“Fellow Daoist Han,” said Meng Hao suddenly, looking Han Bei up and down, “you look somewhat familiar. Have we met before?” Such presumptuous words were actually part of Meng Hao’s plan.
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, all of the Black Sieve Sect Conclave disciples looked at the two of them. Even the Core Formation experts glanced over, their eyes sparkling with interest.
Patriarch Violet Sieve’s interest was also piqued.
Old man Zhou was astonished.
Han Bei’s eyes focused on Meng Hao. “Grandmaster Fang, please forgive me, but, I really don’t remember….” She looked thoughtful, and seemed to have something flickering deep within her eyes. Meng Hao was sure that she was hiding something.
Had he not experienced her craftiness personally in the Black Sieve Sect’s Blessed Land, then he would never have been able to detect it.
“My mistake,” he said with a laugh. “Perhaps it’s just that I wished I had met you before.” Hearing this, the Black Sieve Sect Conclave disciples all smiled.
The Core Formation experts also smiled and shook their heads. Considering their age, they had long since abandoned the pursuit of beautiful women.
Old man Zhou frowned. In his opinion, it didn’t matter if Fang Mu was young, such behavior was really embarrassing for the Sect.
Patriarch Violet Sieve laughed. “Grandmaster Fang Mu, there will be plenty of time later for you youngsters to get to know each other. For now, why don’t you follow me as we enter the Sect?”
His face red, Meng Hao clasped hands and bowed to Patriarch Violet Sieve, “I’ve embarrassed myself in front of Senior,” he said.
Han Bei covered her mouth with her hand and blinked.
Meng Hao and old man Zhou entered the Sect, surrounded by the various members of the Black Sieve Sect. It was at this exact moment that suddenly, Patriarch Violet Sieve’s expression flickered. He turned to look off into the distance. Everyone else stopped moving and followed suit.
Patriarch Violet Sieve chuckled. “It seems Grandmasters Li and Chen from the Golden Frost Sect’s World Pill Division arrived half a day early.” He waved his arm, and immediately bells tolled another six times within the Black Sieve Sect.
Meng Hao looked off into the distance, and before long, caught sight of a massive airship approaching at top speed. As it neared, a group of people flew off of the deck and down toward them. Two of their number wore long crimson robes, the sleeves of which were embroidered with pill furnaces. They seemed powerful and extraordinary, and both emanated a medicinal aroma.
“Hmph!” snorted Zhou Dekun, who stood next to Meng Hao. “I never imagined the Black Sieve Sect would also invite Grandmaster Eternal Mountain’s World Pill Division.”
Meng Hao looked at the two middle-aged master alchemists from Eternal Mountain’s World Pill Division. They smiled as they approached.
Meng Hao turned to Zhou Dekun and asked, “When other Sects extend invitations to alchemists, do disciples of the other Grandmasters of the Dao of alchemy always show up?”
“Sometimes, but not often,” replied Zhou Dekun. He had the mind to ignore Meng Hao. However, they were two fellow Sect members on the outside. Now that there were two people from Eternal Mountain’s World Pill Division present, it would be difficult to avoid friction regarding the Dao of alchemy.
Not wanting to make the following days in the Black Sieve Sect unstable, Zhou Dekun added, “It seems the Black Sieve Sect really wants to improve their Dao of alchemy, and as such, has also invited the World Pill Division.” Zhou Dekun frowned. By the time he finished speaking, Patriarch Violet Sieve and the others had already clustered politely around the two World Pill Division master alchemists to lead them into the Sect.
Almost as soon as they neared, one of the scarlet-robed alchemists from the World Pill Division, a tall, sturdy man with a powerful, extraordinary air, began to speak. “Fellow Daoist Zhou is also here? I seem to remember his mighty words from years ago, when he spoke of becoming a Violet Furnace Lord. Sixty years have passed already, Fellow Daoist Zhou, have you achieved your goal yet?” His gaze fell like lightning upon Zhou Dekun and Meng Hao.
“So, it’s Fellow Daoist Li,” said Zhou Dekun with a snort. The man’s words had touched directly on a painful matter in his heart, and he couldn’t help but snidely remark, “I haven’t seen you for years, and yet somehow your breath has gotten worse.”
The second of the two alchemists was somewhat skinny, and had a mustache shaped like the character 八. He looked at Meng Hao and gave a false smile. “This must be Grandmaster Fang Mu, the East Pill Division alchemist who people say finagled his way to becoming a Furnace Lord. Haha! Sir, I’ve been looking forward to meeting the famous Brother Fang for some time! Your name resounds like thunder in the ears of those who cultivate the Dao of alchemy. They say you’re a master alchemist who wears the clothing of a Furnace Lord!”
The instant these two alchemists from Eternal Mountain’s World Pill Division appeared, they spoke words filled with ill intentions. Their diametrical opposition to the East Pill Division alchemists was obvious.
The people from the Black Sieve Sect seemed to take all of this in stride. The Dao of alchemy of the East Pill Division was the most recognized throughout the Southern Domain, and their reputation was the most illustrious. The World Pill Division had been created by Grandmaster Eternal Mountain of the Golden Frost Sect. Although Eternal Mountain showed respect for Grandmaster Pill Demon, his disciples and followers grew more aggressive by the day. They refused to acknowledge the glory of the East Pill Division, and whenever the two sides met, regardless of the occasion, sparks would fly.
