Ye Futian had been away from Emperor Xia's Realm for quite a while. A lot had happened since, but Ye Futian, was without a doubt, nowhere to be seen.
In a compound found within the Xiao clan's manor in Emperor Xia's Realm, Xiao Sheng was coming to meet his father, Xiao Qianhe. Xiao Sheng had been forbidden from stepping foot into Emperor Xia's Palace since the end of the Battle of Empty Realm. This essentially meant that he was completely cut off from the center of power of Emperor Xia's Realm for good. His status with the Xiao clan had plunged since then, as he was no longer nurtured to be the next leader of the clan.
Xiao Sheng experienced every bit of that difference in how his clansman treated him, but he dedicated his efforts even more into his training to try to break through the obstacles posed by the planes. He would finally break into Saint Plane to prove his worth to those of the Xiao clan. He planned to venture out on a pilgrimage as soon as he stepped into Saint Plane. However, despite having become half a saint by then, he was still unable to communicate with the great path of the world and become a saint.
He came to Xiao Qinhe, his father's place on that day. "Father," Xiao Sheng bowed and called out.
Xiao Qianhe looked up at Xiao Sheng and sighed deep down. Xiao Sheng was the most gifted among his children.
"Why haven't you gone to train in isolation?" Xiao Qianhe asked.
"I heard that the people of the Divine Cloud Valley are here. Are they here for the matter with Gongsun Ni?" Xiao Sheng asked.
Xiao Qianhe took a look at him and nodded. "The incident you kicked up was the talk of the town, and given how you've been mesmerized by a woman into doing what you were doing, the people of Divine Cloud Valley considered it best to avoid the matter between you and Gongsun Ni."
Xiao Sheng said nothing. He did not show any signs of hatred or anger on his face. He had long expected that things would have ended up as such. Both parties had thoughts about a marriage alliance, and they had discussed it before. But how things were at the moment, there was simply no way the Divine Cloud Valley would allow Gongsun Ni to marry him.
"A lot has been going on in Emperor Xia's Realm as of late, but Ye Futian is nowhere to be found. It's been said that even when the Divine Cloud Valley was crafting implements for the people of the Nine States, Ye Futian still didn't show up. Many claimed that he was training in isolation to break into Saint Plane. I wonder if Ye Futian has been training in the Golden Hall of the Lotus in the royal palace all this while," Xiao Sheng said.
Ye Futian was allowed free access to Emperor Xia's Palace to train. He was even permitted to enter the Golden Hall of the Lotus, and that had been a compromise Xiao Sheng's aunt—Queen Xiao—made for his sake. Xiao Sheng, on the other hand, was practically in a ditch at the moment. The difference between the two men was very apparent.
"Maybe," Xiao Qinahe answered.
"Why would the princess summoned Ye Futian's demonic beast into the royal palace then? I have heard that the beast never left the royal palace since then. Is the beast training in the Golden Hall of the Lotus, just like Ye Futian?" Xiao Sheng asked.
Xiao Qianhe turned to look at his son as Xiao Sheng spoke. It seemed that even while he was training, Xiao Sheng paid close attention to Ye Futian's whereabouts, so much so that he had also paid attention to his demonic beast.
Some enmity you have there; indeed, Xiao Qianhe thought.
"What are you getting at?" Xiao Qianhe asked.
"Ye Futian demonstrated his ability to enthrall demonic beasts in the Battle of Empty Realm. He was even able to control them remotely and did not need to be by their side. That Black Wind Condor steed of his was even able to receive his commands from far away. Father, I'm wondering if that beast is training in the Golden Hall of the Lotus or if it simply is still in the Princess' residence," Xiao Sheng said.
