HSSB1014: The phoenix weeps blood
After leaving the southern Blazing Heaven Territory and heading to the central Jun Heaven Territory, the Southern Exalt Zhuang Shen had been gone for around eight to nine years. Now, he had finally returned to Phoenix Ritual Mountain's Wutong Slope.
For most mortals where life was but a quick hundred years, eight to nine years was already not short.
Still, for martial practitioners with high cultivation bases, a single session of secluded cultivation could already last more than ten years.
The last time the Southern Exalt Zhuang Shen had been in secluded cultivation, nearly twenty years had passed.
It was just that it had never been the case that the world before Zhuang Shen seemed to have been changed completely, things still remaining but people no longer being the same.
At this moment, he was sitting on the main seat in the great hall, unblinkingly looking at those of his lineage.
Zhuang Shen's features had not changed in the least as compared to in the past.
He still looked quite handsome, merely in his thirties as he snow-white hair was tied in a simple bun.
Still, looking at the people before him, Zhuang Shen's face was sunken as water.
His in-law and junior apprentice-brother whom he had always been on close terms with, the 'Blazing King' Peng He, was gone.
His junior apprentice-brother 'Treasured Branch Suppressing Peak' Zhang Shuren was also no longer there. While he had not been as close with him as he had Peng He, Zhuang Shen had respected him and placed great trust in him and his competence.
The prided disciple who he had most favoured and taken great pains to raise, 'Phoenix Pupils' Yuan Xiancheng, was similarly nowhere to be seen.
Besides them, there were also many other people of Wutong Slope who would never again appear within this great hall.
Finally, there was also his son, Zhuang Chaohui…
Looking at the desolate scene before him, Zhuang Shen was silent for a long time.
Amongst the crowd, a middle-aged man with the appearance of a scholar said, "With senior apprentice-brother Zhang and junior apprentice-brother Peng no longer here and the southeast dominant, we could only defend Phoenix Ritual Mountain and await your return, senior apprentice-brother Zhuang."
Looking at this middle-aged man, Zhuang Shen slowly said, "It has been tough on you, junior apprentice-brother Mao."
The middle-aged man lowered his head, replying, "Please think of something, Chief."
This person was Phoenix Ritual Mountain's other ninth level Martial Saint bigwig, 'Phoenix Crying Southern Territory' Mao Yuansheng who had been acclaimed alongside Peng He and Zhang Shuren.
He, Peng He and Zhuang Shen were descended of the same lineage.
Several hundred years ago, when the previous generation had still been in charge of Phoenix Ritual Mountain's lineage and Zhuang Shen's Master had been leading them, Mao Yuansheng had actually been the descendant who was looked most highly upon.
At that time, their Master had thought more highly of Mao Yuansheng as compared to Zhuang Shen, even having once expressed his desire for Mao Yuansheng to take over his mantle and continue with the management of Wutong Slope's lineage.
It was just that Zhuang Shen who had been comparatively ordinary in his youth had risen with great momentum afterwards, eventually coming to overtake him.
With their Master having unexpectedly died early on, he had not been able to decide on the next candidate for Chief.
In the end, Zhuang Shen had won the succession.
Still, it was true that the lineage of Phoenix Ritual Mountain's Wutong Slope had flourished in his hands as the Phoenix True Form Scripture had become increasingly refined.
When Zhuang Shen had attained the Human Exalt stage afterwards, Phoenix Ritual Mountain had reached an unprecedented peak in its history.
While Zhuang Shen had not suppressed Mao Yuansheng, his relationship with him was indisputably the most estranged amongst the three ninth level Martial Saint bigwigs of Wutong Slope.
Zhang Shuren had gone on orders to guard Circumference Mountain at the border areas. While this seemed like he had been sent far away, it actually showed how deeply Zhuang Shen trusted him.
If it really was a tough vocation, it was impossible that Zhuang Shen would have also sent his favoured disciple, Zhuang Chaohui, there.
