Chapter 249: Zephyr Sect’s Complex Relationships Built on Benefits

Demoness's Art of Vengeance

After Zou Zilong and Princess Linglong departed, Zhuang Lenghui continued to act like a concerned and caring martial sister as she chatted with Jun Xiaomo for a little while more. In order to prevent courting trouble in the very moment she stepped into the Sect, Jun Xiaomo endured the ordeal with extreme patience as she feigned civility with the poisonous snake that was Zhuang Lenghui.

Fortunately, the torment didn’t last too long. With the aid of the Transmittance Talisman, Tong Ruizhen managed to locate Jun Xiaomo’s whereabouts in no time.

“Sigh, that’s where you are, disciple. Your master has been looking all over for you.” Tong Ruizhen was riding his Heavenly Crane as he slowly descended towards Jun Xiaomo.

Jun Xiaomo was slightly taken aback. She had never expected Tong Ruizhen to be riding the Heavenly Crane within the Sect’s grounds. At the very least, back at the Dawn Sect, there were regulations restricting the use of mounts within the Sect’s grounds. This was to prevent chaos from breaking out all over the place.

“Disciple Zhuang Lenghui greets Sect Elder Tong.” Zhuang Lenghui bowed courteously to Tong Ruizhen. The earlier air of haughtiness and pride around her had completely vanished into thin air.

Jun Xiaomo smacked her lips. Tong Ruizhen may be a Sect Elder of the Zephyr Sect, but was there really a need for a First Sect Disciple of a Peakmaster to stoop so low?

It’s so…contrived. But, why? Could Tong Ruizhen’s identity be that much higher than the Peakmaster of the Phoenixia Peak?

Jun Xiaomo began to find that her newly-minted master was becoming more and more curious and mysterious as time went by.

Tong Ruizhen swept a fleeting glance at Zhuang Lenghui, before responding dispassionately, “Oh, so it’s you, little Zhuang. Were you looking after Xiaomo earlier? Sorry to trouble you there.”

“It’s no trouble at all. Looking after a younger martial sister is naturally the duty of an older martial sister. Disciple is happy to have been of assistance.” Zhuang Lenghui pretended not to have noticed Tong Ruizhen’s dispassionate tone of voice as she claimed the credit of looking after Jun Xiaomo.

In fact, everyone around knew that all Zhuang Lenghui did was merely to stop and have a chat with Jun Xiaomo – what other kind of assistance did she render? That said, nobody stood up to discredit Zhuang Lenghui – Jun Xiaomo could hardly be bothered to do so, while the rest who were around were too busy currying favour with Zhuang Lenghui that they could hardly concern themselves with bursting her bubble.

Unfortunately, Tong Ruizhen had never been an easy person to dupe. Furthermore, he was well aware of Zhuang Lenghui’s true character underneath that pretentious attitude of hers.

Thus, he hardly appeared appreciative or touched at all. He only nodded his head calmly as he responded, “Little Zhuang has been thoughtful. I’m going to bring Xiaomo to her abode now. You all should return to your Peak as well. It’s not getting any earlier, and it’s about time to get cracking on your cultivation. Don’t swagger about the Sect and loiter around with those fellow disciples of yours so much.”

Tong Ruizhen’s words made Zhuang Lenghui’s expressions stiffen up, and her faced flushed red and then turned pale in shock.

The truth of the matter was that she had brought these disciples along and walked about the Sect precisely because she had heard that Tong Ruizhen was returning with his new disciple. She had wanted to see what kind of person Jun Xiaomo was to have convinced Sect Elder Tong to accept her as his personal disciple. How could she have expected Tong Ruizhen to label her actions as “swaggering about” and “loitering”?

He had made it sound as though she had nothing better to do.

The level of pride in Zhuang Lenghui’s heart was hardly any less than Princess Linglong’s. However, while Princess Linglong expressed her pride outwardly, Zhuang Lenghui kept hers to herself.

At this moment, Tong Ruizhen’s blunt words had caused her to feel as though he were tearing off her pretenses and trampling on her pride – and all of this in front of the newbie Jun Xiaomo to boot.

However, Zhuang Lenghui hardly dared to reveal her displeasure with Tong Ruizhen outwardly. Thus, she furiously suppressed the indignation in her heart and directed it straight towards Jun Xiaomo instead.

