Jing Jiu led these young people leaving Green Mountain last winter and came to the manor house on the outskirts of Cloudy Town. Everything was in disorder at the moment, so they had only observed that New Year casually by eating the hotpot; Zhao Layue was the only one who hugged Jing Jiu earnestly.
Scenery Garden was peaceful this year, and they all had been cultivating smoothly. As such, the young people decided to celebrate the New Year more seriously this time; but Jing Jiu was still lying on the bamboo chair dazing, and it was unclear what he was thinking about.
Gu Qing, Zhuo Rusui, and Yuan Qü came before the roofed corridor and knelt down before the bamboo chair. They left after knocking their heads on the ground once, resuming their work of cultivating.
They had been cultivating diligently over the last year; it was because they were aware that the future awaiting them was foreboding even though Scenery Garden seemed to be peaceful and scenic at the moment.
As they were about to walk out of the courtyard, Zhuo Rusui couldn't help but halt his steps. He stopped short and turned to Jing Jiu, "Grandmaster, We've knocked our heads already. Even if you're not going to give each of us a gift bag, when will you start cultivating?"
Hearing this, Gu Qing, Yuan Qü, Ada and Cold Cicada atop the cat's head all turned toward Jing Jiu, their eyes full of expectancy and desire for an answer.
"Is the Formation of Gathered-Spirits not working well?" Jing Jiu asked.
Zhuo Rusui had to admit that the Formation of Gathered-Spirits in Scenery Garden was the best he had ever seen and that it could draw as much spiritual energy in Cloudy Town with no spiritual source as on Tianguang Peak; but…no matter how excellent the formation was, it was still not nearly as abundant as Jing Jiu's ability of drawing spiritual energy.
Zhao Layue was fully aware of what they were thinking. "The commotion will be too great, and the spiritual energy drawn by him will be so violent that we might be harmed," she told them.
As Jing Jiu's Cultivation state got higher, the spiritual energy of heaven and earth drawn in by him would be like a whirlpool sucking in a great amount of energy around it…And the drawn-in energy was mostly useless for him.
Zhuo Rusui, Gu Qing and Yuan Qü walked out regretfully after learning the reason.
Ada glanced at Jing Jiu resentfully as he thought that he could stand it even though those young people couldn't…The reason must be that he became lazy again.
In the early hours of evening, Zhao Layue came back to the courtyard and said "Happy New Year" to Jing Jiu as usual.
Jing Jiu rubbed her head as a means of returning her greeting.
The next day was the first day of New Year. A commotion had suddenly occurred outside the fog after a prolonged period of quietness.
Gu Qing furrowed his brows slightly, wondering what had happened out there. He walked to the outside of Scenery Garden holding the Sword of the Universe.
Zhuo Rusui followed behind him while yawning.
The Swallowing Boat Sword followed Zhuo Rusui drowsily.
As the two of them came to the outside of Scenery Garden, they found that they knew all these people.
Lei Yijing and Yao Songshan knelt down on the ground, bowing toward Scenery Garden, "Greetings to Grandmaster from your disciples."
Gu Qing and Zhuo Rusui stepped aside hastily.
Lei Yijing and Yao Songshan stood up and bowed to the two of them.
No Green Mountain disciple had visited Scenery Garden over the last year; they were the first ones.
They came here by disobeying the order of the masters, and they would face the punishment of the sect rules when they went back to Green Mountain.
Gu Qing knew how much courage they had mustered before coming here. "Please come in and drink tea with us," he invited them earnestly.
Lei Yijing and Yao Songshan said with a smile, "No, thanks. We came to greet Grandmaster. We're going to take off now."
Having said that, they left Cloudy Town on their swords.
"I hope nothing bad will happen to them," Gu Qing said worriedly while looking at the two sword lights disappearing into the peaks.
"They should be okay, because the masters can't punish them all," Zhuo Rusui said while pointing to the sky.
A few more sword lights dropped down from the sky; they were Lin Yingliang and a few other Green Mountain disciples.
These Green Mountain disciples did exactly the same as what Lei Yijing and Yao Songshan had done; they turned to leave after bowing their heads on the ground toward Scenery Garden.
Soon after, another Green Mountain disciple whom Gu Qing and Zhuo Rusui didn't even know arrived on his sword.
This Green Mountain disciple should be someone who had just entered the inner gate recently. He looked at Gu Qing and Zhuo Rusui with a reddish and mortified face. And furthermore, he was so excited when he knocked his head toward Scenery Garden that he was trembling from head to toe.
Soon after, more sword lights illuminated the sky.
More and more young disciples of Green Mountain came over by riding on their swords probably because they found out that the other disciples were not stopped by their masters.
The sword lights could be seen in the sky over Cloudy Town one after another; and the flying swords landed outside the fog constantly.
In less than half a day, at least over a hundred Green Mountain disciples had come and greeted Jing Jiu.
"One hundred sixty four."
Gu Qing said to Jing Jiu, "I've even remembered all of their names."
Listening by the side, Zhuo Rusui felt under a tremendous pressure. He had counted himself that there were one hundred sixty four disciples who had come; but…was it necessary to remember all of their names?
