At nightfall, Xiao Chen slipped quietly out of his room. He was about to leave when Lil Ruo's voice came from the chamber next door, "Where are you going so late in the night, Young Master?"
"Ah, nothing special. I am only going for a nighttime stroll. Off you go to bed."
A little over an hour later, he reached the abode of the three Elders. Noticing that the candles were still burning in their abode, he went to their door and knocked gently, "Good evening, Elders. I am Xiao Chen. I have something to speak to you of."
"Xiao Chen?" A voice croaked from within the house. There was the loud creak of a door opening; it was Elder Song.
Xiao Chen peered into the house. There he saw Elder Liu, with beads of perspiration upon his forehead, as he was brewing medicine and elixirs. Elder Wu was at one side, going through a list where on the table before him sat a large package still opened.
Elder Song said to him, "It is late, Xiao Chen. We will speak tomorrow."
"Are you three brewing elixir? I may be able to be of help." Xiao Chen replied with a smile.
Elder Wu turned to him and muttered softly, "Let him in, Song."
Xiao Chen beamed faintly as he walked into the abode. Elder Song immediately shut the door behind him and asked, "How are you going to help us? Are you good in brewing medicine?"
Xiao Chen bobbed his head lightly and said, "I know a thing or two about it."
This made Elder Liu stopped in his tracks. He stopped what he was doing and came over. He was aware that Xiao Chen was adept in brewing medicine, yet he was still worried for he had not personally witnessed Xiao Chen's prowess.
Knowing that action spoke louder than words, Xiao Chen produced a Qi-refining Pill, one that he had concocted with meticulous care days ago. The pill blushed with a golden and smooth luster without any defect. There was even a faint layer of white radiance sparkling upon its surface.
Elder Wu's aged eyes sparkled with interest. He immediately took the pill and examined it, exclaiming, "Is this a Qi-refining Pill?" He handed it to Elder Liu, saying, "Look, Liu."
Elder Liu took the pill and studied it too, his expression changing. Elder Song asked him, "How is it? Would you be able to make one?"
Elder Liu gave no reply. Moments passed before his head rose as he held Xiao Chen with a stare, "Did you make this yourself?"
Xiao Chen only nodded silently. Elder Liu's expression took another change, mumbling, "This is a Qi-refining Pill of high quality. I am afraid the Elder of the Elixir Room is the only person in the entire Three Pure Sect capable of producing an elixir of such excellence..."
Hearing this, Elder Song and Wu were aghast with shock. They look incredulously at Xiao Chen as Elder Liu stammered, "Who are you?"
Xiao Chen shook his head and simply said, "The truth of my identity hardly matters. What matters is that I can brew elixirs with these herbs for you in three days." His finger was pointing at the giant bag of herbs on their table.
Elder Liu asked frantically, "Is what you said true?"
Xiao Chen giggled, "It is the duty of a disciple to assist his teacher with his problems."
However, Elders Song and Wu did not share the same enthusiasm as Elder Liu. They both glanced at each other doubtfully. Brewing the three bags of medicinal herbs into elixirs were tasks charged to them by their overseers. Completion of the task would mean that they would not have to tolerate any punishment. However, nothing came without its cost, the Elders full well knew. The boy's appearance at this very hour, when their need was most dire, would surely hold unspoken mysteries.
Elder Song first spoke, "Young man. Speak your terms. What do you want from us? We will help you as long as we're able to."
Xiao Chen smiled cheerfully, "I will be blunt then. I need the pithy formula for the cultivation methods of Lv 2 to Lv 9 of the Qi-refining Realm and Lv 1 of the Foundation Building Realm."
The three Elders were dismayed to hear this. Elder Song bolted to the windows and looked if anyone was prying. Elder Liu, mortified with shock, said, "Forget about it. Return to your lodgings, Xiao Chen. We cannot help you."
Being also a disciple of a Cultivators' sect in his previous life, Xiao Chen fully understood their reservations. Impartation of skills and cultivation methods of higher levels was a capital sacrilege in the arcane world. Offenders of this supreme law would at least be sentenced to a 10-year long vigil of reflection; some might even have their powers completely stripped and expelled from the sect, never again to set foot into the arcane world. Only those with the bearing and position, like his own Master, Ling Yin, could escape with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
"I understand the gravity of my request, Elders. Still, I will swear to keep this a secret between us. No one else needs to know about this."
Elder Liu grimaced, "Be that as it may. Still, us three will hardly be able to escape scrutiny if anyone were to notice anything."
Xiao Chen then said, "Rest at ease, Elders. I am but a very subtle person..." However, he had barely finished when Elder Wu interjected with a bitter laugh, "Subtle? What about your thrashing of Ye Shaochong yesterday? Do you call that subtle?"
"Err..." Xiao Chen could find no way to justify himself.
Elder Song came over to him and said sourly, "We will speak no more of this, Xiao Chen. Go back and rest. You will not have to help us with our herbs and we have not had this conversation..."
"Ah..." Xiao Chen sighed. It seemed that the three Elders lacked the nerve to help him. However, he smiled to them, "No matter, Elders. Let me help you with the herbs nonetheless. Consider it as repayment for your care and favor towards Lil Ruo."
"But this..." His sudden gesture left Elder Wu speechless.
