Yao Qing couldn't say a word. Her mind was too busy trying to figure out the identity of this expert. Although it was a long time ago from her perspective, good or bad she had spent a part of her life in this world. She was confident in her knowledge of the bigshots, yet she could only draw blank when she tried to determine his identity.
'He might be one of those hidden experts. They come and go as they please and rarely take the limelight…'
She also noticed he wasn't looking at her with lust. His gaze was remarkably clear and it was apparent that he was only interested in the spear art she displayed, just like he said. This improved Yao Qing's confidence at her deduction.
The young man in front of her smiled and continued with his relaxed tone.
"I will not slight you don't worry. Since it is my mistake, naturally I will compensate you for the spear. I'll be back."
Yao Qing was curious about this expert in front of her. Now that she had a good grasp of the situation, she decided to abuse her Qi Condensation status to do some probing. Surely a friendly hidden expert wouldn't harm a lowly disciple just for asking a few questions.
Before the man left, Yao Qing clasped her hands and swiftly bowed.
"S-Senior! I apologize for my rude behavior! I was too surprised by your profound spear art! S-Senior, may I ask the name of this spear art. A-and maybe your esteemed name too…?"
The hidden expert stopped. Yao Qing couldn't see his face while bowing and her senses were too weak in her current state. Despite that, she had confidence in her intuition to sense threats, and this hidden expert in front of her didn't exude a sense of danger. A moment later he responded.
"Stand up. You need to offer your name first if you want to learn someone else's."
Yao Qing slowly straightened up. She looked nervous and uncertain from the outside, but inside it was the opposite.
"Hmm. Yao Qing… A good name. Well, Yao Qing. It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Han De, and the spear art that I just used is one of the standard scriptures of my sect, Starfall Mountain."
Yao Qing was surprised, she hadn't heard of a Starfall Mountain expert that survived the insanity of the Long Xiu. No wonder she didn't know about this expert in the previous timeline. Still, his name made her uncomfortable.
'Han De… Han family was one of the families that disappeared, Long Xiu was the head of that family even though she didn't take their name.'
Unfortunately, Yao Qing didn't have a good grasp of the history of this era. In her previous timeline, she had already lost her spiritual roots and was discarded and disfigured by Shen Xing. After spending two decades as a wretched mortal, she had a fortuitous encounter that allowed her to defy heavens and regrow her roots.
Her memory of the events surrounding the Starfall Mountain was based on hearsay. Before leaving this world she was already trying to forget her past, why would she study its history? Over time she evolved into a person that would boldly keep moving forward and rather than worry about the past. Obviously, her current predicament made her feel a tinge of regret, but a tiny pebble like this would have no lasting effect on her.
'If I remember correctly, Long Xiu went insane after losing her family. Her son was supposed to be the peerless genius of the continent, I heard he had even created his own… sword… art?...'
Han De and Yao Qing kept staring at each other. Although they were cultivators and could think really fast, the current silence between them had already reached the realm of awkwardness. Still, neither of them made any attempts to dispel it.
Yao Qing never paid much attention to history. Her experience in her youth showed that butchers would become saints, tyrants would become saviors given enough time and embellishment.
'Perhaps a rare case of history being right... No, this goes beyond a peerless genius. I can't even imagine what he would have achieved if he had lived.'
Yao Qing had lived a long time and seen many masters, many geniuses. This was the first time she was truly impressed. She thought of the 'future' she knew. Apart from vague ideas of revenge, she had no delusions of grandeur. This world wasn't worth caring about. Only two people were worth paying attention to in this world, one was Shen Xing, and the other...
Yao Qing suppressed her shudder. This Han De was the third. Before she knew it, she had already made her decision.
'He needs to be protected at all costs.'
This was Yao Qing's character. She would consider pros and cons, but once the decision was made she would see it through to the end. Nothing could change her mind, even if it was to her own detriment. She kowtowed without hesitation.