"Seems you've come to your conclusions. But even if the bird is indeed at the Princess' place, what do you think that means? That Ye Futian is there as well?" Xiao Qianhe then continued, "Even if Xia Qingyuan has indeed let him stay at her place, it's still none of your business, given how even His Majesty is not bothered." His voice turned slightly serious. Despite feeling displeased with what had taken place, the incident was a lesson. Some matters were better left alone, regardless of how annoyed he was about them. Despite being her uncle, it was not Xiao Qianhe's place to butt into the Princess' business.
"No..." Xiao Sheng shook his head. "You should know well about the Princess' personality, father. He might not be at her place. If the Princess kept the bird at her place, it would naturally be for communication. That leads to the speculation if Ye Futian is even in the royal palace. Hell, for we all know, he might not even be in Emperor Xia's Realm at the moment."
Xiao Qianhe stared at Xiao Sheng. There was no doubt that vengeance would have served as good motivation at times. Due to harboring intense enmity towards Ye Futian, Xiao Sheng had been paying close attention to Ye Futian's whereabouts, and he came to an extremely accurate conclusion.
"What are you saying then?" Xiao Qinahe asked while looking at his son.
"Even if Ye Futian is absent, there is still no need for the Princess to keep his demonic beast. There is one other reason to be concerned." Xiao Sheng's expression became sharp. "Ye Futian is now somewhere very dangerous, and that is why the Princess needs to monitor him at all times. Father, where do you think he ended up?"
"You'd better keep the lesson from what happened last time," Xiao Qinahe warned him. He felt that his son was about to do something perilous.
"Rest assured, father. I've naturally learned my lesson." Xiao Sheng nodded and said, "I'll head back, father." He excused himself and left. Xiao Qianhe stared at his back as he went. The old man was thinking, Where is Ye Futian?
Xiao Sheng's expression looked unusually cold when he turned around. Some speculations could have been easily verified. Despite being gone for quite a while, there were still quite a number of the people from the Nine States staying around.
Xiao Sheng wanted to know if Ye Futian was still in Emperor Xia's Realm. If he was not, then when would he return?
Ye Futian came to Dali Academy once again, with Lu Chuan by his side. Many surrounded them when he stepped into the Dali Academy. The battle between the Seventh Swordsman and Di Hao proved that he was the number one below Saint Plane in all of Dali Dynasty and that he was stronger than Dong Chen. That, coupled with the fact that he became a student of the imperial advisor, naturally earned him a lot of attention.
Many whispered among themselves when he walked inside the Dali Academy. Ye Futian paid no heed to those voices and followed Lu Chuan to a place of training.
There were already several people waiting for them. It was evident that they knew Ye Futian was coming. The oldest student of the imperial advisor, Yan Yuan, was there. Other than Yan Yuan, three others emanated extraordinary bearing.
"Greetings, elder brothers," Ye Futian called. He knew that those men were the students of the imperial advisor.
"I suppose you know our eldest brother here. The one at the side is our second brother, Nan Zhai. Third brother, Mu Chunyang. Fourth brother, Wang Zhong," Lu Chuan introduced them one by one to Ye Futian. Lu Chuan was the fifth, and Yuan Jin was the youngest, but at that moment, it was Ye Futian.
"Our little brother here is indeed handsome. I'm sure girls will like you very much," Nan Zhai, their second brother, smiled and said. What Ye Futian found peculiar was that Nan Zhai was different from the other students of the imperial advisor. He was of very advanced age and sported silver hair and a beard, looking even older than the imperial advisor himself. His eyes were not large, and they turned to slits when he smiled, looking very amicable.
In comparison, their third brother, Mu Chunyang, emanated a far sharper aura. He had shoulder-length black hair and wore black clothing. He wore a curved blade on his back, making it apparent that he was a blade wielder.
Their fourth brother, Wang Zhong, looked extremely sharp in the eyes, which shimmered with golden light. He seemed very young, almost the same age as Ye Futian, but his real age was not so. Wang Zhong was a Saint of True Self at the second level of Saint Plane.
