Soon after Hei and Honghuo left the young lady, the patriarch woke up.
Seeing this, the young lady took a few steps back in caution. The last time the patriarch was conscious, he had launched a lethal attack at her.
The patriarch didn’t pay her any mind as he assessed his situation.
Unlike one would expect, he didn’t have any major reaction when he discovered that his cultivation had been destroyed. Sure, it was a heavy blow to have all his years of accumulation go down the drain, but the demonic path was one such that accumulation was the least of one’s worries.
As long as one was able to restrict their target, it didn’t matter what the disparity in cultivation was. They would be able to absorb a large amount of it.
As such, with the help of his family in the second-grade sect, which he was also an elder of, regaining his cultivation would only be a matter of a few years of seclusion. After all, he had already gone through the comprehension process. That experience would fast track his recovery.
Perhaps he would have been more concerned had he known that his spirit roots were also removed. But then again, it would only be an additional obstacle.
Even stealing someone else’s spirit roots wasn’t completely unheard of in the demonic path. However, to find such a person whose spirit roots would be compatible with his body would be quite difficult.
The key was that it wasn’t impossible. This thought was what allowed him to keep a clear mind in this situation.
Now that he had examined his condition, he gave the young lady a cold look and she stepped back once more.
Even though he was currently far weaker than she was, she had never been able to detect his cultivation, and as such, she believed he was still in good shape.
Fortunately for her, it wasn’t long until a few elders gathered in the area, drawn by the spectacle that had occurred here.
When they saw the patriarch’s current state, they were shocked. Who had managed to cause him trouble to such an extent? His clothes were torn in several places, and he was generally dishevelled in appearance.
But none of them thought the patriarch had been defeated. They too had been unable to detect his cultivation ever since he broke through to the minute realm, which some had found strange.
It wasn’t as if that would be the case for all minute realm cultivators. The most likely explanation was that the patriarch had practised some masking technique.
As such, when they noticed that he was alone, with no enemies in sight, they assumed he had taken care of things.
“Mm. All of us combined weren’t enough to deal with those few intruders. It really makes one feel embarrassed.”
“It’s unfortunate that you had to come out of seclusion to settle this.”
“Right. This was a failure on our part. And we still don’t know where this formation originated from, however, it’s likely that it’s connected to those intruders.”
“Patriarch, have you interrogated those fellows? It won’t be good if we’re confined for too long.”
The patriarch moved his gaze over the crowd, causing them to quieten.
“The enemy is still at large.”
Surprised exclamations resounded through the area.
The patriarch continued.
“It will take a joint effort if we wish to defeat these foes. Especially the one with the mask. Prepare the battle formations.”
The elders were shocked to hear this. The patriarch was unable to handle it himself?
Noticing this, and aware that these people still believed that he was a minute realm cultivator, the patriarch thought to raise morale.
“We are superior in numbers and foundation. As long as we prepare properly, these enemies are not an unbeatable threat. That, and the masked one used underhanded methods when battling with me. His cultivation is still at the transcendent realm, so he is likely trying to recover his qi. This is the time to teach these intruders that our Zhu Clan is not to be trifled with. We won’t allow the loss of our clam members to go unaccounted for!”
“That shameless coward!”
“To use such methods. Truly despicable.”
Scathing criticisms of the masked one were being spoken all around.
The young lady was thinking about the events that occurred and couldn’t help speaking out.
She was quite nervous to be speaking, especially considering what happened earlier, but she believed that there was an option which was being ignored.
The patriarch turned a sharp gaze to her.
Her teeth started chattering, but she quickly regained her composure before speaking out.
“I think there is room for discussion with them.”
The patriarch couldn’t use qi to pressure her, but his bearing and position brought its own suppressive aura.
“Um… the fact that you’re still alive-”
Hearing this, the patriarch’s brows furrowed.
The young lady clenched her teeth before continuing.
“And the one with the mask. He didn’t want to battle against you at first. It was only after you-”
At this point, she decided that it was probably better not to reveal the specifics.
