While everyone was in confusion, Honghuo noticed a slight problem.
“But if you’re doing all this, then what about the victims?”
“That doesn’t require both of us. You should be capable of that much by yourself.”
Honghuo nodded his head but then paused.
“No. Wait a minute. We’re in the middle of enemy territory. We should stick together, don’t you think?”
Hei turned around, facing away from Honghuo.
“There is a small flaw in your understanding, Honghuo. Let me clear it up for you. I’m a benefactor who has revealed the presence of demonic cultivators. You’re the only one in the middle of enemy territory.”
He turned to Xiaoli.
“Am I correct, Miss Xiaoli?”
“Hm? Ah, yes, but…”
“Then if you would lead the way, there isn’t much time.”
“But isn’t he your-”
Xiaoli turned to Honghuo with a raised brow. This boy really had said something to upset the masked one.
“W-wait, Heihuo! Aren’t we in this together?”
“Hm? Did I ever say something like that?”
All of a sudden, Honghuo felt a bunch of eyes on him. This place had grown quite chilly.
“Uncle… You can’t do this to me.”
They said that everyone would face betrayal one day. Honghuo was getting his taste of it at this moment.
It was bitter.
“All jokes aside, and with all that’s been revealed today, I’m sure the Zhu Clan can understand why Honghuo did what he did. I won’t ask you to overlook it, as I know he has caused tremendous pain to many people, but, there are still people suffering from the actions of the patriarch and his associates. I ask that you lay down your grievances until the innocent are made free.”
Hei spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, and his words resulted in silence all around.
Of the Zhu Clan members, Xiaoli was most receptive to his message. By all accounts, what Honghuo did was justified, and though the Zhu Clan had a good reason to attack his clan, they were ultimately wrong. Their zealotry caused a great tragedy.
To now want to seek revenge against Honghuo… It would be shameful.
These thoughts conflicted with the pain of loss, but Xiaoli held her convictions above her own emotions. That was why she was so easily able to forgive the patriarch after he tried to kill her, he was a greater good than she was. But as soon as she found out he was a demonic cultivator, all of his past achievements were thrown to the side.
Her mind made up, Xiaoli decided to move forward.
Elder Hong was surprised to hear the heaviness in Xiaoli’s words, but he made his way over, making sure to stay an appropriate distance from the masked one. After all, who was to say? Maybe he would be accused of walking like a demonic cultivator…
When he got close to her, he could see something in her eyes. Something rarely seen in juniors.
“What is it, Xiaoli?”
“Please lead this boy to the underground chambers and all of the hidden locations in the clan.”
“Those are the only places where victims could be held without anyone finding out.”
Xiaoli had heard about the circumstances from the victims themselves. There wasn’t just a single place they were held captive.
“I see… But it will take more than just myself.”
Elder Hong knew that he alone wouldn’t be enough to restrain Honghuo in the event that he struck out, so he called out to a few people in the crowd, who made their way over.
“That being said, Xiaoli, we can’t leave this guest unattended.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll lead our guest to…”
She looked to the ground and reduced her volume.
“What? You don’t need to put yourself in dan- Cough.”
Elder Hong stopped himself from completing his sentence. He was implying that the masked one was a dangerous individual, and even if he wasn’t, the words themselves may have triggered it.
One had to be quite careful with their words when faced with a person like the masked one.
“Ahem. You don’t have to trouble yourself, Xiaoli. Brother Lang, show our guest to-”
At some point, Xiaoli’s hands found their way to Elder Hong’s face, conveniently covering his mouth, and when she realised what she had done, her face took on a red hue.
[Oh? What’s this?]
Yuying was quite amused. It looked like another round of unicorns and donkeys was about to begin.
Elder Hong made a similar observation.
“Xiaoli, you… Don’t tell me you-”
“No! No. Ahem. I want to make sure no one carelessly offends our guest, so I shall see to him myself. After all, it is up to the younger generation to create a better future.”
“Is that so…”
Xiaoli was one whose face revealed all. Naturally, she couldn’t hide from the experienced eyes of her elders. She practically looked like a baby kitten with the way she was pleading them.
“It’s as you say. Let the younger generation create a better future.”
To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to bring this fellow into the clan. They currently had a vacant leadership position, and the fellow seemed to be righteous enough. If Xiaoli could tie him down, then that would be good.
Not knowing of Elder Hong’s thoughts, Xiaoli’s face lit up.
She turned around to face the masked one.
“Then, this way.”
