93 Burning a Bridge
Not a sound could be heard as everyone was too stunned digesting the meaning behind Kenja's words.
'Please, Third Elder, don't punish junior brother.'
'Don't punish junior brother.'
'Don't punish Matsushita Hizumi.'
Punish him your head!
It was obvious to everyone that the Third Elder had clearly come to punish you, and his disciple came along to enjoy the show!
Looks of incredulity appeared on many of the disciples' faces as a mixture of awe and pity was directed towards Kenja. Because of his innocent appearance, many of the enamored onlookers believed Kenja was naive and ignorant while a few with more powerful cultivations believed something else was afoot, but they were incapable of determining what it was.
Matsushita Hizumi anxiously knitted his eyebrows as he eyed this senior sister of his warily.
Although their interactions were brief and few in number, he suffered a loss each time he dealt with Kenja. He no longer underestimated Kenja's plotting ability and silver tongue. Even now, Kenja had rendered him incapable of forming a counter plot or throwing a harmless glare his way, relying entirely on his juniors to communicate this issue to his master.
Initially, he was happy when Kenja bowed apologetically to them, but after hearing his words and seeing no fear in his eyes, Matsushita Hizumi grew itchy and uncomfortable.
Perhaps, the most confused person here was Third Elder Kondo who could only scrutinize Kenja silently, searching for the hidden plot but failing to see it. Just as he was about to ask what those words meant, Kenja began searching through his robes.
Walking forward, Kenja placed several items in the Third Elder's hands. When Matsushita Hizumi saw what they were, his worries subsided significantly. His keystone along with his other junior brothers' keystones were all in his master's possession.
There was no way a mere junior disciple could overturn the Heavens and defeat his master. Anyone in Kenja's shoes must take a step back!
"In fact, I had intended to discard the results of our little game, but when I heard him say such hurtful things about venerable Third Elder, I sought to discipline him as his senior sister. Since junior brother has informed the venerable Third Elder of his wrongdoing, he must have taken the appropriate steps to apologize for his unfilial words. I return these to venerable Third Elder. Please, be lenient with junior brother," Kenja's eloquent speech was delivered so casually and with such confidence that few could doubt his intentions.
Upon hearing this and seeing no hint of a trick in Kenja's demeanor, the Third Elder turned to his disciple for validation.
Matsushita Hizumi was staring slack-jawed at Kenja in complete disbelief. Sensing his master's gaze, he shook his head and denied it vehemently, "I said no such thing, master! I would never curse master!"
Third Elder inspected him for any tells or fluctuations to ensure he was telling the truth. After a breath of time, he was certain that his disciple was telling the truth.
"Junior brother's words are misleading. When I asked you about the venerable Third Elder, weren't you the one adamantly shouting out, 'My actions are of no concern to master'? Your senior sister wouldn't lie about such an important matter."
Despite the softness of Kenja's altered voice, it somehow carried a sweet-sounding gentleness that reached even the ears of the Body Tempering disciples stuck all the way in the back who were incapable of watching the spectacle without standing on one another's shoulders.
Matsushita Hizumi's expression warped into something ugly as he vaguely remembered this seemingly inconsequential sentence leave his mouth at the time. At that time, this statement was meant to showcase his independence, but in Kenja's mouth, his declaration was twisted into a curse against one's master.
Sensing the weight of his master's questioning gaze land on him a second time, he resolutely tried to deny it, "It's not true, mast—AAAAAAH." Matsushita Hizumi howled out, his knees buckling from the unbearable pain as he fell to the floor and clutched onto his chest.
He was unable to refute Kenja without suffering from the Soul Oath as it would mean portraying his senior sister as a liar when he knew that only the truth was spoken.
The Third Elder clenched his teeth when he saw the Soal Oath deliver a backlash to his disciple. There was no stronger confirmation than this. His face reddened in anger from the humiliation, but before he could say anything, Kenja spoke out again.
"Venerable Third Elder need not be hard on him. The other junior brothers had said similar things. Right, junior brother? That's why I took their keystones as well." His words seemed like an attempt to deflect some blame for Matsushita Hizumi's sake, but in reality, they only made the Third Elder more upset with him and his posse.
This senior sister was already preparing his grave, yet she insisted on making him shovel the dirt as well…
Matsushita Hizumi wanted to shed tears as he felt a pressure on his soul that would not alleviate until he showed Kenja a strained smile, replying to his question.
"En," he confirmed Kenja's story in a nearly inaudible volume through grit teeth, relieved that the threatening pain on his soul vanished.
The aura around Third Elder Kondo grew turbulent as a furious gaze was directed towards Little Hizu. Gulping unconciously, Matsushita Hizumi attempted to apologize while choosing his words carefully, "Disciple misspoke, master! Disciple never meant to—"
Ensuring Little Hizu shut up, the Third Elder peeked at the other elders before closing his eyes and ruminating.
