Heavenly Soul Chapter 73: Unexpected Company


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Having finally gathered all the people he needed to make his plan work, Qinghe felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
After all, no matter how good at persuasion he was or how desperate the emperor had made these influential courtiers, it hadn't been a hundred percent certain that they would agree to follow someone like Ping Nian who had laid low all this while. The human heart was truly an unpredictable thing, and this matter could have gone sideways at any time.
But thankfully, Qinghe had managed to finish what he had set out to do and now he could focus on positioning his pieces in their respective places.
And so, with the sense of accomplishment born from a task well done, Qinghe cheerfully walked down the garden path leading to the residential courtyards in the palace, swinging his and Wei Xiang's entwined hands as he hummed a pleasant melody.
Wei Xiang simply luxuriated in his lover's happy expression, his own lips tilting up in a small smile.
Suddenly, the couple froze, their gazes sharpening and their senses widening to scan their surroundings at the same time.
The air stilled, seemingly stiffened with caution.
But surprisingly, Wei Xiang was the first to retract his senses, speaking in a relaxed tone, "There's no need for vigilance."
Hearing his lover's reassurance, Qinghe heeded his words and lowered his guard as well. The couple continued to walk down the path again and soon reached the garden with the pool that was situated before their room.
In one of the stone benches near to the pool sat a young woman with long hair the color of soft and fresh snow. Her attire was black and purple, and combined with the fact that she exuded a slightly altered form of spiritual energy unlike that of a righteous cultivator, it could be surmised that she was from the demonic faction.
This woman was indeed Sister Bai, the martial sister of the Xiao Fu and Brother Tian who had been implicit in chasing and wounding Chen Xiande while he was on the way to the Nine Gems Sanctuary. Sister Bai had left before her martial brothers could drag her into their plan of capturing and tormenting Chen Xiande, and she had then dutifully reported back to Hei NingYu that his lover was in danger.
After that incident, Hei NingYu had taken notice of her talent and had begun entrusting her with errands more often in an effort to nurture her. It was one such errand that had brought her here to wait in the garden at this time.
Having spotted Qinghe and Wei Xiang as they entered the garden, Sister Bai stood up gracefully from the bench and faced them.
Immediately locking her eyes on the white-robed man in front of her, she asked in a clear and slightly bored voice, "Are you Feng Qinghe? Sect Leader Hei has sent me with news about how your senior brother is doing in our sect. Shall I begin reciting it?"
Looking at Sister Bai's hair, Qinghe lightly startled. From the corner of his eyes, he carefully examined Wei Xiang's face, only to see the usual indifference displayed in his lover's expression.
Turning to look at Sister Bai, Qinghe spoke with a pleasant smile, "Thank you for your effort in bringing me the message. Why don't you step in for a bit? The journey from the demonic faction to the capital must have been tiring for you. You can tell me what Sect Leader Hei asked you to convey while relaxing with a cup of tea."
Sister Bai tilted her head and peered at Qinghe as if he were a strange insect. Then shrugging, she answered, "Sure, why not? It's no skin off my back, after all."
Qinghe shot her a wry look and led the way inside the room. Since Sister Bai was accompanying alongside them and had their unspoken permission to enter, the restriction barrier set up by Wu Xiao let her pass through without a fuss.
Unlike with Jing Shui and Wu Xiao's room, Qinghe and Wei Xiang's room was furnished with a full set of tables and chairs.
After inviting their guest to sit down with an elegant gesture, Qinghe retrieved from his spatial storage a set of cups and a teapot that was already filled with fragrant, steaming tea. Since time stood perpetually still for everything placed in the storage space, the tea remained fresh as if just recently brewed.
Setting three cups on the table, Qinghe neatly filled them before putting away the pot.
After the three of them sat at the table and began sipping at the tea, Qinghe casually began, "As you might have noticed already, this room is surrounded by a powerful restriction barrier that was cast by the Silver Moon Sect's Sect Master Wu Xiao himself. There is no threat of unwanted eavesdroppers, so you can rest assured and speak freely, Sentinel Bai Rong."
A sudden silence descended over the room.
Hearing his little lover's confident statement, Wei Xiang's lips twitched with faint amusement as he continued to calmly savor his tea.