"Senior! I-I know I am not worthy, but please teach me! Please teach me that spear art! I promise I will follow you for the rest of my life! Please give me a chance!"
An awkward silence ensued. Seconds went by. Doubt started to erode Yao Qing's confidence. Now, a full minute had passed but she didn't hear a response. She didn't change her posture and just waited. Finally, two minutes later she heard a short sigh.
"I was not planning on getting another disciple so soon. But there seems to be some fate between us. Very well! From this moment forth, you shall be my second disciple. Rise."
Yao Qing breathed a silent sigh of relief. She was confident that she could become his disciple, she just didn't want to waste time trying other methods if this one had failed.
She had confidence in her spiritual roots, but this world lacked the knowledge of high purity root characteristics. The fact that he could accept her as his disciple improved Han De's image by a notch.
'Now I can subtly guide him around. I can earn his trust with a few on-point suggestions and increase his alertness. As long as they are ready for the Silent Silhouette Sect they should be able to weather the storm. Benefits we can provide for each other are endless...'
"What about your family?"
"I… don't have a family."
Han De nodded by saying "I see…" and asked again.
"What about friends? Family doesn't end in blood, and it doesn't start there either. Perhaps you have a childhood friend that is like family? "
This line of questioning and insistence was surprising for Yao Qing. She looked at Han De, she could tell he was hiding his bafflement under his blank look.
'Oh right, his mother did go on an insane slaughtering spree on the continent for her family. It should be quite important to them.'
She 'hesitantly' told him about Geng Shi that was like a brother to her. Under Yao Qing baffled gaze they went toward his wooden hut. This idiot had tried to practice after Yao Qing tended to his wounds and collapsed on the floor again.
Han De immediately went outside after looking at the boy lying in a pool of blood. A few seconds later an expert silently appeared. Yao Qing couldn't sense anything from him, almost as if he was a mortal. Even while he was using a healing technique Yao Qing still couldn't detect any spiritual waves.
She immediately approved of the Starfall Mountain treatment of Han De. A really high realm master should follow him every second of every day! Anything else was just gross incompetence!
Geng Shi woke up. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, he intently listened to Han De.
"I can't take you in as my disciple as I did with Yao Qing, the difference between your talents is huge. If you wish, you can still join the Starfall Mountain with my recommendation. You might even become a core disciple if you try."
Yao Qing didn't pay attention to Geng Shi's questions and reactions. At some point, he agreed to be a Starfall Mountain disciple and that was the end of it.
* * *
Han De, Yao Qing, Geng Shi, and the two Nascent Soul experts were now traveling to the sect via Treebeard's power of flight. The distance between the Starfall Mountain and the Misty Mountains was huge, and it would take them a few hours to reach the sect.
When traveling to the Iron Blood sect, Treebeard had used his power of space and rapidly teleported over and over again. Han De didn't want to gain yet another phobia and asked for flight travel for their return trip.
During the flight, Han De had equipped his Profound Expert act and was going through the events in his mind. He couldn't believe it when Yao Qing kowtowed and asked to become his disciple.
'Isn't this too fast?! This script is all wrong…'
He was trying to scam information out of her so he should've felt somewhat happy when it happened, but he became deeply concerned instead. He almost refused her a few times before finally accepting her.
'She is definitely going to use this opportunity to get resources and bail when trouble starts. I guess that's fine. As long as I can get some tips about future events it'll be worth it. Besides, keeping her too close to me would be risky anyway...'
'Should I limit her contact with Ning Bi? No, that'll probably spectacularly backfire.'
Han De's biggest worry in all of this was Yao Qing somehow stealing Ning Bi. He had some confidence in his disciple/master relationship with Ning Bi, he hadn't stayed idle for the last 2 months after all. However, he had no idea of the depths that Yao Qing might possess. The situation was risky. He decided to improve his relationship with Ning Bi further to prevent accidents.
Han De thought about his biggest leverage. He had already killed the cockroach. He could probably instill a sense of gratitude if he mentioned it to her.