Hei observed her for a moment, causing her to become nervous, but then proceeded in the direction she indicated.
She swiftly caught up.
The two continued walking.
Footsteps continued at a steady pace.
“Darn it, Heihuo. You better spill the details later! I want to know everything!”
“Then this way, young man. There’s no time to waste.”
“Miss business partner. Record it for me. I’ll give you… a good… price!”
[Oh, don’t you worry about that.]
Honghuo’s voice became distant as Hei and Xiaoli continued walking.
[Hey, Partner. You know this girl has a crush on you, right?]
[Is that so?]
Hei had also noticed some strangeness in her behaviour, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He turned to Xiaoli, and before Yuying could continue, he threw a grenade.
Xiaoli turned to the little guy beside her.
“Do you have any intentions towards me.”
Xiaoli ground to a halt. Standing stock still, redness blooming on her face.
[Code red! Code red! Partner, who are you? You can’t just say stuff like that. Be reasonable!]
[Was I being unreasonable? It was merely a question. Besides, didn’t you have the same suspicion?]
[… But you can’t just confront her like this! Ugh! It’s lost. All is lost.]
This fellow really made her want to pull her hair out.
“N-no. It’s not like that. I just didn’t want anyone to-”
Hei shook his head, causing Xiaoli to stop her made-up excuse. He continued walking and at the same time, the sun just so happened to be obstructed by clouds, causing the light levels to drop a few notches.
“A young lady like you, who has her entire life ahead of her, shouldn’t waste it pursuing someone like me, who has no future.”
Hei was pretty sure he had been very clear just now, but his words were heavily misinterpreted.
Xiaoli was unable to respond, thinking about the words he spoke. Even Yuying had a rare moment where she chose not to satisfy her curiosity.
Even though Hei spoke in exactly the same way as he always had, these words held an extra weight to them. It was as if he was carrying an extremely heavy burden. One that he would eventually succumb to.
Xiaoli closed her eyes, making a promise to herself as she did, and when she opened them, there was an extra layer of depth to them. But no one was paying attention to her eyes, so the change went unnoticed. Even she herself was unaware.
The rest of the journey was in complete silence. That was until they reached a four storey building.
“This our clan library.”
This library was a level above the Fang Clan’s library, both in size and in grandeur.
“Come inside. It’s even better.”
Xiaoli led the way and Hei followed.
They were greeted by a middle-aged lady sitting behind a reception desk of sorts.
“Ah, Xiaoli, you haven’t visited in a while.”
She got up and approached the two, and when she got close, she pulled her glasses down slightly, giving Xiaoli a once-over.
“Still in the initial stage? If you keep slacking, you’ll fall far behind the boys!”
Xiaoli stuck her tongue out.
“What does it matter if I fall behind? We’re all family.”
The lady rubbed Xiaoli’s head lovingly.
“Do you know that Jing’er has already reached the seventh layer?”
“Oh? That was pretty fast. He must be cultivating like a real demon.”
The lady didn’t catch the true meaning behind Xiaoli’s words.
“Hahaha. I’m afraid even demons can’t cultivate that fast. That boy has real talent. Sigh. Like father, like son.”
She thought of the patriarch back when he was young. He also had a lot of talent. But Jing’er was a step above even his father.
“But just because our boys are doing well this generation, doesn’t mean the girls can relax, okay?”
Xiaoli pouted her lips.
“Then tell that to the other girls.”
The lady’s mouth twitched and her hands formed into fists as she twisted them on both sides of Xiaoli’s head.
“You know very well that those other girls are spoilt little brats. Just because their chests haven’t started sagging yet, they think they own the world.”
Xiaoli had forgotten about the mouth on this particular elder.
“Ah! Auntie Yimin. We have a guest!”
Auntie Yimin turned over to the masked one, her fists still to either side of Xiaoli’s head.
After taking a look at the fellow, she discovered that her spiritual perception was being blocked. No, the fellow didn’t appear in her spiritual perception. If it weren’t for her eyes telling her so, she wouldn’t have noticed the fellow at all.
Hei cupped his fist.
The fellow’s voice confirmed her suspicion.
“Xiaoli! You too?”
She twisted her fists hard, causing Xiaoli to squirm.
“Ah. What’s wrong?”
“You invited a boy over here? What? Were you going to take him to your private study?”
“I… Yes, that’s why we came today.”
“Argh. And here I thought you had finally decided to cultivate seriously. What’s wrong with you girls. Ugh. I forbid it!”
“Whose auntie am I? I don’t have any nieces like you! Shoo, shoo. Begone.”
