Then again, despite his failure to defeat his opponent, Xiao Chen had withstood more than three blows from Qin Xiu. The onlookers of their brief duel were still in a dazed stupor when a deep and chilly voice rose from the hall, "Hold it..."
The voice roused everyone back to their senses as they looked towards the source of the voice: the Master of the Xiao Family, Xiao Changfeng. Qin Xiu turned to him and asked, "Master Xiao, is there anything I can be of service? Are you also interested in a duel with me? I would be pleased to be able to spar with you."
"Take your things and leave."
Xiao Changfeng's voice boomed as he flailed the sleeve of his robes. The force channeled from him whisked the brocade box from the table and threw the box towards Qin Xiu. Sensing that something was wrong, Huangfu Zhe had tried to warn Qin Xiu, but he was too late.
Qiu Xiu stretched his arm forward to receive the box gliding towards him only to find that the force propelling the box at him was as powerful as a mountain. The box slammed into him, nearly throwing him off his feet that he struggled to maintain balance, staggering backward until he reached the entrance of the hall. Qin Xiu felt a dreadful chill. How was it possible that a mortal warrior possessed such powerful strength?
Xiao Changfeng shot him a disdainful glare before he turned to Huangfu Zhe, who had turned pale with fear and his back drenched with cold sweat. To his guest, the Master of the Xiao Family said, "In truth, the matter of matrimony was but a mere proposal made in jest by the two Patriarchs of our families centuries ago. There shall be no need for us to put any more stock of seriousness into this matter. There shall be no need for any more matrimonial arrangements in the future." He then instructed a servant girl, "See the guests out the door."
Xiao Chen raised his head and looked at his grandfather. He full well knew that his grandfather was only trying to protect his reputation by annulling the entire matrimonial arrangement to save him the shame of being rejected.
With no intent to tarry any longer, Huangfu Zhe and Qiu Xiu hastily took their leave. As they walked down the hill, Huangfu Zhe could feel his entire back wet from the perspiration of his fear. The visit to the Xiao Family to call off the marriage arrangements were actually a scheme concocted by him and Qin Xiu. Both Huangfu Xin'er and the old Master of the Huangfu Family were, in fact, oblivious of the annulment. Huangfu Zhe felt a creeping fear, "I have incurred the displeasure and anger of the entire Xiao Family for your sake, my young friend. Things will turn worse if the Master of my family and Xin'er are to receive wind of this..."
Qin Xiu stretched and flexed his arms as he thought about Xiao Changfeng's earlier gesture. Callously, he replied, "Have no fear, Uncle Huangfu. Junior Sister Xin'er is gifted with six Spiritual Meridians. My teacher will surely pass on his seat to me if I am able to have her hand in marriage. I will have enough authority and power to support your rise to be the next Master of your household then! As for this Xiao Chen..."
For a fleeting moment, there was a brief but unmistakable hint of malice in his eyes. Qin Xiu turned to the servant girl trailing behind him, "Surely you will know how to behave yourself in front of Junior Sister Xin'er? Otherwise..."
The servant girl shuddered with fear, not being able to raise her head and look at Qin Xiu in the eye. Huangfu Zhe gave a weak laugh, his thoughts wandered back to the duel earlier where Xiao Chen had displayed a strength never before seen in him. He could not help feeling regretful now. He paused and spoke to Qiu Xiu, his hands clasped together with respect, "I will first convey my thanks for the help that you will be giving me in the future then."
The Fly Cloud Hall of the Xiao Family residence was still filled with hushed whispers following the departure of the guests. Xiao Changfeng spoke to his grandson, "You must be exhausted, Chen'er. Go and have a rest."
Xiao Chen rose to his feet. He was still dejected by his loss. "Yes..." He turned, walking out of the hall with the broken sword still held tightly in his grasp. Another bout of excited and curious murmurs and mumbling rose once more from the midst of younger kinsmen watching outside.
"are, are you still well?" A pleasant-looking girl, clad in green, stood in front of him.
One could almost feel the heat from the countless burning stares looking at her. It was Xiao Wan'er, a fine-looking lass who had reached the Threefold at the age of fifteen. This made her well-adored in the household as her beauty mesmerized many other lads in the Xiao Family.
But Xiao Chen hardly noticed her as his paces continued, his heavy steps slowly treading out of the square outside the hall. His leaving figure, sunken and dejected in the billowing winds, was so akin to the broken sword he held as his silhouette traipsing away.
Watching him leave, Xiao Wan'er felt her eyes growing moist as she thought of the cheerful young lad she had met many years ago.
Xiao Chen was once a bright young man; a budding prodigy in the household who had great intellect and a bright mind. There was nothing that he could not learn. This, plus his position as the Fourth Young Master of the household, made him popular with the rest of the female disciples and kins of the family. But things had turned dire for him when it was later known that Xiao Chen could not practice martial arts. People began to treat him like a pariah, all of whom included Xiao Wan'er herself.
Lil Ruo was busy tidying up Xiao Chen's books in the Purple Bine Pavilion when she heard approaching footsteps. She walked toward the door and saw that the Young Master had returned so soon. Noticing his pale expression, she immediately hastened to him, asking, "What happened, Young Master? Why are you back so soon? Have you forgotten something..."
She had barely finished when Xiao Chen spat a mouthful of blood. The final stroke by Qin Xiu had sent a jolt of shock though him that nearly burst his heart.
With a frightful wail, Lil Ruo immediately held him, crying on the verge of tears, "What happened, Young Master?"
Xiao Chen shook his head weakly, "All is well..." He noticed a cut on her hand and asked, "What is wrong with your hand?"
There was fear and worry in her eyes which had turned red and moist. Hastily, Lil Ruo replied, "I am fine, master. It was just a minor cut I got when I was wiping your zither."
