The caldera had a wide variety of geographical features. A small lake, a few grooves, a few rolling hills, a large mesa, a large grassy plain and more. Some features were artificially created, like the scorching desert in one corner, and the lone snowy mountain in another. A battle royale that spanned over a week was more interesting when fights happened in ever-changing locations.
As a tradition, the majority of the sect came over and watched this competition. This inevitably meant Battlegrounds had to support those that came here to watch. Even if it was for a week every 5 years, it still required a small town to be built outside the caldera.
Han De chose to fly over with his sword at full speed because he was worried Xiao Ping might challenge him if he walked around that place. Xiao Ping had a deep enmity with him. He couldn't refuse his challenge without getting a big blow to his reputation. He didn't care about the reputation itself, he cared about the suspicions it might bring, now or down the line in the future.
He needed Xiao Ping to act ridiculously, he needed him to be out of line so that he could have a valid excuse to wave his hand and move away. He had brought Xiao Lan, his lover to the viewing seats to provoke him. However, there was no sight of Xiao Ping anywhere. Han De kept looking and looking, yet he couldn't spot anyone.
'Does he really have a godly disguise/stealth item?'
Han De kept worrying over his own issues. Everyone else was oblivious. The crowd was still cheering and the masters in the VIP seats were making speculations of their own.
* * *
Emperor Ming watched the entire spectacle unfold. He was informed about his youngest son's petty tricks. He didn't even need to glance at him to know what he was thinking.
*Sigh* 'This one still needs a lot of work. No wonder he couldn't endure it.'
Over the years he kept making heirs, but each one was more disappointing than the other. He didn't need talent. What he wanted wasn't just cultivation strength. He wanted a strong heart that could endure and keep beating.
Emperor Sun and his trusted advisor, the white-haired Wu Fu didn't have concerns over the succession. They were rather content with the result of the conference and enjoyed the competition in front of them.
<Wu Fu, is this Blazing Sun Scripture really that profound?>
<Starfall Mountain poured many resources on it even though it kept failing and failing. It seems Han Wei didn't shelve it but cooperated with a hidden family.>
<The amount of spiritual power this Ning Bi has is extraordinary. Not only she kept cutting one genius after another, but she even outlasted a higher stage opponent. Yet she still doesn't show any signs of her energy lessening.>
<As soon as she put on the blindfold her demeanor changed. Even though her sight was cut off, she was able to track her opponents. It almost looked like she was predicting them. She is obviously highly trained in such a technique.>
<This Ning Bi isn't ordinary.>
Emperor Sun thought about it. His cultivation was higher than Wu Fu, but he lacked the extensive knowledge and experience he had. He thought about Ning Bi's movements and spoke.
<She used a strange martial art. There were disconnects between her movements, her aura also felt somewhat unstable, or incomplete. Perhaps she was sent to gain experience by the hidden family. Which suggests Starfall Mountain is on good terms with them.>
<Yes, your highness. I would've said that this was Han Wei's way of announcing the alliance, but it seems there is more to come.>
Wu Fu was looking at Han De. Emperor Sun followed his gaze and saw Han De was waiting for something. His eyes were searching for someone.
Other masters had their designs too. They were thinking of ways to contact this hidden family. This Blazing Sun Scripture wasn't something they could ignore. Her martial art was nothing to scoff at either, even though she was inexperienced in it. This meant that this hidden family wasn't simple.
They didn't think anything of Han De's status as her master. It was clearly a sham to give face towards the hidden family.
Starfall Mountain elders had more varying thoughts. Elder Yang looked at Ning Bi with a tinge of regret in his eyes. Elder Yan although displeased at being in the dark, was still glad he didn't eliminate Ning Bi with bogus reasons during disciple selection.
Zhao Dong, the leader of the Zhao faction inside Starfall Mountain Sect, was apprehensive about this whole situation. He glanced at other Zhao elders, they were all having similar thoughts.
<Fang, when was that man was seen last?>
<Elder Dong, we haven't seen him since that day. He didn't contact us either. We have no clue of his identity, we cannot find him.>
Zhao Dong was worried. Did that man decide to double-cross them? Was he lying the whole time? If Hans already knew or learned of it later, why haven't they made a move yet? Han De is still alive, but his cultivation stayed stagnant. Have they made a deal that man? Is this Ning Bi related to it? Was the man a member of the hidden family?
