Heavenly Soul Chapter 14: Returning to the Sect

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"Qing-er, I'm glad you made it back safely. And it was good of your junior brothers to escort you on your return as well."
"Yes, Master," Qinghe replied respectfully.
The sect master of Heavenly Peak Sect, Zhen YiLan, was a kindly-looking old man with melancholic but clear eyes. His hair, eyebrows, and beard were long, white and fluffy, like puffs of cotton that could float off his face at any moment. His wrinkled face gave the image of a man in his mid-fifties and he was an existence similar to a grandfather for Qinghe.
"I've heard you had some trouble with a Behemoth? How was it, did it cause any problems for your assignment?" the sect master asked.
"No, I have gathered everything on the list. The Behemoth was no trouble."
The sect master sighed. "Silly child. Do you think I don't know how you are? Even if you had any trouble, you'd probably just solve it without asking for help and be on your way."
"If Master knows, there's nothing more for this disciple to explain," Qinghe said, hidden amusement in his tone.
Shaking his head while smiling, Zhen YiLan thought he'd never understand this disciple of his.
"Master, Master, Senior Brother got hurt!" Fei Jin interrupted and tattled.
"Yes," even Fei Yin contributed by whispering.
Qinghe felt complicated about this betraying pair of brothers of his. But he just sighed and let it go. It wasn't like he was trying to hide it. And after all, they were just worried about him.
"Qing-er! What happened?" the sect master suddenly stood up after hearing this and came down the dais, reaching for his disciple to check if he was injured.
Smoothly avoiding his Master's grabby hands, Qinghe reassured, "I'm fine, there was just a little problem with the restrictions. I'll just have to visit Starry Mountain Peak soon and cultivate, that's all."
Having been thwarted, the sect master looked at Qinghe with sad puppy-dog eyes. "Fine, then. But be careful, you seem to be advancing more quickly these past few years. Try to slow down the pace so your body can catch up."
Qinghe bowed. "Yes, Master. Then I shall take my leave."
Sighing, Zhen YiLan nodded and lifted his hands as if he wanted to embrace him but stopped, his hands hovering awkwardly in the air before he lowered them. "Come to your master and Elders if you need anything."
Nodding, Qinghe turned and left.
The Elders who had been studiously concentrating on their respective paperwork looked up and watched him go, sighing regretfully in their hearts that they didn't have such a reliable disciple to do their work for them.
Outside, Fei Jin and Fei Yin were peeking up at their brother cautiously to gauge if he was mad at them for tattling.
Seeing their wary actions, Qinghe felt amused. Reaching out his hands, he rubbed their wildly curly hair. He could feel the small bumps of their horns lightly scraping his palm.
"I'm not angry, so stop worrying," he said, smiling gently.
He saw them visibly sigh in relief and smiled wider.
Reaching into his clothes, Qinghe took out a necklace strung with several rough stone beads. "Here, I have a task for you both."
The twins looked up at him in anticipation.
"These spatial storage beads have in them all the materials that we were sent to gather, plus a few extras I found along the way. I want you both to give them to the Elder in charge of the treasury and ask him to catalog and add them into the registry. Can you do this for me?"
The twins frantically nodded, joyful to have been asked for help. "Yes, yes, we can!" Fei Jin vocalized excitedly.
He gave them the necklace and watched them hurry off in search of the Elder.
His duty completed and the results handed over, Qinghe had nothing else to do, so he started heading home.
As he navigated the worn lane that many of the disciples used since it led to the common living quarters, someone blocked his path while sneering, "Well, well, well. It seems like Master's favorite disciple is back again. Tell me, how are you Junior Martial Brother?" The sarcasm in that last sentence was thick enough to cut with a knife, stuff into buns and have for dinner.
Qinghe inwardly sighed. Can't I just catch a break? Just once? I'm really exhausted you know.
But outwardly, he was as polite as always. Smiling as if he couldn't hear the scorn in the other person's voice, Qinghe replied, "This junior brother is naturally well, thank you for Senior Brother's concern."
The person in front of him was after all the sect master's head disciple, Chen Xiande.
And he disliked Qinghe for receiving most of their master's affection. Chen Xiande had schemed at and bullied him soon after Qinghe had arrived in the sect after seeing him being doted on so much.
Chen Xiande himself was disdained by the majority of the disciples and Elders, even his master wasn't too fond of him. After handing the seat over to the current sect master, the previous sect master had insisted that when he had a child, the sect master must take him in as his head disciple. Thus, Chen Xiande had been foisted off on the current sect master from the second he was found to have cultivation potential. Neither of them had had a choice, since Chen Xiande was just a kid and Zhen YiLan respected his predecessor too much to go against his wishes.
