It was the first time Tianming had left Fatepath Peak since he’d come. He was now with Qingyu, the two of them seated on her mount and flying away from the Grand-Orient Mountains toward Azure Immortal Mountain. The rivers coursed through the mountain without a single break. Qingyu's lifebound beast was a top-tier eight-star beast that could be considered a saint beast, even higher than Mu Yang's Ink Qilin. Among the youths of the Li Saint Clan, only Li Xuanchen and she had top-tier eight-star beasts. Hers was called the Grandwhite Kunpeng, and it was currently in its pure white roc form. Its white feathers were beautifully long.
Tianming had seen a fair number of kunpengs himself, but this was easily the prettiest one he’d seen, much like Qingyu. It was also a rare moon-type lifebound beast. The moon attribute was similar to Sage Chen's star attribute, but channeled the power of the moon. Qingyu and her kunpeng could train by absorbing moonlight. At the same time, the kunpeng was also of the wind and water attributes, which could be infused with the power of the moon.
This was something those of the Wind Bloodline didn't have. Grandwhite Kunpengs were rare, even in the Apex Branch. The beast was as white as the moon in both its kun and roc forms. While it looked fine during the day, it shone like a jewel in the night. Qingyu's beast was named Shuo Yue. From the name, it was clear that it was a female lifebound beast, and the little chick had fallen for it.
The moment it set eyes on the kunpeng, it began drooling. Shuo Yue had turned its head down to look at the little chick and didn't have the slightest idea it was pining over itself.
"Hehe...." The little chick laughed like a fool. "You won't be able to escape me," it said.
"Imbecile." The kunpeng knew how to speak, having spent much time with humans. Most lifebound beasts were only willing to telepathically communicate with their masters and couldn't be bothered to voice actual sounds with their mouths. It was too much trouble when the alternative was far easier. Tianming's own two talkative beasts were definitely not the norm.
Shuo Yue was giving it the cold shoulder, but Ying Huo wouldn’t give up. So what if its body wasn't a good fit for Shuo Yue? It swore that it would successfully woo this beautiful white bird one day.... Or was it more of a fish? Currently, Ying Huo stood atop Shuo Yue's head, letting the wind hit his whole body. There was a hint of ill-fitting maturity on the little chick that was less than half a year old. It was trying to find a domineering pose that would attract Shuo Yue's attention to its handsomeness, but the strong winds only messed its head feathers up, revealing the embarrassing horn on its head, which it tried to cover up in a hurry.
"Darn it! I better continue evolving! What is with this darned horn? My hairstyle's all ruined because of it!"
Not to mention, it had only seven stars in its eyes. It seemed that it would still be mocked by many. Even Shuo Yue had eight stars, and it looked absolutely shiny and beautiful. Its next evolution would make it a saint beast.
Ying Huo, Shuo Yue, our names sound like we're made for each other!  it exulted. No, wait, an Aeternal Infernal Phoenix like me is going to have a harem one day. I have to make sure to keep enough love for all of them in my harem! the little chick thought to itself.
Qingyu looked at the mountains as they flew past, introducing them one after another to Tianming. The Grand-Orient Sect was a rather secretive body that had gathered countless techniques and materials after ten thousand years. Even in its current form, it was still comparable to the hegemon of the Grand-Orient Realm, Heaven's Elysium. The Li Saint Clan was merely a single facet of the sect, and couldn't be used to judge it as a whole.
"Big Brother, the council of elders now has the highest authority in the sect. They’re mainly located at the central-most mountain peak of the Grand-Orient Mountains, the Grand-Orient Sacred Mountain. It’s the most important place in the sect.
"Back then, it was called Kunpeng Sacred Mountain. The Grand-Orient Sacred Hall on the mountain was the old Kunpeng Sacred Hall. However, that hall was moved to Fatepath Peak," she said from where she sat beside him. The strong winds caused parts of her hair to flutter about.
"I see. No wonder the throne inside Kunpeng Sacred Hall was so large."
"That's right. It’s the throne of the sect master of the Grand-Orient Sect," Qingyu said.
All of that was now in the past. Currently, apart from the nominal title of sect master, the Grand-Orient Sect basically had nothing more to do with the Li Saint Clan. The sect no longer needed its master anyway, since the thirty-three elders could settle matters on their own.
"Apart from the center-most Grand-Orient Sacred Mountain, there’s thirty-three immortal mountains around it, each belonging to one of the elders, and each of which hosts its own faction. Elder Ye Qing's immortal mountain is called Azure Immortal Mountain, and we’re inner disciples there," she explained.
The thirty-three immortal mountains surrounded Grand-Orient Sacred Mountain, each of them rising to startling heights.
"What's an inner disciple?" Tianming asked.
