It had been a week since the Ming Dynasty delegation came back. The conference itself was uneventful and had gone as expected. Upon the return of the Emperor however, the atmosphere around the palace became agitated.
A new heir had appeared. A bastard. Emperor had many heirs. The current number of official princes were over 20. No one would've batted an eye for another one. But this one was able to practice the Crimson Lotus Scripture and it wasn't at a low level either.
Princes and the supporters behind them felt vulnerable. Emperor was paying special attention to him. Possibility of him getting groomed for the crown was high.
This was the effect Emperor Ming wanted. He watched with glee as his sons started moving. More pressure on Xiao Ping, more benefit he would gain. As he watched, he had also ordered a thorough investigation of Han De. He closed his eyes after reading the last report.
'Han De made himself into an obsession. Later converted Xiao Lan to his side and used her to push Xiao Ping into despair. The girl formed a Core and joined Starfall Mountain as a regular elder. She became an obsession too.'
'From the outside, it looks like a series of minor coincidences spanning over 10 years.'
'This hidden family knows about my scripture. They gave the medallion to Xiao Ping just before he entered the sect. They kept him under my nose for years then presented him to me at the most opportune time. They knew I couldn't afford to refuse.'
Emperor Ming wasn't a person that would allow others to manipulate him. Unfortunately, he couldn't do anything about it before his breakthrough. He decided to bring his house to order first and keep an eye on the situation.
'There will come a time to collect this debt.'
* * *
Han De was going down the stairs to the cell holding the pitiful guy. At first he was reluctant to see him, he didn't want to be exposed to a gruesome scene like that. But then he heard what the Old Peng said.
"He is a body cultivator? His body is in the Nascent Soul stage?"
Han De sucked in a cold breath. This guy was the perfect punching bag! These maniacs could beat him up all day, then they would let him heal up in a few hours and start all over again.
Feeling better that there wouldn't be pieces of flesh stuck everywhere around the cell, Han De decided to visit him. This guy tried to contact him using spiritual sense in the first place, he may respond to him better than others.
As he arrived at the cell with a huge number of formations, he saw 5 Nascent Soul experts giving him deep bows.
'These guys could form their own minor sects if they wanted. It is a tad concerning how oddly driven they are at their jobs.'
In a sect like Starfall Mountain, a Nascent Soul wasn't much, but outside a Nascent Soul fight meant a sect's destruction was imminent.
Han De saw a man hanging in the center of the room. His arms were tied behind his back and he was hanging by his wrists. Evidently freshly beaten up, he couldn't even raise his head. When the Nascent Soul expert behind him saw Han De looking at the guy, he grabbed his hair forcefully raised his head.
'These guys are a bit too professional with these things.'
Han De felt a sigh coming to him. But he was interrupted in the middle of it.
'I'm sure I don't have a memory of him, but just looking at him is making my blood run cold.'
Han De narrowed his eyes. This was the first time he felt like this ever since coming to this world. He saw the man open his eyes and look at him.
The man had a surprise written all over him. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. A few moments later his gaze became cold and his face turned stoic.
'Now it's confirmed. He knows me as well.'
It was apparent that he wouldn't talk to him. There was a history between them, and it wasn't pleasant, to say the least. Han De knew the implications of this, he weighed his options in his mind.
Han De signaled Old Peng and left the cell. The guys left behind were originally concerned about their young master not approving their 'work'. They hadn't informed him before and waited to extract more information from this guy first. But now they had their young master's approval, they enthusiastically started discussing techniques. Panic crept up on the enduring body cultivator.
'Were they holding back before?!'
Han De sent a voice transmission to Old Peng.
<Go to my father and tell him we caught someone familiar. He will know what I mean. This is for his ears only. Keep the existence of this guy under wraps.>
<Yes, Elder De.>
* * *
Han De wanted to shake this uncomfortable feeling. As usual, he started to randomly walk around. He didn't keep track of time, he was rather unsettled. After a while, he stopped after coming across a big crater. He frowned after assessing the situation.
'If you are going to fight at least clean up after yourselves. Who just leaves a giant crater like this and goes away as if nothing happened?'
Han De made a mental note about this for his Goon Re-education Programme. This was unacceptable. His estate would look like swiss cheese in no time if this continued.
After finally calming down, he inspected the mystery man's storage ring. This guy was already unfriendly, if he was someone important and demanded his ring back later, well too bad for him, it wasn't his ring anymore.