Yuan Qü didn't feel any pressure, because he had never thought of becoming the sect master, though he wondered if he should go to Shangde Peak to bow his head toward his own great granduncle and in the meantime talk to Young Sister Yushan.
Looking at Jing Jiu on the bamboo chair, Zhao Layue thought that it was nonetheless a good start.
Looking at the sky, Jing Jiu said, "The weather is pretty good today."
Zhuo Rusui followed Jing Jiu's line of sight and found that the clouds and fog were still present in the sky; though the sky was quite beautiful as usual, it was far from being good weather.
"We can eat hotpot today," Jing Jiu added.
Everybody realized by then that he was in a good mood today and it had nothing to do with the weather.
It didn't take long before a large double hotpot appeared by the stream and the flowering trees.
Shiyue Peak couldn't bring the fresh beef and mutton to them any longer, but the Gu Clan and the Precious-Tree House were pretty good at this sort of thing.
Zhao Layue poured a bowl of bone soup for Jing Jiu. He lifted the bowl and bumped his bowl with others like the regular folks doing in their families, which startled the group.
Jing Jiu went back to the underside of the eaves after taking two pieces of green vegetable, resuming his rest on the bamboo chair.
The water in the stream was flowing with a plopping sound; a small pond formed at a curve, where the koi carps were swimming in a leisurely manner. The carps resembled the colors of the flowering trees on the banks.
Lying on the chair and looking at those koi carps, Jing Jiu thought of the King of Fire Carps at the bottom of the Cold Mountain, then the Green Sky Mirror, and then the Green Girl.
She was a true spirit of the heavenly state, but she didn't have any prowess fighting against others. And she was nevertheless still a little child, so she could be deceived easily.
It happened that she went to the Alien Land and played there for three years after being deceived by Liu Ci.
After thinking of Liu Ci, Jing Jiu also thought of Yuan Qijing and the Emperor in Zhaoge City. Jing Jiu's eyelids quivered slightly because he had thought of the Underworld Emperor.
He didn't have many friends, but the Underworld Emperor was one of his good friends.
"How is he?" Jing Jiu suddenly asked.
Yuan Qü looked over Zhuo Rusui's shoulder, ready to grab a piece of mutton; but he had to put down the chopsticks and the bowl when he heard the question, saying, "He is still very stubborn."
After uttering "hmm", Jing Jiu said, "Carry him out."
"Carrying out" was usually used for moving objects, wares or antiques; the expression was not used for bringing out a person.
Yet, that person was inside a blue ice cube.
The blue ice cube was placed in the middle of the courtyard.
The blue ice cube hadn't completely melted after it left Shangde Peak. And yet, a third of it had, exposing the head of the Drifter.
It was Cold Cicada who had done this, making sure that only the part of ice covering his head melted away.
The Drifter's small face was outside the ice cube, and the lower end of his black hair was still inside the ice. His hair would tighten and loosen as he turned his head around, looking humorous as well as adorable.
"I do want the Seal of Underworld Emperor, but I'm not going to betray my Teacher!"
Staring at Jing Jiu on the bamboo chair, the Drifter went on unwaveringly, "No matter how much you are going to humiliate and entice me, I'm not going to consent to becoming your disciple!"
Gu Qing and the others took a look at Jing Jiu and found that he had no intention of paying any attention to this little child of the Underworld; so they returned their attention to the hotpot again.
"Master, the meat is ready," Yuan Qü said to Zhao Layue reverently.
Zhao Layue said after taking a piece of meat, "Let's eat."
No sooner had she finished her words than the sword wills kicked up in the courtyard along with some faint sword sounds, the gentle wind making the flowering trees sway and the water in the stream ripple.
The Drifter found that nobody paid any attention to him, and this baffled him. As he spun his head, he saw those people eating around the hotpot.
Zhuo Rusui landed his chopsticks as swiftly as the wind, the meat piling up in his bowl like a small hill.
Gu Qing moved his chopsticks steadily, and he had never missed his target.
The chopsticks in Yuan Qü's hand moved as if in a maze; they could always discover a gap between the other two pairs of chopsticks and reached into the hotpot pot.
Seeing the residual shadows of those chopsticks, the Drifter was amazed, thinking their sword work was truly outstanding!
No wonder that the Green Mountain disciples were so powerful, because they were practicing the sword work even when they ate their meals.
It was then that Zhao Layue reached her chopsticks into the pot after having finished eating the meat in her plate.
It was at this moment that the residual shadows of the chopsticks and the sword sounds had all vanished.
Zhuo Rusui and the other two waited quietly for her to pick the meat by holding their chopsticks still.
The Drifter came back to his senses after a while, and continued while looking at Jing Jiu, "He who is a teacher for a day will be a father figure for the rest of his life. I thank you for your high opinion of me; but it's impossible for me to betray my Teacher and become a disciple of somebody else."
Hearing this, Zhuo Rusui uttered a few "tsk"s, then said to Yuan Qü, "This little guy is born to be a member of your peak since his facial skin is thick enough."
