Elder Yu arrived at Han De's abode for the second time today. Although he disliked Han De's 'antics' as a young master, he was supportive of him as a Han faction elder. He shook his head as he walked towards Han De's location.
'If only he was a bit less like his mother and more like his paternal grandfather…'
Elder Yu would never dare to speak such thoughts out loud. Even if he knew he was completely alone in a hidden world, he would never speak of it. As a Nascent Soul cultivator and a Han faction elder, he knew better.
'Hmm, is there a Qi Condensation level 4 disciple here? Is Han De doing something to that disciple?'
Although he didn't want to interfere since he was just here to relay an invite, this guy's Fire Qi was rather pure for his level. He decided to give him a hand if the circumstances were favorable.
'Strange, I can't sense Han De's direct disciple, why is she not here?'
Putting questions back on his mind, Elder Yu entered a small spiritual garden and saw Han De approach him with a faint smile.
"Greetings Elder Yu. It is rare for you to visit, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Hearing his greeting, Elder Yu grew concerned and secretly started scrutinizing Han De.
"This elder is just here to extend an invitation from Grand Elder. He wishes for you and your disciple to attend the gathering tomorrow at noon."
Nascent Soul was a stage where sensitivity to spiritual energy reached a whole new level. A Nascent Soul cultivator didn't need to use their spiritual sense actively to detect life forms. Even at the heart of the Starfall Mountain sect where dense spiritual energy limited the effective range, they could still passively sense things that lower realm cultivators could not.
Elder Yu wasn't an ordinary Nascent Soul cultivator either. He frequently participated in demon hunts in his youth. Eventually led dozens of excursions to Red Stone Basin. His sensitivity to spiritual energies, especially to that of demonic in nature was well known to be exceptional.
'Not a trace of demonic Qi anywhere. It is as if it didn't exist in the first place. Hmm? What is this? What a pure Fire Qi! He is cult-... No, she, is cultivating rather profound scripture.'
Han De's normal behavior frequently resulted in many rumors. Some were true, some were baseless. As long as it wasn't something that could impact Han De's credibility in the future as a successor candidate for the Sect Leader, rumors would be left alone. Han faction wasn't born yesterday, they knew their actions could give legitimacy to a false rumor if they did not play their hand perfectly.
Elder Yu was reminded of a recent rumor that was spread by the Tan family descendants. It wasn't the first time such a rumor had appeared. Sometimes families would even start false rumors in hopes of getting the young master of the Han's interested in their daughters.
'That girl should be following the Silent Wind mantra as a disciple of their mountain. I don't remember any female disciples with such pure Fire Qi. The only person that comes to mind is…'
'Did he actually kidnap that lass?! Why didn't her family cause a ruckus already? Do they not know about it yet? Wasn't he chasing that Chu family girl? Where did this one come from?'
Elder Yu felt a headache coming. It wouldn't be a problem if the family had no objections, but if they did object...
'She would definitely make an example out of them.'
Elder Yu was in his own world busy with drafting many contingency plans.
Han De had gone through several panic attacks during this ordeal. First when he felt a Nascent Soul cultivator coming to his abode. He had another when he saw it was Elder Yu. And another one when he heard the invite from his father.
'F#$%!!! Did they discover something? Did I act too suspiciously?!'
'I knew should've bullied some random people! F#$%!'
'I need to make this guy go away right now otherwise I'm gonna start freaking the F#$% out'
The faint smile on his face had disappeared involuntarily. It was replaced with a faint frown. The fact that he didn't have an ounce of panic on his face, was a testament to Han De's dedication to acting like a Profound Expert. He didn't realize it at this point, but practicing in front of a mirror for several hours every day had already paid off.
"Since my father decided to invite us, we will be there. Thank you Elder Yu."
Elder Yu nodded, then unceremoniously left. He had a lot more work to do now, thanks to Han De. Sometime later when he reported his suspicions, Han Wei started to break into a sweat as well.
Meanwhile, Han De was already aimlessly walking inside his house.
'That cultivation moron and his father had a tacit agreement about not interfering with each other before Han De reached Nascent Soul. Why did he break it now?'
Han De scoured his memories but couldn't find anything. The only changed variable was him.
'This is a dead end. I have no way of knowing the reason, I can only focus on how to respond.'
'Ning Bi's father was an exiled civil servant, considering he was able to pull strings to check his daughter's spiritual roots even when in exile, he wasn't an ordinary civil servant. Ning Bi's behavior suggests she was taught etiquette, so she will be fine.'
'Cultivation freak did attend some events both as a host and as a visitor in the past.'