'A bit weird, a lot of unrelated things stored in here...'
He saw many fire crystals, some were extremely pure. There were a variety of spiritual herbs, a large number of pills, some normal looking rocks of varying sizes, a peach tree with completely intact roots, a normal-looking axe, an absurdly large sheet of spiritual iron. And finally, a small, palm-sized black pagoda with 13 floors tucked in one corner.
Han De couldn't resist and took out some of the items and started carefully inspecting them.
'I imagine these fire crystals would be extremely useful for anyone with fire roots. But Ning Bi doesn't need to cleanse her Fire Qi, it is already incredibly pure. In fact, if she used these crystals the effect would be the opposite... It might be useful to infuse them into her warglaives though.'
'These rocks are literally just rocks. Who carries around large boulders with them? At least I can understand the tree, with its completely intact roots it kinda looks cool...'
Han De didn't bother with the rest. If something amazing was among them he would've noticed it already. He took out the black pagoda.
'Shouldn't a pagoda have a red color accent? Why does this look like it was dipped in a tub full of ink?'
After inspecting the pagoda he sent his spiritual sense inside it.
Pagoda already had a spiritual mark in it. Sensing an intruder, it fought back. Han De was surprised, his spiritual sense was pushed back quite easily. This meant the pagoda had developed some level of instinct. He kept trying but his spiritual sense was pushed back every time.
10 minutes later he was frustrated. He looked at cultivation freak's memories but that wasn't any help. Being filthy rich that guy never needed to delete someone else's imprint. If anything he would just give it to his lackeys to do the manual work. Han De rejected that option, this had become personal.
‘No more playing nice.’
Han De released his sword aura in full power. He sent it to the pagoda along with his spiritual sense. Pagoda turned meek in an instant and not only stopped resisting but actually started guiding him. This surprised Han De, he was annoyed but he let it go. After he replaced the imprint with his own, Han De was able to understand the pagoda's functions.
'It really is a fighting pagoda! I can choose the number and realms of the opponents on every floor. Interesting!'
Han De smiled. This felt a lot like a video game. He went over the functions one by one and thought about getting the best use out of it.
'I wonder if I can use this to learn how to fight?'
Han De plopped the pagoda to the ground and commanded it to expand its size. He was ready to wait for a while but the process was instant, he entered it without delay.
Inside the pagoda was just like one would expect. A cozy interior with a few wooden beams around. Han De willed a few Qi Condensation opponents to appear. He immediately spotted the first problem.
'These guys demons! Aah, so this is a demon pagoda.'
Although he could sense the functions of the pagoda, there wasn't any feedback from that. It was just Han De being aware of a button and its label. The button he pushed just said 'spawn mobs' and that was it.
'Fighting demons is kind of cool I guess. Ning Bi would certainly like it. Still, these guys are quite grotesque.'
Han De used the begin function of the pagoda to make the Qi Condensation mobs attack him. He used his sword art and cut them in half with one motion. He then immediately noticed his second problem.
'Uhh, the smell is... Wow... Are these guys not going to despawn?'
Han De looked at the functions, but there wasn't a setting for this. Presumably, when the floor is cleared, they would despawn. Probably. Hopefully.
He tried different numbers of mobs and realms. Foundation Establishment realm mobs felt like air as he cut through them. Things changed when he summoned a single, weakest Core Formation mob. He used the classic attacks of the cultivation idiot.
It didn't take long, but even if it was the weakest, it was still a Core Formation mob. It was able to inflict a deep cut on Han De's forearm before dying. With this, Han De realized the third problem.
'This isn't a pagoda where your wounds would disappear when you walk out. I guess it is different than the one in the sect.'
As the owner of the pagoda, Han De felt that this wound wasn't an illusion. This meant people could be injured and potentially die if they don't know their limits.
'Preventing death is easy, getting a formation like that and putting it inside the pagoda shouldn't take long. But that still doesn't prevent injuries.'
Usually fighting pagodas would use an illusory reality formation. Those of lower realms couldn't sense any difference if it was done right. Once you were done with your thing, you would go outside unscathed. A pagoda's function was training after all. It didn’t make any sense to injure the trainees.
Han De had already taken a recovery pill to heal his wound. He had the memories of the cultivation idiot getting injured, but those were just memories. This was the first time he felt real pain.
'I am definitely not going to train somewhere where I can suffer injuries. No way.'
'I could take it slow and safe, but then the training would take a long time. Ning Bi's need is more crucial. I can't let her see me practicing, or getting wounded. I would lose all her respect in an instant.'