The one helping Zhuang Shen to preside over things at Phoenix Ritual Mountain's Wutong Slope after he had left for the central Jun Heaven Territory was 'Blazing King' Peng He with whom he was closest.
Ever since those past events, Mao Yuansheng had actually always been keeping a rather low profile.
The 'Phoenix Crying Northern Territory' of the past seemed to not quite live up to his reputation now.
This time, it was also only with the deaths of Zhang Shuren and Peng He that Mao Yuansheng had returned to Wutong Slope to preside over things.
As Wutong Slope's expert who was second strongest after Zhuang Shen, Mao Yuansheng instead became even more low key.
"Think of something?" While Zhuang Shen's expression was calm with no fluctuations visible from it whatsoever, all the Wutong Slope martial practitioners could sense the world they were in seemingly catching ablaze in its entirety.
A fiery phoenix spread its wings and cried out before them. Still, it was clearly shedding tears of blood.
Seeing this illusion of a phoenix weeping blood, everyone, including Mao Yuansheng, shivered.
The illusion vanished. Zhuang Shen remained expressionless as it was like his emotions had not rippled in the least.
Still, everyone knew that the illusory phenomenon from earlier was actually the true manifestation of his innermost thoughts.
"Thirty-seven people from our Wutong Slope died in the hands of the one surnamed Yan."
Zhuang Shen stood up, "Amongst them were two late Immortal Bridge Martial Saints, my most prided disciple and the most outstanding descendant of our younger generation and my own son."
He looked at Mao Yuansheng, "If I do not come back this time, you should assume the role of Chief, junior apprentice-brother Mao."
Mao Yuansheng lowered his head, "I am willing to support senior apprentice-brother in going southeast."
"What?" Zhuang Shen furrowed his snowy-white brows, "Our lineage cannot be broken."
Mao Yuansheng raised his head, looking at Zhuang Shen.
Zhuang Shen said, "Whatever it was that Xiancheng and the others died because of, the truth is that all of them perished at Circumference Mountain."
"While I am back, Cao Jie has returned too. If we battle at Circumference Mountain, things will be difficult to predict."
Mao Yuansheng was silent for a while before he said, "Why must you go to such lengths, senior apprentice-brother…"
Zhuang Shen said calmly, "To take revenge for Master, I dared to battle a ninth level Martial Saint when at the seventh level of the Martial Saint realm."
"Could it be that now that I am ruling the south and have gotten on in years, I would have become more cowardly?"
Mao Yuansheng was silent as he finally said after a while, "So this is why you are 'Phoenix Soaring Nine Heavens' and I am only 'Phoenix Crying Southern Territory'?"
"I may die earlier than you," Zhuang Shen said mildly, "I am stronger than you, but others may be stronger than me."
"Still, do not think that rage has rushed to my head and knocked me silly. I am calmer than I have ever been."
"For taking revenge heedless of the costs, first comes taking revenge. Heedless of the costs only comes afterwards."
Hearing Zhuang Shen's words, the spirits of Mao Yuansheng and the other martial practitioners of Wutong Slope all rose slightly.
Now, the space outside of Wutong Slope shook like the rippling of water.
A figure walked out from within.
His arrival did not startle anyone of Wutong Slope as only Zhuang Shen sensed it, "Brother Lang is here, I see. Zhuang Shen has failed to show courtesy."
"Brother Lang? Lang…" Hearing this, Mao Yuansheng and the others were first shocked before they rejoiced, "The Western Exalt is here?"
Zhuang Shen said mildly, "This is separate from the matter with Chaohui and Xiancheng. I have also invited Brother Lang to our Wutong Slope as a guest to discuss punishing the southeast together."
Amidst his words, a middle-aged man walked inside, "Brother Zhuang, I have heard about what has happened. My condolences."
Seeing this, the Wutong Slope martial practitioners collectively greeted, "We greet the Western Exalt."
This person was none other than the Chief of the western Turtle Heaven Territory's Nongli Mountain, the Western Exalt Lang Qing.
"Since you already know, I will not explain things further," Zhuang Shen said, "I wonder if Brother Lang is willing to assist me?"