Looking at his memories, Han De was at a loss on what to do. Previous Han De was the genius of the Starfall Mountain Sect. During social gatherings, it was natural for the new generation to exchange pointers. However, his overwhelming pride and arrogance caused Han De to gain quite a few enemies and a reputation that went along with it.
He crippled the genius of the Celestial River Sect during a duel and even had the audacity to scoff at him afterward. He insulted the Wang family heir, then beat him up in front of his fiance. He taunted the prime disciples of the Yellow City, faced a dozen of them at the same time and severely injured every single one. He tortured a disciple of the Phantom Sword sect by breaking a bone for every time he missed a strike, all because he didn't give him a respectful enough look. Poor guy had at least 40 of his bones broken until elders ended the duel.
'It's fine, I'm an Elder now. In a friendly social gathering, no elders would participate in duels. Even the guys that have a grudge against me can't challenge me. Challenges are only valid amongst new generations of disciples.'
Realizing something, Han De stopped. The new generation of disciples, naturally, included his own disciple, Ning Bi. She was already in Qi Condensation Level 4.
'Shiet. She doesn't know any martial arts techniques, and never trained with a weapon either. The stick that she used to chase away the devil-chickens during her travels was the closest she came to using a weapon.'
Suddenly his worried expression changed, Han De laughed out loud.
"What am I getting worried about. She is an MC. Even if she gets defeated, that means the ones that defeated her will become her stepping stones later!"
'Wait, what if she starts to resent me for not teaching her martial arts?! What if she blames me for losing?! Damn, that is a grudge waiting to be formed right there.'
Han De wiped the cold sweat off his forehead.
'I definitely cannot let her fight.'
Continuing his aimless walk, Han De started to form a plan.
'This guy was just a menace in his arrogant young master years. So I need to act accordingly. I just need to act arrogant enough without attracting too much attention.'
Arriving in front of his mirror, Han De started his desperate attempt at improving his Arrogant Young Master act.
* * *
Starfall Mountain Sect held a Disciple Acceptance Ceremony every year. As the dominant sect in the south-east corner of the continent, and being a sect known for accepting few disciples, this affair was followed closely by all entities that surpassed a certain size. Sects, families, cities, countries, empires, however boring it was they still paid attention to it.
Currently, in Starfall Mountain Sect there were many important members of the south-eastern side of the continent. They weren't here for the disciple ceremony, they were here for the conference that all major powers participated every 50 years. It was just a coincidence that this time's conference was held in Starfall Mountain, just a little over a week after the acceptance ceremony.
Before the conference started, all major powers were invited to a small reception, to socialize and let younger generations mingle with each other. This was a rare opportunity, so everyone was keen on seizing it, especially considering the contents of this time's conference.
Although younger generations weren't privy to the contents of the conference, being members of the ruling class, they were kept up to date on recent news by their retainers.
"I didn't expect both the trip and the Starfall Mountain itself to be this boring. Their biggest event recently was their young master accepting a disciple. How is that even an event?"
The young boy that just spoke had a look of genuine disdain, from his face to his toes, every part of his being was filled with disdain. If Han De was here to see him, he would start taking notes and lament at not being able to video record it. This was prime arrogant young master stuff!
"Oh? You don't find it interesting that the prodigy young master of Han's took in a nearly crippled disciple?"
Ming Niu looked at his smirking friend. Although Ming Niu himself was a prince and had access to intelligence about major powers, he was trained in the art of ruling, not sifting through intelligence, as he would say so himself. He found such an activity beneath him. That wasn't the case for the boy in front of him, however. Whenever this guy smirked like this, there would be something interesting to play with.
"What have you found?"
Zhang Cheng, as the son of General Zhang, was trained in information gathering and processing. Not only he was exceptionally good at it, but he also liked it. He liked collecting compromising information about important people. As the retainer of Ming Niu, they made a good team. Zhang Cheng would collect intelligence, and Ming Niu would use it.
As the two 14-year-old boys kept talking in low voices, everyone had arrived and were already talking about a wide variety of subjects.
Elder Yu had a calm appearance outside, but inside he was filled with regret. He had worked all night and morning to get on top of anything that might be caused by Han De's kidnappi- *cough* alleged kidnapping of the Lei Chen.
He had prepared gifts, given instructions to crush any and all rumors, and given fake rumors to certain Han family members to buy enough time to settle things. He even prepared a list of targets to be coerced, extorted, blackmailed, and assassinated, just in case if negotiations fail.
Everything was ready to proceed after the conference. Preparations had gone smoothly. The only thing that was worrying him was Han De and his disciple being nowhere to be found.