"It's a kind of rank used in the Grand-Orient Sect. Disciples of different ranks train in different places, with different statuses and resource support. Disciples are basically ranked based on their talent, but given the current state of the sect, some are able to cut corners. It's basically controlled by the clans at the end of the day."
"Controlled by the clans? Oh, I think I get it now. There were many clans that followed the Li Saint Clan back in the day, so the sect is basically a conglomerate of different clans. While the council of elders is the highest authority in the sect, each elder also belongs to their own clan."
Since the main clan of the sect, the Li Saint Clan, had fallen from grace, the other clans sent their best to form the council of elders and jointly control the sect. None of them wanted to be subordinate to another, after all, so joint rule was the solution.
"How many disciple ranks are there?" Tianming asked.
"Basically four. The lowest ranking disciples are called nominal disciples. These people can't come to the sect itself to train, and I’ve never seen any, either. They’re probably geniuses scattered across the various nations that don't quite meet the standard of the sect. So, they’re given a nominal placement in the sect. That way, they can contribute to the sect in some capacity. There’s many nominal disciples of different ages.
"Within the sect itself, the lowest ranked disciples are called outer disciples. They aren’t allowed to enter the interior of the sect or Grand-Orient Sacred Mountain, but are only able to train in the outer sect. They might not have proper people guiding them in their cultivation either. They have to rely on themselves for cultivation in the ninety-nine mountains outside of the thirty-three immortal mountains. The ninety-nine mountains span a lot of area, and each is ruled by a mountain lord."
It seemed like competition among the outer disciples was definitely the fiercest.
"One rank above the outer disciples are the inner disciples. Basically, the most talented outer disciples that manage to fight their way through countless obstacles and get noticed by one of the elders will be picked to join the elders' own immortal mountains. For instance, we’re inner disciples of the Azure Immortal Mountain. Inner disciples are coached by exalted masters, have much better access to cultivation resources, and are allowed to train at Grand-Orient Sacred Mountain, which is easily the best place to cultivate in all of the sect. The reason many outer disciples compete so hard to become inner disciples is to gain access to it."
"What's the highest rank, then?" Tianming asked.
"That would be the elders' direct disciples. That rank belongs to only the most talented people in each immortal mountain. They enjoy access to all the cultivation resources of the immortal mountain. Most with this rank are descendants of the elders' own clans. Those that become inner disciples and eventually get made direct disciples are a very small minority, as each elder only takes in ten direct disciples every decade. That's especially the case for some of the more powerful and younger elders, who are far pickier about their direct disciples."
Qingyu was still an inner disciple. As a member of the Li Saint Clan, she was fighting for the rank of a direct disciple, too, as that would grant her much more status, resources, and power.
"Is Li Xuanchen Yuwen Taiji's direct disciple? Yuwen Taiji's pretty strong, right?"
"That's right. Li Xuanchen's talent is far better than mine. However, the main reason he became a direct disciple is due to his father, Li Xuanyi, constantly pulling the rest of the Li Saint Clan away from the Apex Branch. Perhaps he's working with Yuwen Taiji on that," she said with her eyes full of bloodlust unfitting for her age. The mere mention of Yuwen Taiji elicited such a reaction.
Now, Tianming was an inner disciple, and there was still a rank higher than his. "Do you want to become Elder Ye Qing's direct disciple?" he asked. Currently, the Li Saint Clan only had one direct disciple: Li Xuanchen.
"Elder Ye Qing is no longer taking disciples. However, his son, Exalted Master Ye Shaoqing, stands a chance of becoming a new elder. Some time back, an elder passed from old age, and Exalted Master Ye has the best odds of being made an elder. He had said that if I can reach the sixth level of Unity before I turn seventeen, he’d make me his disciple, and by the time he becomes an elder, I'll automatically become a direct disciple. That would definitely be good for the clan." She seemed rather optimistic about her prospects.
"You'll definitely make it, Qingyu!" Feiling encouraged. She’d been listening in on the whole conversation, but had remained silent, as she was ignorant of most aspects of cultivation. Tianming couldn’t forget that she was around, with his body pulsing here and there from time to time.
"Thanks, Ling'er," Qingyu said, "Big Brother, perhaps you can become the exalted master's direct disciple, too, if you do well. He doesn't have any disciples yet."
"We'll see. I'm currently the junior sect master, so becoming a direct disciple is almost like a demotion, haha!" he joked. They all knew what kind of status the position of junior sect master had, nowadays. Even so, the joke really helped lighten the serious mood.
1. This wasn’t explained in the raws at all, and doesn’t really work in Chinese. Ying Huo (萤火) doesn’t share similarities with Shuo Yue (朔月) like some popular forms of wordplay in Chinese. Best we can guess, it’s just the equivalent of a high school girl doodling her name with her crush’s last name in her notebook. Thankfully, the Shuo/Huo similarity works in English though, so I’m leaving it in.