On the other hand, Sister Bai seemed confused as she looked at Qinghe. "What do you mean? And why are you calling me 'Sentinel'? Feng Qinghe, is there a misunderstanding here or are you mistaking me for someone else?"
Chuckling, Wei Xiang finally spoke, "Give it up, Eldest Sister. He's already figured it out."
The befuddled and lively look on Sister Bai's face immediately turned blank, with neither warmth nor coldness to be seen. It was an utter lack of expression, showing nothing. Losing her previously lazy posture, she sat prim and straight like a carefully positioned doll, her way of sitting showing not even the slightest hint of any personality.
"Third Brother, you are not permitted to disclose the contents of my work, and you are especially not authorized to reveal my identity as an undercover officer. It is an inexcusable breach of code, and all violators of the Sentinel Code will be punished," Bai Rong intoned in a flat, inflectionless voice.
Wei Xiang sighed. "Yes, yes, I know. Senior Sister, I did not break the code, you should know me better than that. My lover found out all on his own. You can rest assured that he will tell no one."
Qinghe dipped his head in a nod while adding in a sincere tone, "Yes, Sentinel Bai. I would never ask my beloved for work-related secrets and neither would he offer. I came to know of your identity by myself. Please place no blame on him."
Bai Rong frowned. Her junior brother was indeed trustworthy, he couldn't have leaked it. Then that could only mean that…this young cultivator had really figured it out on his own?
Since that indeed seemed to be the case, Bai Rong easily put it out of her mind. This was not her jurisdiction after all.
In a calm tone, Bai Rong finally replied, "I understand. Then the contents of my mission remain unchanged. I will now relay the message I was asked to pass on by Sect Leader Hei."
Qinghe really didn't know what to make of this Sentinel, so he simply nodded. Wei Xiang, on the other hand, was long since used to his senior sister's idiosyncrasy and remained unruffled.
Bai Rong continued, "Your senior brother Chen Xiande is doing well and is making great strides in his cultivation. He has recently had a breakthrough to fifth realm and needs time to stabilize his level. Therefore, he will be unable to participate in the Hundred-Year Tournament this time and wishes that his Junior Brother Feng will do well in his stead. From my personal observation, the sect leader of the demonic faction treats his lover very well and with the utmost care and reverence. There is no cause for worry. End of report."
Inwardly amused at how the message seemed to be delivered like a military statement, Qinghe said earnestly, "Sentinel Bai, thank you for delivering the message. It indeed eases my mind to know that Senior Brother is happy and making progress. Having you in his vicinity is also very reassuring. You have my sincere gratitude."
Bai Rong blinked, a faint reaction indicating her surprise. She had only done what she had been told to do, so she did not understand the need for gratitude, but she remained silent nevertheless.
Since this person was her third brother's lover, he was as good as another junior brother to her now, so she decided to let his strangeness pass.
If Qinghe knew, he would surely feel wronged at being dubbed strange by this overly blank Sentinel Bai of all people. Because, in a way, wasn't she even stranger than him?!
"My task has been fulfilled. I shall be taking my leave now," Bai Rong informed in her inflectionless voice as she got up.
Wei Xiang simply nodded a greeting towards his senior sister as she left, while Qinghe accompanied her to the door to see her off.
The moment she stepped out of the confines of the room, Bai Rong turned into her previous persona. Her eyes glinted with life while her body moved with lithe languidness as she ambled into the garden.
Walking till she reached the boundary of the garden, she easily scaled the tall wall and stood atop it. Turning back, Bai Rong gave Qinghe a short wave as she drawled leisurely, "Thank you for the tea. See you guys later then."
And then she jumped off to the other side and disappeared from sight.
Shaking his head with a helpless smile, Qinghe closed the door behind him as he walked back to his lover's side.
"Are all the Sentinels as…peculiar as your senior brother and sister?" he asked with curiosity and amusement.
Wei Xiang smiled and shrugged. "More or less. You'll see when you come visit headquarters."
With faint anticipation glinting in his eyes, Qinghe spoke, "I'll look forward to it then. Now, what should we do about the other visitor who has come to the palace? She is after all someone familiar to me. I think it would be rude if I didn't go greet her."
Laughing lightly, Wei Xiang suggested, "Then let me come along."
