor cave. Gu Qing led Bai Zao into the cave as well. They all sat down in their respective seats.
Zhao Layue and Jing Jiu sat at the head of the chamber, and Yuan Qü and Gu Qing stood on both sides. Xiao He was busy pouring tea for everybody. She kept her focus on the job at hand, as if she didn't notice anything else.
This was the first time Shenmo Peak had received a guest so formally.
Seeing this scene, Bai Zao felt there was some hidden meaning in all these arrangements. After some thought, she understood what this meant, sighing slightly inwardly, her appearance growing even feebler.
Yuan Qü shot a glance at Gu Qing, wondering if they had done it a little bit too much.
Gu Qing appeared fairly calm, showing no reaction.
The atmosphere was kind of awkward in the manor cave. Jing Jiu was baffled, and asked, "What is going on here?"
Bai Zao said with a gentle smile, "It's probably because of the rumor."
Jing Jiu was taken aback after hearing this. He hadn't heard of the rumor; nobody had told him about it.
The saying "The involved are always the last to know" was often correct.
Zhao Layue didn't know anything about the rumor either; she shot a glance at Gu Qing.
Gu Qing was somewhat startled, wondering why she put on the new clothes, washed her hair, and donned two lovely braids; it seemed impossible that she didn't know about the rumor.
Zhao Layue knew that Bai Zao was to come to Shenmo Peak, but she didn't have a competitive urge as strong as when she heard the disciple of Lian Sanyue would participate in the Plum Meeting.
Zhao Layue neither liked Bai Zao nor disliked her; she cleaned herself and did a little make-up for two reasons:
The first had to do with courtesy.
The second was a secret that nobody else should know.
Zhao Layue didn't want Bai Zao to have the misconception that it was she who had arranged this awkward atmosphere in the manor cave intentionally. "What rumor?" she asked genuinely.
"It's rumored that I came to the Green Mountain to propose marriage to Big Brother Jing Jiu."
As Bai Zao spoke, she didn't look at Jing Jiu, staring at Zhao Layue calmly.
In the Cultivation circle of Chaotian currently, the most famous of all was not Tong Yan's chess playing, or Zhuo Rusui's long time behind closed doors; it was Jing Jiu's looks.
After the chess tournament, the Cultivation tournament of the Plum Meeting, and six years in the snowland, Jing Jiu had become even more famous, a legendary figure of the young generation; he was also a person admired by the female Cultivation practitioners of both orthodox and deviant sects.
However, Jing Jiu had seldom left Shenmo Peak, let alone left the Green Mountain. Those female Cultivation practitioners had no chance of meeting him; simply seeing him from a distance would be an unachievable ambition. As such, Zhao Layue and Bai Zao were envied most by these female Cultivation practitioners, because Zhao Layue could be with Jing Jiu day and night on Shenmo Peak and during their long journey, and Bai Zao had been trapped in the cave with Jing Jiu for six years in the snowland.
Therefore, in many people's eyes, these two were the most qualified to compete with each other for Jing Jiu.
Bai Zao had the same thought, so she paid close attention to Zhao Layue's reaction when she spoke.
Zhao Layue didn't show any reaction.
And she actually didn't suppress her emotions, nor did she disguise them; she really didn't feel anything.
Bai Zao was puzzled, looking at her blankly.
Zhao Layue misunderstood Bai Zao, so she got up and walked to the outside of the manor cave.
Yuan Qü and Gu Qing exchanged a look, and had no choice but to leave the cave, even though they were unwilling to.
Xiao He of course didn't dare stay behind to eavesdrop, so she followed the two and went outside the cave.
Zhao Layue walked to the cliff's edge, looking at the ocean of clouds and the peaks, with her hands behind her back.
Yuan Qü was quite anxious, scratching his ears and chin, but he didn't dare advise Zhao Layue.
Xiao He sneered, "You act like a monkey. It's no use to worry. You should think up something to help her."
Yuan Qü was taken aback when hearing what Xiao He said. As he was about to ask her what he could do to help, Gu Qing suddenly spoke.
"If you can't learn how to hold your tongue, Master might send you to the Fruit Formation Temple to learn the Vow of Silence."
Jing Jiu didn't talk very much. Yet, when occasionally the monkeys of Shenmo Peak were as noisy as their relatives on Shiyue Peak, and when Yuan Qü mumbled interminably, and when they talked about Liu Shisui, Jing Jiu would nostalgically recall the two monks he and Zhao Layue had encountered on their journey.