Snail could not help himself and jumped at the silence to clear his doubts, "Did you plan this trap for them ahead of time, disciple?"
He had gotten used to Kenja's quick thinking by now, so his decision to return the stones only impressed him a little. But after Kenja reminded Matsushita Hizumi of the previous statements said in passing several days ago, Snail remembered them as well and could not believe that Kenja had laid this trap knowing what would happen ahead of time.
Kenja was disinclined to speak at this moment, but he was worried Snail would continue to pester him if he remained silent. "It wasn't a trap. How could I know they would come seek me here and while the other elders and disciples are present? It was just insurance for master."
Snail eyed him warily, still doubting his words, but he did not question him further.
Kenja was not some naive, little boy.
Whether one considered their status or their cultivation, Kenja was worse than Matsushita Hizumi by a large margin. Since they were both the disciples of sect elders, the chance existed that both of their masters could get involved in their dispute. Kenja hoped this little thing could give him and his master the moral high ground if a conflict ensued.
How was he supposed to know this awe-inspiring Tributary would come looking for him so soon?
Kenja was forced to pull out this card without his master's backing, but with so many other disciples and elders spectating, the desired effect was still achieved.
"Little niece has gone through many pains for this old man," Third Elder Kondo offered his thanks.
He was not completely fooled by Kenja, but considering the circumstances and his disciple's own guilty admission, the Third Elder no longer had the desire nor the standing to make things difficult for this niece. Additionally, although Kenja had laid the trap, it was his own disciple that had fallen for it, tearing his face in front of the sect. In contrast, it was Kenja who proclaimed in front of the whole sect that he acted in the Third Elder's defense.
How could the Third Elder retain any dignity if he still tried to bully the junior after all this…?
"Venerable elder need not concern himself with this disciple. It is only right for disciple to look after her juniors."
Matsushita Hizumi looked away from Kenja, his shoulders trembling in indignation. Repeatedly humiliated by a Qi Flourishing girl who had barely joined the sect, in front of everyone…how could he bear it…
Yet, he was incapable of retaliating. He was on the verge of going crazy with nowhere to vent.
Third Elder saw his disciple's turmoil and sighed.
"Little niece is quite virtuous. Little Hizu has gained a dependable senior sister."
Matsushita Hizumi's head jerked to face his master in disbelief.
Flinging the keystone at his forehead, the Third Elder forced Little Hizu to swallow his words, "Silence! Haven't you embarrassed your master enough? Take this and enter seclusion. If you step outside before a month has passed, you will no longer have to call this old man your master."
Without a second thought, Matsushita Hizumi kneeled respectfully.
"Disciple has received master's command."
But instead of leaving right away, he stayed kneeling with a complicated look on his face.
Annoyed, the Third Elder huffed, "Well? Why haven't you left yet?"
"Replying to Master, I do not have anymore spirit stones," Matsushita Hizumi looked at Kenja meaningfully.
The other elders looked at him in amusement understanding his intentions perfectly.
There was no conceivable way that one of the elders' disciples, a proclaimed Tributary, would be out of spirit stones.
He was obviously targetting Kenja who should have emptied his keystone of all its credits shortly after obtaining it, making it impossible to purchase any additional spirit stones with it. Whether it was for retribution or because of greed, he wanted to extort Kenja who supposedly ate up all his credits.
If the other elders could understand this, Elder Kondo definitely would as well. Before he could ponder over this predicament and whether he should give him a few spirit stones from his own storage bag, Kenja spoke up once more in his casual tone.
"How many credits did junior brother have?"
Matsushita Hizumi considered lying to extort more credits out of Kenja, but the evil thought caused him to wince in pain and speak truthfully, "Around ten thousand."
This number was not shameful in the least and would shock many others into a state of envy.
And shock was what happened when many envious gasps were heard from the other disciples. For most of them, just a thousand was enough to satisfy them for a decade and cultivate seriously without worrying about their expenditure.
"Brother Hizumi has saved up a lot of credits," praised Shimizu Mizutani.
As a fellow Tributary, she had a little bit less than him as she was training under the Sixth Elder to refine pills. While such an occupation would usually be lucrative, that was assuming one was not spending money to practice unfamiliar recipes and improving one's skills through repeated failures.
"Junior brother need not worry. Actually, I doubled the number of credits in all those keystones as a reward for improving your attitude towards your master. Now, I am no longer certain whether you have truly reformed…alas, forget it. Treat it as a gift from your senior sister. Be more respectful to your master from now on."
Matsushita Hizumi's jaw fell open after he heard this, disbelieving it completely.
"There's no way."
Kenja chuckled, "I told you senior sister doesn't lie. If you don't believe me, you can check for yourself right over there," pointing to a tribulatory demarcator located outside the perimeter of the grassy field behind the crowd of disciples.
Wanting to out Kenja as a liar in front of the whole sect, Little Hizu barely held himself back from going over there to test the stone's credit.
