Seeing Jing Jiu's pale face and the faint golden color in the deep end of his eyes, Zhao Layue fell silent.
It was not so quiet in the Tranquil Garden right now, because the coughing could be heard once in a while here.
Liu Shisui swept the remaining snow and debris on the ground with the third broom he had made this year. His face looked pale, and he would cough now and then.
The winters had been colder over the last few years, and the Fruit Formation Temple had seen some snowfalls. The conflict of zhenqi inside his body had gotten worse lately.
The white cat sauntered about in the garden, and his gaze glanced between the pale faces of Jing Jiu and that of Liu Shisui, staring with a pitiful expression.
This pair of master and servant had had a hard time lately, but Zhao Layue was in an opposite situation. She had smoother skin now, with the healthy flush on each of her cheeks, which looked like two fresh and tasty red apples, able to be broken apart with a flick. She looked quite different from that young girl on the Sword Peak with short chaotic hair and dusts all over her body.
The white cat ambled to the front of the corridor, leaped onto the wooden floor, and stepped on her lap. Then, he stretched his body and snuggled against her cheek, and in the end crouched down comfortably in her bosom.
The Fruit Formation Temple was the number one temple in the world, emphasizing cultivating in a quiet environment. The monks of the temple had an unparalleled status among the mortals. The villagers in the surrounding areas didn't dare disturb the cultivating monks with exploding firecrackers before the New Year's Day. Even though no firecrackers could be heard, the flavors of the festival coming from the outside of the temple could be smelled easily…
The smells were from the preserved ribs and fish and the newly slaughtered pig.
Even though one lived in a place that was far from the mortal world or insulated by the Great Formation of Zen, they couldn't completely isolate themselves from all these mortal influences nonetheless. That was why it was so difficult to cultivate Dao or Zen.
In Chaotian, several groups were on their way to the Fruit Formation Temple, just like those flavors did.
This year marked the three hundredth year since the late emperor passed from this world. The royal family sent a commission to the Fruit Formation Temple from Zhaoge City.
The late emperor faked his own death, came to the Fruit Formation Temple, and then died here. This was one of the most hidden secrets of the Jing Dynasty. As such, there weren't many representatives in the commission. In fact, there were only two officials in the commission, besides the accompanying cavalrymen. The official by the side of State Duke Lu looked calm and composed; it was unclear which king manor he was from.
This secret was only known by the Fruit Formation Temple, the Center Sect, the Green Mountain Sect, the Water-Moon Nunnery, and the One-Cottage House. According to the set rules, all these sects should send a representative of their own to the temple. Yet, it had been three hundred years, and it was not something extremely important, so it was acceptable to send the young disciples to show their respect by burning incenses in front of the stone pagoda.
On the top of Tianguang Peak, the clouds and fog had dispersed, and the sunlight was quite bright and remarkable.
Zhuo Rusui knelt down in front of the stone monument. He wondered why his Master asked him to do so since kneeling was evidently not as comfortable as lying down.
The Green Mountain Sect Master Liu Ci looked at his personal disciple, and asked, "Why are you always so lazy? Don't learn from him. There are some things in this world that you can't learn at all."
Zhuo Rusui replied helplessly, "I really feel sleepy…it's because cultivating uses too much energy. If I don't recuperate during the spare time, should I just look around all the time?"
"So you just maintain your droopy eyelids all the time, not even looking at others with a straight gaze?!"
Liu Ci continued in a slightly terse voice, "When you arrive at the Fruit Formation Temple, you should look around if necessary. Don't look at anything the wrong way, or miss anything."
After a moment of silence, Zhou Rusui said, "This disciple will remember the instruction."
For some unknown reason, the Water-Moon Nunnery didn't send anybody to the temple this time. The representative from the One-Cottage House was Xi Yiyun. He didn't go to the Cloud-Dream Mountain for the reunion of the participants of the Dao Competition three years ago; it was said that he was busy with compiling the books he had written in the Illusionary Realm at the time. The fact that he could come to the Fruit Formation Temple this time meant that he had already finished compiling the books and that his Cultivation state had also improved.
The Center Sect sent two representatives to the temple. Bai Qianjun's injury was completely healed; and his Yuanying State was stable. The only difference in comparison to a few years ago was that he was a lot more reserved now. The other disciple of the Center Sect evidently had a higher status than Bai Qianjun. The disciple walked in the front with a veil cap covering the head. That person halted while passing by the plaque of the Fruit Formation Temple, and spent some time looking at it before they resumed heading for the inside of the temple.
The representative from Green Mountain was Zhuo Rusui rather than the principal disciple of the Sect Master, Guo Nanshan; it was because Guo Nanshan and the young swordsmen of Liangwang Peak went to White Town with the masters, providing support to the army of the imperial court marching to the snowland. The representative of the Center Sect was not Tong Yan; it was because Tong Yan…was still digging the tunnel.