The eyes Gu Qing fixed on Xiao He were very calm, but quite deep and profound.
Xiao He suddenly felt cold.
Then she remembered that Gu Qing was currently in the upper state of the Undefeated, and ready to break through the Free Travel State at any time.
On Shenmo Peak, his Cultivation state ranked second.
Jing Jiu didn't understand why there was such a rumor. As far as the status of the Center Sect in Chaotian was concerned, even if someone spread the rumor behind the scenes, it would fade away as quickly as ice and snow exposed hot sunlight, so long as Bai Zao didn't like the rumor.
As such, the rumor was probably spread by the Center Sect themselves; at the very least, they had acquiesced to its spread.
"It's mostly due to my selfish idea," Bai Zao said. "My mother always likes Big Brother Tong Yan, and it's even more apparent after he killed Big Brother Luo Huainan. But I don't want to be Big Brother Tong Yan's Cultivation partner, so I need an excuse."
Jing Jiu didn't ask her how the Center Sect Master couple knew of Tong Yan's secret, because it seemed to be a matter of fact.
No matter how discreet Bai Zao and Tong Yan were, they couldn't conceal it from that couple.
It was the same for what Luo Huainan had done; it was hard to conceal the truth from the couple.
"This is a pretty good excuse."
Jing Jiu said, "Tong Yan is a good guy, but nothing can be done if you don't like him."
Bai Zao thanked him for saying so.
Yet, it was unknown whether she thanked Jing Jiu for praising Tong Yan, or thanked him for understanding and forgiving her.
"And I believe this rumor is also beneficial to you."
She continued, "Your Cultivation state had stagnated for six years because of me. I think you must be under tremendous pressure on Green Mountain, so I just want to help you lessen the pressure a bit."
"There might be some pressure," Jing Jiu said, "but it's not on me. If someone wants to cause trouble for me, it won't do them much good since the rumor is different from the truth."
"What if the rumor came true? The Green Mountain Sect wouldn't put so much pressure on you, and our two sects would grow closer. The alliance of the orthodox Cultivation sects would become a reality rather than the mere dream. To look at it from any angle, our Cultivation partnership has all the beneficial outcomes, and none of the detrimental ones."
Bai Zao's voice was quite calm, as if she were describing something unrelated to herself.
"Back when we were in White Town, I had already told you that it was impossible," said Jing Jiu.
Bai Zao pulled back her gaze and looked at the medicine-like tea in the bowl, remaining silent for a long time.
During this long silent moment, Jing Jiu didn't say anything, but looked at her quietly.
Bai Zao turned to Jing Jiu again and said with a gentle smile, "I have another task this time. I'm here to invite you to go to the Center Sect for our celebration of the thirty- thousand-year anniversary of our sect's founding."
"On behalf of your parents?" asked Jing Jiu.
"Yes," replied Bai Zao.
The Center Sect Master couple was definitely among the most powerful figures in Chaotian.
That they had personally invited a young disciple of the Green Mountain like Jing Jiu to the celebration must have some deep meaning.
After a moment of silence, Jing Jiu said, "It will depend on the situation at the time."
Bai Zao got up and was about to leave. "A Poet wrote a poem describing the sensation of the white cloud on their face," she said suddenly. "He used many different words to describe it, but in the end he had no choice but to use 'the white cloud in my face' for the sensation. He was not a Cultivation practitioner, so he couldn't sense it properly. But we can. We don't even need to write a poem to describe our sensation; all we have to do is walk in the clouds."
Jing Jiu understood her intention. "The clouds will disperse, so the clouds are not real, and a cloud in the face is not a real sensation either," he said, after a moment of silence.
Any object or sensation that could be ended by time was transient.
The white cloud was the same.
The cloud in the face was also the same.
So was love.
And many other things.
Bai Zao walked out of the manor cave.
Gu Qing and the others had already left.
Zhao Layue stood by the cliff's edge, looking at the ocean of clouds with her hands on her back.
Bai Zao walked to her side.
The wind suddenly arose on the cliff.
The ocean of clouds wavered and flooded toward the peak top, onto their faces.
Zhao Layue remarked, "I'm not the one you've ever needed to compete with; it was him."
"Do you mean he is too narcissistic?" Bai Zao asked.
Zhao Layue said, "No. it's because he believes that to live life is an individual endeavor."
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