Lacking any information caused Zhao Dong to feel uncertainty for the first time in many years.
* * *
"HAN DE!! YOU DARE!!"
A shout interrupted everyone.
A man standing near the stairs. He was shaking, his eyes were bloodshot. He glanced at Xiao Lan, then pointed at Han De, sitting far away from him.
"You will pay for you have done!!"
"You will not take her away from me!"
"I. Xiao Ping will show you!"
Battlegrounds went silent, the only sound was this man's shouting and his incessant and loud breathing. It was clear he couldn't his emotions at this moment.
No one heard the faint whisper from Xiao Lan. 'Where did little Guoliang go?'
Han De was dreading this moment. Still, he had to keep silent. Time wasn't ripe yet.
'If this guy gets angrier and decides to attack on his own, he is finished. I only need to hold on a bit longer.'
A young boy's voice cut through the man's breathing.
"Who are you to dare challenge Elder De this way! You can't even control yourself, yet you think you are worthy?!"
"You won't be able to take even a single strike of his!"
Xu Fan looked at Xiao Bai at a loss. He wasn't a person that was this rash, why would he step forward? Especially for Han De? Then he saw his sneaky glance at Ning Bi. Xu Fan's face went dark, he hastily joined him.
"A mongrel like you can't even take a single sword from the honored Elder De. Know your place!"
With the recent high from Ning Bi's performance, Starfall Mountain disciples started joining them.
"Who is this trash? Doesn't he know Elder De is a genius?"
"Even his disciple isn't ordinary, and this guy thinks he can just challenge someone of his caliber?"
As the crowd started sneering at Xiao Ping, Han De had difficulty controlling his emotions.
'You little shits! If you want to chase Ning Bi chase her, you dare to bring me into it?! F#$%! All I needed was this guy to lash out! Now with these taunts, he'll be able to calm himself!'
Han De gave a venomous look at Xiao Bai. He really wanted to slap this guy to heavens right now. Xiao Bai sensed his gaze and responded with a sheepish grin, then turned his attention back to Ning Bi and switched to a confident smile.
Gears in Han De's mind started turning. He went through his list of contingency plans. There was one thing he could try but it was a risky one. If he didn't have any tokens he wouldn't have even considered it.
Xiao Ping, after hearing all the jeers and taunts was able to regain his senses. He had heard of Han De's disciple's duel and was waiting for an opportunity to challenge, or sneakily attack him. When he had arrived Ning Bi was still dueling with Su Jing.
Seeing Han De sitting casually brought all of his bad memories back. The suffering, the agony, the humiliation. He was barely able to hold himself back. He kept waiting and made plans. But then, as he was trying to keep his cool, he saw Xiao Lan, comfortably sitting in a seat, looking at Ning Bi. His reasoning jumped out of the window.
No one noticed the Emperor Ming's peculiar look at Xiao Ping.
Han De made up his mind. Perhaps he could give a few valid reasons to reject him now, but that wouldn't stop him in the future. He needed valid reasoning to kill this guy with his subordinates if he made another peep in the future. He assumed his Arrogant Young Master form and spoke.
"Alright. Normally I wouldn't spare a glance for the likes of you. But this appears to be a teachable moment."
Han De arrogantly jumped down and slowly walked towards Xiao Ping. He displayed a perfect sneer and continued.
"If you can stay standing after one strike from me, I will admit my defeat."
At the same time, he was frantically upgrading his Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword art in his mind.
'This guy is an MC, he can probably fight higher stages too! A normal strike at the level of an 'Arrogant Young Master A' won't be enough. Use a token and upgrade my sword art!'
[Using Martial Arts Method Upgrade Token]
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Mortal)]
Power: Extremely Weak
'Only mortal? Still extremely weak? F#$%... Upgrade again!'
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Mortal II)]
Power: Extremely Weak
'AAAH, system, you are killing me...'
'Alright, buy an upgrade token and use it again!'