"No need. Naturally, I believe you."
Little Hizu did not dare call Kenja's bluff as it was only a few days ago that he saw all of Elder Kazane's new disciples reveal their vast wealth at the student orientation. Only, he could not fathom why Kenja would double the credits on his keystone.
It was at this moment Matsushita Hizumi had a thought that scared him to his core.
Did he plan all this from the start to make him appear the fool? Did this innocent-looking, young girl know everything would turn out this way?
Needless to say, everyone, including the elders, were stunned by this new information.
Kenja preemptively returning the keystones to the Third Elder could be attributed to quick thinking and decisive acting, but doubling the credits was something easily verifiable and required specific preparation beforehand. He did not have the time to set it up after knowing about the Third Elder's arrival, nor did he have a reason to do so unless he was truly planning to return the keystones to Matsushita Hizumi and his followers in the first place.
Expressions full of mockery and disapproval were directed towards Matsushita Hizumi.
The Tributary was still looking to bully Kenja when he not only returned the fairly won spoils of their wager but spent his own credits as a reward for these unsportsmanlike tattle-tales.
Little Hizu's entire body shuddered violently in agitation and disbelief. Unable to control his bottled-up anger, he directed a fierce glare with a fiercer aura towards the mocking stares behind him, forcing several of the front rows to cower a step back. Small, violent fluctuations emanated from his powerful body that could not be directed anywhere.
Thorougly humiliated, lacking the words to respond as well as the means to fight back, clutching his keystone tightly to contain himself, he could only vent in this fashion.
Third Elder Kondo's gaze shifted amongst Kenja, Little Hizu and his fellow elders.
He sighed again causing his moustache whiskers to quiver.
He was truly angry, but a majority of it was not towards anyone in particular. Yes, a portion of his anger was due to his little disciple and his posse, but seeing this disciple's current state, there was no reason to punish him further.
Instead, he pitied him.
Under the guise of a punishment, the month of seclusion was the Third Elder's way to end the current situation immediately and give him time to work on the knot in his heart that should have cropped up from his interactions with Kenja.
And he could not blame this beautiful and young thing surnamed Hirai as she had reacted defensively every step of the way. She welcomed him warmly and with deference. She returned the keystones without being asked. She did not extract any of the credits and, instead, took the initiative to award the losers with points out of her own pocket…
If he blamed her after all this, then the Third Elder would worry about a knot forming in his own heart!
But because of his disciple's foolish vindictiveness, Matsushita Hizumi pursued the matter and only exacerbated the knot in his heart, placing his future cultivation at greater risk.
Third Elder gave Little Hizu a stern look.
With that one word, Matsushita Hizumi gave his master a look of indignation before taking out a flying sword and dashing through the crowd of disciples without reservation, causing them to bump into each other and dive out of his way. If he could, he would have thrown a hateful glare and a promise for revenge at the little girl who ruined his reputation more than once, but he could feel a shadow weigh over his heart the instant this thought entered his mind.
Never again would he swear a Soul Oath! His wife would be lucky to receive marital vows from him after this.
"Disciple…when did you plan all this out? I didn't see you load the credits onto those stones."
Snail was secretly startled by Kenja's planning ability. He knew that Kenja was smarter than the average human, but this kind of foresight…was too much. If he claimed he could predict the future, wouldn't the Heavens believe it and smite him from existence?
Seeing that everyone's attention was on Matsushita Hizumi's retreating back, Kenja took the opportunity to scold Snail, "When would you see me load the credits?! You hid inside your shell right after dumping all the stones onto us!"
He was angry with Snail concerning this matter.
After retrieving all the stones from the bottom of the Dragon's Basin, they were able to locate a TD suitable enough to consolidate and divide the points in a school auditorium. But as soon as they reached it, Snail dumped hundreds of keystones on the ground before retreating into his shell for several hours.
Kenja and Sakura were forced to move them all onto the TD by hand and blade, taking many hours longer than if Snail had helped from the start.
Snail coughed to dispel his embarrassment. "That was because I found a new toy to play wi—I mean I had to monitor our surroundings to make sure no one discovered us. Now tell me, did you know all this was going to happen?"
A cold look appeared on Kenja's face.
How could you monitor our surroundings from inside your shell? And did you just mention something about a toy?
Kenja scoffed internally, but he did not press the issue any further.
"I already told you I didn't know any of this would happen. I was already planning to return his keystone."
Although he did not like Matsushita Hizumi's character, the man had not done anything explicitly wrong to him or his sisters. Considering his impeccable station within the sect and his high cultivation, Kenja only desired a truce with Matsushita Hizumi, and he hoped that the returned stones and extra sect credits could serve to exchange weapons of war for gifts of jade and silk.
After all, even a hundred thousand credits did not mean much to the current Kenja, let alone ten thousand. Unfortunately Matsushita Hizumi was too anxious and eager to burn the bridge between them…