Thundercloud was the largest settlement in the Storm Province. It was the province's capital and home to the Striking Thunder Sect.
Like the Tang Capital, Thundercloud was built on top of a massive qi reservoir. However, unlike the Tang, the city was not solely inhabited by members of a single clan.
Members of the Striking Thunder Sect came from a variety of backgrounds. The sect was not prejudiced towards those of lower status and allowed anyone in as long as they possessed talent.
While ninety percent of Thundercloud's population was comprised of cultivators, the remaining ten was filled with mortals. Even as a mortal, living near a qi reservoir had it's benefits. Though they did not benefit the same way cultivators did, the mortals of Thundercloud were stronger, faster, and smarter then most other mortals due to constantly being exposed to the energies of the qi reservoir.
Outside the main gate of the city, a young man wearing a white robe stood at attention as two figures walked towards him.
One of the figures was a youth with a dark and terrifying appearance. He had long black hair, violet eyes, slightly pale skin, and radiated a menacing aura that sent shivers up his spine.
Shifting his gaze onto the second figure, the white robed man's eyes relaxed slightly.
Beside the intimidating youth was a young boy who seemed to have not even reached his teens yet. The boy had a carefree smile and a warm expression that would put the hearts of most people at ease.
The white-robed man subtly released his spiritual sense to gauge the strength of the two visitors. However, before his spiritual sense could analyze them, it dissipated as if it were canceled out by some external force.
[[Damn! It must have been that scary looking fellow. To detect my spiritual sense and then negate it without any flare in spiritual pressure. What is his cultivation?]
"You two! Identify yourselves! Judging by your appearances, you seem to be cultivators, but I do not recall seeing your faces before! State your business!"
Yin Hui walked toward the white-robed man until he was only half a meter away from him. While the man felt slightly intimidated, he did not show it and kept a stern front.
[From what I've learned from the other settlements on the way here, Thundercloud is the capital of the Storm Province. The Striking Thunder Sect is its ruler and every cultivator in the city is a member.]
When the white-robed man released his spiritual sense earlier, Yin Hui intercepted it with his own spiritual sense. He couldn't afford to let anyone scan him with their sense regardless of who they were. If anyone were to find out about his fiend body, he would be branded as a demonic cultivator and swiftly executed.
Until he was strong enough to protect himself, he had to tread with maximum caution.
[By my estimate, this man is only a peak Spirit Waking cultivator. There is no way the Striking Thunder Sect would only leave a person of this level guarding one of the gates. There must be a powerful expert nearby who has yet to reveal themselves.]
"Greetings brother. My name is Yang Xiang and this is my younger brother Yang Yu. We come from a small town in the outskirts and wish to join the Striking Thunder Sect." Yin Hui clasped his hands respectfully.
"I see... More hopefuls from the outskirts desiring to test their luck in the entrance test. However! You should know the fee for new travelers entering the city is a thousand qi crystals each!"
"A thousand qi crystals? You have got to be joking. Even mortals visit this city. How would the general entrance fee be a thousand qi crystals?"
"I'm sorry, but those are the rules. The fee is dependent on the person entering. Even mortals would need to take out a sack of gold just to get through the gate. As for cultivators, a thousand qi crystals is already considered cheap. Usually the price is five hundred more than that."
[Country bumpkins... While there is a fee to enter the city, it only applies to merchants looking to start a business in the city. Normal travelers, especially cultivators hoping to join the sect don't have to pay anything!]
Yu Zhuwa pulled Yin Hui to the side and whispered into his ear.
"Big brother, this guy is definitely lying. He probably is just taking advantage of us because we said we're from the outskirts."
"Then what should we do about it? We can't force our way through him. The Striking Thunder Sect is bound to have someone much stronger than this guy watching from afar. If we cause trouble now, it will only hurt our chances of getting in."
Yin Hui considered showing the man Yu Mingxi's medallion and informing him about his search for Master Tempest, but in the end decided not to. The man at the gate did not seem to be a very high ranking member of the sect given his cultivation. So even if Yin Hui showed the medallion, there was no guarantee that it would help.
Just as Yin Hui was about to take out treasures to substitute for qi crystals, Yu Zhuwa stopped him.
"Don't worry, I'll handle this." He said with a smile.
After a few minutes, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa were inside Thundercloud.
"Heh, that was easy. In the span of a few minutes, we went from a fee of a thousand spirit stones each, to gaining free entry in addition to a map of the city!" Yu Zhuwa laughed.
"You sure have a way with words... In your previous life you must've been an infamous swindler." Yin Hui joked.