And so the couple set off once again.
In the private audience chamber, the emperor tapped his finger agitatedly on the armrest.
In front of him knelt a woman with shining locks of curly silver hair that tumbled to the ground like a gleaming waterfall with swirling water currents.
The woman looked up, a light smile perched at the edges of her lips. Her eyes were bright, yet they also seemed hazy, as if focused on some faraway sight.
Opening her mouth, she spoke in a voice that chimed pleasantly like the tinkling of bells, "Everything I said is definitely true, Your Majesty. You already know that. As long as Feng Qinghe is allowed to roam free, your reign will definitely collapse. All of the recent problems you have been having with the disappearances of the courtiers you tried to eliminate were certainly his doing. The recent sparking of civil unrest also seems to have his shadow behind it. His influence has already grown to a great degree in the capital. It is only a matter of time now until…"
As the woman's voice suddenly trailed away, her eyes grew even more unfocused as her smile spread wider.
Ah, they were here. Had they sensed her presence already?
"You are certain then, Elder?" the emperor interrupted her reverie to confirm yet again, his tone excessively snappish in an attempt to hide the building fear apparent in his voice.
Blinking, the silver-haired woman once again diverted her attention to the world in front of her. In a breezy tone, she spoke, "Yes, indeed. I speak only the truth."
The emperor suddenly banged a fist against his armrest with a loud thud.
How? How could this be?! He had worked so hard and schemed so much to hold onto his power, so how could it slip away so easily, snatched away by outsiders that he hadn't even deigned to put in his eye?!
Though the emperor did not trust in the authenticity of cultivators and all their spiritual power nonsense, over time, he had come to at least believe that certain cultivators were very accurate fortunetellers. This silver-haired woman in front of him was one such being who had proved the genuineness of her skills over and over again. Everything that she had said would happen had always come true without a doubt.
But the future she saw for him was not pleasing in the least!
In a fit of fury borne out of his malcontent, the emperor's fist punched out and swept down the platters of food and the goblets of drink on the table beside him. A series of loud thumps and bangs sounded out, along with the clattering of metal and the crashing of broken porcelain.
In the face of their monarch's unhidden fury, the servants and attendants all lowered their heads until their chins were almost touching their chests. And yet the silver-haired woman looked the same, smiling serenely as if she weren't even paying attention to what was happening in front of her.
"Very well then," the emperor spat, his chest heaving. With a dangerous light glinting in his eyes, he spoke, "Now that I know to beware, I can change my future. Elder, you may leave."
Despite hearing the arrogance in his voice, the woman said nothing, merely getting up and rearranging her clothes before sedately retreating, leaving behind a thoughtful emperor.
As his mind churned with various ideas that he was forced to discard after careful consideration, the emperor grew more and more frustrated.
He knew that he couldn't lay a hand on this cultivator directly, because he knew that the political weight, deep connections, and economic power wielded by the cultivators as a whole were indisputable. Outright harming or killing one of them would bring consequences that he was not sure he could handle.
So how was he to take care of this mess before it bloomed into a disaster?
As the emperor pondered, his eyes suddenly lit up with glee and greed.
Yes, this could work! He simply needed to bind this Feng Qinghe to the imperial family, and not only would the emperor then be granted control over him, but this cultivator's power and influence would also become his to use.
As for whom to bind him to… this was something the emperor couldn't decide. It should be someone of royal line, but also easily influenceable and not too cunning.
His first choice would have been that son of his, but Jing Shui truly seemed to have slipped out of his control for good. The emperor decided to deal with that unfilial brat later.
Jing Hao was also out. He was too much of a schemer to be of use.
Then that only left…
The emperor's usually stiff expression stretched into a rare grin.
Yes, Jing Rui would do quite nicely.
The silver-haired woman stepped out of the private audience chamber and directly walked to a nearby secluded alcove that sat wreathed in deep shadows, only a sliver of weak moonlight piercing the gloom.
In the alcove, leaning against a wall as if leisurely waiting for her arrival was the slender and white-clad form of Feng Qinghe.
In her voice that flowed like the silvery peals of bells, the silver-haired woman spoke playfully, "Seeing you standing here waiting for me, I can't help but feel special!"
