Always a Thug
"The devil avoids you, but you insist on hugging his thigh. Granted that the two of you have long been muddled by age, I used to think that, at the very least, you valued your lives. But now you come to my door to ask for him, out of all people. What a joke. You want to know why I only taught him those three things? Fine. The formation arts, morals and Lianism are only tools I used to raise him into an upstanding gentleman," Qingxin shook his head and said with his usual poise. Hanxing and Ziyun's faces twitched at his words, but neither interrupted him.
"Morals and Lianism are self-explanatory. As for the formation arts, you two should know better than most that to become an outstanding formation master, patience and restraint are key. I initially wished to use the harshest curriculum possible to make him develop those traits, but not only did he have them from the get-go, he breezed through all of my assignments with remarkable ease. To be honest, of the nine years Xinzi spent by my side, he only used one to complete the formation master curriculum. The rest we spent on random debates, travels, brewing and drinking contests."
"Tea or wine?" Unable to hold his tongue, Lord Hanxing asked. Qingxin rolled his eyes—ignoring the question.
"If Xinzi wanted me to teach him the best orthodox techniques at my disposal, considering his talent, abilities and my bias towards him, I wouldn't hesitate. But he doesn't want or need them. In our Dongli state, the only orthodox skill able to catch his attention is your sect's Yin-Yang Sword Array, or more precisely, the Nine Paths of Yin and Yang.
Give it to him if he seeks it. But for old time's sake, let me give you one piece of advice. Don't try to pin the White Immortal sect, Dongli state and Yanzhou Province's future on Xinzi. With one word, he could make Yanzhou his, and with another erase it from the map. How much weight do you think this place holds in his heart?" Qingxin rhetorically asked, making Hanxing leap up and Ziyun's eyes open wide.
"What do you mean by that?" Hanxing asked, yet dreaded the answer. With 800 years of cultivation at their back, Hanxing and Ziyun had seen enough that talent—no matter how high—couldn't make them lose their composure. Xinzi's Void Spiritual root, however, often kept the two awake at night. The reason was simple. In the recorded history of the Great Desolation world, Void Spiritual roots only appeared once per millennium. Since Chun Xu already had one, where did Xinzi's come from?
Hanxing and Ziyun weren't the only ones that probed this question. But as all the others, they convinced themselves that this anomaly stemmed from Heaven's Will, and took it as a blessing. But as they listened to Qingxin's words, they realized that they'd underestimated the issue.
"It's just an educated guess, but I'm 99% sure that Xinzi was born in the Evernight Palace." Abbot Qingxin's words echoed like rumbling thunder. Hanxing fell hard on his rear. Ziyun reeled back and shook uncontrollably.
"The holy land of the Eternal Night dynasty where only the highest-ranking members reside? Qingxin, have you gone mad?! The Hengye clan has tracked you down, and you're still idling in Dongli?!" For the first time since her arrival, Lady Ziyun lost her composure and snapped at Qingxin. Hanxing could sense in his wife's outrage a rollercoaster of emotions that only appeared before Qingxin. His eyelids twitched, and he dispelled all toxic thoughts.
"What am I supposed to do? Pack up and run? I've been evading them for millennia, but they always find a way to track me down. That being the case, I might as well let fate run its course. They want the Record of the Eternal Night, but know by now that even death cannot make me give it up. If you fear neither sufferings nor death, none can oppress you. We're in a stalemate. What purpose does putting a high-born spy by my side serve?" Qingxin shrugged off Ziyun's concern and arched his head back.
"The Hengye and Taiyang clans. One is more ruthless than the other, yet both are rotten to the core. The Hengye took everything from me, but even if Heaven grants me one million years of cultivation, I cannot and dare not make them pay. That is reality and I've decided to stop running from it. Dongli is a good place to spread the faith. Since the people welcome my words, I'd like to spend the rest of my existence here.
As for Xinzi, I often wonder how much I understand about that disciple of mine. Perhaps he has his own dreams and ambitions that don't necessarily align with the Eternal Night dynasty—but he's still surnamed Hengye. The shadow of the Thousand-Faced God will always loom over him. I tried my best to groom him into an orthodox monk, but failed to erase his fell tendencies. Now all I can hope for is that though I couldn't raise an upright monk, I still produced a good disciple," Qingxin said and closed his eyes. Past events flashed by, and his eyes grew moist.