[Redeeming Martial Arts Method Upgrade Token for 200 Profound Points]
[Using Martial Arts Method Upgrade Token]
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Mortal III)]
Power: Extremely Weak
Han De stopped some distance away from the Xiao Ping. Latter was gritting his teeth but calmed himself. Xiao Ping considered his options.
'I have already unlocked a portion of the amulet's power. Once he strikes, I'll focus everything on my finger and attack his blind spot. I will make you pay for everything you have done a hundredfold!'
Han De was still in agony at the moment. He just needed this guy to drop to the ground, he didn't even want to one-shot him, he knew that was impossible.
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Earth)]
Power: Extremely Weak
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Earth II)]
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Sword (Earth III)]
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Scripture (Heaven)]
[Heaven Defying Tyrannical Scripture (Heaven II)]
Power: Very Weak
[Insufficient Profound Points]
[Profound Points: 153]
Han De removed his sword from the storage ring. He used the cultivation moron's memories to recreate his most powerful attack and started operating his martial arts method.
Sun still had a few hours to set, but it suddenly dimmed. Stars appeared in the sky. They kept getting brighter and brighter. Han De focused all his energy on his sword. A faint glow appeared on the edges of it.
When the cultivation moron used this move it was very flashy. Sword would give a blinding light and a huge amount of spiritual energy would collect on the sword. Han De was startled, this wasn't right at all. But he had already committed and couldn't stop. He tried to further increase its power, yet nothing was changing!
In the VIP area, masters were in a daze. Everyone except Han Wei and Emperor Ming had blank looks. Han Wei himself was smiling. At this moment his pride was sky-high. He was barely holding back his emotions. Emperor Ming, on the other hand, had an unsightly expression.
Han De didn't notice Xiao Ping's finger or the glow around his neck. However, everyone in the VIP area did. They were able to see an exquisite amulet, with a red jewel glowing in the center.
Emperor Ming closed his eyes. It looked like he was considering his options, then he spoke.
"Junior Han De, I hope you will forgive me for interrupting. Your sword art is mighty, this kid will accept his defeat."
It took Han De several seconds to register what Emperor Ming said. He retracted his spiritual energy and looked at Emperor Ming in pure annoyance and anger.
'Are you kidding me? You couldn't say this before I spent all my Profound Points?! Where were you 30 seconds ago?! Are you for real?!'
Han De's unrestrained disdain surprised everyone. Did you want to kill this guy that much? Are you so bloodthirsty that you won't refuse or back down from a single battle?
Emperor Ming had an odd look while staring at Han De. He retraced his thoughts and recalculated the situation. His eyes grew wide after a moment.
"I didn't mean to interrupt the issues of my juniors. However, it seems this kid has a blood relation with me, I hope you will give me some face and let this matter go. He was misguided. Now that we are reunited, I will properly educate him. I will not sleight you either, let us discuss this, shall we?"
Everyone turned their heads to Xiao Ping. Lower realms could see a faint glow coming from his neck. Xiao Ping himself had a look of confusion. He assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that this was Han De's ploy.
"There is no need to discuss. This seems to be a personal matter, I will not interfere."
Han De turned around and went back to his seat. He didn't know what to make of the situation. 'Blood relation? What about my Profound Points?!'
Emperor Ming was surprised at his rejection, but then he personally stepped down from his seat and went to Xiao Ping's side. Everyone saw him putting his hand on Xiao Ping's shoulder. They stayed silent like that for a time, evidently conversing through voice transmission.
In the VIP seat, Wu Fu's eyes started shining.
<Your majesty, we might need to revise our Starfall Mountain evaluation. Especially that of Han De.>
Young Emperor Sun looked at him. Wu Fu met his gaze and continued.
<Emperor Ming needs to enter secluded meditation soon. He needs an heir. He has many sons, but he isn't satisfied with any of them. First for their character, second for their incompatibility with his cultivation method. That medallion with the red jewel should be an external refinement tool used in Crimson Lotus Scripture that the Ming Emperor uses.>
<Emperor himself stepping down for Xiao Ping is the acknowledgment of his lineage. Crimson Lotus is a profound scripture, not much is known about, but it is known that it can generate a resonance between blood relatives.>
<Emperor Ming could use this to sharpen his other heirs, or groom this one to be a new one.>
Emperor Sun nodded. He knew about the tales of the current Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. His cultivation became stronger if there were people that could use the same scripture. Unfortunately, he lost 3 sons during the breach, and couldn't produce another compatible one since then. He waited for Wu Fu to continue.