"Elder Yue," Qinghe bowed courteously, unheeding of her cheery words as he continued, "May I ask what business brings the former sect leader of the Silver Moon Sect here to a mortal emperor's palace?"
Laughing happily, the woman replied, "Since I still owe you for that time you freed me from the spirit suppressing cell, I thought I'd help move along your plan as repayment. And it seems that you already know my identity. What else has the wind whispered into your ear?"
Hearing this, Qinghe didn't even feel surprised.
This Elder Yue, besides being the previous sect master of the Silver Moon Sect and Wu Xiao's master, was also the silver-haired woman who had kept Qinghe and Chen Xiande company in that dungeon full of cells made with spirit suppressing material in the Black Fang base.
Back then, though Qinghe had surmised her identity as a member of Silver Mist, he hadn't yet known everything. After succeeding in escaping from there, he had naturally investigated a bit and found out about the Elder's name and the position she had held.
And some of what he found had been truly astonishing.
Over the many, many years she lived, this Elder Yue seemed to have meddled in quite a few important incidents in history, arriving at opportune times and changing the course of events with a few words and deceptively simple deeds.
As such, after seeing her here in the palace intervening in his plans, Qinghe couldn't help but feel cautious.
But showing none of this outward, Qinghe replied to her question with a pleasant smile, "The wind has told me a lot of things, but there's one particular fact I wish to confirm. Many thousands of years ago, you once visited a certain demonic sect. Soon after, Hei NingYu took over as this sect's sect leader and unified the entire demonic faction. I wonder just how you are related to that occurrence."
Seeing as Hei NingYu was now together with his senior brother, Qinghe was naturally concerned about this. After all, one could never be too vigilant regarding such suspicious things. Who knew when it would come to bite them back if they showed negligence?
"I only did what I was permitted to do," Elder Yue replied, her eyes shining brightly with reflected light even in this dim space. "The future is fluid, but also rigid. There are many things I'm not allowed to interfere with. But that one's future, I was thankfully able to change."
With unfathomable thoughts swimming in the depths of his placid eyes, Qinghe pondered over the Elder's words. After a while of silence, he finally spoke, "Knowing Hei NingYu's past, I can more or less guess what you wanted to alter about his future. But what motive did you have to change his future in the first place?"
This was what truly bothered him. What designs did such a powerful and seemingly all-knowing Elder have on the future of his senior brother's lover? Or had her purpose already been fulfilled?
Guessing these doubts from Qinghe's words, Elder Yue sighed as she began explaining, "Why, you ask? It's because if I hadn't done so, Hei NingYu wouldn't be here. His presence has now become one of the most crucial lynchpins holding together the current peace and stability of the world, since despite being their sect leader, Hei NingYu keeps the dark arts practitioners strictly in check.
"He keeps the power of the demonic path suppressed, not caring if it weakens the demonic faction, and as a result, his own sway over this world. Because he, more than anyone, knows what will happen to those steeped in the demonic arts. And he, more than anyone, knows to protect the world from being subjected to such a fate again.
"But his reason for doing this is not due to care for the world, but because he does not wish this world that houses his beloved to be destroyed. That's all he's ever strived for, and even now, that hasn't changed. It is also the reason why he has refused to take that final step and ascend to a deity. That child has really been waiting too long, so it's good that he has finally found his beloved.
"After all, one will not fear something being taken away unless they have that something in the first place. So the reason I meddled in his future was to achieve this end, where not only does that child find his happiness, but he also strives to maintain the current world order to keep this newfound happiness safe."
As Elder Yue stopped speaking, Qinghe felt overwhelmed by this torrent of unexpected information.
This…was too much to think on.
Qinghe digested everything in contemplative silence, then asked in a subdued voice, "So he already knew that he'd meet Senior Brother? Did you tell this to him back before he became the demonic faction's sect leader?"
What Qinghe wanted to truly ask was―Did Hei NingYu get together with his senior brother for this reason, thinking that it was predestined, and not because he had actually grown to care for Chen Xiande?
But Elder Yue shook her head, her bright smile returning as she said, "Though I did tell him that he might meet someone who would make his life worth living, that child has probably long since forgotten about it. After all, a lot of time has passed since then."