Xiao Chen frowned, "Have I not said many times that you are not to touch that zither?"
"Y-yes, Sir. I will never go near that zither any more. Please, Young Master, let me help you into the Pavilion," said Lil Ruo anxiously.
Shaking his head, Xiao Chen took her hands off him as he said, "That will not be necessary. I need some time alone. Go to my mother."
Knowing full well of her Young Master's temperament, Lil Ruo did not dare defy him, nodding and replied, "Yes..." The Young Master was to be left alone every time he wanted some private time lest he grew angry.
Xiao Chen waited until Lil Ruo has left and ambled towards the large banyan tree in his courtyard. With a hand on its trunk, he spat another mouthful of blood. He punched hard at its trunk and began to roar with laughter while throwing his head backward, "Xiao Chen, Xiao Chen! Thousands of years have passed and you are not even a match for a Cultivator of the Foundation Building Realm!"
Just then, from behind his back, he heard the cheery voice of a boy calling to him, "It seems that my confidence in you is indeed misplaced if you are not being able to take just this much of adversity."
"Who is it!"
Xiao Chen spun swiftly, feeling the gust of chilly breeze fluttering through his hair. But there was no one to be seen. He sped swiftly into his house, only to find it empty as well, save for the reddish-purple Jade Zither on his table.
The Jade Zither looked very ancient. It was a gift from his mother, Su Qing, when he was seven. He had set his eyes upon it when he saw it in a market and strangely, he had refused to leave without it then.
More so, the zither would allow no one but him to play it. There have been also people who have had their fingers cut when trying to play it.
The boyish voice rose once more, "Look no further. Here I am. I am the Archaean Zither Spirit."
The voice had come from within the zither.
The voice from the zither resonated with him strongly, for it was a voice that he would never forget. There was a sudden urge to shed tears.
"Look no further. I am the Archean Zither Spirit."
The familiar voice echoed across the empty courtyard, bringing back memories of Xiao Chen's past when he was still a disciple of the Mystic Cyan Sect thousands of years ago. Ling Yin had then given to him a Jade Zither, the sacred Archean zither, the Fuxi Zither. In the zither resided a Zither Spirit whose name was Evernight, the one who would then become one of his closest friends.
Slowly, the air in the little cottage shimmered and the figure of a young man materialized from thin air. Hovering at a foot over the ground, the silver-haired young man, whose locks grazed his shoulders was clad in light-colored robes that oddly resembled the shade of the moon. Countless runic symbols adorned his strange robes as his dark-purplish eyes and his pale expression belied his weathered experiences and life.
"It really is you, Evernight..."
Xiao Chen could no longer hold back the swelling emotions. Never did he expect that they would be able to meet each other again in this unfamiliar world after millennia of separation.
But what followed was a cold reply; a freezing chill thousands of years old.
"Have some respect, you wretched fool! I am the Archean Zither Spirit!"
The smile on Xiao Chen's face froze, he had shared the same features as his past incarnation, yet why was Evernight unable to recognize him? No, not only did Evernight failed to recognize him, he had lost all of his memories.
Evernight was the Spirit of the Fuxi Zither; an entity damned to live forever in the Fuxi Zither. He could never leave the zither lest his being would begin to fade. But with the mystery of the disappearance of the Fuxi Zither still yet unsolved, he could only reside in another zither and delay his slow, but eventual demise.
But what had happened so many years before the Immortal Kings and Deities have all disappeared? Even Evernight, who had long freed himself from the torments of the Six Paths of Samsara had been weakened to such pitiable state.
"Tell me, Evernight. What happened many years ago? How is it that you now reside in this ordinary zither? What of my master?"
"Many years ago... The Fuxi Zither... Your master..." Evernight stammered, his expression turning confused with bewilderment, "I can remember no more... I only know that I am the Archean Zither Spirit..."
At this, his face turned serious, "I have sensed everything that has transpired earlier, boy. Your opponent is of the Foundation Building Realm, but it seems that you have hardly progressed at all."
Xiao Chen felt a faint shudder, feeling the sting of the Evernight's words. Indeed, even before the sun had risen, Xiao Chen was already up. Yet for all his efforts, he could only reach the peak of Lv 1 and no more, as if something was wrong with the Mystic Cyan Cultivation Method.
"There is no way that, with your present state, you will ever pass through all three stages of the Qi Refining Realm in three years; in fact, you might not even succeed even if you have ten years. Instead, you might even grow weaker and plunge back into the Body Refining Realm. I heard that the Huangfu girl has six Spiritual Meridians. With her admission into the Skygale Sect, she will attain the Foundation Building Realm in less than one year."
Xiao Chen's body trembled at this revelation. It was, in fact, his deepest fear, for he had surmised the reason for his bogged down progress in his powers.
Despite its potency, the Mystic Cyan Cultivation Method required a substantial amount of natural Spiritual Qi as the basis, like how a huge vessel requires the buoyancy of seawater to keep itself afloat. The lands were teeming with natural Spiritual Qi from both heaven and earth thousands of years ago, an abundance of resources that had helped him then.
But now, the Spiritual Qi was but a mere speck of its former richness.
The notion reminded him of Mu Chengxue's message to him, that he would one day visit the Violet Manor. Immediately, Xiao Chen asked, "Where is this Violet Manor?"
Evernight cast a longing look out the window and said, "You have to realize that the world consists of many different regions. If one were to look at the Human World as Lv 1 Cultivators' Area, then the Violet Manor would be Lv 2 Cultivators' Area, albeit greater and richer in resources. Each of these regions can be viewed as domains of their own and there are nine of them. What say you? Do you think you will be visiting all nine of them?"