"Speaking of which, besides Grand…no, who has thicker facial skin than yours?" Yuan Qü retorted with a smile.
Zhuo Rusui knocked Yuan Qü's chopsticks a few times with his own, saying, "I admire you. You've dared think about it and almost said it."
"We're all in the same family now; there's no point in separating your peak and our peak," Gu Qing said with a small smile.
After hearing what the Drifter said, Jing Jiu returned, "I'm very good at persuading the disciples of your Teacher to betray him."
He had said this to the Underworld Master, but the Drifter hadn't heard it. And he had no idea that Jing Jiu had led the two most outstanding disciples of the Immortal Taiping, Yuan Qijing and Liu Ci, into attacking his Teacher three hundred years ago. The Drifter couldn't help but feel bewildered.
The Drifter turned in that direction again after smelling the flavor. Seeing the boiling soup in the bronze pot and all sorts of ingredients in it, the glowing lines started moving about on his small face. "Is this…the rumored hotpot of Yizhou?" he inquired in a trembling voice.
Gu Qing picked a piece of black tripe and put it in the spicy soup, and then swung it back and forth slowly. His temperament was mild and graceful, and his voice was as crispy as the sound of zither, "Yes, it's from the Nine-Flavor House."
Having heard that, the expression on the Drifter's face had suddenly changed as he stared at Gu Qing's chopsticks. "…You've swung it sixteen times already!" he yelled.
As a member of the royal family of the Underworld, the Drifter's facial alteration was too obvious to conceal; and he had a hard time concealing his mood as well.
Gu Qing picked the piece of black tripe out of the pot and put it in Yuan Qü's bowl. Then he turned to the Drifter and asked with a faint smile, "Do you want to give it a try?"
The Drifter was frozen in the ice cube at the moment; he couldn't even raise his hands. So there was no way he could eat hotpot.
If he wanted to get out of the ice cube, he must agree to Jing Jiu's requests.
"Humph! It's impossible for you to entice me! I can give up on the Seal of Underworld Emperor, so forget about the insignificant hotpot!"
The Drifter turned his head away from the hotpot, deciding not to take a look at it. However, he couldn't restrain himself from turning his head back around.
Gu Qing let out a smile, saying nothing. The group was engaged wholeheartedly in eating the hotpot.
The Drifter found that they had totally consumed stripes and intestines and that the beef and mutton were on the verge of being consumed. The expression in his eyes grew more and more resentful. He swallowed the saliva in his mouth painfully. "Stop! I surrender," he yelled, sounding very bitter and upset.
The Drifter surrendered too easily, so the sincerity of his surrendering was questionable. The Drifter was also fully aware that he had to consent to Jing Jiu's requests by pledging the Bloody Vow of the Underworld River. Once he made the pledge by swearing the Bloody Vow of the Underworld River, the Drifter couldn't ever disobey Jing Jiu's orders, unless he opted to die or chose to withstand the endless pain of changing all the blood in his body into the holy water of the Underworld River.
Thinking of the dreadful future, the Drifter closed his eyes after hesitating for a while even though he had decided to surrender; his lips shivered slightly, meaning that he was rather scared at the moment.
Jing Jiu clenched his right hand while touching the center of the Drifter's brows with his forefinger.
The Seal of Underworld Emperor was in his right hand, emitting the black and golden glows; anyone would feel a sense of solemnity and sacredness under the circumstances.
The band in front of the Drifter's forehead tousled up without the aid of the wind, exposing a slit between his brows, from which a sliver of spiritual soul drifted out, entering Jing Jiu's palm through his forefinger and then merging into the Seal of Underworld Emperor.
Jing Jiu put away the Seal of Underworld Emperor and ran his left hand across the surface of the ice cube. The hard and cold ice cube broke into hundreds of small pieces instantly, which were soon burned into fog and mist by the sword fire, mixing together with the mist coming out from the hotpot and the fog above the surface of the stream.
Lying on the ground, the Drifter looked exceedingly feeble, his face pale and his whole body drenched.
The blue cloth on him had many ruptures, exposing the jade-like skin.
"His skin is very pale," Yuan Qü commented while shoveling the shrimps into his mouth from the plate held to his lips.
Zhuo Rusui remarked while chewing the pepper rings and the preserved meat, "It's sunless in the Underworld; of course he's pale."
Zhao Layue found something was out of place. She felt slightly startled before she brought the Drifter to the backyard by grabbing the nape of the Drifter's neck.
Squatting on Jing Jiu's shoulder, Ada was wondering what the Seal of Underworld Emperor looked like; but he suddenly felt the tightness on his own nape when he saw the way Zhao Layue grabbed the Drifter.
It didn't take long before Zhao Layue brought the Drifter back to the middle of the courtyard.
The Drifter took a bath and put on a dry and clean cloth; with the comely eyes and brows, coupled with a pigtail, the Drifter looked truly adorable now.
Zhuo Rusui exclaimed in surprise, "How come he became a girl now."
Gu Qing and Yuan Qü were similarly puzzled.
The Drifter said indignantly while pouting her small mouth, "I'm always a girl."
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