A gentle breeze touched the earth and lightened the unpleasantness of the scorching sun.
Inside his tidy study, Ling Tian Qing was dressed in a pale robe, his expression calm and focused, his face touched by the tempests of life.
At this moment, he was seated tall behind his desk and gently but precisely moved his writing brush across a clean piece of paper.
The word danced across the page. His calligraphy skills were a true reflection of his confident and just qualities.
This word was also a true reflection of his feelings at that moment.
Since the deaths of the other two Clan Leaders, Ling Tian Qing had been busy strategizing and executing his annexation plans. Some had to be punished for their roles in the battle, while others would have to be wooed into submission. Extreme measures were needed.
None of the decisions he had had to make during this period was easy. Had it been anyone else, this would be an exhausting and impossible challenge.
But to Ling Tian Qing, this was second nature. He was born to lead. He did not ascend to the top position only by being the oldest born.
"That mysterious man was indeed an exceptional fortuneteller. He knew the Ling Clan was destined for destruction but saved in the dying moments by an unexpected hero. Happiness would then descend upon the Clan." Ling Tian Qing could not help but recount the story once more.
Someone suddenly knocked on the door.
Ling Tian Qing frowned. He was not in the mood to be interrupted. But upon seeing that his visitor was Ling Xian, his mood suddenly elevated. "Our hero, I was just going to come see you."
"What hero, don't mock me," Ling Xian responded with a timid laughter.
"Appearing during the most desperate moments of our survival, saving hundreds of lives, if you can't be known as a hero, who can?" Ling Tian Qing stood to welcome Ling Xian, poured a cup of tea, and gestured Ling Xian to sit.
Ling Xian accepted the tea and took a sip. He felt melancholy. He could sense, from Ling Tian Qian's tone, that the Leader had enormous respect for him.
Indeed, he might be incomparable.
Changes brought on by pure talent.
Ling Xian sighed in silence. Looking into the face of a smiling Ling Tian Qing, Ling Xian told his news, "Leader, I am here to bid you farewell."
Ling Tian Qing was taken aback by this sudden revelation. "You are leaving the City?"
"Correct, just now, an Elder came to visit me. He is an Elder from the House of Wan Jian. I am going to leave with him and join the House of Wan Jian as a pupil." Ling Xian responded, sipping on his tea.
A wave of shock overcame Ling Tian Qing. Unbelievingly, he asked, "As in one of the nine Houses of the Yun Province?"
Ling Xian nodded.
"Indeed…" Ling Tian Qing sighed loudly, his eyes now filled with envy. He continued, "Many years ago, I kneeled at the gate of the Wan Jian House for over half a month hoping to become a student there, to no avail. I can't believe, after so many years, one of the Elders has come to seek out one of my students. What an honor that is!"
"Just my luck, he was passing through the City and saw the battle." Ling Xian smiled.
"He wants you because you are destined for greatness." Ling Tian Qing shook his head in disagreement. "You talent and potential are enough to attract any of the Houses and Dynasties in the Yun Province. Not to mention a pupil, you have the skills and qualities to become a candidate as Leader."
"Leader, you need to stop with the flattery. I have very thin skin," Ling Xian answered slyly. That was not entirely truthful. A century-old soul could easily withstand any flattery or falsehood.
"Ah…" Ling Tian Qing sighed again. "When you killed the two foundational-level opponents, I knew your fate and ambitions had outgrown the size of this humble city. Keeping you locked up here would be a huge loss to the world."
Ling Xian yanked his head back and finished his tea at once. Then, he stood up and said, "Thank you, Clan Leader."
"Why thank me? If you wish to leave, I certainly can't keep you here." Ling Tian Qing waved his hand and continued, "You are a sleeping dragon. You need to wake up and travel the world. This City is not big enough for your wings."
As he finished, a look of uncertainty flashed across his face, as if he wanted to continue, but decided against it.
Ling Xian gave him an assuring smile. He knew what Ling Tian Qing had hesitated to say. "I assure you, regardless of where I go, I will forever be a member of the Ling Clan. I will never be anyone but Ling Xian. If the Clan needs me, I will be back in a flash."
His words struck a nerve. This had indeed been Ling Tian Qing's concern. Delighted, Ling Tian Qing laughed out loud and gave Ling Xian his blessings, "Good, good, that's exactly what I have hoped to hear. The Ling Clan will flourish as long as you are with us."
Of course, Ling Tian Qing had wanted Ling Xian to stay behind. With him here, the Ling Clan would become invincible. However, Ling Xian was destined for greater things and he knew that.
"I believe the Clan will flourish under your wise leadership, with or without me," Ling Xian responded politely. Bowing one last time, he said, "I bid you farewell."