Xiao Chen, still wearing a pleasant smile, said to them, "Rest at ease, Elders. Give me three days. You have will the completed elixirs then." With that, he left, bringing with him the large bag of medicinal herbs on their table. Even though he had failed to enlist the three Elders to help him, he would still extend the favor to the Elders for Lil Ruo's sake. Moreover...
The three Elders waited until Xiao Chen was far. Their backs were wet with cold sweat. Elder Song was the first to break the silence, speaking softly, "This boy... His origins are mysterious... Surely he's not a spy of the evil folk?"
Elder Liu snapped, "And you'd think that spies of the evil folk would be that open and direct as the boy?"
Elder Wu could only sigh before he spoke, "At any rate, word of this must not escape! We are now all in the same boat now, now that he's helping us with the brewing..." He gave another long sigh and glared at Elder Liu, "You! Have a care with your tongue, Liu! It's public knowledge now that you always fall asleep and speak silly things! You were caught dozing off when you were delivering elixirs to the Black Dragon Peak last month! Let Song handle the deliveries next time if you can't help it!"
For the next three days, Xiao Chen went to the Sky-gazing Gorge to train in the day. In the nights, he would busy himself by brewing the elixirs for the Elders. By the third night, he returned to the abode of the three Elders, carrying with him a package of freshly-brewed elixirs.
Still feeling slightly embarrassed for troubling him, Elder Wu said, "No matter what, we are grateful for your help, Xiao Chen. We will warn Ye Shaochong severely for his transgressions. But there is another person that you should never anger. We will smoothen things for you."
Xiao Chen smiled gently to them, "Understood, Elders. I will not inconvenience you. It is late now. I suppose I'll take my leave for now." He bowed to them and left.
When Xiao Chen had left, Elder Wu wore an approving smile. "The boy is not half bad," he said, "At least he treats us with respect, unlike the wretched and arrogant Ye Fei. Have a look at the elixirs, Liu."
Elder Liu immediately opened the package. He was stunned for a moment before he spat, "Damn it!"
"What's wrong! Surely the boy did not fool us?" The other two immediately scurried over and looked for themselves. Elder Song flared with anger, "Damn it! We've fallen for the boy's bloody ploy!"
The pills in the package were so perfectly produced that they had no defects. Still, the pills were clearly superior in quality to the ones the Elders themselves concocted. Elder Liu frowned with dismay, "My God! How are we going to explain ourselves if the Elder of the Elixir Room asks about this? Can we just say that the first two bags were made hastily in a rush? We do not have the skills to produce such quality!"
"Vile boy! What else can we say but this? Does this mean that we will always have to ask the boy for help whenever the Elder of the Elixir Room demands such quality?"
"The damned boy had led us into a fix... Why is he here at the Sunset Peak of all places..."
The silvery moon hung high over Xiao Chen who was smiling to himself as he strolled back to his cottage on the path through the woods. The walk back invigorated him until he sneezed suddenly.
At the same time, in a cave at the rear mountain, tendrils of Spiritual Qi swirled and coiled around aimlessly through the glimmering shafts of moonlight that flooded upon a figure kneeling on the ground. It was Ye Shaochong, who was severely bashed by Xiao Chen days before.
"Brother... You must help me. The boy is arrogant and conceited. He has crippled our influence and undermined our elixir business, driving us from the Sky-gazing Gorge. Look at my injuries, brother! These are all his handiwork! Many of our men have also suffered greatly under his oppression."
The chilly night wind blew by. There was another figure, sitting quietly in the cave with his face unseen. A hollow and ghastly voice came from him, "You worthless slouch. On your feet."
"Yes, Brother," said Ye Shaochong, who only dared to rise on his brother's command.
"Hmph! How many Spirit Stones have you collected this month? Do you think that I am not aware of the Stones that you have fleeced every month!"
Ye Shaochong shuddered with dread, "N-no, Brother. I would never dare to... The number of Stones that we've collected this month is halved, all thanks to that Xiao Chen!"
"Half? What will we hand to Mo Yu with only half the usual number? Do you think that he would offer you protection, if not for the Spirit Stones that you pay him every month?"
"B-but... but what can I do? Should I send the boys out to scrounge for more?" Ye Shaochong asked, his voice quivering.
"You will not have to trouble yourself with Mo Yu! Hmph! Let him revel in his glory days while he still can, this Mo Yu! Tell of me this Xiao Chen. Where is he from? Who led him?"
Ye Shaochong hectically replied, "He's one of the new disciples this year. The useless weakling, Luo Shangyan, seemed to be his leader through the trials."
"Ah? A new disciple... it seems that the new disciples do not know their place in my absence..."
"Indeed, Brother! Indeed! With Xiao Chen acting as their ringleader now, the lot of them now refuses to pay up their dues!"
"Hmph!" There was an unpleasant howl by the winds followed by a huge bang. A large boulder at the entrance of the cave was smashed to bits. Ye Shaochong shivered, trembling with jitters as he threw himself aside from the blast.
"Very well... It is time for me to show myself lest everyone forgets of my terror..."
"Indeed, Brother! Indeed! You should long have come out! Zhuo Wuhen and his gang have been especially insolent of late. They too have also taken our territory and have given the men some beatings..."
"Zhuo Wuhen... His end shall arrive when I, Ye Fei, complete my solitary training!"