<It has already been half an hour, where is Han De?>
The person that received the voice transmission flinched. He was the one that was in charge of Han De and his disciple. Elder Yu knew that Han De's disciple didn't have any ceremonial dress. Han De himself didn't have any information about the visitors. While he was busy with handling potential Lei family fallout, he had instructed some of his subordinates to handle everything on Han De's end.
<Elder De and his disciple are walking towards the pavilion, Elder Yu>
Being an important gathering, no one was allowed to fly above or near the pavilion grounds. Cultivators of Core Formation and up, normally would fly to their destination as close as possible, and walk the rest of the way if flying was prohibited. Hearing Yan De was walking, Elder Yu relaxed.
<They finally arrived? Good. Good.>
Anticipating this conclusion, the poor man explained. He was thankful he wasn't in front of Elder Yu right now.
<N-no, Elder De started walking from his abode, two hours ago>
After a few seconds of silence, Elder Yu talked again.
<Are you saying they are walking all the way towards the pavilion?>
<Y-yes, Elder Yu>
Several silent minutes later, Elder Yu finally spotted two walking towards the pavilion. It had been a little more than half an hour since guests started socializing. The gathering was already past its midpoint. Seeing two figures that clearly dressed for the occasion, guests' interest was naturally aroused.
The man in the front had a natural arrogance about him. It wasn't an arrogance that came from family connections or cultivation power. It was an arrogance that came from surviving tribulations, from going against the heavens, from walking one's own path. His ceremonial yellow robes were lazily fluttering around as he walked. He exuded an aura of naturalness as if he wore these robes every day. Every step of his was calm, collected. The demeanor of a true expert!
The girl that followed the man wasn't any less eye-catching. With her white skin, pitch-black hair, and matching grey ceremonial robes, she walked behind him with a respectful distance. Although her eyes were looking down as a sign of respect, when she momentarily gazed towards them everyone could see her bright red eyes, with a faint light twinkling within. Her movements also had an aura of familiarity, as if she followed the man all her life. She completed the picture. A disciple and her master!
"What is this? I didn't notice anyone missing, what are they doing arriving at this hour? Could they be delegates from south-west?"
"They wouldn't dare to make a scene like this, not today."
"They wouldn't wear Starfall Mountain ceremonial clothes either"
Hearing the last person, everyone realized those robes were indeed Starfall Mountain robes. They were too focused on the people and neglected what was right in front of them.
Elder Yu had recognized Han De immediately, also recognized the girl from her Qi Condensation 4 aura as well. However, she definitely wasn't Lei Chen. She also clearly wasn't Ning Bi either, even ignoring the cultivation difference, Ning Bi's eyes were brown, not bright red like this!
'Oh no, a third party? But why is she acting like she is his disciple?'
True experts at the conference were able to things see many could not.
"Interesting, such a pure Fire Qi, abundant too, considering her cultivation."
"Could she be the Lei family princess? She is called fire prodigy is she not?"
"This one's mantra is extreme. Although Lei family princess is talented in fire cultivation methods, it shouldn't be to this degree."
"Yes, if she were to practice this same technique, her side effects wouldn't stop at changing eye color."
"Her roots seem to be impure, but she cultivated a mantra to this degree, how interesting."
"Brother Han Wei, it seems you have been hiding an interesting disciple, haha"
Han Wei was puzzled, sensing her fire Qi he also thought she was Lei Chen, but quickly threw that idea away. Looking at the purity, density, and the marks on the spiritual waves, he quickly recognized the method she was using, it was very similar to Blazing Sun but substantially different at the same time. He didn't show it on the outside, but he was vexed.
Elder Yang also recognized the signs of Blazing Sun, he was the one that attempted, and failed, to stabilize the technique. He was also there when Han De chose his disciple, and recognized the girl in one look.
Although Elder Yang had said her name in a soft voice, as this was a gathering of powerful cultivators, everyone heard him clearly. They were powerful, and they were well informed, Han De had chosen his disciple quite publicly.
<Cheng, you said something about a plague-devouring demon, didn't you? Could it be?>
Zhang Cheng looked at his friend, the second prince of the Ming dynasty, Ming Niu. Meeting his gaze, Ming Niu was surprised, this was the first time he saw his friend making such a bewildered expression.
Plague-devouring demon had already become news while ago. While waiting for the conference guests couldn't do anything but wait, and powerful people had a habit of compulsively gathering information about their surroundings. Knowledge was power.
All the experts had the same thoughts as the Cheng and Niu pair. Unlike their confused expressions, however, experts' gaze was like hungry wolves.