Chapter 53: Reprimanding the Disciple
Gao Xiang walked round and round the tent anxiously.
After a while, the curtains were pulled apart and a man dressed in the clothing and adornment of a Nine Jade Palace elder walked in.
He appeared to be in his thirties and seemed to be a little arrogant.
The moment Gao Xiang saw him, he was overjoyed. "Master!"
This man was exactly Gao Xiang's Master — An Tongchen, Zhuo Jiangui's sole direct disciple.
An Tongchen nodded in response to his greeting, brushed off his sleeves and sat down.
"Master!" Gao Xiang nearly jumped into his embrace. "It's good that you're here now! Mingshu had disappeared!"
"I've heard." An Tongchen's calm and unwavering tone seemed awfully cold, just like the feeling he gave off to others. This feeling was very similar to Zhuo Jiangui's, yet it was different in some sense. Zhuo Jiangui's coldness lied in his appearance, and if one truly knew him he would not find him to be a cold person. Whereas for An Tongchen, one would find everything about him — from his temperament to his manner — as cold as icy frost.
"Martial Granduncle Zhang has tried searching, but could not find her. Master, you …"
Straightaway, Gao Xiang's words were cut off by An Tongchen, "I've to attend the encirclement hunting. I have no time to go."
Gao Xiang was stunned. "Master …"
That day, with Zhang Qiang's help, he had rushed back to the camp. The line of Willow Woods had always only had a sole successor, hence he did not have any senior uncle he could ask for help. Fortunately, his master and martial grandfather still had some good acquaintances in the sect. Under the directions of a senior uncle, he found the courtyard leader of Jiulu Province's Lower House – Martial Granduncle Zhang Kunzhang.
Martial Granduncle Zhang was from a line of Grandmasters, which meant he was a proper elder for Lu Mingshu who came from the same line. Once he got the information from Gao Xiang, Martial Granduncle Zhang dispatched disciples right away, as expected.
However, the outcome made Gao Xiang very disappointed.
The reinforcements pursued the Specter all the way and discovered an irregular rock in the mountain canyon. Once this discovery was disclosed, everyone immediately fell into conflict, unable to decide who the irregular rock should belong to. The senior uncle dispatched to search for Lu Mingshu under the command of Martial Granduncle Zhang, got involved in the conflict too. However, he had ultimately still searched — although carelessly — for traces, but could not find anything. Lu Mingshu had disappeared into thin air.
The encirclement hunt was an important matter, hence there were experts from the sect arriving one after the other. Gao Xiang waited patiently for days and finally managed to wait until his own master arrived.
He had originally thought Lu Mingshu would be saved now that his master is there. However, he never thought that his master would reject his request.
"Master, it is martial grandfather that wants to protect her."
An Tongchen's expression went even colder when he heard Gao Xiang's words. "Are you implying that I am wrong, so now you're trying to pressurize me with your martial grandfather?"
As this was considered a heavy crime in the sect, Gao Xiang bit his lips and lowered his head. "This disciple doesn't dare."
An Tongchen coldly replied, "Your martial grandfather indeed had the intention of protecting her when he wanted both of you to journey together. But, he didn't have the intention of telling you to place her before your own interest, he even more so didn't have the intention for her to surpass you — a proper disciple grandson."
Gao Xiang did not dare to utter a word.
"To not know what is more important and make no distinction between major and minor matters, who do you make yourself out to be?" An Tongchen lectured him even more severely, "Are you the sole successor of the line of Willow Woods, or her servant?"
Gao Xiang who was startled, hastily said, "Master, that is not my intention."
An Tongchen did not listen to him. "That is not your intention? The moment I came, you neither greeted me, nor asked about the current situation, but just got me to save that girl instead. In your heart, is she more important than me, your master?"
Gao Xiang jumped in shock, and hastily kneeled down. "This disciple does not dare."
"Good that you don't dare, remember who you are!" An Tongchen's tone could be said to be very strict.
He had been dissatisfied with this matter for a long time. He chose Gao Xiang as a disciple not only because of his extremely good aptitude but also because of his exceptional perception. It was precise because he saw how sincere Gao Xiang was, as well as how he knew how to differentiate between a major and minor matter, that An Tongchen took him as his disciple. An Tongchen did not teach his disciple to be somebody without an opinion.
He knew that Gao Xiang was not to be blamed for this matter; that girl is a fast thinker, so when one was together with her, they would not need to turn on their thinking caps. Over time, one would get used to letting her take the lead.
An Tongchen's tone was milder now that he had taken the opportunity to knock some sense into Gao Xiang. "I am not trying to refuse to lend a helping hand, but you have to think of the essence of this matter. There can only be two possibilities for Senior Uncle Zhang to dispatch disciples and not find traces of her. One — that child had been intercepted on the way and had already met harm's way. Two — her luck wasn't bad, and she had narrowly escaped. Regardless of what had happened, I can not change much about her fate. What's more, a conflict is currently happening on that side, so if I were to go, it would be hard to convince others that I have no intention to fight, even if I truly do not have any. Our line of Willow Woods always stays away from internal conflicts within the sect; just think of the trouble our involvement would cause."
Gao Xiang was just anxious and wasn't dumb. The moment he was reminded, he immediately understood the hidden meaning behind his master's words and felt guilty. "This disciple was wrong …"
"Good that you know your mistake, I won't mind changing a disciple if you can't change." An Tongchen continued, "You should pack up and follow along to hunt. In order to give their own family's youngster more influence, the Zhou family spent a lot of their hard-earned savings. No matter how much our line of Willow Woods stays out of conflicts, our disciple should never back down!"
Gao Xiang was rather hesitative on this, and spoke very carefully, "Then, Mingshu …"
An Tongchen shot a look at him. "What's with that look? I just want you to use your brains more; I'm not telling you to abandon your friend. You have known her since a young age, so it's only natural to show concern."
Gao Xiang let out a breath of relief and revealed a silly grin. "Master …"
"I have already dispatched people to search for her, so there will naturally be a report if there is news of her. Don't be too worried."
"Yes …" Gao Xiang may have said so, but he was still very worried. His trust in Lu Mingshu was incomparably deep, so much so that he would believe her to be alive as long as her corpse had not been found yet.
On a nameless mountain top, Yan Wugui sat on a large rock, whilst holding onto his knife.
The chilly wind attacked them head-on.
"The battle array of Nine Jade Palace is really large this time," he said.
Lu Mingshu looked left and right but did not figure out any profound theory. "How do you make that out?"
Yan Wugui pointed. "Don't you find it too quiet?"
"This is a beast cave." Yan Wugui explained patiently, "You can think of a beast cave as a town of demonic beasts. Think about how frequently we met ferocious beasts on the way here ... You don't need me to tell you more, right?"
Lu Mingshu understood the hint. "I understand now, it shouldn't be this quiet since it's a beast cave. The more silent it is, the more unusual the situation is."
"Not bad." The more time he spent around her, the more satisfied he was with her. This little maiden only lacks some knowledge and experience, but she has exceptional perception — she only needed some advice to deduce the right answer. Adding in her birth status, it really makes one full of expectations. Who knows what kind of situation Nine Jade Palace will be in another eight to ten years from now? He had personally experienced the temper of this little maiden these few days. She appeared neither warm nor hot-headed on the surface, and she was as hard as a rock on the inside.