Meng Hao looked at the man named Chen, who had just spoken in such a sarcastic tone. “Who might you be?” he asked, his brow furrowed.
“Sir, I am Chen Jiaxi1, scarlet-robed master alchemist of the World Pill Division!” He smiled broadly as he looked at Meng Hao, his heart filled with envy because of Meng Hao’s status as a Furnace Lord. In his opinion, his own skill in the Dao of alchemy might not earn him the rank of Violet Furnace Lord were he in the East Pill Division, but he would definitely rank among the highest of the Furnace Lords.
Actually, many people in the World Pill Division entertained similar thoughts. After all… the alchemists of the World Pill Division were famous in the Southern Domain, but did not receive the same level of acknowledgement that the East Pill Division did. They were just a little bit lower, which of course fueled their disdain.
“You mean, you’ve heard of me?” asked Meng Hao, sounding astonished. No onlooker would find anything about his expression to be out of the ordinary. However, Zhou Dekun was well aware of the vicious language Meng Hao was capable of, and his heart began to thump. He knew that Meng Hao’s words were by no means a retreat.
Chen Jiaxi laughed at Meng Hao’s stunned expression, and his eyes filled with scorn. “How could any Cultivator of the Dao of alchemy not have heard of Alchemist Fang’s rise to Furnace Lord? In fact, I’d like to ask, how does it feel to wear the clothing of a Furnace Lord?”
It was as if a lightbulb went off over Meng Hao’s head. He laughed, and said, “Oh, I get it. You know me because I’m a Furnace Lord of the East Pill Division. My words and deeds are common knowledge among all Cultivators of the Dao of alchemy. Therefore, my name reverberates like thunder in your ears. However, you are a simple scarlet-robed disciple of the World Pill Division who I’ve never even heard of. I guess you must have come today because you wanted to get to know me!”
“You!!” cried Chen Jiaxi, his eyes exploding with a cold glow. In his opinion, such words were a direct insult. Not only did they proclaim that his reputation was so unremarkable that his opponent had never heard of him, they also implied that the reputation of someone who had finagled his way to Furnace Lord rang like thunder in his ears.
Not only were the flames of Chen Jiaxi’s anger stoked by Meng Hao’s words, the man next to him, Li Yiming, glared at Meng Hao icily. “How sharp-tongued!” he said.
Seeing that the altercation was about to intensify, Patriarch Violet Sieve cleared his throat and stepped between the two parties, followed by other Core Formation experts. With smiles on their faces, they led the way into the Hundred Thousand Mountains.
The arguing ceased immediately. Now that they were in the Black Sieve Sect, both the East Pill Division and the World Pill Division must give face. After all, they had been invited here, and the Black Sieve Sect wouldn’t want a violent conflict to erupt the moment their guests entered the Sect.
Zhou Dekun surreptitiously glanced at Meng Hao. Although he had a low opinion of him, he was secretly pleased. Meng Hao’s words just now had left him feeling quite satisfied.
They flew along, eventually reaching the Hundred Mountains, and a large temple which spread out beneath a green mountain peak. Here, the Black Sieve Sect had arranged a banquet to welcome the East Pill Division and World Pill Division.
Patriarch Violet Sieve made no more appearances. The mere fact that he had arrived to escort the master alchemists from the two Divisions was evidence of the respect offered by the Black Sieve Sect.
Most of the Sect’s Conclave disciples attended the banquet. Meng Hao saw Zhou Jie and Han Bei. However, he didn’t see Elder Sister Xu, which made him a bit worried, although he didn’t show it on his face.
Zhou Dekun engaged in lively conversation with the crowds of people. Li and Chen, the scarlet-robed master alchemists of the World Pill Division seemed very comfortable in such a setting, and quickly became a center of attention.
Also in attendance were six Core Formation Cultivators, who all sat together but interacted courteously with everyone present. The Black Sieve Sect really seemed to have gone all out in their attempts to welcome the alchemists from the two Sects.
The banquet wound to an end as night fell. As everyone began to depart, Meng Hao was escorted to an area of the Hundred Mountains called the Black Welcoming Mountains. On the peak of one of the mountains was a luxurious residence which was surrounded by various restrictive spells that made it extremely safe.
Considering Meng Hao came as a representative of the Violet Fate Sect, the Black Sieve Sect could not possibly allow any harm to come to him. This of course was a matter of face and relationship between two great Sects.
Late in the night, Meng Hao sat cross-legged within the building, breathing deeply. After meditating for some time, his body began to emanate a white Qi as he dissolved the alcohol from the beverages he had consumed during the banquet. Before consuming them, he had examined the alcohol using his skill with plants and vegetation, and knew that it was safe.
Some time passed, and then Meng Hao’s eyes opened. They glowed with a brilliant light.
“Han Bei is incredibly intelligent. Perhaps I shouldn’t have openly addressed her earlier. What is she hiding?” He thought about the matter for some time, but couldn’t come up with any theories. “I didn’t see Elder Sister Xu today, I wonder how she is…? And what about Zhou Jie? Something seems very off about him. He seems different than before….” After more thought, his eyes began to flicker. “What exactly did the Demon Sealing Jade mean….” He closed his eyes and continued to meditate.
Chen Jiaxi’s name in Chinese is 陈嘉喜 chén jiā xǐ – Chen is a common surname. Jia means “good,” “splendid,” and a variety of similar words. Xi means “happiness” ↩