In the end, they found Wu Mei and An Bao behind the village chief's house. They were standing around a corpse, and when Jin ZiXin got closer, he could tell that it bore some resemblance to the village chief.
It also looked to have been dead for at least a week.
"What happened?" he asked, grunting a little as Long Kun also tried to take a peak and almost toppled over.
Wu Mei answered, "The ghost is the village chief we met when we arrived. Apparently, he was an imposter. The real village chief died at least a week ago. From what the ghost was able to tell us before we exorcised it, the village chief had robbed his daughter of her chastity and then killed her, so the ghost was terrorizing the whole village in revenge."
"It's over?" Long Kun asked.
Jin ZiXin nodded in understanding and turned away from the corpse. An Bao looked pale, as if he had gone through a terrible ordeal. To be fair, that was likely what had happened.
"And what happened to the ghost?" Jin ZiXin inquired in a low voice.
Wu Mei and An Bao shared a secretive look between them, Then Wu Mei turned toward him and stated, "He won't be a problem anymore."
In other words, he was either dead or incapacitated.
Normally, Jin ZiXin would feel bad about killing someone, but this was a person who had murdered a child for his revenge, a child that didn't even have any part in it.
"Good." Long Kun said and nodded his head.
An Bao moved over to them to take over carrying Long Kun, and Jin ZiXin let him without any trouble. Long Kun was very heavy and Jin ZiXin had already done a lot of running around tonight. He asked, "Are we going to return to the sect now?"
"En." Wu Mei nodded and looked back at the corpse with a serious expression. "We'll set out tomorrow after we get the money. For now, let's find someplace to get some sleep."
They nodded, and did as ordered.
The next morning, one of the few surviving villagers handed over a bag of money to them. After they had eaten a healthy breakfast, they set out to return to the sect.
On the road, just as they left the village, Jin ZiXin saw Yue sitting high on a tree branch above them. She waved at him and gave him the universal sign for secrecy, and Jin ZiXin nodded back in understanding and acceptance.
The next time that he saw her after that was two months later, when he had another mission, this time a simple possession.
It was the beginning of a long-lasting treasured friendship.
Jin ZiXin led Yue to his own courtyard, utterly unconcerned about how others might interpret this.
The courtyard that he had was naturally the biggest courtyard of the entire sect, bigger even than all of the Peak Lords'. In a fenced off area, he had a garden that he carefully cultivated all by himself, and when he claimed to be mediating, this was more often than not what he was truly doing. The flowers in this garden were all possible colors, from the purest white, to the brightest pink, to the warmest yellow and to the darkest black.
Over the years since he became the sect leader, this had been his sanctuary. It had been left behind, like the rest of the courtyard, by the former sect leader, but Jin ZiXin had spent a considerable amount of time making his own mark on it.
In the middle of the garden, there was a picturesque small pond, barely bigger then two meters in diameter, with some lotuses blooming. One corner of the garden had a small collection of bamboo trees, standing tall and swaying in the mountain wind. The porch around the entire house was particularly big here, allowing him to sit and enjoy the view when life got stressful.
Yue and Jin ZiXin sat down on two chairs around a small table, and above them the wind chime sang a song.
"You've added new flowers?" Yue asked as she stared out at the beautiful garden
Jin ZiXin nodded. "En."
"It's as beautiful as always." Yue turned toward him and smiled.
"Why did you announce yourself?" Jin ZiXin asked.
Yue stared at her best friend. She wasn't sure what she could say to that. Jin ZiXin had never cared about if people knew of their relationship or not, in fact, he might have even been hurt that they didn't. It was only natural for him to wonder why she had made such a dramatic entry, when before she always emphasized the need for secrecy.
Truthfully, she wasn't entirely sure of it herself. Only a week ago, she had battled an immortal cultivator, one who had already ascended, and she had barely escaped with her life intact. It was thanks to the many salves and talismans that Jin ZiXin gave her that she had healed so quickly, as well as because of her natural advanced regeneration, due to her demon status. Once healed, she had hurried here as fast as she could, full of an urgent need to see him and make sure that he was safe.
After all, the cultivator knew about their relationship.
Yue knew that the only way that that was possible, was if one of her closest advisors — the only ones that she had told — had blabbed about it. Whether they had just blabbed about it to her, or others as well, that was the important question.
Regardless, she couldn't take the risk that this came back to bite Jin ZiXin's ass. Therefore, she had decided to reveal it herself, hopefully buying herself the benefit of doubt, before Qiu YanYu blew the whistle.
Finally, she said, "A cultivator found out about our relationship. I decided that it would be better if your sect found out straight from me, rather than unsavory rumors."
"Are you alright? They didn't hurt you, did they?" Jin ZiXin frowned in distress.