<Before this kid appeared Han De was waiting. It seems he had knowledge of him coming here beforehand. The lass that he looked at is surrounded by Nascent Soul experts. They do not interfere with her, but her demeanor suggests she isn't here of her own will.>
<Han De had sent 20 of his people some time ago, 10 returned. Then he sent 100, 10 were Nascent Soul, he scattered them between Starfall Mountain and Ming Empire borders. Then, they retreated and started guarding his abode.>
<It looked like he was searching for something, but with today's events, it seems he was leading something, someone, here.>
Emperor Sun had a doubtful look, he interjected. <You mean...>
<Han De is making a deal with the Ming Emperor. He delivered a son that is compatible with his scripture.>
Wu Fu looked at the young emperor beside him.
<The Plague-Devouring Demon. It was detected at Han De's abode. Emperor Ming would never miss that.>
Emperor Sun looked at Wu Fu, then turned to Han De.
In the VIP area, well-informed masters all came to a similar conclusion. This was Han De, making a deal by himself. Not Starfall Mountain, or Han Wei. As his father, Han Wei was concerned but still didn't make a move.
* * *
Han De was watching the situation with wary eyes.
'I really didn't expect this guy to become a prince. Truly, an MC's life is different.'
Han De was worried about the Emperor trying to make amends with his son by messing with Starfall Mountain or worse, Han De himself. However, when he saw Xiao Lan move, he smiled.
'That's it! If she goes back to him unharmed, all issues will be solved! It will be over! He will go back and become a prince, and her a princess! HAHA!'
Han De started giggling. Coupled with his creepy smile, it looked quite unsettling. Masters were already watching Han De and Emperor Ming closely, not willing to miss any details of this deal. They saw Han De's state and couldn't figure out the reason.
Xiao Ping looked at Xiao Lan in front of him. Seeing her safe, he felt indescribable relief.
Emperor Meng looked at the situation and frowned. 'Are you reneging on our deal?' He looked at Han De and saw him giggling with a creepy smile on his face. Their eyes met, and Han De started giggling even more. He couldn't stop! He had solved his issue, finally! All tension had suddenly left him and now he couldn't stop! This infuriated the Emperor even more.
Xiao Lan saw the look of relief in Xiao Ping but it didn't matter to her. She raised her hand.
She stared at Xiao Ping's confused face.
"That was for little Guoliang." She sighed and continued. "Han De was right."
Xiao Ping watched as Xiao Lan left. Her words kept repeating and repeating in his mind. The name Guoliang filled him with great pain, and shame. And the latter part...
Han De's still had that smile on his face, the slap and the subsequent words had frozen him solid, but he looked like he enjoyed the situation from the outside. Xiao Ping saw this and came to a conclusion on his own. A rage suddenly erupted from deep recesses of his being.
Emperor Ming quickly sealed him. He had a look of approval on him.
'With this level of pain and rage, he is an excellent candidate. Truly a worthy trade.'
Xiao Ping's short-lived outburst shook Han De back to his senses. He barely returned to his expressionless state. It took all his effort to stay that way. His mind was in chaos.
'Sister, how could you do that? At least keep your mouth shut and don't speak my name! I was right?! Right your sister!'
'Aaah! This is a huge flag. This Ping guy will definitely come back. He might even come back with a posse of his own. How much more of an MC buildup is this guy going to receive?!'
Han De knew, greater the pain, greater the power. It was Xianxia MC 101.
Emperor Ming saw the composed look of Han De. He had gained a lot thanks to this kid. The price of it was high, but to him, it was worth it. He gave a deep look at Han De. After a slight nod, he left with Xiao Ping on his side. He was too important to let him leave his sight.
'Once I refine this kid completely, I will shave at least 50 years from my breakthrough. Until then he could also act as a sharpening stone for others.’