Nian Hong Fang and Shen Qiang indeed met up several times afterward. They strolled around the Grandelder’s peak together and even took a look at the rest of the inner sect. Sometimes, Shen Qiang would just watch Nian Hong Fang process some ingredients for his Master, messing up every now and then.
The more he saw, the more compassionate he felt for this person. Unfortunately, he knew that he couldn’t give in to these emotions. He had a task. And as much as it hurt — both him and Nian Hong Fang — he had to accomplish this task. It was the lesser of two evil.
It was a pity that Shen Qiang didn’t feel like he was making much progress. Although Nian Hong Fang seemed to have opened up to him, they were hardly talking about Ma Zhi Wu or anything related to him so the matter with the demons never came up.
On the other hand, Nian Hong Fang managed to find out some things about Shen Qiang’s life. He still didn’t have a good enough grasp on it to find out which organization he was from though. But it was obvious by now, that he wasn’t working alone. There had to be somebody behind him. And after knowing Shen Qiang for a while, Nian Hong Fang was convinced that this somebody was someone that Shen Qiang looked up to.
If it wasn’t and if this had just been an order given by somebody who paid him, he didn’t doubt that Shen Qiang would have caved already. After all, Elder Geng’s plan seemed to work. The closer they got, the easier it was to make Shen Qiang give up some kind of information. It was just a pity that he always tried to change the subject whenever Ma Zhi Wu and the matter with the letter came up. It really was a pity.
While the two of them danced around the subject, both trying to get closer to the other one, their hearts hiding some of their true thoughts, the other disciples also couldn’t help but notice what was going on.
Everybody knew that Nian Hong Fang had been involved with Ma Zhi Wu previously. So suddenly seeing him stroll around with another man raised several eyebrows and made a lot of people gossip. They were wondering if he had finally forgotten about the person he had once promised himself to and was willing to move on now.
Well, it had been five years. To mortals, that was a long time. To an immortal cultivator, it might not necessarily be. No, in fact, it was a short amount of time to them but it was still enough to break somebody’s heart. And with how distraught Nian Hong Fang had been before, they couldn’t bring themselves to fault him for finally abandoning his hope and putting his heart on somebody else.
Only the ones who were in the know couldn’t help but sigh.
Elder Geng shook his head while he watched the two people in the Grandelder’s herbal garden, seemingly talking with each other amicably. “It’s actually a pity. I think that if something really had happened to Zhi Wu and he wasn’t able to come back, he would have wanted Nian Hong Fang to find somebody else he could be happy with. He wouldn’t want him to remain like this, always waiting and wasting away his life.
“Most likely, Zhi Wu would have liked this guy. He does seem quite good. He treats Xiao Fang well, talks to him and takes his mind off things. It’s just … I’m afraid Xiao Fang isn’t open to that. And even if he was, he certainly wouldn’t choose him.”
The Grandelder sighed as well. “You don’t have to tell me. Seeing him like this, I really can’t help but think back. Didn’t your Zhi Wu do the same thing? I remember how he shamelessly ran after Xiao Fang every day, watching him from dusk to dawn. He would even hurt himself on purpose and then come running, asking for Nian Hong Fang to treat him. When he wasn’t in, he’d kick some stones and leave again, never bothering to get his wounds treated as if he was hoping they might get worse until he came back so that Xiao Fang would need more time to treat him.” The Grandelder shook his head and laughed. “Xiao Fang knew all the time.”
“Of course, he did. He isn’t stupid. Never was.”
“Yes, that’s true. He was even considering to go into closed-door cultivation back then to get away from everything. He was just afraid of having his heart broken.”
Behind them, Wu Min Huan looked from one person to the other and kept quiet. He had also known Nian Hong Fang and Ma Zhi Wu back then so he knew some of what had transpired. Unfortunately, he had been too occupied with his own matters to get involved. Otherwise, things might have been resolved much sooner. Well, that wasn’t the question right now.
“Grandelder, Elder Geng, do you think that Nian Hong Fang will be able to find out more? It has already been several weeks again. I don’t know if this will really work. If this guy doesn’t say something soon that enables us to find out where they could be or at least lets us narrow the options down to a few places, then I’m afraid it might be too late. What if they’re hurt?”
Elder Geng sighed and patted Wu Min Huan’s shoulder. “Then I’m afraid we have no way to do anything about that. I know it’s hard but we’ll have to accept reality, Min Huan. That’s something you’ll have to learn.”
Wu Min Huan furrowed his brows but still nodded. Yes, that was right. Since they didn’t know, they could only continue to try. If Nian Hong Fang didn’t manage to find out anything from this Shen Qiang, then what other way was there? If there was any, then his Master would have dealt with this already. “Then we can only hope that he’ll give up some information soon. I really don’t want to drag this out any longer.”
The two Elders nodded and turned back to the window, continuing to watch how Nian Hong Fang tried his best to follow the plan. Unfortunately, it was way too obvious that he was still hung up about Ma Zhi Wu and hadn’t really opened his heart to that man out there. If they were able to see it, that man should also be able to see. In that case … Would he really tell Nian Hong Fang? After all, if he did, then his own chances would be even slimmer. Most likely, he wouldn’t be that good of a person.