He had been digging the tunnel in the dark underground for many years. It seemed that he had dug through quite a few rivers and mountains, and finally he came to the deep part of the Earth Source.
Seeing the weakly glowing Green Sky Mirror swaddled by the cold ice a mile ahead, Tong Yan realized that he had reached it a few years ahead of the schedule.
He had made a mistake when calculating the time needed for digging all the way to the source; it was because he forgot to take into consideration "efficiency after familiarity." When one was familiar with the work of digging a tunnel, efficiency would follow and the speed of digging would improve.
The glow emitted by the Green Sky Mirror illuminated the cave in the deep part of the Earth Source, as well as Tong Yan's face.
It was unclear if the glow was too weak or if the deep part of the underground was too dark, but his arched brows looked even lighter than usual.
The reason he arched his eyebrows was because he didn't understand why the formidable energy high above suddenly disappeared; where did the Master Unicorn go?
According to the rules of the Center Sect, the Unicorn, as the divine guardian animal, was absolutely not allowed to leave the Cloud-Dream Mountain.
It was a good situation nonetheless. As a result, he had no need to fret about being discovered by the Master Unicorn and then be torn to shreds.
While thinking of all this, Tong Yan walked to the front of the Green Sky Mirror. He found that the layer of ice swaddling it was a few feet thick, looking like a huge glass sphere. As he reached his hand out to the ice layer, he sensed a formidable cold intent. He felt a pain as dreadful as something piercing his bones when touching it, even though he was an achieved Cultivation practitioner. Judging by the touch, this ice layer was extremely hard; he was afraid that the flying sword was probably unable to cut it open.
Sensing his arrival, a few faint glows emitted inside the Green Sky Mirror, which projected and reflected many times in the ice cube, forming many peculiar light lines. Gradually, the figure of the Green Girl appeared inside.
Due to the reflections of the lights, her figure looked a bit deformed and very faint; it seemed that the figure would scatter at any moment.
As the Green Girl saw Tong Yan, an expression delight showed on her small face. She rushed to the edge of the ice cube, but she couldn't get out, as if she was imprisoned inside it.
"Are you here to rescue me?"
Tong Yan looked at her and said calmly, "No."
The Green Girl looked at him blankly, and pressed, "Why did you bother coming here then?"
"I heard your cry for help, so I came here. I wanted to ask you what had happened," Tong Yan said.
Back when he heard the cry for help from the Green Girl in the manor cave left by Luo Huainan, he had already figured out many things right away.
He knew that his Master wouldn't respond to the request. If he wanted to know what had happened, he must come to the Green Sky Mirror and ask her in person.
As such, he started digging the tunnel. He had dug the tunnel for six years without sleep and rest, and he finally made his way to the mirror.
The Green Girl said in a trembling voice, "Though I don't know how you came here, I can imagine just how hard it was. But…you just want to ask me a question after all this trouble?"
"Yes," said Tong Yan.
The Green Girl couldn't understand his logic, as she demanded while looking at him, "The truth…is really that important?"
Tong Yan replied calmly, "The Go pieces have two colors, black and white. Color is important to me, because what I'm cultivating is the Dao of chess. The goal of the Dao of chess is to find out the answer, to seek the truth."
To live is a process of constantly finding the answers.
Some people discovered that many questions had no answers, or it was too tiresome to find the answers; as such, they had given up on the effort altogether.
Yet, there were always more people who kept on finding the answers.
Zhao Layue sought them for many years, and she eventually found the answer she wanted to know the most, but she was uncertain how she would proceed with her Cultivation in the future.
Liu Shisui didn't have any question, so he had no need to find an answer, except that the zhenqi inside his body experiencing conflict.
Jing Jiu had only two questions: One was, who had meddled with the Formation of Dispersing Smoke and Cloud so he couldn't cut off the mortal cause-and-effect after ascension and then couldn't keep the fairy body, and the second was, who had sneak-attacked him and knocked him back down into the mortal world? He had already known the answer to the second question, and he was still looking for the answer for the first question, though he had in fact already known that as well.
Yin San was searching the scripts for the answer of how to perfectly integrate the spiritual soul with the body of flesh.
Gusts of gloomy wind came out from the Heavenly Well, and then vanished without a trace after being blown by the ocean wind and suppressed and dissolved by countless amulets.
In the distant forest, the courtyard of the Water-Moon Nunnery could be seen intermittently.
There was a round window facing the snowy lake in the secluded room located in the deep end of the nunnery. The scenery seen through the round window was marvelous.
