"He's quite cute", the old woman chuckled after Hei Yue happily indulged in his belly getting rubbed.
Ming Yue did not notice her at all.
This woman seemed slightly younger than that of Dong Kuai, the old elder who used a cane. Her hair was neatly combed, cut to the length of her shoulders. A light gray color that complemented her simple clothes, a light brown hue resembling that of fresh clay. Her skin was aged and wrinkled but porcelain white in color. Her face showed years of wisdom despite the carefree expression.
"This one greets senior", Ming Yue gave a slight bow and cupped her hands.
If she had to guess, this old woman was definitely an elder of the sect. She did not want to disrespect her in any way.
"Oh, do away with that nonsense! I'm just a simple old woman now, tending to my little garden", she gave a small chuckle, "Come here, sit and talk with me."
The old woman patted the grass beside her just as Hei Yue flipped over, letting her pet his head. He looked at Ming Yue with begging eyes, hoping that he could continue to enjoy this treatment.
Looking at the both of them, Ming Yue complied, promptly sitting next to the woman. Her legs stretched out, she sat and looked around.
"So, what brings you here?" she asked Ming Yue.
"...Nothing really. Things just fell into place and here I am. I don't think it has even been a month yet and much has happened, almost too much."
"Ah yes, life tends to be that way. Quite hard to predict, you know. Of course, the things that you do find out can be controlled."
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"Is this why I've suddenly found myself to be allies with a sect like this? There are plenty stronger than me, those who have already made names for themselves."
"You could consider this luck, destiny, opportunity or all three. After all, things are starting to stir up in the world. Perhaps you may not understand it, well, most of us can't understand it but something is coming. Those with sinister intentions are making their moves. Choosing sides will come soon, perhaps this experience will help you."
"What do you mean?" Ming Yue turned around to find herself alone.
"Wha-", she felt a bit exasperated.
Of all the things she needed, a mysterious figure giving her advice was not one of them. Although, she started thinking about the woman's words. "Sinister intentions", if the world was to be thrust into chaos, she would need to be strong enough to survive maybe make a difference.
"Ah, here you are!" Wen Jing's appearance interrupted her thoughts.
"The sect leader just finished her meeting and wants to meet with you", she said.
Ming Yue got up and followed her into the sect hall where Senior Qing sat on the innermost chair.
"Ah, Ming Yue, how do you feel?" she asked.
"I should thank you for letting me train on that peak. It was a very rewarding experience", Ming Yue answered.
"Yes, in the times I came to check on you, you were getting quite comfortable with it. Perhaps I should've activated the second level", said Senior Qing, "Anyways, would you like to stay for the gathering that will happen in a few days? Many renowned figures and their disciples will come. This could be a chance for you to gain some valuable experience."
"You treat me too well, I do not think that I can accept such goodwill."
"Please, consider this as putting my trust on you. You have done much for me."
"This...there must be something else? I'm merely a stranger and yet, you put so much care towards me. You say it's destiny but I cannot see it as that way."
Ming Yue voiced her thoughts. It wasn't that she was ungrateful but she needed to know why Senior Qing would treat her so well.
"So it was like this. Well, I'm not particularly hiding much, I suppose I'm just betting on you. You see, one of the disciples that I have personally taught spoke about you. If you remember, it was Jing Hai during the time at the Bloody Plains."
"Yes, I remember but that was a while ago. What does it have to do with what is happening now?"
"Ah, I've actually wanted to meet you for a while. Jing Hai had told me of her time there, including details of a young girl who she found difficult to see through. Having stayed in the secret realm through your own power and the fact that one of the older statues had accepted you showed that your potential was great. I believed it to be fate when you had come to the mountain, took it as a opportunity."
"But were you not in closed-door training? Preparing to reach the Sky Realm?"
"What? Just because I was in training doesn't mean I should not know the affairs of my own sect. Anyways, I thought to make early preparations for the future. The more I invest into you now, chances are, in the future your help could prove to be invaluable. Right now, there is too much that you need to understand. If you die before anything could even happen, then my decision was made in vain."
Ming Yue kept silent, unsure of what to say. Fortunately, Senior Qing had more to say.
"Life was probably much simpler before you've entered the martial world. Most if not everyone within it look for opportunity, perhaps in the form of treasures or people. You're a straightforward person, quick-witted in battle but the human heart is incredibly complicated. You must decide who to trust and who to kill, everyone has ulterior motives. What matters is whether they align with yours."
Senior Qing stood up from her chair and walked towards Ming Yue.
"You should stay for the gathering. Maybe rub some shoulders at the very least", she said.
Senior Qing seemed different from before, not has gentle or benevolent. Rather, Ming Yue saw a resolute woman, one with cold and calculative eyes. The countenance of a leader is what she saw. Ming Yue wasn't afraid by this but she was not enchanted by it either, that coldness in Senior Qing's eyes was unsettling. There did not seem to be a shred of empathy, not an inch of emotion.
"Remember this feeling", she said, "There will be others who are like this, perhaps even worse. In times where you find yourself against another person, think about what you're feeling today."
She returned to her usual self, calm and soft.
"This was a lesson", Ming Yue realized. It certainly was true, dealing with those in power required strength of mind. Her martial prowess would mean nothing.
"Indeed, the stronger you become, the more complicated the world becomes. Numerous forces and countless sects and organizations reside on this continent, talking to people is the least of your issues. You must learn to maneuver your way through many things. You should go now, take this time to consolidate your cultivation. I'll send someone to take you to the gather when it begins", Senior Qing replied.
Ming Yue bowed and left, feeling a bit enlightened and at the same time, rethinking her past choices. Understanding the intentions of others, when she gave it a bit of thought, she never truly cared to think on it.
"You really are invested in this girl aren't you?" the old woman from before had appeared behind Senior Qing.
"When Jing Hai described the figure of the statue that accepted her, I had become interested. Then you came with information about her. She will surely be in the thick of the future calamity."
"Heh, I happened to know people and heard news of a skilled young woman. If you truly think she will bring change then I will support you. After all, you are the sect leader now."
Senior Qing turned around to find the old woman gone.
"Senior...", she spoke with respect.
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