"No idea! I just know that from the moment I was born, I had a natural knack for persuasion and talking! That's why even though I was an orphan from birth, I've never gone hungry or lacked shelter once!"
"Didn't you say that this skill also had a backlash?"
Yu Zhuwa looked down on the ground in embarrassment while scratching his head.
"Well yeah... Normally my clumsiness negates whatever fortune I've obtained shortly after. Even if it doesn't, there is usually some kind of consequence that follows eventually. However! It's never put me or anyone else in serious jeopardy before!"
Yin Hui let out a sigh. He'd already experienced the ups and downs of Yu Zhuwa's 'golden tongue' before, and so far, what he said was true.
"Let's hope it stays that way... In the meantime, let's check out the city for a bit. We are planning to stay here long term, so might as well get used to the area before we attempt to join the sect."
Around seventy percent of Thundercloud's land was used exclusively by the Striking Thunder Sect. Despite the rest of the population owning only the remaining thirty percent, this was not an issue at all. Even though there were about a million mortals living in the city, they only took up about twenty percent.
The Striking Thunder Sect was quite benevolent towards the mortals and never made any attempts to seize the unused land from them. No one knew the reason for this behavior, but many of the other provinces saw it as a sign of incapability and weakness.
It was a sunny afternoon and the main market district was crowded with people. The district was cut into two halves, one half belonging to the mortals and the other to the immortals.
Moving straight to the immortal section of the market district, Yin Hui and Yu Zhuwa began to browse the various shops and stalls. The market was very loud as many vendors were shouting offers to attract customers.
"Spirit pills! Two hundred qi crystals each! Guaranteed to boost your absorption of qi threefold with a single pill!"
"Flying swords of varying qualities! Priced one thousand to ten thousand in price! A necessity for an experienced cultivator!"
"Viewing Mirrors! Two thousand five hundred qi crystals each! Though you may think this is a scam, these mirrors have been imbued with a spell that will allow you to gaze upon beauties unobstructed and unseen!"
After pushing past the crowd of people lining up at the Viewing Mirror booth, Yin Hui saw a small stall that was isolated from most of the others.
There were no other stalls around it and the owner was not making any sales pitches to attract customers like the others. Instead, the owner, who was an elderly man with a head full of grey hair, simply sat in a wooden chair with his eyes closed as if he were in deep meditation.
Nothing on the old man's display were very eye-catching or appealing. There were swords, furnaces, and other various trinkets. However, everything looked quite old and rustic. Curious, Yin Hui decided to take a closer look.
"Greetings senior, your stall has caught my attention. Do you have any recommendations or featured items for sale?"
The old man did not open his eyes, but he seemed to acknowledge Yin Hui's presence.
"A thousand qi crystals for an appraisal. If you are deemed worthy of an item, I will give it to you free of charge. If not then you must leave."
Yu Zhuwa, who had just caught up gasped when he heard the old man's statement. Quickly scanning the spread of dusty items, Yu Zhuwa looked at the old man with disgust.
"A thousand crystals for potentially nothing? Are you trying to scam my brother old man?"
"Either give me the crystals or leave. My goal is not to make a sale, but to find these treasures a new owner. The only reason I require crystals is to replenish my energy after each appraisal."
"All of these items you're selling look like junk! Your entire collection probably isn't even worth a thousand qi crystals!"
Yin Hui held Yu Zhuwa back and gestured in apology.
"Forgive my younger brother senior. I believe your words. Your personal temperament and the way you set up your stall is enough to convince me you are telling the truth. I do not have a thousand qi crystals, but I can give you treasures of my own that add up to the fee's price."
Reaching into his bag of holding, Yin Hui dropped a large assortment of weapons and accessories he had plundered back in the wastelands.
The shopkeeper frowned at the collection of equipment before him. While the items Yin Hui offered were definitely equivalent to a thousand qi crystals, he still had to sell them first.
"Hmph... Instead of payment, this is just giving me more work. How about this? I will appraise you and if you are acknowledged by any of my treasures then I will accept these. If not, you will have to pay me twofold in qi crystals."
Yu Zhuwa smashed his fist against the old man's table.
"Are you out of your mind old man? What kind of deception are you trying to pull on us? Brother lets go! We don't need to deal with this." Yu Zhuwa began to walk away, but stopped when he found out that Yin Hui was not following.
"Yang Yu. I have a feeling that this senior has an item that will be very useful to me. Please be patient."
Yu Zhuwa shook his head and let out a small sigh.
"Alright... If you feel like its a good idea, then I won't stop you..."
Yin Hui turned back towards the shopkeeper and nodded. The old man pulled out another wooden chair and gestured for Yin Hui to sit.