Ping Yongjia had no idea that Que Niang had disappeared. He left the immortal residence of the West Mountain the next day. He was first brought to the royal palace by the officials of the Pure Heaven Bureau and then led by an old eunuch into the palace.
If he were a regular official meeting the Emperor in the royal palace, he would be intensely nervous, but Ping Yongjia was a young disciple of Green Mountain who had just won the first place in the Cultivation tournament and was treated respectfully as a result. And he intended not to lose face for his Master, so he tried his hardest to pretend he was taking everything in stride.
The royal palace was really large. It took a while just to walk to the other side of the square that was in front of the grand hall.
Ping Yongjia felt a bit impatient, thinking that he would cover the whole space in a few moments if he could run here.
As he was complaining about the irritating rules of the mortal world in his mind, he suddenly noticed the hidden divine bows behind the palace walls, feeling startled.
It was well known that these divine bows were enchanted with the amulets written by the scholars of the One-Cottage House; their tremendous power was as formidable as the flying swords. If they were shot all at once, even those Cultivation practitioners in a very high state would be killed. However, the royal palace was a place where the rituals and regulations were observed, but why were such powerful divine bows set up in the royal palace?
In the next moment, Ping Yongjia felt the atmosphere in the palace was out of place, just like Que Niang had reminded him the night before. The palace was guarded closely for a reason.
In the grand hall, Ping Yongjia met the Emperor at last.
The Emperor looked normal, his expression amiable. And the Emperor used some stylish words to compliment him.
Since he didn't know what the Emperor had looked like before, he failed to notice that the Emperor had some more white strands of hair on his temples.
Likewise, he also failed to notice the sorrowful intent in the eyes of the Royal Concubine Hu and the Crown Prince Jing Yao, who sat to the side of the Emperor.
What had happened in the Cultivation tournament of the Plum Meeting was simple and straightforward. All Ping Yongjia did was kill the monsters one after the other. He related what he had done in the tournament in a few sentences; then he didn't know what else to say. He looked at the Emperor blankly, thinking he should be let go as soon as possible.
Seeing the expression on his face, the Emperor couldn't help but laugh out. He waved his hand to let Ping Yongjia leave the hall before turning to the Royal Concubine Hu and saying, "Like I said before, the devils are more interesting than humans."
The Royal Concubine Hu's heart skipped a beat, thinking that it was the private conversation between the two of them. "Interesting"? How could he say such a thing in front of their son? Her face flushed; she pinched the Emperor unnoticeably. And yet, her sorrow had abated considerably.
Ping Yongjia soon noticed that something was out of place here, as he was heading for the outside of the palace.
The old eunuch who had brought him into the palace was nowhere to be found, and this passageway was evidently not the one he had walked on when he entered the palace. The shadows of tall ancient trees cast on the ground, and the flowering trees in the garden were not as vigorous as they should be in the middle of spring; however, the flowers seemed to be arranged in a graceful way, looking like a formation of some sort.
Ping Yongjia looked around cautiously as he summoned the sword source in secret, readying to employ the Endless Sword style at any moment.
It was then that a short and chubby man ambled out from behind a tall ancient tree.
It was the mid-spring, and the weather was quite warm, but this short and chubby man wore an overcoat. It was unclear why this man didn't feel hot in such clothing.
A gust of wind blew over from the palace wall, brining a faint aromatic scent after passing through the formation-like flowering trees. A corner of this man's overcoat was tousled up by the wind, revealing a golden glow.
Ping Yongjia narrowed his eyes, the fingers behind his back trembling slightly, which was a sign that he was ready to call out his sword while also grappling with his fear.
The short and chubby man had a profound Cultivation state, many times higher than Jian Ruyun's. He had no confidence that he could defeat him; perhaps, he didn't even have a chance to escape from his opponent.
"Though I don't want to commit suicide, I'll have to fight to the death if you attack me."
Staring at the short and chubby man, Ping Yongjia continued in a trembling voice, "I'm an insignificant person, but my Master is the Immortal Jing Yang; so you must be aware of what it means if you kill me."
The short and chubby man laughed. For some reason, he retreated behind the tree, vanishing without a trace.
Looking at the tall ancient tree, Ping Yongjia felt perplexed for a long time.
He didn't believe that his opponent had left because of his threatening statement.
The short and chubby man hadn't reappeared after a long while. He thought the danger was finally over. He exhaled deeply, feeling relieved. The sweat suddenly came out throughout his body, drenching his sword robe.
That short and chubby man was truly dreadful. He had never experienced such a close encounter with death.
It was then that a voice broke out behind him.
"If he had killed you, what do you think I would have done for you?"
Ping Yongjia turned around and saw a man in white clothing standing amid the flowering trees.
The spring breeze was blowing gently, and the white cloth was ruffling slightly.
The appearance of this man made all the flowering trees look colorless.
Ping Yongjia felt like being hit by a bolt of lightning. After he came back to his senses some moments later, he rushed to the flowering trees, and knelt on the ground before the man in white, crying loudly while holding onto his legs.
The man in white was the disappeared Jing Jiu.
Looking at the wretchedly crying Ping Yongjia, Jing Jiu furrowed his brows, asking, "Why are you crying?"
Thinking of the desolate Shenmo Peak, the lonely Scenery Garden, the peerless carriage of the Gu Clan and the lonesome snowland, Ping Yongjia felt extremely sad. "Master, our horse is dead," he exclaimed while sniffing.
Yuan Qü walked back from the stone door of the manor cave, took a sip of water from the bowl handed to him by Gu Qing. He said while staring at the remaining half of the water in the bowl, "I have no idea how Young Brother will react after he wakes up on Yunxing Peak and finds out that we are not on Green Mountain."