But though Chen Xiande seemed to idolize him, Zhen YiLan had only reacted lukewarmly towards the child. Despite that, Chen Xiande still persisted, thinking that if he tried hard enough, his master's coldness would one day thaw.
Then Qinghe arrived.
From the second he entered the sect, he had incessantly been cared for by the sect master since both his mental and physical state were very poor. Not knowing this, Chen Xiande grew exceedingly jealous that someone else could so effortlessly have the affection of his Master that he himself was never bestowed.
He tried to frighten Qinghe into leaving the sect, sometimes thoughtlessly using dangerous means, but Qinghe had become numb to pain and fear after his ordeal and smoothly got out of every situation. Though he never complained to anyone, the sect master and Elders still found out.
Not only had Chen Xiande gotten the position of head disciple dishonestly through his father, he also bullied his junior martial brother so cruelly! The dislike for Chen Xiande in the sect only grew. Though Chen Xiande's father had long since passed away, he was still respected enough that no one tried to kick him out outright, but they didn't make it pleasant for him either.
And unsurprisingly, Chen Xiande blamed it all on his junior brother. He believed that he must be acting like a pure white lotus while hiding a rotten heart, that's how he must've been able to sway everybody's opinions in his favor!
Feng Qinghe naturally knew how his senior brother felt towards him and he truly didn't blame him for it, he even felt a little bit of pity. After all, Qinghe still had the love and support of his master and the twins along with the respect of his fellow disciples and the sect Elders. But his senior brother had no one. Also, Chen Xiande was the one who had saved the twins, so Qinghe was eternally grateful for that.
No person was made of only black and white.
As paranoid as always, Chen Xiande thought he was being mocked by Qinghe's smile. Scowling, he yelled, "Junior Martial Brother, are you making fun of me?! You might be able to deceive Master, but I will expose your true face and make you regret setting foot in the sect, you two-faced bastard!"
Flinging his sleeves, Chen Xiande left in a huff.
The junior brothers and sisters who were passing by shot angry glares at his retreating back. Senior Brother Feng had been so polite to him despite his past bullying, how could he act like this? They were indignant on Qinghe's behalf.
Qinghe just shrugged and let it go. He knew that no matter what he said or did at this point, his senior brother would only disdain him for it. Why should he bother with him?
He continued walking down the path and eventually made it to his quarters.
He was allocated a room for himself in an empty courtyard. It even had a closed off backyard with a small stream flowing through that he used for bathing.
After entering through the simple wooden door, Qinghe sighed in relief. He was alone now. He didn't need to maintain a smiling mask anymore. After a whole month, he finally had some time to himself.
The smile dropped from his face and he resumed a cold expression that seemed frozen into his features. Forcing himself to keep smiling warmly while his natural expression was so icy really exhausted him. But he had to keep it up so that he could remain the sect's reliable and kind martial brother. He really did love this sect and its disciples and didn't want any of them to feel uncomfortable near him.
Now that he didn't have to maintain pretenses, his shoulders sagged and his body radiated exhaustion. He could really use some sleep now, but the dust of travel still clung to him.
While removing his clothes, he didn't forget to pull out the talisman that he always stuck to the inside of his inner robes, pressed up against his skin. The air around his face rippled, transforming his features from one of mild handsomeness to that of a stunning beauty. The talisman was to avoid being too eye-catching, or so an Elder had advised him.
Disposing of the talisman with thin wind blades, Qinghe finished removing his clothes and went out for a wash. The air outside was cool as mist gathered thickly in the air. Qinghe hurried with his bath.
Within half an hour, he had freshened up and changed into a thin and loose shift. He knew that his Master wouldn't call for him for a while and he could have some peaceful time to himself to unwind.
Qinghe rummaged in his storage space and finally retrieved the thing he had saved for himself during the trip.
In the hidden realm, while looking for a certain herb, their group had come across a lake filled to the brim with floating, glowing balls. Since it wouldn't be useful to the sects, no one had bothered to take them, but Qinghe had experimented and found that the glowing translucent balls were extremely bouncy but also sturdy. He had been unable to even scratch it, though he did almost knock Jing Shui's head off by mistake. Oh well, his friend had eventually woken up.
Now Qinghe retrieved one of the balls he'd secreted away. He had already thought of a purpose for this ball.
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