How could Xu Qingxuan possibly tell her mother this development? She didn't want to lose her mother. For Qingxuan, her mother was the dearest person in the world. She was closer to her mother than her master. In her heart of hearts, she firmly believed that mother wasn't at all like how the Blues described her to be. Personality and character were embodied in one's words and actions.
The Blue Moon faction's members denounced mother every single day, but she never said a bad word about them in return. Though mother was very unsatisfied with the Moon God Sect and thought that they had destroyed her life, she had never uttered a single profanity against them. How could a mother like that be as awful as they described?
As mother and daughter chatted, the voice of another woman came from outside. "Holy Maiden Qingxuan, the second sectmaster noticed that you haven't come yet. She told me to come fetch you."
Xu Qingxuan made a silly face then kissed her mother on the cheek. "Mother," she laughed, "I'm giving you a kiss in father's place. I hope that you'll have a nice day today! I'm off to see how master is doing."
The girl walked out, closing the door of the wooden cottage behind her. "Senior sister Xie," she inquired of the woman who'd spoken a moment earlier. "Why has master summoned me so early today?"
"Yeah, it's a bit off, isn't it? I hear it's because a certain Pill King Ji Lang has arrived from Pillfire City. Master is interested in meeting him. Right! She called for you because she wants you to meet him as well."
"I'm not interested in meeting a man." Xu Qingxuan pouted.
"Hehe, Pill King Ji Lang isn't just any man. He's Emperor Pillzenith's personally cultivated disciple and heir! People call him the 'Invincible Pill Legend'. Many of our sectmasters show him a lot of respect! Actually, according to rumors… Pill King Ji Lang once said that if he were ever to look for a dao partner, he would definitely come to the Moon God Sect for one of our holy maidens." The senior sister Xie's tone was tinged with infatuation.
Xu Qingxuan was completely disinterested. "Why do I care? My goal is to become the next sectmaster. I'm not interested in some smelly man. 'Invincible Pill Legend', hmph! Wasn't he beaten by a Pill King Zhen from Veluriyam Capital a few years back? Am I remembering incorrectly?"
"Ha, I didn't say that you should marry him! The second sectmaster couldn't to let you go anyways. Never mind that, Qingxuan! Hurry and go. She'll scold you again if you're late."
The second sectmaster was second in rank within the Moon God Sect and one of the Blue Moon forefathers. Once upon a time, she had been the one to discover Xu Meng, but her failure to keep the girl safe was also the reason why the latter had been lost to the mundane world. Despite this, she hadn't taken responsibility for the mistake. Instead, she considered it Xu Meng's fault for polluting the Moon God Sect's treasured bloodline with a mortal man's blood. To this end, she attempted to brainwash Xu Qingxuan by teaching all of the Blues that Xu Meng had brought shame to the Moon God Sect. This transferred to Xu Qingxuan herself as well: the second sectmaster lambasted her mother every day in the girl's presence, and drilled it into her head that she needed to do well to atone for the crimes of her mother.
The propaganda didn't succeed in turning Xu Qingxuan against Xu Meng, but it left a shadow in the young girl's mind. Xu Qingxuan felt that if she did not become the best holy maiden the sect had ever seen, then her mother would bear eternal shame and guilt.
The Moon God Sect had a certain Moon God Precious Tree that had been passed down for countless generations, over tens of thousands of years. Legend had it that it was originally a species growing in the Jewelled Celestial Palace that'd managed to take root here on the Divine Abyss Continent, growing into a precious tree over time.
The Moon God Precious Tree was also a totem of the sect, one of the paramount symbols of its superiority. It was a miraculous specimen. Purple in spring, indigo in summer, blue in autumn, and red in winter. Its shades clearly demarcated the changing of seasons. In this way, the tree could almost be used to tell the seasons. It was superbly accurate. The four colorful factions of the Moon God Sect also originated from the tree's prismatic behavior.
Unfortunately, it had begun to display bad symptoms as of late. The colors were as brilliant and clear as usual, but the leaves were wilting day by day. The Moon God Precious Tree's foliage was usually extremely lush and vibrant. However, it was slowly losing its vigor everyday. Already, it had fewer than half of the leaves than it did at its prime. This fact made the entire sect rather fearful. After all, the Precious Tree had been passed down as the sect's symbol for countless years. When the totem developed a less-than-symbolic problem, an irrational fear was struck into the hearts of every sect member, from the sectmasters to the lowest disciple.
Reacting like that was completely natural. The seriousness of the problem, once understood, compelled them to find a collection of pill masters and spirit botanists to diagnose the tree. Each of the experts had their own version of the reason for it. Their explanations differed from each other's every time. When a solution was asked of them, the most that any of them could do was stammer. No one had a clear-cut answer.
The Moon God Sect understood then that these people were completely unreliable. That was when they'd begun to find help in the outside world. During this period, their cry for help reached Pillfire City. For their part, the city was the very image of sympathy. A number of pill emperor-level pill kings came to the Moon God Sect to give their own versions of the diagnosis for the Moon God Precious Tree. This time, Pill King Blue Phoenix, Pill King Ancient Moon, Pill King Void had answered the call. Any of them were half step pill emperors. That these people were gathered in a joint diagnosis really showed how much the Moon God Sect valued the tree.
