Chapter 37: Water and Ink in the Evening
The bells rang out, reverberating both in Meng Hao’s heart and throughout the Reliance Sect. Soon, Meng Hao could see countless disciples hurrying forward.
Before long, the square was packed. As the disciples entered, they looked at Meng Hao in shock, then saluted.
Fatty stood in the crowd, looking pleased, filing away at his teeth with his flying sword. He was surrounded by a group of fawning disciples.
“So Elder Brother Meng is distributing the Medicinal Pill today… ai, I remember back when he was an Outer Sect disciple like us, but now he’s a member of the Inner Sect.”
“Elder Brother Meng is scholarly and refined. I heard that he used to be a scholar of high rank, but he cared more about Cultivation, so he quit and joined the Reliance Sect.”
“Now that you mention it, I remember the first time I saw Elder Brother Meng those years ago. I could tell that he wasn’t ordinary. During his whole fight with Wang Tengfei, I knew that Elder Brother Meng would achieve victory.” The buzz of conversation filled the air, eventually reaching Meng Hao’s ears. He let out a dry cough.
Even though it was a relatively quiet cough, it caused all the disciples in the square to suddenly go silent. They looked up at him respectfully. The morning sun shone down onto his silver robe, and he truly looked like a celestial being.
Meng Hao caught sight of Zhou Kai in the crowd; his face looked conflicted. Then Meng Hao caught sight of somber Yin Tianlong, who gave him a forced smile. He also saw the other Qi Condensation fourth level disciples whom he recognized from that day. When his gaze fell upon them, their faces filled with ingratiating looks.
He even saw Cao Yang, standing there trembling.
“Today, I shall preside over Pill Distribution,” said Meng Hao. He was a scholar, so he had no need to prepare words; he just spoke naturally. When he spoke, his words carried force, piercing into the hearts of the onlookers. “Fellow disciples, please devote yourself to Cultivation, and eventually you will pass the sixth level. I look forward to that day, when the Reliance Inner Sect has one more member.”
The force of his words came not from his Cultivation base, but rather his status as an Inner Sect disciple.
“We will remember Elder Brother Meng’s admonitions.” Several people below spoke out, faces filled with emotion, as if they had just heard the voice of Heaven. One after another, they saluted Meng Hao.
Soon everyone was repeating the words, until the whole square spoke together in harmony.
Meng Hao took the bag of holding from the young servant at his side, opened it, and waved his sleeve. Medicinal pills and Spirit Stones shot out to everyone.
After that, his right hand flashed over the bag of holding, then held up a milky white Medicinal pill. It emanated white aura and a fragrant aroma. It seemed as if it contained the glow of dawn.
“It’s… it’s a White Spirit Pill!”
“That pill is extraordinarily effective for anyone of the fourth level of Qi Condensation or lower. They haven’t distributed one for a long time. Finally one appears!” Soon, everyone in the square below was breathing heavily, staring at the Medicinal pill in Meng Hao’s hand.
His eyes scanned the crowd. Fatty was smiling. This pill wasn’t anything rare as far as he was concerned. He already had a few in his bag of holding, which Meng Hao had given him.
“This pill is extraordinary. All of you must surely know that I planned to give this only to a suitable disciple. And yet, I, Meng Hao, keep old friendships in mind. I just caught sight of an old friend, so I shall bestow the pill to him.” His gaze fell onto Cao Yang, who suddenly began to tremble. Meng Hao flicked his right hand, and the pill shot forth.
“I’m finished!” thought Cao Yang, looking like he was about to cry. “I’ll be recuperating from the injuries for months…” He wailed inside, and now he knew that Meng Hao could hold a grudge. Even though he had become an Inner Sect disciple, he had not forgotten about all the things that had happened before.
As the lights in the square faded, Meng Hao flicked his sleeve and left, not staying behind to watch the fighting break out.
Fatty ran over to follow him, his face flushed. He glared at the young servant Zhao Hai, motioning for him to step back a distance. It seemed he was worried the boy might replace him. He walked next to Meng Hao.
“Elder Brother Meng,” he said with anticipation, “why don’t we take a stroll around the Outer Sect?”
Thinking back to how he had done the same thing with Elder Sister Xu so many years ago, Meng Hao nodded his head with a smile.
The two of them walked forward, with Zhao Hai following in the rear, looking irritated. Not long after leaving the square, they saw Zhou Kai hurrying to catch up with them.
“Greetings, Elder Brother Meng,” he said, his expression somewhat perturbed. He had offended Meng Hao more than once, and had assumed that upon joining the Inner Sect, he would show more restraint. But upon seeing Cao Yang’s fate, he was nervous, and so rushed over.
Meng Hao looked him over, but didn’t say anything. Fatty took a step forward and said loudly: “What do you want?”
“A few days ago, I, Zhou, came across a treasured item. As soon as I saw it, I could tell that it was destined for Elder Brother Meng. Please, accept my gift.” Biting his tongue, he pulled out a bag of holding from within his robe and presented it to Meng Hao. Fatty gave a cold harrumph and grabbed it, then handed it to Meng Hao with a wide smile.
Meng Hao accepted it and glanced over its contents. Then he nodded to Zhou Kai, turned, and walked off, his expression as cool as the clouds in the sky. Zhou Kai watched on helplessly, sighing in his heart.
“I’m not worthy to be an Inner Sect Disciple, perhaps these items will leave you dissatisfied…”
As Meng Hao walked away, Yin Tianlong, off in the distance, let out a sigh. With a smile on his face, he hurried forward. He too said that he had found some items which were destined to be Meng Hao’s. He also offered up a bag of holding, inside of which were fifty Spirit Stones. Meng Hao accepted it with a slight frown.