As a result, she began to find Jun Xiaomo more and more of a thorn in her side. Naturally, she kept all of this deep within the abyss of her heart.

As the Fifth Elder of the Zephyr Sect, there was no reason for Tong Ruizhen to care about a mere disciple’s pride – even if that disciple were the First-Seat Disciple of a Peakmaster. Thus, after saying his piece, he immediately left together with Jun Xiaomo, leaving Zhuang Lenghui staring at the back of the Heavenly Crane with a cold and frigid gaze in her eyes.

On the Heavenly Crane, as soon as Tong Ruizhen left the line of sight of the Phoenixia Peak disciples, he immediately softened his disposition and started to joke and jibe with Jun Xiaomo once more, “Little disciple, what do you think? Wasn’t master’s disposition pretty good earlier? Weren’t the airs about master simply incredible?”

Jun Xiaomo was just about to exclaim about how quickly Tong Ruizhen was able to switch out that stern and somber disposition earlier. But when she heard Tong Ruizhen’s words, she was immediately rendered speechless.

Dare I ask if this old man was only putting on airs earlier?

Jun Xiaomo bluntly rolled her eyes at Tong Ruizhen. However, Tong Ruizhen hardly minded this one bit. He simply stroked his beard and reveled in his own earlier actions for a little while longer.

Moments later, he collected his thoughts once more and began to relate to Jun Xiaomo in earnestness, “Little disciple, even if Zhuang Lenghui comes looking for you next time, try your best not to have any interactions with her.”

Jun Xiaomo raised her eyebrow quizzically, “Why’s that?”

Tong Ruizhen sighed in resignation as he stroked his own beard. After deliberating for a moment, he remarked, “Seems like there are some things that I should inform disciple sooner rather than later.”

Jun Xiaomo discovered a trace of gravity within Tong Ruizhen’s exclamation, and she immediately perked up her spirits and presented herself with all ears to what Tong Ruizhen had to say.

As it turns out, the present Zephyr Sect was hardly as peaceful as it seemed on the surface. As the saying goes, where people gather, strife ensues. This was especially evident when a change of power was due to occur within a large sect. The Zephyr Sect’s Sect Leader had failed in his attempt to breakthrough to Transcendence, and his life was now hanging by its final threads. Since then, most of the Sect’s matters had been maintained by the Peakmasters of the Phoenixia Peak and the Stoneknife Peak, under the assistance of the Court of Elders.

Having managed the affairs of the Sect for some time, the Peakmasters of the Phoenixia Peak and the Stoneknife Peak hearts began to grow covetous. With the Sect Leader’s body in grave condition, he would need a miracle if he were to tide through it. Thus, with the potential outgoing of a Sect Leader, it was quite obvious that the incoming Sect Leader might very well be one of the two Peakmasters of the Phoenixia Peak and the Stoneknife Peak.

Most of the Sect Elders within the Court of Elders had already expressed which faction they were on, and there were few Sect Elders, including Sect Elder Tong, who had not chosen to stand on either side just yet.

One of the other reasons why Sect Elder Tong was viewed with such importance was because he held the key to the protective formation arrays within the Sect. In other words, obtaining Sect Elder Tong’s support was tantamount to holding the lifeblood of the entire Sect within their hands. At that time, unless the opposing Peakmaster were able to find a similarly capable array master to back his efforts, it would take nothing less than a miracle for him to come out on top and be made the new Sect Leader of the Zephyr Sect.

It was no wonder both factions were desperately trying to curry favour with Tong Ruizhen, hoping to get him to stand on their side.

That said, several years had passed since then, and Tong Ruizhen had continued to remain vague and ambiguous as to whose side he was on. He would continue to sleep well, eat well and live well, while the two Peakmasters who were locked in an insidious, fierce tug-of-war couldn’t help but look with envy at the man who held the key to break their impasse.

Then, just two years ago, Tong Ruizhen suddenly indicated to everyone that he intended to accept yet another personal disciple. After accepting this personal disciple, he would do his best to impart all his knowledge about formation arrays and talismans to that disciple, before handing his duties to that disciple of his as he pursues his own path of cultivation wholeheartedly.

His cultivation had been stuck in the secondary-tier Coalescence stage of cultivation for far too long. If he continued on like this, he might very soon find himself once again susceptible to the usual vicissitudes of life that plagued the mortal world.

Cultivators were not immortals. They only possessed the ability to increase their own lifespan as their cultivation levels grew.

