“What? She wants to leave the residence? Impossible!” The house elders’ gut reaction was to oppose Huang’er’s idea.
What kind of colossal joke was this? They’d gone to the trouble of sending Elder Xi to bring her back from the human domain. And while they were very thankful that a completely healthy Huang’er had returned, she was now held under virtual house arrest for the sole purpose of fulfilling their oath to House Xiahou. The grudge could finally be resolved without further loss then.
This was a shared thought of almost every member of the clan. Everyone knew that nothing more could be allowed to happen to Huang’er. If anything did, they would fail their delivery.
If House Xiahou got another excuse to stir up any more trouble, there was no way it would hesitate at forcing House Yan into complete submission.
Everyone’s nerves were taut. Everyone was worried something unexpected would happen again.
“I think we’ve treated the girl far too nicely after bringing her home.”
“Why not seal her away and take away her will? Let’s see her make unreasonable requests then!”
“Sure, that sounds like a good idea.” Some of the house elders were taking a draconian stance. Indeed, forcibly restraining Huang’er would take away her impetus to do anything at all.
The more rational elders however, opposed. “That’s inappropriate. If we restrain her, her condition would take a significant hit over the long term. If we give House Xiahou a half-dead cultivation cauldron, how will we explain ourselves then?”
“Yes, the girl has an unyielding spirit. If she self-detonates once we remove the restrictions, we’ll have failed House Xiahou completely. I think we need to take a softer approach. Humoring her fancies is much more effective in making her more pliable.”
The house elders were split in terms of opinion, but most agreed on the necessity of eschewing force. House Yan couldn’t suffer the potential consequences of any accidents thereof.
“This is what I think: why not let her go to the Bluesmoke Isles for some time off? We can simply send a few extra experts to protect her in the open and a few more to observe her in secret. No matter what, we can’t let her escape our grasp. Keep close tabs on her.”
“Mm. If we send a large enough group of experts, she won’t be able to do anything with her current level of strength. Certainly, it won’t be possible for her to escape!”
“So what’s the consensus then? Let her go?”
“I don’t see much choice in the matter. If she acts up and threatens us with suicide, we’ll have a much harder time dealing with her. Her days are numbered. We’d be done for if she loses all hope and commits suicide. Why not go with what she says for now? We can avoid any extreme mood swings, at least.”
“Well, it’s decided then. Send a couple of extra experts with her.”
House Yan finally reached agreement about how to respond to Huang’er’s request. Four elders and eight middle-aged experts would take a few of the house’s youngsters to the Bluesmoke Isles for some air and experience.
Two of the elders were tasked with covertly following the group. Their mission was to not let Huang’er out of sight, either to cause trouble or escape.
As for Elder Shun, though he’d kept his life, he’d lost his status as an elder of the house. He didn’t have the right to attend the meeting.
The house’s decision made its way around very quickly.
“Good news, Huang’er. The house has agreed. They’re going to take a group of young geniuses out for some experience. You’re one of them!” Elder Shun quickly passed on the news to Huang’er.
She’d been quite hung up over the decision and had decided to dangle her death over the house’s head if it didn’t agree. Though she found the prospect absurd, her mind wasn’t to be changed.
She hadn’t expected them to agree so readily!
This was a rather serendipitous surprise. “Can you come with us, Elder Shun?”
“I’m a traitor,” Elder Shun smiled wryly. “Why would they let me go? They’d be worried about me whisking you off. My name’s not on the list, but don’t worry, Huang’er. It’s a good thing for me to stay here instead. If I came with you, I will only cramp your plans. They’d be unnecessarily suspicious, and would keep a closer eye on you than you want.”
Huang’er was wise enough to understand what the old man wanted to convey. “You’ve done so much for me over all these years, Elder Shun. I hope I’ll have a chance to repay you someday.”
“Silly girl, I watched you grow up. I’m a decrepit old man. Even if I die at some point, I will do so reasonably satisfied. But you’re different. You’re still young. Remember, never give up hope until the twelfth hour. Remember that well!” Elder Shun gazed at Huang’er lovingly.
“Yes, I know. I definitely won’t give up. I truly believe that Brother Chen will come to Myriad Abyss Island. Maybe he’s already here!”
Elder Shun smiled, but said nothing. He didn’t want to rain on her parade. Instead, he offered silent prayers and blessings that her dream would come true.