Auntie Yimin waved her hands signalling for Xiaoli to take her leave as she returned to her desk, dejected.
“Oi. When will we get another Shufang?”
Auntie Yimin shook her head in disappointment.
[Shufang? To hear that name here of all places.]
[You’re familiar with this person, Onyx?]
[Mm. She’s a girl I knew from way-back-when, though, she was more commonly known as Demon’s Bane. Well, in all likelihood, it’s a different person, but you do get a little sense of Shufang’s personality here. This Xiaoli girl, in particular, shows glimpses of Shufang-like behaviour from time to time.]
Xiaoli’s eyes sparkled.
“I also want to be like Lady Shufang. She’s so cool!”
“Ha! Do you think Lady Shufang wasted her time with boys? She worked harder than anyone else to get where she was.”
“You say that as if you were there, Auntie Yimin. Who knows. Maybe Lady Shufang was just like me.”
“Even if you’re lazy in your cultivation, you work quite hard on your jokes, huh? I heard there was a new profession called stand-up comedian. They make movies where they do nothing but tell jokes. Maybe it’s for you.”
“Auntie! You know I want to be a demon slayer like Lady Shufang!”
“A demon slayer? With your attitude? You’d sooner let a demonic cultivator in your house than actually slay one. Oi. Take a leaf from the patriarch’s book. He’s a real demon slayer. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that he led an attack on one of their nests?”
Xiaoli had a hard time in not correcting Auntie Yimin.
“Auntie Yimin, you should probably go outside for a bit. Get some fresh air.”
“Bah! Who needs fresh air? You know the ventilation formations take care of that. You should go now. This is a place of learning. Not fraternising.”
“But we came to work. It’s not even for me. I wanted to let him use my study.”
“And I’m supposed to agree to that? Be on your way.”
Xiaoli jumped over the reception desk and pulled at Auntie Yimin’s sleeve.
“You little. There are rules to follow.”
“Don’t be like that, Auntie Yimin. Look, how about this. If you let us use my study, I promise I’ll catch up with the boys.”
Auntie Yimin looked into Xiaoli’s eyes and her icy heart started to melt. She really was too soft on these girls.
“How many times have you made the same promise?”
“I’m serious this time.”
“Sigh. You say the same thing every time. And I still fall for it. Ah. Blame it on the old age, blame it on the old age.”
She spoke as she moved to a wall of drawers and opened one.
“Alright, let’s go.”
Auntie Yimin had retrieved a token from one of the drawers and led the way to Xiaoli’s study.
After climbing up two flights of stairs, the three found themselves on a floor which held no books. There were only a series of rooms in a square around an open middle section, guarded by handrails.
From over the rails, one could look down onto the floor below which was occupied by a large number of bookshelves.
There were only a few people dotted around the place.
The three stopped in front of one door in particular, which was covered by a shimmering film. Auntie Yimin placed the token in a slot, which caused the film to disappear.
As soon as that happened, Xiaoli stepped into the room, but she soon found herself back on the outside. Except, her feet weren’t touching the ground…
“Uh… Auntie Yimin.”
Auntie Yimin had a questioning look on her face as if she wasn’t currently holding Xiaoli in the air.
“Why are you…?”
“Ah. Didn’t you tell me that you wanted to let this boy use your study? I’m allowing it.”
Auntie Yimin turned to Hei.
“You don’t need Xiaoli for your ‘work’…”
She narrowed her eyes.
“No. Her presence isn’t necessary.”
Auntie Yimin smiled.
“Good. Then work hard.”
Hei gave Auntie Yimin one last look before entering the study. Why did this library feel completely disconnected from the outside world?
He made his way over to the wooden chair behind the only desk in the room and at some point, the door closed behind him.
Outside the study, Xiaoli’s feet finally reached the ground.
“Oh, whatever is the matter, Dear?”
“Why did you hold me back?”
“Hehe. You think I don’t know what you were trying?”
She bent down from her waist to reach Xiaoli’s eye level.
“Who is this boy that he’s gotten you to act this way?”
“You really should go for a walk or something, Auntie.”
“Don’t you try to fool me. I’ve lived too long for that. Every little scheme you can come up with, I’ve seen it a hundred times.”
She placed her arm over Xiaoli’s shoulders.
“Heck. I even played a few of them myself back when these babies were still perky.”
“Auntie, your mouth is so…”
“That being said, I’m going to hang around until the ‘work’ is finished.”
Xiaoli puffed her cheeks out. Her plans had been foiled.