Han De wasn't particularly worried about Ning Bi getting injured. She already had MC status, and Han De himself could lower the difficulty of the pagoda. The threat to her was negligible.
'Usually, there would be a pagoda arc in Xianxia novels isn't there? MC would start from the bottom and climb ranks, face slapping everyone along the way.'
Since Ning Bi entered the sect about a month ago, all she did was to cultivate and practice. She saw other people a grand total of 3 times. Han De was uncomfortable about this. He was already thinking about sending her to open lectures to make some friends.
'She can't get bullied inside the residence. I can't send her to the mountains anymore, everyone knows her, they would kidnap her in an instant. The only viable option is to let those villainesses go ham on her. Maybe she could also get bullied by Zhao faction something.'
'I feel like her life as an MC is too wholesome. It is rather unsettling...'
Han De ignored the ominous feeling he had. It was probably his imagination.
Exiting the pagoda, Han De decided to make a sacrifice himself. At first, he wanted to have the pagoda inside his residence. He thought it would be like having an Olympic pool in your house on Earth. But the entire pool would be made out of solid gold. A pagoda was just that expensive.
'I guess I'll just place this in the middle of the sect after fiddling with its settings and just post a warning about the injuries under the scoreboard.'
He decided to buy another one later.
* * *
Han De found an open space in the inner section. He considered the outer section of the sect for a while but thought it was too far away from his abode. While under many curious eyes, he planted the pagoda and expanded it. He had already put in a death preventing formation inside it.
A black pagoda with 13 floors appeared in an instant. Disciples were naturally surprised, they didn't expect such a move from Han De. A few of them gathered their courage and came near the empty scoreboard. Under it, there was a scroll.
"Demon Pagoda. Opponents are relative to the cultivation level. Injuries in it are real. Be warned."
Everyone that read the sign was confused. They kept staring at the sign and the pagoda. Han De didn't care about scaring disciples away. As long as some people could bully Ning Bi he was fine with it.
"E-Elder De. Pardon me for intruding. W-What are the rewards for this pagoda?"
Han De looked at the disciple that asked the question. He saw every single person in the area staring at him. Their gaze made Han De feel uncomfortable.
When he thought about it, the question made sense. Normally pagodas did reward higher ranking disciples. But Han De's main focus was Ning Bi, so the concept of reward didn't even occur to him. After thinking about it for a while, he responded.
"I guess I can take a look at your cultivation methods, or martial arts methods. Give you a few pointers..."
Han De thought giving spirit stones would be bad taste. The easiest thing for him would be to use a few Profound Points and give some basic pointers. He wasn't the one that was doing that work anyway. Let the System do it. Plus, an MC was already present, who could actually stay in #1 long enough?
Hearing his response all disciples gasped. They had heard about Han De rewriting the Blazing Sun Scripture. Although they didn't know the history behind it, they thought it was rather cool. Ning Bi's dominance in the Battlegrounds was also still fresh.
Han De had already left the scene, but a commotion started.
"Pointers. From Elder De."
"Is it really a Demonic pagoda?!"
"I want it, but I don't want it."
"Stand Back. I. Xu Sinan. Will be Number 1"
“I don’t think I can stay standing in his presence long enough to get pointers.”
* * *
Han De went back to his abode to find Ning Bi. She was still practicing by herself. Seeing this Han De felt guilty, but also felt better about what he was going to do.
"Ning Bi. You have been cultivating for nearly a month. Since you had just started, it was fine for you to solely concentrate on it. However, we cultivators, cultivate our hearts. This cannot be done in isolation."
"Starting from tomorrow morning, you will attend to the open lectures in the inner sect. Whether you can gain anything from them depends on your ability."
"In doing this you will interact with your fellow disciples of the sect. Do not act rashly, but do not bow to anyone either."
"I have also placed a black pagoda in the inner section. Try to climb on top of it when you have the chance. Now take a break, collect yourself."
Seeing Ning Bi's obedient attitude Han De gave an approving nod. He went back to his chambers.
'In all the Xianxia stories, people usually get stuck in the first few floors of the pagoda, right? No one could get to the top floor. Only MC can get close to it.'
Han De had made the pagoda pretty much impossible to climb after the 4th floor. Pagoda created mobs relative to the cultivator's realm. Even if someone was to train hard and went back in it wouldn't mean anything. The only thing that mattered was the martial arts prowess.