"No, I'm perfectly alright. I've already healed." Yue responded easily, smiling to take his mind off of it. She didn't want him to get into a fight with a cultivator like Qiu YanYu on her behalf, not that she needed the help.
Jin ZiXin hummed in thought, but he didn't press the subject.
He trusted Yue to tell him if there was a real problem.
Soon, servants came with their tea, giving Yue weary glances the entire time. Jin ZiXin picked up his cup and drank from it heartily, quite happy to be able to share tea with his best friend out in the open. Based on Liu Xiang and Hui DuYi's words, he could guess that there would be protests from his sect about their friendship, but he had no intention of pacifying them whatsoever and the sooner that they realized that, the better.
They spent the next hour together just drinking and taking in the scenery, relaxing in the warm, fresh air. Eventually, they didn't run out of topics to talk about, so much as just settled into a comfortable silence. Sundown was coming ever closer.
It was Jin ZiXin who interrupted the quiet. "I've been ordered to take my sect and appear at the Alliance Conference this year."
"Oh~?" Yue put her head on her hand and leaned over the table at him, smiling mischievously. "Really, now? I thought you didn't want to go because then you'd have to be around other cultivators and their sects, and listen to them discuss about cultivation seriously. Didn't you say that the secondhand embarrassment would be enough to kill you?"
"I did." Jin ZiXin nodded and swallowed another mouthful of tea. "But this time Ive been threatened, so there's nothing I can do."
"Threatened?" Yue asked in a dangerous tone.
Jin ZiXin got the feeling that he had stumbled onto some kind of protective instinct, and while that was sweet, it wasn't something that he needed.
He shook his head in order to calm her down. "It was just the former sect leader saying that he wouldn't return and reclaim his place unless I did this. Nothing you need to worry about."
"Mhmm." Yue narrowed her eyes at him and sipped her tea. "If you say so."
They settled back into silence easily.
By the time Liu Xiang and Hui DuYi finally entered his courtyard with what was sure to protests, the sun was in the process of setting, creating a magnificent sight over the building's walls. They stepped out onto the porch Jin ZiXin and Yue were occupying noisily, making no effort to hide their presences.
Liu Xiang broached the topic first.
"How can you sit here sipping tea with a demon, Sect Leader?"
Jin ZiXin just blinked his eyes at him uncomprehendingly.
Liu Xiang breathed out sharply and pinched the top of his nose. "She's a demoness! You can not be friends with her!"
"You are being rude to my guest, and more importantly, my precious friend." Jin ZiXin sat the teacup down on the table and fixed Liu Xiang with a harsh glare. "I suggest you stop it."
"You treasure her that much?" Hui DuYi interjected.
"Yes." Jin ZiXin stated simply.
Yue set down her own teacup and said, "Xiao Xin is my best friend. I would never do anything to hurt him."
"You are a demon. Demons lie and deceive." Liu Xiang harshly stated.
Yue smiled viciously at him. "Are you saying that humans don't?"
To that, there was really no right answer. After all, humans could be just as cruel, if not crueler, than demons and Liu Xiang knew this well, being an old man at heart.
"We are not discussing the fault of humans now, demoness." Liu Xiang finally answered.
Jin ZiXin watched on from the sidelines, not having the slightest urge to interfere. He was upset by his uncle's casual disregard of Yue, when she was an amazing person, but it wasn't his battle to fight. If he did, then even if he won, Yue would never be given true respect by anyone here, and that wasn't fair to her.
She deserved it, and he knew full well that she could earn it on her own merits, he knew her too well not to.
Hui DuYi chose this moment to say, "It is unseemly for a sect leader to be in the company of a demoness."
"Why, haven't you heard?" Yue smirked at them and her sweet voice was particularly cruel sounding. "Jin ZiXin doesn't believe in cultivation. Or demons, for that matter."
Both Peak Lords frowned at the true statement.
At the end of the day, Jin ZiXin's words transcended theirs, and he was going to be adamant about her not being a demon. The younger disciples who still didn't take him seriously when he denied the existence of cultivation, would believe him over them.
It was a real problem, and one that they hadn't found a solution to yet.
Outside of the sect, Jin ZiXin had a reputation as a knowledgable, elegant and powerful cultivator of Nascent Soul stage. Moreover, he was also known widely as the youngest person to ever become a sect leader, though not many knew his true age. And the sad fact was, they couldn't afford to lose that reputation, which meant that they couldn't make a big deal out of it.
When no one spoke for a long time, Jin ZiXin thought that it was time to change the subject, and escape this bothersome uncomfortable silence.
"Our sect will be going to the Alliance Conference this year."
Liu Xiang and Hui DuYi both had expressions of abject horror on their faces. Jin ZiXin wondered if he should be feeling offended. He ignored their questioning faces and turned back toward his friend.
Across from him, Yue burst out laughing.
Jin ZiXin decided not to worry about it, and picked up his teacup again.