Without the wind in the room, the oil lamp on the windowsill didn't sway; but for some reason, the flame on the lamp was very weak, as if it would go out any time.
Guo Dong gave herself this name, meaning "Passing Winter", because she didn't like winter, wishing it would pass soon.
Perhaps this was why she spent most of her time sleeping. The long eyelashes didn't even quiver, and she would only breathe once in a long while.
The small green curtain sedan parked outside the secluded room. The Water-Moon Nunnery Master sat by the lake outside the window.
Both of them gazed at the oil lamp and wondered how long she would last.
Many people didn't like winter. The only good thing about it was the gathering of relatives and friends and the delicious foods during the New Year's celebration, not to mention the new clothes.
It was three days before the New Year's Day. Those who would participate in the ritual of paying respect to the stone pagoda had arrived at the Fruit Formation Temple in tandem.
Standing in the Tranquil Garden and looking at the remaining snow on the eaves, Zhuo Rusui had a grave feeling, wondering how cold the snowland would be since it felt so cold even by the East Ocean.
Jing Jiu looked at him and said evenly, "Your Cultivation state is still too low, so don't think of going to the north."
Zhuo Rusui wondered why Jing Jiu had exactly the same attitude as his Master. "Senior Master Bai and Senior Master Mo took the brothers of Liangwang Peak to White Town; how could I feel comfortable to stay in the south?" he demanded.
"I don't agree with what Liangwang Peak is doing to begin with," Jing Jiu said. "If something serious happened, those young disciples would simply die senselessly."
Zhuo Rusui didn't agree with what Jing Jiu said. "Some people have to do it nonetheless," he exclaimed.
Jing Jiu said, "You can go there after you break through the Broken Sea State."
Zhuo Rusui finally understood the logic after some thought. "Senior Master, do you mean you have a high expectation of me?" he asked with a strange expression.
"Yes," Jing Jiu replied. "It's not a big deal if those unpromising disciples like Jian Ruyun wish to take risks; but you have a promising future, so you must cherish your own life."
Zhuo Rusui stared at his eyes and asked, "What if the monster invasion occurred?"
"It has occurred many times already," Jing Jiu said calmly.
If he were Liu Shisui or other disciples of Liangwang Peak, he would continue to argue with Jing Jiu, but Zhuo Rusui thought what his Master and Jing Jiu said made sense. As a genius, he should stay behind at first and come out at the critical moment to save the world from disaster and the people from being burned in the conflagration and drowned in the flood…
And in fact, he was truly lazy.
This was probably the reason why Jing Jiu appreciated him.
"Senior Master, I think this place is pretty nice. Let me stay here then."
Zhuo Rusui felt it was quite serene and quiet in the Tranquil Garden, much better than the residence arranged for him by the Fruit Formation Temple.
Zhao Layue suddenly opened her eyes and exclaimed, "No place for you here."
Zhuo Rusui felt deflated abruptly. He turned around and headed for the outside, while mumbling, "Vindictive…she is so vindictive."
The next day, the Monk Duhai came back from White Town along with a few doctor monks. The Young Zen Master stayed behind in the town with the Broadsword King.
The Monk Duhai came to the Tranquil Garden immediately after he got back. He told Jing Jiu about the situation in the snowland, and asked about his opinion on the issue.
Jing Jiu wondered why the monk even bothered asking him about the issue.
The Monk Duhai let out a smile, turned around and left without saying anything more.
State Duke Lu came to the garden the same night.
The Tranquil Garden had received a few visitors one after the other, keeping them busy all day. It seemed that all of Chaotian knew that Jing Jiu and Zhao Layue were hiding at the Fruit Formation Temple listening to the teachings of scripts and cultivating Zen.
State Duke Lu was aware of Jing Jiu's temperament, so he didn't mention the issue regarding the snowland, nor the situation of the imperial court. He only told Jing Jiu a few interesting happenings in the Jing family. Jing Shang still worked at Taichang Temple in the same leisurely manner; Jing Li entered the Royal Palace and became the study partner of the Prince Jing Yao, and the two of them cultivated the magic methods of Green Mountain together, but it seemed that he had encountered a slight problem with his marriage arrangement.
Jing Jiu listened carefully, so State Duke Lu felt relieved, thinking that he had made the right decision. In Liu Shisui's and Zhao Layue's eyes, Jing Jiu talked a lot more than before, and had become a lot more energetic now. However, in the eyes of the likes of State Duke Lu, as Jing Jiu's Cultivation state grew higher and his reputation became stronger, his fairy aura seemed more evident. They worried that Jing Jiu might care less about the mortal affairs as a result. If this happened, what would those left behind in the human world by Jing Jiu do then?
After State Duke Lu left, Liu Shisui mopped the floor one more time, cleaning away all the foot imprints of Zhuo Rusui's and State Duke Lu's.
