The old monk gave the inquirer an amiable smile and then shook his head; it was unclear if the monk meant that he didn't know the answer or he didn't understand why he asked such a question.
Though the young monk looked more composed than before, he was still hot-tempered. "What do you mean by asking that?" he snapped sharply.
Those Cultivation practitioners had only articulated their respective opinions on who had the possibility of becoming the sect master of Green Mountain when they were discussing the topic, but they didn't express their own thoughts.
This was a matter where expressing one's own ideas was inappropriate.
The young monk thought that the question raised by this person obviously had a sinister intention.
"I'm just asking; no big deal."
Jing Jiu took off the conical hat and sat by the two monks.
The young monk felt startled upon recognizing him, but he exclaimed gleefully, "It's you, the Immortal Jing Jiu! How come you're here? We meet again."
"Aren't you practicing the Vow of Silence still?" Jing Jiu teased him.
The young monk felt a bit mortified and scratched his head.
The old monk laughed out, saying, "Back when you were at the temple, I was in the north. Later my disciple told me…"
As he was speaking, he suddenly coughed, making the wrinkles on his face appear deeper; it seemed that he was in agony.
The young monk explained hastily that his Master had suffered an inner injury in the snowland, one that was impossible to cure.
Jing Jiu took a look at the old monk and found that his meridians had been invaded by the cold intent and began to wither; all he could do was recuperate for a long while because it was true that no effective treatment was available.
As the young monk was telling Jing Jiu about the wind and snow in White Town, hideous monsters in the Snowy Kingdom, mysterious Broadsword King…he suddenly covered his mouth with his hands.
Jing Jiu wondered why he did this since the old monk didn't ask him to shut his mouth.
The young monk gurgled twice while covering his mouth with his hands, insisting on not speaking again.
The old monk laughed after coughing twice, saying, "After the turmoil of the West Ocean, our temple doesn't allow our monks to socialize with the Green Mountain disciples."
Jing Jiu knew it was because of Liu Ci helping the Immortal Taiping escape; the Young Zen Master wasn't one to let the matter go so easily.
He said to the young monk, "I'm not a regular disciple of Green Mountain; I'm a disciple of Shenmo Peak."
The young monk thought what Jing Jiu said was sensible. Even though his temple had a lukewarm relationship with Green Mountain, it was on good terms with Shenmo Peak. So he released his hands and said, "Immortal Master, what did you mean by asking us that question?"
"One doesn't know the shape of the mountain when they are in it," Jing Jiu said. "I just want to learn the opinions of other sects."
The young monk couldn't fathom why this young disciple was so concerned about the selection of the sect master. He shook his head as he said, "I haven't seen any of those bigwigs, and I don't know them, so I have no idea who is more suitable to be the sect master."
Jing Jiu mused that according to the saying "One can't know others' hearts even though one knows their appearances," nobody could claim that they truly knew anyone save for themselves.
The young monk asked Jing Jiu curiously, "Whom do you support: the Immortal Guangyuan or the Peak Master Fang Jingtian?"
"I don't know either of them," Jing Jiu replied. "So I support none of them."
The young monk didn't understand the meaning of his reply, and scratched his head, feeling a bit embarrassed.
For some reason, Jing Jiu had always liked this young monk. He asked about what had happened to the monk lately with a small smile.
This sort of chitchatting was extremely rare for Jing Jiu.
The young monk became excited. He told Jing Jiu all about the travels and treatments of patients he and his Master had experienced in the last few years, and he also told Jing Jiu about the customs and rituals of the locals they visited and the rarely seen illnesses in details.
This was not a report of his latest experiences, but a memoir.
Jing Jiu didn't interrupt the young monk except uttering "hmm" here and there, as he listened to the young monk relating his experiences of helping the weak and poor and rescuing the sick and wounded; neither did he praise and scorn the monk.
It was evident that Jing Jiu listened attentively.
The old monk looked at this scene with a faint smile.
The monks of the Fruit Formation Temple were fond of the attitude displayed by Jing Jiu, and it was also a mental state they were pursuing.
The morning sunlight had finally shone on the peaks, and the bonfire had turned into ashes. It was the time for them to continue their journey. "Immortal Master Jing Jiu, are you going to the Hanging-Bell Sect?" the young monk asked.
"Hmm, but I don't want to reveal my identity," Jing Jiu said.
The young monk thought it was a difficult task. He said while looking at his face, "This is almost impossible…Even if you can cover up your face with the conical hat, the Hanging-Bell Sect probably won't let you in without finding out your identity."
"If there is a market ahead, I'd like to buy two conical hats," said Jing Jiu.
The young monk didn't understand what he meant, but the old monk did. "It's okay," the old monk said, after some thought.
There was a lake amid the mountains of the Eastern Ridge. The valley on the eastern side of it would greet the morning sun earlier than other places, so the lake was named "Morning Lake".
Morning Lake was not as peculiar as Blue Lake of Green Mountain, nor was it as expansive as the Great Marsh; but it was as beautiful as a painting.
The willow branches, blown by the mountain wind, swept the surface of the lake, creating innumerable ripples.
The bells hanging on many of the tree branches gave off crisp sounds. The mixed sound of all these bells didn't make one feel irritated; but rather, it gave the listeners a peace of mind.
The most famous bell at the Hanging-Bell Sect was the Clean-Heart Bell.
The Clean-Heart Bell could help the Cultivation practitioners resist the evil intents and improve their tranquility. It was an immensely important magic treasure regardless of whether the holders of it were meditating or engaging in mental travel. However, the Clean-Heart Bells of different states worked differently, and so all the sects had been paying sufficient attention to the Hanging-Bell Sect. Moreover, the entire Cultivation circle had been quiet for two years because of the Green Mountain Sect, meaning the Clean-Heart Meeting was the first significant event to happen in the Cultivation circle in the past two years. Many Cultivation sects had participated in the meeting. In fact, the representatives of all the sects had come, except for the Center Sect and the No-Mercy Sect behind the sealed-off mountain gates and the West Ocean Sword Sect that had just been wiped out.