In truth, Lu Chuan had introduced him to them before they came. All five personal students of the imperial advisor were very powerful. Their eldest brother, Yan Yuan, and their third brother, Mu Chunyang, were both Unblemished Saints at the third level of Saint Plane. Nan Zhai, who was the second brother, was inferior to the third in terms of plane level, as he was only a Saint of True Self. However, since he became the student of the imperial advisor at an earlier date, he became the second. Wang Zhong and Nan Zhai were of the same plane, that of Saint of True Self. Lu Chuan was at the first level of Saint Plane, that of the Doctrine Saint. He was already at the pinnacle and would break into True Self at any given moment.
With Yuan Jin dead, the imperial advisor came only to have five students left. Even Lu Chuan, who was the weakest among them, had been someone whose name was the talk of Dali Dynasty ten years ago. One could have only imagined how prestigious being students of the imperial advisor were. It was due to such prestige that Di Hao wanted to study under the imperial advisor. After the imperial advisor chose Ye Futian instead, all of Dali Imperial City was shaken.
"Brothers, I seek only the way of the sword and have little interests in affairs with girls," Ye Futian replied. It was rumored that Nan Zhai was of average talent, but he had a good state of mind. Despite being surpassed by Mu Chunyang, who had joined at a far later date than he. The incident became the talk of many. He remained unfettered and did not take it to heart. He was then one plane below his younger brother, Mu Chunyang.
"It is good that you devote yourself to your seeking of the path, unlike your senior here, who gets distracted all the time and is now even surpassed by your third brother. Both you and Lu Chuan better not get too far with your training just yet. Remember to wait until your second brother here makes a breakthrough," Nan Zhai smiled and said. Ye Futian felt somewhat speechless at his words. Was this how a big brother should behave?
"Don't listen to his crap. If you run into any problem with your training in the future, seek out our teacher. If that doesn't prove possible, you could ask second brother here," Mu Chunyang said.
"It would seem like the third brother still has a lot of trust in me still," Nan Zhai nodded and quipped.
"You may not have much talent when it comes to training, but you are still an expert on empty talk, after all," Mu Chunyang replied.
"Cough, cough..." Nan Zhai blushed and glared at Mu Chunyang. "Leave some face for your elder brother, will you?"
"I should go." Wang Zhong excused himself and left on his own. Ye Futian took one look at him, and Nan Zhai said, "That's fourth brother for you. Don't mind him."
"Yeah." Ye Futian nodded. He had always felt saints to be on pedestals when he was still at lower planes as if they were unreachable beings. However, when his plane level had gotten close, he quickly found out that other than being of different states of mind due to being on higher planes, there was not that much of a difference when it came to daily interactions. Saints and sages were but plane levels. They were still people.
"Seventh Swordsman," Yan Yuan said, "if you run into any problems in training and you need answers, come to second brother. If you'd like to temper your body with the power of the saint, come to the third brother. Should you have any problems with mundane matters, feel free to look for Lu Chuan. If none of them can help solve your problem, come to me."
"I understand." Ye Futian nodded. Regardless of how exceptional and legendary Lu Chuan was, he was still the youngest among his fellow students. It reminded Ye Futian of the Cottage. Regardless of how exceptionally talented he was, he was the youngest brother. While his elder brothers and sisters cared for him a lot, they still liked to tease him when nothing was going on nonetheless. He had never expected to find a sense of familiarity in Dali. He did not know what to think of it.
"Thank you, brother, for helping me get out of the mess outside of the Dali Academy that day," Ye Futian said. He was naturally referring to the matter with Li Xuan. Yan Yuan seemed neutral back then, but he was actually leaning against Li Xuan to have him make compromises when Yan Yuan offered to help.
"Li Xuan had ulterior motives, and I wasn't doing that for you. If he continues to harass you in the future, there will be no need for you to go easy on him. Just be mindful not to kill him," Yan Yuan said plainly.
"Understood." Ye Futian nodded and left, heading towards the library of the Dali Academy.
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