Then laughing her light, silvery laugh, she changed the subject, "For now, let's talk about something else." Her gaze then subsequently landing on Qinghe's shadow that had already blended in with the darkness, Elder Yue greeted amiably, "Hello, Sentinel. It has been such a long time since I have met one of you."
Seeing that his presence had been found out, Wei Xiang didn't feel the need to hide anymore. Detaching his form from the shadows, Wei Xiang stood beside Qinghe, his expression seeming sharply amused.
Not minding his sudden appearance, Elder Yue looked at him curiously while asking, "Sentinel, I wonder if you know the true reason your Order came to be?"
Wei Xiang raised an eyebrow at the abrupt query, faint curiosity tingeing his gaze.
Chuckling merrily, Elder Yue declared, "Why, the main reason was this young man called Feng Qinghe!"
As her words rang out, the shadowed alcove echoed with a silence steeped in surprise and disbelief.
Qinghe looked at Elder Yue with confusion evident on his face. "Are you saying that I am somehow indirectly responsible for the decision of creating the Order of Sentinels that was established millennia ago?"
Chortling in amusement, the silver-haired woman refuted his inference, "Not indirectly, but very directly! The biggest reason the Order was established is undoubtedly because of you!"
At the side, Wei Xiang narrowed his eyes as his brows furrowed in contemplation. How could such a thing be possible?
Shaking his head, Qinghe also had the same thought as he rebutted calmly, "But I wasn't even born then. I'm only thirty-six now, but the Order of Sentinels was established several hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is implausible for me to be involved in a matter that took place so many millennia in the past."
"I know," Elder Yue agreed while nodding cheerfully, but did not elaborate further.
Qinghe continued his rebuttal, "And there is no way to go backward or forward in time in this world, so it is impossible even in that respect."
Elder Yue continued nodding. "That is definitely true."
"Then how…?" Qinghe began, then frowned incredulously as a possibility occurred to him. "Can it be that…I am not from this world?"
Neither agreeing nor disagreeing, Elder Yue simply smiled widely as she spoke as if in a trance, "All will be explained to you by the one who should. I am merely an observer. I do not meddle in matters of this world, especially when it concerns such weighty things. Or at least not unless I am allowed to. The moon is such a fickle thing after all, waxing and waning at its whim, just like all our fates. Its bright and uncovered face hides more behind it than all the layers of mists and veils combined."
Qinghe blinked in befuddlement, then shook his head to set aside these convoluted strings of thoughts that seemed to twist and knot over each other. There was no use in thinking about it now. The futures told by the people of the Silver Mist were often confusing like this, so there was no need for him to burden himself with unnecessary speculations in the absence of sufficient information.
"I'm not sure I understand. But I will wait for everything to be cleared in its own time," Qinghe finally spoke, his voice serene.
Seeing his attitude, Elder Yue was duly impressed as she praised, "Very good! Just maintain this outlook and you will get your answer eventually. Now, I think it's time I returned to the sect."
"Aren't you going to meet your disciple?" Wei Xiang asked amusedly. After all, Wu Xiao was conveniently nearby.
But Elder Yue shook her head with a laugh. "I see that brat often enough. Besides, even I am not ill-mannered enough to interrupt his time with his beloved."
Qinghe showed a wry expression as he bid his farewell, "Then until we meet again, Elder."
Her gaze grew distant as the silver-haired woman whispered, "I hope our meeting doesn't come soon, because if it does…then it can only mean that an undesirable fate is approaching us."
"Ah?" Qinghe looked at her confused, but Elder Yue merely shook her head.
With a brilliant smile, she spoke, "Alright now, I have to get going. And don't tell anyone else about what I said, even that lovestruck disciple of mine! It's the three of our secret~"
Were they children now?!
With a helpless expression on their faces, Qinghe and Wei Xiang looked at the silver-haired Elder as she winked at them and left the alcove while skipping away cheerfully.
They really didn't know what to feel about the conversation just now, but thinking over everything, a faint suspicion had nevertheless taken root in their hearts.
After all, if the founding of the Order had something to do with Qinghe, then didn't it mean that the Sentinel Grandmaster was somehow involved as well?
But Qinghe didn't have time to think too much about this, because the next morning, the emperor summoned them all for an audience again.
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