Lying on the stone bed with his legs resting on the head of the bed, Zhuo Rusui was dozing off with his eyes closed. As he heard this, he remarked, "If he went to Cloudy Town and found we were not in Scenery Garden, it would be even more interesting."
Gu Qing didn't join in the conversation. He had a grave expression; it was unclear if he was worried about Ping Yongjia or something else.
This was a tranquil and spacious manor cave with a stone bed and a stone table, and a small stream that was brought here from a mountain spring.
The person sitting by the stone table spun around his head, his light brows showing a hint of incredibility and bewilderment, as he asked Gu Qing, "Did you say that it was confirmed a few years ago that he is the Immortal Jing Yang?"
He was Tong Yan, so this manor cave was the one located in the hermit peaks of Green Mountain.
Yet, it was unclear why Gu Qing, Zhuo Rusui and the others had left Scenery Garden and come here.
Gu Qing didn't give a response to Tong Yan, but wondered, "Master has locked us up here; what does he intend to do?"
"Can the Gu Clan bring the hotpot here?" Zhuo Rusui asked.
Yuan Qü wondered, "Do you think about when Young Brother will wake up and find that we are nowhere to be found?"
Tong Yan said, "If he is indeed the Immortal Jing Yang, many issues will have an explanation."
Everyone was speaking their own mind, not paying attention to anybody else.
It was because they were all very nervous.
Jing Jiu had watched the starry sky the whole night more than ten days ago and suddenly said that he wanted to go back to Green Mountain.
He led Gu Qing and the others back on Green Mountain without drawing attention from anyone. They came to the hermit peaks through the Sword Jail. Then he left after they found Tong Yan's manor cave.
Gu Qing and the others had become the prisoners in the hermit peaks.
The slightly disordered footsteps were heard in the deep part of the manor cave.
Zhao Layue walked out from the deep end of the cave. Her short hair was messy, and her clothes were covered with dusts throughout, and so was the Thoughtless Sword in her hand.
She said expressionlessly while staring at the tightly shut stone door, "Over the years, I've listened to you and didn't make any fuss; it's because you've said it's better to be alive. But what are you doing now?"
The others were all aware that she was talking to Jing Jiu, and they all knew that Jing Jiu must have gone and taken care of something significant. Because he was unsure about the outcome, Jing Jiu locked them in the hermit peak. In his mind, the hermit peaks of Green Mountain were the safest places in the world.
What matter was Jing Jiu going to take care of? Why didn't he even know what kind of outcome he would face?
Without a doubt, this must be a very important and exceedingly dangerous matter.
Gu Qing came by the side of Zhao Layue and handed her a handkerchief, while inquiring her with his eyes.
Zhao Layue shook her head, indicating that the formation outside the manor cave in the cliff was too strong for her Thoughtless Sword to dismantle.
They had already tried many times to break through the stone door of the manor cave. Zhuo Rusui failed to do it by employing the Inherited Heaven Sword style that was most suitable for dismantling the formations, and Tong Yan also failed to do it by employing the mysterious Daoist method of the Center Sect, because the formation outside the manor cave was set up by Jing Jiu himself.
"Is he really the Immortal Jing Yang?"
Tong Yan muttered, as if it was the most perplexing issue in the world.
Zhuo Rusui opened his eyes, glanced at him sideways, and snapped in a mocking tone, "Can you take a break from this issue and say something else?"
"Like what?" Tong Yan returned with a faint smile.
Zhao Layue turned around and said while staring at his eyes, "Like what he might be doing right now."
"It's simple enough. Even if something happened on Green Mountain or the Immortal Taiping came back, he wouldn't even be alarmed. Nothing significant can happen at the Fruit Formation Temple. As for White Town…he won't go there again, as you all know."
Tong Yan went on, "There is only one possibility: He will confront Cloud-Dream Mountain."
It grew quiet in the manor cave. The Green Mountain Sect and the Center Sect had already confronted each other for many years, and Jing Jiu had been expelled from Green Mountain; why then…
Zhao Layue continued after a pause, "…The Emperor is going to die soon."
No sooner had she finished the sentence than the stone door of the manor cave suddenly opened. Yuan Qü was startled greatly.
Zhuo Rusui, dozing off on the stone bed with his eyes closed, suddenly opened his eyes and turned into a sword light, heading toward the outside of the manor cave.
Zhao Layue's reaction was as swift as his. As the blood-red sword light illuminated the cave walls, she had already arrived outside the manor cave.
Pah!!! Pah!!! Pah!!!
Zhao Layue and Zhuo Rusui were thrown back, landing heavily on the ground.
Soon after, another person fell on the ground as well.
Who was the person outside the manor cave?
Zhao Layue and Zhuo Rusui were both in the upper state of the Free Travel; but they had no chance of resisting that person.
As the stone door of the manor cave closed slowly, the group vaguely saw a large dark shadow glide away.
"The Master Night Howler?" Yuan Qü cried in surprise.
Hearing this, Zhao Layue's face grew paler, and Gu Qing also felt despair.
If the Principal Guard of Green Mountain, the Dead Dog, was guarding them, there was no way for them to escape from here.
"How did you come here?"
Looking at the person thrown in from outside with furrowed brows, Tong Yan fretted that there were too many puzzles for him lately.
That person was Que Niang.
Staring at the people in the manor cave, she was flabbergasted as well, as she replied, "I was in Zhaoge City looking for you guys. Then…I met a short and chubby swordsman who had a golden glow all over his body."
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