The entire sect was bustling. The air buzzed with conversation as Patriarch Spirit Stream and the other powerful experts utilized mountain-hurling, sedraining magical techniques to repair the damage done to the four mountain ranges that made up the headquarters.
The Pill Stream Division used all of their power to save the Dire Skybanyan, and also had all disciples working around the clock to concoct medicinal pills.
The Profound Stream Division was hard at work repairing the spell formations that protected the sect, as well as the countless magical items that disciples of the sect had damaged during the course of battle.
The Spirit and Blood Stream Divisions had taken the lead in the actual fighting, and therefore, many of them went into secluded meditation to recover. Those who were able assisted in the repair work to the sect itself.
When Bai Xiaochun found Song Junwan, she was busy administering the affairs of Middle Peak. Although she very much wanted to spend some alone time with him, and speak of various matters of the heart, her current duties were more important.
Because of Bai Xiaochun’s current status in the sect, as soon as he showed up, the disciples gazed at him with fervor and adoration. In fact, the way they clasped hands in formal greeting caused the repair work to slow down.
Bai Xiaochun savored the wonderful sensation, and was preparing to leave when he realized that he really should offer some words of encouragement. However, before he could even open his mouth, Song Junwan glared at him and shooed him away.
He rubbed his nose awkwardly as he walked off. Although he was inclined to defy Song Junwan, merely looking at her caused him to think back guiltily to what had occurred in the Wildlands with Mistress Red-Dust. The prospect of what could happen if Song Junwan and Hou Xiaomei found out caused his heart to tremble with fear.
As far as Hou Xiaomei went, Bai Xiaochun had learned from Li Qinghou that both she and Ghostfang had been taken away by the Celestial over half a year ago, to serve as special guards on Heavenspan Island.
Apparently, Heavenspan Island occasionally recruited special guards to serve on the island.
To the sects in the Heavenspan River region, any cultivator selected for a position like that was being bestowed with good fortune. Furthermore, not everyone who was initially recruited would end up serving on the island. Many of them would be sent back after a short period of time. Even those people would experience a significant boost in cultivation base, though. As for those who remained to serve, they ended up earning extremely high status, and would be treated with the utmost courtesy even by the riversource sects.
Bai Xiaochun felt uneasy about the whole thing, although he wasn’t sure exactly why. For one thing, based on his calculations, he was fairly certain that Hou Xiaomei had been taken away at roughly the same time that the dramatic battle had been fought back in the Wildlands.
“Or am I just thinking too much into it?” After some thought, he decided that the best thing would be to use this as an excuse to go see Hou Xiaomei.
Even as he pondered these matters, he happened to catch sight of Shangguan Tianyou.
He stood at the edge of a cliff, his face touched with grief and reminiscence, his eyes somewhat blank as he looked off into the distance. For some reason, he seemed older and more mature.
Bai Xiaochun was a bit surprised to see an expression like this on Shangguan Tianyou’s face. After a moment of thought, he walked over, and then followed Shangguan Tianyou’s line of sight until he noticed what appeared to be a log cabin in the jungle below the cliff.
Next to the log cabin… was a grave mound.
Shangguan Tianyou held a strip of blue cloth tightly in his hands. His hands were clenched so tightly around it that it seemed he would never let go of that cloth, even if he died. And there he stood, murmuring to himself as he looked at the distant grave.
Bai Xiaochun looked at the grave thoughtfully, and suddenly realized that there was one old friend he hadn’t seen after returning to the sect. He shivered.
“That’s Xinqi’s grave,” Shangguan Tianyou said quietly, his voice hoarse and tinged with bitterness. There was no trace of his former jealousy and hatred of Bai Xiaochun. Such things had been wiped away with the passage of time, along with his hot-headedness.
“Elder Sister Zhou….” Bai Xiaochun breathed. He thought back to what he remembered of Zhou Xinqi, who had once been Li Qinghou’s apprentice, the famed Elder Sister Zhou of Fragrant Cloud Peak…. He thought about how he had leaped at the chance to help her hunt down the Chicken-Thieving Fiend of years past… and how he had made fun of her by calling her ‘Sect Niece Xinqi’.
They were memories that Bai Xiaochun would never be able to wipe away. His breathing suddenly turned ragged, and he began to tremble. There was nothing that would cause his heart to be weighed down more than a friend his own age passing away.