“Ah, one more thing. Huang’er, the decision to let you go was definitely preceded by a great deal of debate. They will watch you extremely closely. Don’t give any clues that you’re up to something, that will only make things harder. Whether Jiang Huang is Jiang Chen or not, you can't try to get information about him. Listen, rather than speak. Do you understand?”
The elderly was much more experienced. Though Elder Shun was no longer a house elder, he knew the hearts of his former peers. His advice had a great deal of thought and reason behind it.
Huang’er sank into reflection. It was only roughly four months before the jade festival. If the house were going to prepare ahead of time, they would embark in two more months. She decided to take the time in the interim to sort out her thoughts.
She didn’t know the reason for it, but she had a hunch that Jiang Huang being pursued by Polylore’s three houses was closely associated with Jiang Chen.
Perhaps they were even one and the same.
All the way out in the Bluesmoke Isles, Jiang Chen had finally reached the eastern part of the territory after a long trek. Miracle City’s grandeur and mystique were revealed before him.
Aside from cultivating himself, he had also tried to foster Hua Ming’s growth. In the month or so they’d been together, he had solidified the boy’s martial dao foundations.
The process had also introduced composure into Hua Ming’s nature. The youthful shallowness that had characterized the boy was being gradually stripped away. Cultivation of the Boulder’s Heart had changed the boy’s mentality a great deal.
Now that he’d become more familiar with his master, Hua Ming relied and respect Jiang Chen even more so. He was grateful from the bottom of his heart. He could feel his master’s sincerity in cultivating his skills. The almost paternal warmth touched the orphan waif deeply.
He swore to himself that he would cultivate with the utmost seriousness all his life. He would sacrifice everything to repay his master, if possible.
Upon the duo’s entrance into the magnificent city, Hua Ming was astonished. “Master, is this Miracle City?”
Jiang Chen smiled. “I suppose so.” Though he felt the city to be reasonably bustling and luxurious, he’d seen places a hundred times busier in his previous life.
“Ah, master, I always thought Oriole Valley was a pretty big place. I thought I knew a lot, but it looks like I was just a frog at the bottom of a well.” Hua Ming took account of his own flaws. He had grown up just a little and become capable of self-reflection.
“It’s fine to be a frog that lives at the bottom of a well, as long as you’re brave enough to hop out. The world is a big place, and you’ll gain more experience by traveling it far and wide.”
“Yes, master.” Hua Ming held only the utmost admiration for Jiang Chen. The more time he spent with his new master, the more he was in awe of his master’s fathomless depths.
Just like the last city, Miracle City also had the bounty issued by Polylore Divine Nation. However, the size of the city meant that it attracted much less attention. Miracle City’s hottest topic had always been ancient jade.
The Bluesmoke Isles were known in Myriad Abyss for their jade. Miracle City was a famous metropolis of the stuff. Thus, it was no surprise at all that ancient jade would be the perennial talk of the town.
Jiang Chen and Hua Ming walked in the city’s streets, taking in all the jade-related stores around them. This industry alone occupied the efforts of more than half the businesses in the city.
“I’ve always heard that miracles happen every day in Miracle City. Looks like we’re in the right place, master.” Ever the youngster, Hua Ming enjoyed the urban tumult a great deal.
Miracle City’s affluence and its inhabitants’ fervor outshone Oriole Valley like the sun against a candle. In fact, Hua Ming felt that the latter seemed to be children playing house.
The unlikely pair found an inn to check in.
The city’s accommodations were uniformly exorbitant, but Jiang Chen didn’t seem to care much about it. He picked the best inn and rooms regardless. Hua Ming clucked his tongue when he saw his master’s extravagance.
“Hua Ming, I’m going to have you stay here for a while. I’ll be back anywhere between one to three months. Don’t relax or laze around, keep cultivating every day. Aside from that, go out and gather what information you can. I want as much as you can find out about the jade festival, and you’ll do well to catch wind of anything related to the Ten Divine Nations.” Jiang Chen gave a series of instructions.
Miracle City was closer to Hell King Island than Oriole Valley had been. Jiang Chen didn’t want to waste any more time. There were about four months before the jade festival, so he saw no reason not to help the Vermilion Bird conduct its rebirth ritual on Hell King Island.
Hua Ming nodded when he noted his master’s seriousness. No doubt this was a test for him. “I will make you proud, master!”