“He told me that they didn’t come here to harm innocents. I think that’s why he didn’t…”
She didn’t finish her words, but everyone knew what she was implying at the end.
“With our Zhu Clan’s reputation and the various good things we do, I think there should be a way to discuss these matters without violence. Perhaps, there was a misunderstanding somewhere.”
Hearing this, several of the elders shouted out in anger.
“A misunderstanding? How many of us do you think they have killed so far?”
“Even if there was a misunderstanding, we can’t let them get away with spilling the blood of our clan!”
The young lady took a few steps back as the elders shouted at her. She was unaware that there had already been fatalities.
Even though she was quite young, she was also a transcendent realm cultivator like the elders, and one of the Zhu Clan’s young talents, so her input wasn’t completely ignored.
One elder brought up the main problem.
“Besides, there is no misunderstanding. That boy who isn’t in disguise claimed to be from that clan of demonic cultivators we destroyed a few months ago.”
“Mm. For him, this feud is most likely irreconcilable.”
“So, it was them? The likes of them should be removed from the world. They cause endless harm.”
Some of these elders were uninvolved in the shadier practices of the Zhu Clan and were good representatives of the righteous version of the Zhu Clan that was presented to the public. They had no tolerance toward demonic cultivators who gained strength by stealing it from others.
On the other hand, those who had been involved in the kidnappings were mostly demonic cultivators, so it was slightly awkward to hear these things from their fellow elders.
Be that as it may, even demonic cultivators disliked demonic cultivators of other factions. They truly caused a lot of harm to people.
One of the elders then turned to the young lady.
“Do you still think there can be any discussion on this matter?”
She didn’t know what to say. After hearing the elders’ words, she started to think about the interactions she had with the masked one.
Upon first meeting, he simply looked at her, then apologised for the circumstances and left.
The second meeting was when he crashed through the building, presumably due to the patriarch, and protected her from harm, before checking if she was okay.
The third was the moment he saved her life and denounced the patriarch for attacking his own family member.
Up until this point, none of his actions resembled those of a vengeful person. He didn’t seem to be out on a mission to cause harm to those who had harmed him.
But then there was the fourth meeting, which was when she went to thank him for saving her. He replied by saying that ‘they’ had come to kill, to steal, and to destroy.
But the way he spoke. There was no anger. There was no resentment at all. If she didn’t know any better, she would say there was a hint of weariness in his tone.
This caused her to come up with a possible explanation. One which put her hero in a better light.
Maybe he was just offering assistance to someone who had suffered the extermination of his clan. Maybe he was going against his own values to help a boy who had been so wronged by the supposedly righteous Zhu Clan.
It was entirely possible that that boy had given him false information to earn his sympathy and that he was manipulating a kind soul into helping him to commit his atrocities. She wouldn’t put it past a demonic cultivator to do such a thing.
Having decided that this was a plausible chain of events to lead up to this point, she couldn’t help but clench her fists in anger.
She thought of the shaking left hand of the one who was only trying to help, even if it went against his own moral compass.
How could someone take advantage of another person’s kindness like that?
It was unforgivable!
Having made up her mind, she decided to share her thoughts with the elders. Perhaps there was a way to avoid conflict. At least with the masked one.
“Even so, the fact that the patriarch and I are still alive, goes to show that one with a mask doesn’t hold any resentment towards our Zhu Clan. I believe that he has been given false information by that other boy, causing him to believe that our clan had attacked that boy’s clan unjustly. If we can let him hear the truth, I’m sure we can avoid further conflict.”
After she said these words, she noticed that a few elders seemed to be thinking about the plausibility of her idea.
One of them spoke out an objection.
“Even if that’s the case, the other person, the masked one, has also harmed our clan. What’s worse, the people he killed were reduced to nothing. Not even ashes remained.”
Another elder added on.