She would be an eternal part of his memory, and yet, everything she had ever said and done was now gone forever….
When Shangguan Tianyou saw how Bai Xiaochun was reacting, the grief in his eyes grew more intense. Shangguan Tianyou wasn’t sure when it had happened, but he had fallen in love with Zhou Xinqi, and she with him. However, even after she died, he had never spoken his feelings out loud.
Ten years ago, Zhou Xinqi had been out on a mission for the sect when she ran into some cultivators from the Polarity River Court. A fight broke out, and she was killed. Although Shangguan Tianyou had avenged her death, he had never been the same afterward.
He had become quieter, and less impulsive. He worked hard on his cultivation, and had slowly but surely become the strongest cultivator of his generation in the River-Defying Sect.
And yet, Zhou Xinqi’s face was always there in his heart. The blue strip of cloth he held in his hands now had been a gift from her, and was something he would keep with him for all eternity.
Bai Xiaochun stood there quietly, looking at Zhou Xinqi’s grave. After a long moment passed, he clasped hands and bowed deeply at the waist….
Shangguan Tianyou closed his eyes. After some time passed, he opened them again, and looked over at Bai Xiaochun.
“Thank you, Bai Xiaochun….” With that, he turned and walked off, looking profoundly bleak....
Bai Xiaochun watched him leave, then stood there for a long time looking at Zhou Xinqi’s grave, his heart heavy. He simply couldn’t stop thinking about what she had looked like all those years ago.
He suddenly realized where those white hairs on Li Qinghou’s head had come from; the death of one of his beloved apprentices.
“Why…? Why does cultivation have to be all about fighting and killing…?” It was the same question he had been asking himself from the moment he entered the cultivation world.
After everything he had seen and experienced, you would think he would have found an answer already. But… he hadn’t.
Eventually, he left, thinking about how there were still so many things he didn’t understand. Although the sect had won a great victory, it came with many tears. As he walked along, he sent his divine sense out to examine the home he had been away from for so long.
One of the first people he noticed was Beihan Lie….
In a remote location in the sect was a huge graveyard, within which were buried countless heroic souls who had fallen in battle…. That was where Beihan Lie stood, in front of a gravestone that he had personally carved.
There was no name on the gravestone. There was only a carving…. Of a big, black dog.
Beihan Lie held an alcohol flagon in his hand. The passage of years was clearly visible on his face. The hair at his temples was white, and he seemed much older. The aroma of alcohol surrounded him as he looked at the grave, mixed emotions playing out on his face.
That big black dog had died saving his life.
Bai Xiaochun’s heart yet again filled with complex emotions. He suddenly realized that many things had happened of which he wasn’t aware. Although the fact that the black dog was dead filled his heart with grief, he decided not to interrupt Beihan Lie. Instead, he sent his divine sense sweeping over the countless other graves in the area.
Some of the names were familiar, others were not, but they all caused him to tremble.
It was around this time that Gongsun Wan’er’s brother, Gongsun Yun, happened to find Bai Xiaochun. Gongsun Yun was visibly older than before. He had reached Core Formation, but only the early stage. By now, he was no longer the famous person he had been back during the chosen battles between the north and south banks of the Spirit Stream Sect.
Both Beihan Lie and Ghostfang had long since left him behind. However, he never lost his dignity, nor his pride because of his little sister.
Although his sister had become very cold and distant after returning from the Fallen Sword Abyss, and had seemed very different, the fact that she ended up being taken away to the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect proved how incredible she was. Unfortunately, she had ended up being teleported out into the Wildlands, to parts unknown. That had been a heavy blow to Gongsun Yun, and a source of constant anxiety.
Gongsun Yun was trembling with nervousness, and yet he braced himself, clasped hands, and said, “P-Patriarch Bai… you’re back, sir. Song Que and Master God-Diviner too. Um… do you have any news about my sister?”
Bai Xiaochun stood there quietly, complex emotions flickering in his eyes as he looked at Gongsun Yun. After a moment of hesitation, he decided not to tell him the truth.
“Wan'er died in battle at the Great Wall… She gave her life to save a friend….”
Gongsun Yun stood there stiffly for a long moment, tears welling up in his eyes before they poured down his cheeks. Although he had long since suspected that this was what had happened, he had still held out hope. But not anymore. Clasping hands, he walked off, tears streaming down his face.