“We’re both fellow disciples,” he said. “The grievances of the past are not worth keeping track of. There’s no need to act like this.”
Upon hearing this, Yin Tianlong’s heart thumped, and he understood Meng Hao’s true meaning. Inwardly cursing Zhou Kai for giving more, he clenched his jaw and produced another bag of holding, whereupon Meng Hao nodded.
As he walked, Meng Hao met more people who had offended him in the past, and they all acted similarly. Soon he had ten new bags of holding.
“What do you think?” said Fatty, looking pleased. “I handled things pretty well, didn’t I? I found all of them earlier and gave them a bit of coaching. I told them that one must offer up a bit of blood now to avoid trouble in the future.”
Meng Hao laughed and shook his head. He had sensed something odd about the goings-on and had guessed that Fatty must have been up to something over the past half month.
“What about that fifth-level disciple who tried to kill you that day?” asked Meng Hao.
“Oh, him. I used the jade slip you gave me to make him go see the Minister of the Outer Sect, who arranged for him to go out into the wild mountains to catch some Demonic beasts. He can’t return until he gets 100.” As far as Fatty was concerned, anyone who offended him would have to pay the price.
“Just don’t do something publicly that could box you into a corner,” said Meng Hao, his eyes flashing and his voice low.
“I understand,” said Fatty in a similarly low voice. “It’s taken care of. Zhou Kai and Yin Tianlong will get rid of him for good.”
They looked at each other, then laughed. They never brought up the matter again.
After making a circle around the Outer Sect, and having been greeted by many disciples, they finally reached the Pill Cultivation Workshop. Meng Hao paused for a moment to look at it, then a smile broke out on his face and he entered.
When the middle-aged man who ran the workshop saw Meng Hao, he stood up.
“Greetings, Elder Brother Meng.”
Meng Hao smiled and nodded his head, glancing around at all the Medicinal pills.
“Don’t worry, Elder Brother Meng,” said the middle-aged man. “Junior Brother Li Fugui is taking care of the Pill Workshop. Business is good. I definitely won’t give any other disciples a chance to buy Medicinal Pills.” He thumped his palm onto his chest.
Fatty beamed with joy. Previously, he had given the middle-aged Cultivator a bag of holding when no one was looking. Soon, the man had grown accustomed to this. Although the Medicinal pills here belonged to the Sect, and weren’t personal property, the man wasn’t opposed to making a bit of profit of his own.
Thanks to Fatty’s anticipation and stubborness, it wasn’t until midday that Meng Hao was able to satisfy him. They walked around the entire Outer Sect until everyone had seen them together. Finally, after much begging and pleading, they went to the Treasure Pavilion.
The shrewd-looking man at the Treasure Pavilion had been waiting outside for some time. When he saw Meng Hao approaching, he made a long, grand salute, then in a loud, clear voice said, “Treasure Pavilion disciple Sun Tiandi gives greetings to Elder Brother Meng. Elder Brother Meng is a dragon among men, powerful and imposing beyond the ordinary…” The man was not very educated, and his words were a bit over the top. His expression was one of excitement, but inside he was a bit worried, although only he knew that.
He feared that Meng Hao would bring up the matter of him cheating him all those years back. He glanced at the eager-looking Fatty.
Fatty cleared his throat. “My friend here wants me to go in to take a treasure,” he said, sounding a bit embarrassed. “If it breaks any rules, you can place the blame on him.”
Meng Hao was a loss for word. Finally, he went in with Fatty to inspect the Treasure Pavilion. After a while, they left, despite Fatty’s pleas to stay. By the time Meng Hao arrived back at the East Mountain, the sun was beginning to set. He sat down on a boulder outside the Immortal’s Cave, thinking about the day’s events. Now he had an even deeper understanding of what it meant to be a member of the Inner Sect.
As evening fell, Meng Hao looked out at the rosy sky. Then he noticed that off in the distance, a woman approached. She looked like some sort of celestial being, wearing a silver robe, with long black hair and a pale face that was beautiful even though she wore no makeup whatsoever. Her face, though cold, seemed to Meng Hao to contain something delicate and touching.
“Elder Sister Xu,” said Meng Hao, cupping his hands in greeting.
“Congratulations, you’ve become a member of the Inner Sect.” Just like her name, Elder Sister Xu was cold and cheerless. That was her personality, and yet, she didn’t treat everyone coldly. For example, upon hearing her young servant mention Meng Hao, she had come here to see him.
Meng Hao smiled, standing next to her. Their long robes rippled in the mountain breeze.
“Today I went to the Pill Cultivation Workshop and traded for another Cosmetic Cultivation Pill.” He lifted it up and handed it to her.
She said nothing, looking at the pill for a while, then eventually accepting it. She stood there with him, silently looking off into the rosy horizon.
She was incredibly beautiful, seemingly flawless, like jade. The glow of the setting sun reflected off her, increasing her beauty.
Time seemed to come to a standstill. As they stood there on the East Mountain, their shadows merged together in the evening sun, like ink blending with water. It was something which would last for an eternity.
The evening sunlight slowly faded past the horizon, and then the moon peeked out. Finally, Elder Sister Xu turned and began to walk off. She had only taken five steps before she stopped.
“I went to the Pill Cultivation Workshop. The Cosmetic Cultivation Pill you gave me before wasn’t purchased by you.” With that, she left, not looking back.
Meng Hao stared in shock, and wasn’t even able to react until some time had passed. He scratched his head. His eyes gradually filled with light. He had never imagined that something like this would happen. And yet, it seemed it had…