Following closely behind her master, Xu Qingxuan was a little curious about the fact that so many pill kings had come from afar. She hoped that these people would be able to treat the Moon God Precious Tree, but didn't have much interest in the pill kings themselves.
In her eyes, pill kings were all old, wizened men with plenty of white hair and long beards. These people matched her expectations exactly.
Pill King Ji Lang was the exception. He looked reasonably young, broad-shouldered and quite tall. His posture and bearing distinguished him from the crowd. However, Xu Qingxuan found the man's appearance to be oddly repulsive. She didn't know why, but her subconscious gave her that impulse. It was an inexplicable feeling. Each time her eyes brushed over the seemingly-polite smile on Pill King Ji Lang's face, she felt a shudder of disgust run down her spine.
Still, as a prominent member of the Moon God Sect, she was one of the hosts. She had to maintain a degree of basic civility and polity towards visiting guests. She refrained from responding to his icebreakers or shows of courtship, and exhibited only what was essential for greeting.
For his part, Pill King Ji Lang was positively charmed by the young girl's demeanor. He tried to find opportunities every so often to strike up a conversation with her, and win her over with a display of his dazzling expertise. Unfortunately, Xu Qingxuan failed to offer him any such windows.
It was at this time that someone suggested the group to go look at the Moon God Precious Tree. This new topic fired the pill king up. He knew that the entire Moon God Sect was heavily invested in the matter of the Precious Tree. If he could use his talents to find the reason for the tree's disease, he would definitely be able to make a strong impression in front of the pretty girl.
He knew also that the best holy maidens from the Sect were not married off. But there were always exceptions to every rule. He, Pill King Ji Lang, was the future lord of Pillfire City! A holy maiden that he took a special interest in might not be so far off after all. Given the Moon God Sect's position and strength, it was difficult for it to refuse the demands of a giant the likes of Pillfire City.
Pillfire was very close to being one of the strongest factions of the Upper Eight Regions, and in fact, the entire human domain. The Moon God Sect, on the other hand, was a little behind the middle of the pack for first rank sects. A single Pillfire City could match three Moon God Sects. A difference like that meant that the former had the absolute advantage in any struggles of power. Thus, though Pill King Ji Lang had an itch in his heart, he was in no hurry at all to act on it, nor was he discomposed.
The pill king was a very clever man. He didn't hastily begin his examination once in front of the tree, but rather sat down cross-legged a little away from it. Once at rest, he settled into a period of meditation. This was but a ruse: his real intent was for the others to go first. When the others failed and he came forward, his competence would be further heightened through the comparison.
Even if there were results from the joint diagnosis, his personal ability would hardly be shown off in a group effort. Pill King Ji Lang didn't want those old coots to ride his coattails. The older pill kings-Blue Phoenix, for example-weren't nearly as petty as Pill King Ji Lang. They were thinking nothing of the sort. The Moon God Sect's courtesy blew away all thoughts of holding back. They began to look for symptoms immediately. Furthermore, pill kings of their caliber had an odd, but common, line of thought. The more complicated the subject or problem, the more curious they were about it.
A full two hours passed by. The pill kings went over the tree again and again, forming and demolishing a score of hypotheses, but ultimately came up fruitless.
"Dear sectmasters, we apologize for our lack of skill. We have tested for every variety of problem that can occur to spirit plants and precious trees, but none of them matches the issue here," Pill King Blue Phoenix sighed. "Looks like our incompetence has let you down."
"Don't be so humble, pill kings." The main sectmaster of the Moon God Sect smiled faintly. "At least you've eliminated them as possibilities. That a worthwhile work in its own right."
The process of elimination was also a functional method to diagnose problems with.
"Pill King Ji Lang hasn't made his move yet, no?" To the side, the second sectmaster also smiled. "He looks like he's preparing for something. Perhaps meditation will assist in sharpening his judgment? A kind of emotional preparation, maybe?"
Pill King Blue Phoenix pressed his lips together, but stayed silent. Internally, he began to swear. What 'emotional preparation' was there? It's all a facade! The pill king understood Pill King Ji Lang reasonably well. He knew that the man enjoyed pomp and circumstance. It was much more likely that the other pill king thought a communal diagnosis would be devaluing to him. His current actions were a veneer, presented only to show how special he was.
At this time, Pill King Ji Lang's eyes opened. "My fellow pill kings," he pretended to be confused. "Have you finished your diagnosis? What're the results like, if I may ask?"
Several of the other pill kings from Pillfire City were greatly upset by the words. What was Ji Lang playing at? Enough with the charade. Fakery made one a lightning rod for divine justice! They didn't believe that the pill king had missed a word of the conversation.
Pill King Ji Lang smiled slightly, then nodded. "If that's so, then I'll put my humble abilities to the test. The Moon God Precious Tree is supposed to be an ancient heirloom, and is surely more than several dozen thousand years advanced in age. Compared to human cultivators, they're the achievers of a truer kind of eternal life."
The pill king was quite adept at making pleasant word salads.