Jing Jiu said to him, "It will be crowded tomorrow. You should stay away from them, and don't come here."
Though the number of people paying respect to the stone pagodas was low, they nonetheless represented the royal family of Jing and various major Cultivation sects. If someone discovered that Liu Shisui was here instead of staying in the Sword Jail of Green Mountain, it would be troublesome. Liu Shisui had the same thought, so he nodded his agreement.
Zhao Layue glanced at Jing Jiu, knowing this wasn't the true reason.
The ritual of paying respect to the stone pagoda officially started the next day. The process of the ritual was not so different from the ones carried out in the regular graveyards; the only exception was that much more monks in comparison were reciting scripts outside the Tranquil Garden.
Jing Jiu didn't participate in the ritual. He sat in the guest room of the Tranquil Garden, listening to the sound of recited scripts outside and looking at the white banners fluttering amid the wind. It seemed that he was mulling over something in silence.
Zhao Layue boiled a cup of tea for Jing Jiu. She put it on the floor and pushed the teacup to the front of Jing Jiu, without reminding him of going out to the ritual.
Only six people were qualified to enter the Tranquil Garden and paid their respect to the small stone pagoda.
They were State Duke Lu, the official of the imperial court, Zhuo Rusui, Xi Yiyun, Bai Qianjun, and the Center Sect disciple wearing the veil cap.
The Monk Duhai and the Monk Dachang received them by the pagoda. Seeing the Center Sect disciple still wearing a cap, they couldn't help but feel a bit displeased.
It was then that Xi Yiyun learned that the late emperor indeed came to the Fruit Formation Temple to become a monk and was buried here after his death. He was stunned, thinking it was why the Fruit Formation Temple and the royal family had such a close relationship.
Noticing the displeased expression on Monk Duhai's and the Monk Dachang's faces, Xi Yiyun turned his head and saw the Center Sect disciple who was still wearing the cap, saying, "Please take off the cap."
It was inappropriate for the monks of the Fruit Formation Temple to say anything against wearing the cap, though he had to speak out, which was the general demeanor of the One-Cottage House.
Bai Qianjun said icily while staring at Xi Yiyun, "Watch your attitude when you speak to him."
Xi Yiyun looked at him and said evenly, "Are you sure you are fully awake? Otherwise, why would you still behave like an emperor?"
It was evident that Xi Yiyun referred to the events in the Illusionary Realm of the Green Sky Mirror.
Hearing this, the expression on Bai Qianjun's face changed a bit, looking a little gloomy and greenish.
He had basically used all the brutal and shameless methods in the Illusionary Realm of the Green Sky Mirror to become the ruler of the world; but unexpectedly, the Fairy Book belonged to Jing Jiu in the end.
This incident had become a legendary story in the Cultivation circle, and as a result, Bai Qianjun had become the biggest joke of the circle.
Though the scholars of the One-Cottage House were not vindictive, they wouldn't forget the wrongdoings against them so easily. In the Illusionary Realm, the Qin Emperor killed Xi Yiyun, slaughtered his students, and forbidden his teachings. It was impossible for Xi Yiyun to forget such an atrocity, even if he had already left the Illusionary Realm. Though the rules of the Dao Competition didn't allow for the hatred to be carried to the outside world, the rules couldn't restrict what the participants thought in their minds.
It was just then that the Center Sect disciple wearing the veil cap countered in a measured voice, "Are you sure you are qualified to order me to take off my cap?"
His voice was rather ear-pleasing, but the tone was a bit weird, as if he was not proficient with speaking yet, like a child who had just learned how to speak.
If Liu Shisui were here, he would recall the way Jing Jiu spoke back when he came to the small village over thirty years ago.
The most noticeable part was that the voice of the Center Sect disciple seemed to have innumerable clouds and fog hidden in it, which entered the listeners' ears and chests to make it difficult to breathe.
Xi Yiyun felt suffocated for a brief moment, and realized that the Center Sect disciple had an exceedingly high Cultivation state, so he was definitely not an equal of this disciple.
Yet, he didn't give up, and said unwaveringly while staring at the person, "We have to pay great respect to the dead! And more so if the dead is the late emperor!"
"It makes sense. The dead are always worthy of our sympathy. But you have to remember that even the emperor is not qualified to order me to take off my cap, let alone a junior like you!" the Center Sect disciple yelled sharply at Xi Yiyun as he took off his cap and stared at Xi.
Xi Yiyun felt a sudden pain in this chest, as if he were hit by a heavy object; he spat out a mouthful of fresh blood.
When the group in the Tranquil Garden saw the face of that Center Sect disciple and the horns on his head, they were stunned speechless.
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