"Qingxin, is it possible that you made a mistake? What makes you so sure that he's from that place?"
"Others cannot see it, but how could those petty seals fool me—out of all people? The 1% margin of error was just for rhetoric impact. Xinzi is a child of the Evernight Palace. As for his exact position, I can't tell for sure." Qingxin's reply made both Hanxing and Ziyun sigh—fear and exasperation laced their breath.
To say nothing of the White Immortal sect, even the four imperial houses might not survive being part of the Eternal Night dynasty's schemes. If their loyalty to their sect ever conflicted with Qingxin's safety, what were they supposed to do?
"Don't overthink it. Most Divine Spirits think too highly of themselves to torment mortals for trifles. At least...that's how it used to be. And by Divine Spirit standards, Xinzi is a pretty chill dude. As long as you go along with all that he wants, you shouldn't have anything to fear. On the contrary, the White Immortal sect might benefit from the connection. No need to care about where that puts me. I'm not worried. Why are you?" Though they knew that they still had to plan for the worst, Hanxing and Ziyun relaxed at Qingxin's words.
"You sound pretty optimistic for a thief whose life could break down at a moment's notice. As expected of the Clear Heart abbot. Will you come watch the contest?"
"It's that time already? Who are the main contenders?"
"Xia Hu, Xinzi and Rong Suishan on the yang side. Chun Xu and Dong Ling on the yin side. Though in my opinion, the result is a foregone conclusion."
"Naturally. That Chun Xu girl refined a Wisp of Heaven's Breath. Dong Ling is a talented child, but even in an all-out fight she'd be helpless—to say nothing that she can't use her bloodline abilities. As for the yang side, that's even easier. Those straw bags have no hope before my disciple. I won't give him the pleasure of showing off in front of me."
"Actually, things are not what they used to be. Xia Hu is the favorite. Xinzi is the underdog. He didn't even inscribe his name on the registration stele. I did it for him, and ever since the disciples have been placing bets. The odds are 1:10...not in Xinzi's favor. I bet against him too. But don't worry. Even if he loses..."
"WHAT?!" Lord Hanxing had not finished his words that Qingxin's massive palm smashed the weiqi table—it shattered instantly. Leaping from the ground, Qingxin grabbed Hanxing by the collar and hoisted him up like a newborn child.
"You're all betting against my disciple?!"
"Qingxin, don't lose your cool. The trend has changed. No rational man will bet on Xin…"
"Impudent Daoist marauder, shut up to me! Even if the opponent is the August Divinity, when Xinzi fights, you bet on Xinzi! How dare you reduce my beloved disciple's momentum by propping up the enemy?" Hanxing barely had the time to form a rebuke that Qingxin cut him dry. As he rattled off, the abbot's initially grave voice turned high-pitched, and his cheeks puffed up.
"It's not that big a deal…" Knowing that he'd stepped on Qingxin's bottom line, Hanxing tried to plead his case. Alas…
"Your mother is a big deal!"
"AAAAAAARGH!" With a straightforward kick, Qingxin sent his old friend flying through the roof. Lord Hanxing turned into a breezing shadow that raced across Purple Wind City's sky to crash in an unknown location.
"Clear Heart monastery disciples, assemble!" Abbot Qingxin's voice reverberated across the monastery, and instantly, dozens of monks rushed through its halls to gather at Qingxin's door.
"Prepare the drums and betting stalls; we will split into two teams. One team inflates the odds in Xia Hu's favor while the other waits for the final minute to bet all our savings on Xinzi's victory. If any one of you dares to hold a single coin back, you will spend the next three months feasting on your own feces! Understood?!"
"Good! The nerves of the punks trying to discredit my beloved disciple! We set out at once!" Qingxin said and stormed out of the room, ignoring the human-sized hole in his roof and Ziyun who stayed behind, slack-jawed and eyes wide open.
"All the poise, the elegance, the tragic splendor, flew out the window in half a breath of time. Qingxin, stop trying so hard to be a proper monk. In your heart and soul, you will always be....a thug!"