Regardless of how carefree and unrestrained Tong Ruizhen appeared to be, he could never remain the same in the face of death. Thus, he knew that he had to find a successor so that he could turn to deal with his own personal affairs.

There were several disciples before Jun Xiaomo, but none of them possessed the level of aptitude that he was looking for. Thus, they had at best scratched the surface of talismans and formation arrays, and they had never been able to inspire Tong Ruizhen to devote everything he had to pour out his teachings to them. As a result, Tong Ruizhen had already steeled himself for the possibility that he would be spending the next few decades or even century looking for a potential successor. With that thought on the backburner, he attended the Secondary Inter-Sect Competition with hardly any expectations. To his surprise, he found himself a little gem in the rough there that he took a keen interest to.

This was why Tong Ruizhen had gone all out to convince Jun Xiaomo to become his disciple. After all, he did not know how long it would take for him to find another suitable disciple if he missed out on Jun Xiaomo right now.

As Jun Xiaomo listened to Tong Ruizhen’s diatribe, she felt increasingly moved. Then, she recalled something important.

“Master, was martial sister Zhuang at some point in time interested in becoming your personal disciple as well?” Jun Xiaomo queried.

This was what she had gleaned from the female disciple beside Zhuang Lenghui earlier which Jun Xiaomo had noted deeply in her heart. If Zhuang Lenghui had indeed been keen on becoming Tong Ruizhen’s personal disciple, then that would fully explain her hostility towards Jun Xiaomo.

With Zhuang Lenghui’s pride, she could never have expected Tong Ruizhen to pick a “piece of trash” in the sixth level of Qi Mastery over her as a disciple, right?

Tong Ruizhen snorted as he responded, “That little Zhuang brat. If she had genuinely been keen to learn from me, I might actually have considered her before I encountered you. But the problem is that she doesn’t have any interest in formation arrays and talismans to begin with. Accepting her as a disciple would be an insult to all formation arrays and talismans in the world!”

Array masters had their pride as well, especially when it came to matters within their domain of expertise. Anyone who did not treat their domain of expertise with earnest and sincerity would undoubtedly be interpreted as a form of despise and disdain for their craft.

Jun Xiaomo’s curiosity was piqued yet even more, “If she wasn’t interested in formation arrays and talismans, why did she want to be your disciple to begin with?”

“Hmph! Isn’t it just so that her father can succeed in that ridiculous war for succession?!” Tong Ruizhen snorted contemptuously, “If Zhuang Lenghui had truly become my disciple, then others would naturally view this as a sign that I’m now standing on the side of the Phoenixia Peak. At that point in time, she would be able to achieve her final goals and at the same time learn from me. Who wouldn’t want to enter into such a favourable transaction?”

“Father?” Jun Xiaomo homed in on the nub of the issue.

“Oh, that’s right, disciple must still be unaware of this. Zhuang Lenghui’s father is none other than the Peakmaster of the Phoenixia Peak, Zhuang Hongsheng.” Tong Ruizhen shook his head and sighed, “Speaking of Zhuang Hongsheng, this man had been an outstanding fella while he was in his youth. At that time, even though he was slightly on the more competitive side, there was nothing too bad with his character. Unfortunately, it might have been the time he spent standing in as the Sect Leader, but his greed and ambition seem to have gotten the better of him. It’s evident that he’s no longer content with merely being a Peakmaster right now. Thus, he began to resort to more underhanded tactics. Over time, even his daughter began to be influenced by him and go astray.”

So Zhuang Lenghui is not only the First-Seat Disciple of the Phoenixia Peak, she’s even the treasured daughter of the Phoenixia Peak’s Peakmaster. No wonder she has such airs about her. Jun Xiaomo’s heart exclaimed in realization.

“Then what about Princess Linglong and martial brother Zou?” Jun Xiaomo recalled the other two persons in her earlier encounters who left her with a deep impression.

“Martial brother Zou? Disciple, are you referring to Zou Zilong?” Tong Ruizhen furrowed his brows.

“It should be him. Princess Linglong seem to be on rather good terms with him, so that should be right.” Jun Xiaomo particularly emphasized the relationship between Zou Zilong and Princess Linglong.

“Since it involves Princess Linglong, it should be none other than Zou Zilong.” Tong Ruizhen nodded his head, “Zou Zilong is none other than Princess Linglong’s fiancé by imperial decree. Their relationship is naturally very close.”