Apart from letting the guests check out the Clean-Heart Bells of various states in this Clean-Heart Meeting as before, another important event for the meeting was to celebrate the birthday of the Grandmaster of the Hanging-Bell Sect.
It was interesting, though, that nobody knew how old she was, save for herself.
The Cultivation circle only knew that the Plum Meeting hadn't taken place yet when she showed up the first time.
It was worth celebrating either to inspect the Clean-Heart Bells or to rejoice the birthday of the Grandmaster. But the atmosphere by Morning Lake was not so cheerful; in fact, it was quite depressing.
The Cultivation practitioners of various sects knew the reason clearly. So they requested their disciples not to walk about before the meeting, let alone boating on the lake.
As the Grandmaster grew older, she was more worried about the future of the Hanging-Bell Sect. She was worried that the current sect master, who was her daughter-in-law Chen, would marry somebody else after her death and gave the Hanging-Bell Sect away to someone of a different family name. Many years ago, she had suggested that the Sect Master Chen marry one of the nephews of her husband, but it was refused by her offhandedly. From that day on, the secret internal conflict at the Hanging-Bell Sect had become an explicit struggle. The Grandmaster had employed many methods to contend with the Sect Master Chen over the years in order to maintain the inheritance of the De Family. If the Sect Master Chen weren't supported by Green Mountain, she would have been deposed a long time ago.
Three monks wearing the conical hats had arrived by Morning Lake.
The disciple of the Hanging-Bell Sect responsible for receiving them was experienced and knowledgeable. He recognized right away that they were from the Fruit Formation Temple. Though he didn't feel so pleased to see them, he had no choice but to lead them into the mountain gate. The monks of the Fruit Formation Temple were widely respected by the colleagues of the Cultivation circle; if someone found out that the Hanging-Bell Sect had disallowed the monks of the Fruit Formation Temple to enter their mountain gate, they would have to fend off a great deal of complaints and reprimands.
The reason this disciple of the Hanging-Bell Sect felt displeased was the same as that free-traveling practitioner who had left the ruined temple ahead of time. It was impossible for the Grandmaster to invite the monks of the Fruit Formation Temple to the Clean-Heart Meeting; but they came on their own. Did it mean that they believed a mishap would occur at this Clean-Heart Meeting?
Nobody expected the incident or confrontation to happen so early.
At the welcome banquet, the white-haired Grandmaster De was helped by a middle-aged man to sit on the head seat.
Neither the Sect Master Chen nor De Sese, the Young Master of the Hanging-Bell Sect, was present.
The middle-aged man had a profound Cultivation state and a clean aura; but the Cultivation practitioners of various sects were not familiar with him.
The Grandmaster said nonchalantly, "Let me introduce him for you. This is a nephew of my husband, named Yuanquan."
Countless gazes were fixed on this middle-aged man, De Yuanquan.
Some people had guessed that this man was the Cultivation partner the Grandmaster had selected for the Sect Master Chen.
After a brief bewilderment, the crowd realized the intention of the Grandmaster; an uproar broke out.
The Cultivation circle had always thought that the Grandmaster wished to pass the position of the sect master to her granddaughter after killing the mother, no matter how hard the Grandmaster had suppressed the Sect Master Chen.
Judging by the circumstances, was the Grandmaster to pass the position to De Yuanquan?
Where were the Sect Master Chen and De Sese? Were they imprisoned, or worse…dead?
Nobody spoke; it was deathly quiet.
It was nonetheless the internal affairs of the Hanging-Bell Sect, even if it was a matter of harming their own blood relatives.
It was evident that the Grandmaster had already had total control of the Hanging-Bell Sect. The other people couldn't interfere with the affairs, nor did they dare to.
It was then that all the gazes, as if they had all agreed, left De Yuanquan and fell on a spot in the hall.
It was the best spot in the hall.
The representatives of the Green Mountain Sect were sitting there.
The leader of the group was the Elder He Bumu of Shiyue Peak, accompanied by Lin Yingliang and other young disciples.
He Bumu usually took care of the medicine plants and manufactured the magic pills in the peaks. He would occasionally host the Inherited Sword Competitions. So he was not well-known in the Cultivation circle.
Judging from his bearing, the crowd all thought that he was an honest and reticent old man.
What would the Green Mountain Sect think of this?
"Where is the Sect Master Chen?"
He Bumu's question was quite straightforward though his countenance was emotionless.
The Grandmaster replied expressionlessly, "The Woman Chen has been ill for some days; so it's inconvenient for her to meet the guests."
"In this case, I'd like to pay her a visit," He Bumu said.
The Grandmaster said nonchalantly, "It's inconvenient for a man to visit a woman."
This was a forcible rebuff.
"What about the Young Master?" He Bumu demanded.
The Grandmaster said, "Sese needs to take care of her mother; so she can't spare her time to meet the guests."
He Bumu stood up and said to the Grandmaster, "You should have known that Shenmo Peak has only received three guests over the years; they are Tong Yan, Bai Zao and the Young Master of your sect."
The Grandmaster said expressionlessly, "Out with it, Elder He."
"She has to be safe and sound," He Bumu said.
The expression on the Grandmaster's face was still nonchalant as before, as she said, "The young people like fooling around; it's normal for them to get injured. Would Zhao Layue kill this old woman because of this?"
After a moment of silence, He Bumu looked at the middle-aged man, De Yuanquan, and demanded, "Do you…wish to die?"
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