“That’s right. And it seemed to me, that the masked one was the one identifying their targets. He fired red and black flames at people. And depending on these red black flames, he either dealt with them himself, or he left the other fellow to battle them and moved elsewhere.”
These words led to a round of discussion among the elders.
It was quite strange the way those two intruders operating. It seemed they were here with specific targets in mind, but when one looked into it, only those with the red flames were involved in the removal of that demonic cultivator clan. Everyone else was unrelated.
This led to a question. What were the criteria that the masked one was using when selecting targets?
The young lady was saddened to hear that the masked one had also killed people, but there was one clear reason for her to continue trying to persuade the elders to try to find some other way to resolve this.
For some reason, the patriarch failed to accurately describe what happened earlier. The way she saw it, from start to finish, the patriarch stood no chance.
She decided to try once more to persuade the elders to avoid a physical altercation with the masked one.
“Even if the masked one is our enemy, it’s still best to avoid a direct conflict. From what I can tell, only Honoured Patriarch can put up a fight against him, even with the battle formations. The rest of us won’t be able to do anything. And as such, I think trying to find another way to resolve this, or to at least find out exactly why he is here, would be helpful to us. It would likely decrease the number of casualties.”
Her words made sense and the elders understood that, however, it was hard to reconcile with the fact that they were now trying to compromise with their enemy.
Since when had the Zhu Clan allowed such a thing to happen to them without fully displaying their might?
But upon looking at the patriarch again, they all realised what she said was true. Even the patriarch had been put at a disadvantage when faced with the other person, his life at the other party’s mercy.
If there was a way to resolve this without any further battles, that would surely be a more desirable outcome.
However, there was still a problem.
“Even if that’s the case, it relies entirely on that masked one being willing to speak to us. If instead, they act as they did when they entered the clan, they’ll act first and speak later.”
“Indeed. And who would act as our representative?”
Noticing that her words seemed to be taking effect, the young lady stepped forward.
“I’ll do it. I’ve already spoken to him, and he should be willing to at least hear me out.”
“Are you sure? Even as things are now, it is we of the older generation who have been targeted, if we also lose the younger generation, then the Zhu Clan is finished.”
The young lady nodded her head. Her determination was plain to see.
She was confident that the masked one was a reasonable person. As long as he knew the truth, he would definitely break his alliance with that other boy and may even turn against him.
It was just a shame that the damage had already been done. The tension between him and the Zhu Clan wasn’t something that could be removed by clearing up the misunderstanding.
At least, this way, they could minimise further damage, and completely rid the world of that demonic cultivator’s clan once and for all.
Remembering that the patriarch had already antagonised him, she had one more thing to say.
“I think it would be best if Honoured Patriarch didn’t participate in this. I believe it will show sincerity if you stay back. Then the masked one will be more assured that we truly wish to discuss rather than to battle.
The elders all turned to the patriarch, who had just appreciated this girl for the first time. If this situation somehow resolved itself, he could possibly maintain his position as patriarch.
Truthfully speaking, he wasn’t in all that much of a pickle. He was fairly confident that no matter what happened, he would be a coming out of this in one piece. It would just take a while to regain his strength.
But if it was a question of participating in a battle, that was out of the question.
Now, this useless girl had given him a way out.
He nodded his head seriously.
“Mm. I’ll leave it to you.”
The trust the patriarch had in the young lady caused the elders around him to respect him even more than they already did. That he was able to put aside his position as the patriarch in order to explore a path that could potentially lead to less damage showed good judgement.
It was evident that he was able to look at things from a perspective that sought to protect the clan.
After the patriarch spoke, the details of the plan were ironed out.
In the end, it was decided that only the young lady and the patriarch would remain out in the open, and eight elders would be hidden in the surroundings.
The young lady’s role was to lead the masked one away so that the elders could attack the boy from the demonic cultivator clan.
The patriarch was standing aside to signify that he didn’t wish to settle this matter through violence.
Soon after the preparations were made, two people entered the scene with a floating jade in between them.