Ruan Hongling stared at the two flower buds floating on Tianyi Pond's surface. The buds were glowing faintly, bathed in ethereal fluorescence. Embedded in their cores were the dark silhouettes of two tiny fetuses.
Deng Yu and Deng Jiao had been reborn.
Smiling, Ruan Hongling reached out to touch the buds but then stilled her hand at the last moment. She probably shouldn't touch them. What if she messed everything up? After all, she couldn't do anything right, could she?
With a heavy sigh, Ruan Hongling lowered her hand and rose to her feet. Her movements stirred the Tianyi Pond's surface; the buds vibrated gently, sending out ripples across the pond's surface.
She turned away from the pond and walked away.
She had failed Zi Yuan jiějie again. Liuhe was already gone by the time she had managed to cajole the Yan household to open their safe. Yan Hua himself was surprised when they discovered the sword's absence from the safe. That stupid idiot had even blamed Zi Yuan jiějie for stealing the sword again, for taking what was rightfully his. When Ruan Hongling asked him why he thought Zi Yuan jiějie was the one responsible for the sword's absence, he went on a spiel about he had to painstakingly "convince" Zi Yuan jiějie to return the sword to the Yan family home after that disastrous performance.
It had taken all of Ruan Hongling's self-restraint not to burn the idiot's head off with a fire spell.
When Ruan Hongling returned to their apartment empty-handed, Zi Yuan jiějie had assured her that it wasn't her fault. Zi Yuan jiějie had even gone as far as to say that it was her own fault that Liuhe was now in the hands of Yan Fang. Naturally, Ruan Hongling had balked at such a notion—considering its sheer absurdity. However, when Ruan Hongling tried to argue the contrary, Zi Yuan jiějie ended the discussion by saying that she shouldn't have returned the sword back to the Yan family home in the first place, that she shouldn't have yielded to Yan Hua incessant pestering.
Fine. Neither of them were at fault.
It was Yan Hua's fault.
Ruan Hongling was just about to exit Tianyi Cave when she heard a woman's voice.
"Zi Yuan of the Linggong Sect! Ruan Hongling! Step outside now to welcome your guests!"
Ruan Hongling frowned. What the hell is she doing here?
Ruan Hongling gritted her teeth and stormed out of Tianyi Cave. Then, she flew towards the temple's front courtyard.
It was that annoying bitch, Zou Ping, though someone else was with her this time: a woman whom Ruan Hongling had never met before.
Ruan Hongling landed on the courtyard and positioned herself right in front of the temple's entrance. Ignoring the mocking smile on Zou Ping's face, Ruan Hongling focused her attention on the second woman.
The woman didn't seem to be carrying any weapon, though it might be too early to tell since both of her hands were hidden inside the sleeves of her Daopao. Did she have a concealed weapon? What could it be? A fly whisk? Needles?
Ruan Hongling's heart stopped when her gaze landed on the woman's face. There was a red dot at the center of the woman's forehead. The dot wasn't large, roughly the same diameter as a typical pencil, but it was conspicuous. It was prominent, just like what it symbolized.
Only the immediate family members of the Head of the Zhengyi School had the right to carry that mark on their foreheads.
This woman was related to Zhang Tianshī and Zhang Tianhé.
"You insolent girl!"
Ruan Hongling tore her gaze away from mystery woman and looked towards Zou Ping. Zou Ping was clearly pissed off about something, if the indignant look on her face was anything to go by.
"What are you waiting for?" Zou Ping snarled, pointing at the ground. "Kneel!"
Anger rose inside Ruan Hongling like a volcano. "What did you say?" she growled.
"I said kneel, you insolent girl!"
Ruan Hongling stared at Zou Ping blankly, appalled at the woman's ludicrous demand. Kneel? Seriously? The members of the Linggong Sect shouldn't even have to bow to anyone in the main sect let alone kneel!
This was an insult!
"Good Heavens, this girl." Zou Ping shook her head slowly. "You wouldn't even pay the Lady of the Earthly Fire her due respect?"
Ruan Hongling gasped.
The Lady of the Earthly Fire?
This woman was Zhang Ling. Zhang Tianshī zhenren's elder sister. Zhang Tianhé's paternal aunt.
Zou Ping was still going on a spiel about etiquette and whatnot. "I swear I've never met anyone capable of such insolence…"
Heavens above. The Lady of the Earthy Fire in the flesh. The Cultivator hailed as the master of the Fire Element who, according to Zi Yuan jiějie, had the power to summon the True Flames of Samadhi from the earth.
"…Linggong Sect is filled with insolent people!"
Ruan Hongling shot a murderous glare at Zou Ping. She'd had enough of that bitch's demeaning attitude. "Why should I kneel?" she snapped.
Zou Ping stared at her as though she'd grown ten heads. "Are you seriously asking—"
"In terms of status, Zhang Ling zhenren and I are equals!"
God, she was so sick and tired of this relentless bullying.
Zou Ping gasped. "You… How absurd—"
"Absurd?" Ruan Hongling raised a brow. "How is it absurd when it's a fact?"
"A fact…" Zou Ping laughed incredulously. "You're out of your mind."
"Zi Yuan zhenren is the acting Head of the Linggong Sect, and I'm her shīmèi!"
"Zhang Tianshī zhenren is the Head of the Zhengyi School, and Zhang Ling zhenren is his shījiě." Ruan Hongling smirked. "So, Zhang Ling zhenren and I are pretty much equals."
"But the Linggong Sect is just a subsidiary sect!" Zou Ping spat.
"Whatever," Ruan Hongling growled. "I'm not kneeling to anyone."
"My, my, my… You have no manners at all do you, young lady."
Ruan Hongling's scalp tingled. She looked towards Zhang Ling zhenren who had spoken for the first time.
The woman smirked. "Could it be due to the lack of proper disciplining?"
Ruan Hongling took an unconscious step back.
Zhang Ling zhenren removed her hands from her robe. "In that case, I shall teach you a lesson today."
It happened so fast.
Zhang Ling zhenren's eyes flashed in red, and all of a sudden, Ruan Hongling's chest and face felt as if they were burning from the inside. Ruan Hongling bit down on her lip and fought against the pain. She refused to scream, refused to cry out.
A gentle breeze blew in from behind her. The next thing she knew, the burning sensation was gone. A soft rustle sounded behind her, followed by a gentle voice.
"Greetings, Lady of the Earthly Fire. To what do we owe the pleasure?"