As his voice fell, Ling Xian turned around to leave.
"Wait," Ling Tian Qing called out. Then, with a heavy sigh, reminded him what not to forget.
"Before you leave, remember to bid farewell to my little sister."
Ling Xian stood still for a moment, then walked away without looking back.
Watching his figure disappear into the light, Ling Tian Qing couldn't help but recount everything Ling Tian Xiang had done for this young man.
"Ah, what cruel fate."
Ling Xian strolled on the paved rocky road, hands behind his back. He had grown accustomed to being stared at wherever he went. This no longer bothered him.
It had in the beginning, but what could he do about them? Pluck their eyes out?
Very soon, he arrived at a famously scenic area of the Ling complex, close to Ling Tian Xiang's quarters.
This area was famed for its splendid scenery and peaceful air. Many would take leisurely strolls here. The moment Ling Xian appeared within sights, groups of girls began gossiping amongst themselves while pointing and staring in his direction.
Ling Xian had no time for that. His heart sank the moment he heard the last words uttered from Ling Tian Qing's lips. The closer he got, the heavier his footsteps became.
Every memory he had ever shared with Ling Tian Xiang began to emerge.
The first time they met, she was being held at knifepoint against her will. That helpless had touched his heart ever since. When their paths crossed again, she happily invited him to join her in the Hidden Territory, only to be denied.
She held him for three straight days when Ling Xian was injured, unconscious and vulnerable. How could he ever repay her?
He was everything to her, yet he was destined to fail her.
Ling Xian did not wish to go forward, afraid to see her grieve, afraid to see her hurt.
But one cannot outwit the heavens.
"Ling Xian, you are here. Are you here to see me?"
A crispy, excited voice bounced off his ears and interrupted his train of thought. When he looked up, Ling Tian Xiang was standing feet away from him, her face glowing with delight.
Ling Xian wanted to stretch his legs out and run away, but he knew that would break the girl's heart. So he replied in a soft voice, "Yes, I came to see you."
Ling Tian Xiang's beautiful cheeks began to blush furiously,
"What a coincidence." Ling Xian forced out a painful smile. He wanted to come clean immediately, but the words traveled to the edge of his tongue then stopped.
"What's wrong? Not feeling well?" Ling Tian Xiang asked in a concerned voice.
"I'm fine." Ling Xian shook his head, a cloud of uncertainty covered his expression.
"That's good, look what this is." Ling Tian Xiang beamed and took out a jade figurine from her sack. It was miraculously carved out of a single piece of emerald jade, the figure was of two people embracing.
Ling Xian was touched by this bold declaration, but he knew he could hesitate no more. Clearing his voice, he said, sternly, "I've come to bid you farewell."
… The sound of something smashing to the ground echoed across the wind.
The jade figurine had shattered.
As if she took no notice, Ling Tian Xiang's gaze became fixed on Ling Xian. A cloud of confusion took over.
The silence was deafening.
Her eyes began to water. In a heartbreaking voice that trembled with her hands, Ling Tian Xiang asked, "What did you say? Say it again."
Ling Xian remained silent for a moment. A hint of regret flooded his gaze. However, he couldn't take back his words, so he uttered again, "I said, I've come to bid you farewell."
"Farewell…" Ling Tian Xian choked on her words but forced out a smile, "Where? For how long?"
"House of Wan Jian, perhaps one year, perhaps ten years." Ling Xian answered uncertainly.
"House of Wan Jian…" Ling Tian Xian squeezed out these words through her gritted teeth the continued determinately, "A bigger stage for you to shine. Your talent will conquer them. You will accomplish great things there."
After pausing for a few moments, she continued, "When you killed those foundation-level opponents, I knew this day would come, sooner or later. The City of Qing is too small and too insignificant to house your talent and ambitions. But I didn't expect this day to come... to come so soon."
Her voice trailed off. She was on the verge of breaking down.
"I…" Ling Xian gazed back at her, not knowing how to respond.
"You don't have to say anything. You made the right decision. If it were me, I'd do the same." Ling Tian Xiang understood that this was his ticket to the future. This was the correct path.
A warm air rose to touch his heart. He knew that she cared for him. However, he couldn't betray her, couldn't betray himself. There was nothing left to say.
Ling Tian Xiang shook her head gently as her expression hardened. Then, in a serious tone, she asked, "Ling Xian, I want to ask you something."
The time had come.
Ling Xian knew exactly what she was going to ask. There was no way to evade the question any longer. It was time for him to gave her a clear answer.
Ling Tian Xiang looked up at him with the softest, most loving eyes. When she raised her eyebrows, her face exuded poise and confidence.
"Do you… fancy me?"