“No wonder…” Jun Xiaomo sighed meaningfully.

“Sigh, disciple, let me tell you something – don’t be drawn in by Zou Zilong’s good looks and charms. You can like whoever you want, except for that fella surnamed Zou. Princess Linglong isn’t someone you can afford to cross. If you cross her, perhaps even master might not be able to help you.” Tong Ruizhen sincerely cautioned Jun Xiaomo.

Jun Xiaomo didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as she replied, “Master, you must be taking a stab in the dark right now. How could I possibly like that Zou Zilong? I’ve got no interest in snatching someone else’s fiancé.”

Besides, the way which Zou Zilong looks at her makes her feel incredibly uncomfortable. This was the final nail in the coffin, sealing her heart away from Zou Zilong altogether.

“Hey, you don’t say. There were several young girls who braved all odds to draw close to him. Tsk tsk, let master tell you this – Princess Linglong’s jealousy is like a massive tidal wave that can engulf and submerge the entire Zephyr Sect. Of those girls that numbered over ten in total, none of them met with a good end, some perished, while others end up being crippled altogether.” Tong Ruizhen sighed, “Truth be told, I don’t have a good impression of that young brat, Linglong either. She’s far too unruly and headstrong. Only that little fella surnamed Zou can stand her.”

Jun Xiaomo smiled, “To each his own, I guess.”

Tong Ruizhen stroked his beard and grew taciturn for a moment, before he added, “It wouldn’t be a bad thing if that fella surnamed Zou is truly fond of Princess Linglong. My main concern is that he’s simply paying lip service at this point in time, and his true intentions is to make use of Princess Linglong. At that time, when things come to a head, I’m afraid that even the Zephyr Sect might not be able to withstand the unbridled fury and wrath of the king of the Greenwich Kingdom.”

“Make use of Princess Linglong?”

“That’s right. Don’t look down on Linglong just because she’s a little girl. The king of the Greenwich Kingdom already had one foot in the grave before he finally managed to give birth to such a precious little daughter of his. This is why he spoils her so. On the first day that Linglong entered the Zephyr Sect, she immediately fell for disciple Zou, and she even coerced her father, the king of the Greenwich Kingdom, to issue an imperial decree to make Zou Zilong her fiancé. At the beginning, Zou Zilong was incredibly displeased by the imperial decree, and he treated Princess Linglong with dispassion and coldness. But in recent years, it appears as though he had a change of heart, and he’s beginning to treat Linglong better and better.”

Jun Xiaomo’s eyes darkened, “Recent years. Doesn’t that mean…”

“It’s precisely when the dispute between the Peakmasters of the Phoenixia Peak and the Stoneknife Peak escalated and came to a head. As the First-Seat Disciple of the Stoneknife Peak, it’s hard to imagine that Zou Zilong doesn’t have ulterior motives when he’s had a change of heart. In fact, it’s precisely because Zou Zilong holds the identity as the fiancé of the Greenwich Kingdom that the Phoenixia Peak and the Stoneknife Peak are still locked in an impasse. Young Linglong is completely unaware of all these things. In fact, she continues to ignore everything that’s going on around her, fixating her eyes only on Zou Zilong and sincerely believing that he loves her wholeheartedly.”

Tong Ruizhen’s explanation reminded Jun Xiaomo about herself. In her previous life, she had in a similar fashion walked straight into Qin Lingyu’s schemes and ploys, and it took her an entire lifetime before she finally realized the folly of her ways on her deathbed.

She empathized with Princess Linglong, and she began to feel less disgusted and irked by Princess Linglong’s unruly and headstrong behaviour.

“No matter what it is, disciple, you’ve got to do your best to steer clear from Zhuang Lenghui, Zou Zilong and Princess Linglong. These three people are inextricably intertwined with the tension within the Sect. One misstep and you’ll find yourself deep in the mires of trouble. Master can tell that you’re a person who doesn’t like courting trouble. If you don’t want trouble, don’t mix with these three people, understand?” Tong Ruizhen earnestly cautioned with a stern and serious tone of voice.

“I understand, master.” Jun Xiaomo nodded her head, sincerely taking to heart Tong Ruizhen’s words of wisdom.

However, reality would very quickly remind Jun Xiaomo that some things could not be simply avoided just like that.

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