"Master, this girl was lingering outside our mountain. It seemed she hadn't eaten anything in a long time, so I gave her a little something to eat. Then I discovered that she was supremely talented, so I brought her back to the sect. Do you think....."
Within the Hundred Flower Gate’s main hall, Hua Hai sat stop the sect master's seat and looked down at a pair of women.
One was clad in white robes, a black rose pinned to her chest. To her side was a dark-haired girl whose eyes flashed with fear of the unknown.
"Look up and let me see your face," he said indifferently.
Hua Hai said indifferently. The white-robed woman muttered to the girl, who grit her teeth and looked up. When she saw Hua Hui, her surprise was clearly written on her face
Instantly, Hua Hai frowned. The girl hurriedly lowered her head.
The white-robed woman muttered under her breath, “this isn’t good.” She knew full well that her master hated nothing more than people staring at him like that.
"Enough. You can leave.” He waved at the women. She didn’t dare delay; she left the great hall at once. At the same time, Hua Hai stood and walked down the flight up stairs leading up to his seat. For each step he took towards her, the girl took a step backward.
"You must be terrified of me," he said.
She bit her lip but said nothing. Hua Hai looked her over once more, then spoke blandly, as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. "You must think I'm some sort of freak. ‘He’s clearly a man, so why does he speak in a woman's voice?’”
She backed up until she hit the wall and could go no further, then shook her head. Seeing this, he arched his brows in surprise.
"Aren’t you afraid of me?”
The girl shook her head. "Did Qiang Wei tell you how to behave around me? Is that why you’re acting like this? That's fine, I can't blame you for that, but I don't like being lied to."
"It's not like that," said the girl, speaking for the first time. She shook her head nervously. "Big Sister Qiang Wei didn't say anything like that to me."
"Then how could you possibly not be scared?"
"I've seen a lot of people like you. Furthermore, the way I see it, everyone is equal. No one deserves to be seen as peculiar,” said the girl. As she said this, her quavering voice grew noticeably more decisive.
“Also,” she said, timid once more, “you don’t look like a bad person.”
“You’ve seen a lot of people like me?” he asked in surprise but didn’t press the issue. “I rather like what you just said about everything being equal. Come on then, tell me your name.”
"Li..... Li Jiayi."
"Lia Jiayi," repeated Hua Hai. He nodded. "Why were you loitering outside our mountain? Where are you from?"
"I'm from Bingcheng. As for why I appeared here, I don't know either. I've thought about it for a long time but I still can't figure out where exactly this is. I was a bit scared and saw that there were lots of women living here, so I thought I might stay here for a bit.”
As she spoke, Li Jiayi trembled and gnawed her lower lip. Hua Hai looked intently at her before determining that she wasn't lying. Despite all his experience, he’d never heard of a place called Bingcheng. That said, he wasn’t the type to get hung up on minor details.
"I've never heard of 'Bingcheng' either. Even so, since you appeared at my Hundred Flowers Gate, this must be destiny. How about I go ahead and accept you as an inner sect disciple?"
"Mmhm....." she paused and licked her lips.
"Alright, it's settled.”
With that, he faced the exit and called out, “Qiang Wei!”
"Master!" Before long, the white-robed woman reappeared.
"Take Lia Jiayi with you. From now on, she is the chief disciple of the inner sect, and of the sect as a whole. If anyone dares bully her, exile them from the Hundred Flowers Gate.”
Hearing this, the white-robed woman was completely dumbfounded.
The chief disciple of the inner sect?
She’d been by her master’s side since the moment the Hundred Flowers Gate opened its doors. However, even after all this time, she’d yet to become an inner sect disciple.
Meanwhile, that girl obtained their master’s favor as soon as she entered the sect. She’d even become chief disciple…...
She was inwardly confused, yet dared not voice her concerns.
"Your apprentice understands."
"Go on, then."
He waved at them, then returned to his seat, still savoring Li Jiayi’s words…..
“Everyone is equal, everyone is equal……”
Hua Hai stood in the air. Despite himself, images of his first encounter with Li Jiayi flashed through his mind. It was those words that made her an inner sect disciple and the chief disciple of the Hundred Flowers Gate.
At the same time, those words saved him from his own twisted thinking.
Suddenly, a transmission resounded through the consciousnesses of each and every cultivator from the Hundred Flowers Gate. “Disciples of the Hundred Flower Gate, heed my command. From now on, Chief Disciple Li Jiayi is the sect master of the Hundred Flowers Gate. Elders, you must offer her your full support.”
Hearing this, they froze. Li Jiayi fixed her gaze on that proud, skyward figure and bit her lip hard.
He ignored the chorus of transmissions and stared down at Li Jiayi, his gaze gentle. “Jiayi, the future of the Hundred Flowers Gate is in your hands.”
“Mas-...... Your apprentice understands.”
She was about to sob and complain, but she forcefully swallowed her words. Her gaze grew determined as she nodded seriously.
She knew that, no matter what she said, it was no use.
All she could do now was give ensure the legacy of the Hundred Flowers Gate was preserved for all eternity.
“I think highly of you,” he smiled, then retracted his gaze.
He now turned to face the Zombie Progenitors. He knew they’d be hard to handle.
“Hpmh, let me go take him head-on,” said Hanba. She smiled confidently and took a few steps forward, only for Jiangchen to hold her back.
“You’d best let me go instead,” he said. “The rest of you can’t fly, so you’ll be at a disadvantage against him. Also, I’ve always wanted to test the might of a blooming black rose. Stay here and stand guard. Whatever you do, don’t let the forces of the Three Realms escape.”
“Understood.” The other Zombie Progenitors nodded their assent.
Jiangchen flapped his wings and shot into the air.
“So it’s you,” said Hua Hai coldly. Jiangchen nodded dully, then turned towards the five black roses.
Amongst them, he was naturally most concerned with the hundred-thousand-foot rose. The others were only a few thousand feet. It was obvious from a glance that the largest rose was also the most dangerous.
“They can’t fly. Even if they came, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything,” said Jiangchen. “A black rosebud is the first sign of the Hundred Flowers Battle Arts’ secret technique, ‘Bloom,’ isn’t it? But it seems to me that it isn’t all that special. Even fully-bloomed, your rose is but a flash in the pan; it will last only an instant before withering.”
“You’re not entirely wrong, but I’m afraid I still can’t quite agree,” said Hua Hai, his expression chilly as he watched Jiangchen. “‘A flash in the pan?’ That phrase refers to something beautiful, yet short-loved. However, no matter how brief its existence, my rose is still splendid. Even if my ‘bloom’ is but a flash in the pan, it will be incomparably dazzling. In fact, it will be so dazzling, you’ll remember it even in hell!”
With that, he roared, “Black Rose, Bloom!”