'I need to balance it out carefully. If the gratitude she feels becomes too heavy she might decide to stay.'
Han De calmed himself down and went over his thoughts once again. Rethinking the situation improved his confidence.
He had gained an early warning system. He could also encounter unexpected gains if some degree of trust could be built between them. All for the low price of copious amounts of money and resources. For the current Han De, this was a bargain.
There were risks but Han De thought they were manageable. Ning Bi spent more time with him so it shouldn't be easy to steal her. He could also intervene if things go in an unexpected direction.
The biggest risk was the fact that he was still alive. Perhaps her idea of the timeline was fuzzy, or perhaps she had already noticed an inconsistency and became his disciple to solve this puzzle. There was no way to know for sure.
'The best way to handle this is through my lackeys and Ning Bi. If I mention anything it'll only gain suspicion. Ning Bi herself will probably tell her about my memory issue after a while. Yao Qing then can confirm it through my lackeys. I can easily feign ignorance after that. Right, I should plant a bullshit seed now...'
Without minding Treebeard and the two Nascent Soul experts, Han De talked to Yao Qing and Geng Shi at the same time.
"Sects unofficially divide themselves into two groups. The righteous and the demonic. Most sects don't really care about which 'faction' they belong to and just go where the wind is blowing. These distinctions are just political tools and are useless in reality. A righteous sect might slaughter a city for profit, while a demonic sect might fight to the bitter end to save it."
"Starfall Mountain is a righteous sect. Any demonic cultivation method is strictly forbidden."
Geng Shi looked confused but Han De didn't care. As long as Yao Qing could read between the lines it was enough.
"Just a week ago I encountered a Qi Condensation disciple that practiced demonic arts. This disciple invented a vile method of external cultivation using soulless bodies. Seemingly insignificant events can have a massive and unpredictable influence on the future. Therefore I extinguished his soul myself."
Han De looked at them both without emotion. He purposely tried to look unimposing for maximum effect.
"I do not care about which path you choose. Just know that I will cripple you myself if you practice demonic arts."
'Hopefully, that was two birds with one stone.'
Silence reigned for the rest of the voyage. Han De sighed inside.
'Why do I feel like I am the bad guy here?'
* * *
Han De didn't waste time after their arrival and called for his servants to prepare a place for Yao Qing and brief her with the basic workings of the sect. Before she left Han De decided to give her a piece of advice crucial for her survival. He didn't want her to perish before she leaked the future events.
"You are my second disciple. My first disciple Ning Bi might be younger but her cultivation is higher than yours. You can discuss the seniority amongst yourselves. Before you do that a word of warning. Try not to create resentment. Your future depends on it."
Iron Blood sect was really impressively poor, so Yao Qing wasn't surprised that a younger disciple could have higher cultivation than her. What caught her attention was the name. She shook her head in denial and followed the servant so she could settle in.
Servants had also brought a storage bag to Han De. While he was away for a day, Elder Xiang had already finished all of the weapons inside the cultivation realm. Han De was jubilant, he immediately inspected the weapons on the spot.
'Nice! What an amazing quality. If someone said these were the warglaives of the Dark Flame Master, I would believe them.'
Han De was planning to drip feed them to Ning Bi as she advanced in realms. He could keep farming favorability points for a long time with these weapons. He placed the warglaives inside his storage ring and looked for his swords.
'Elder Xiang is truly amazing. What an amazing work of art…'
Han De sighed with emotion. His swords were exactly as he specified. Every single one of them looked exceptionally below average and unremarkable. If Han De wasn't holding one them in his hands he would easily mistake them for mortal weapons.
'If even this balanced sword feels better than my old one. How fast the speed-focused sword would be?'
Han De decisively focused on the higher realm swords.
'I can probably operate this Nascent Soul realm sword for a second or two before exhausting my spiritual reserves. If I could find a way to extend my spiritual reserves I might have another trump card...'
Just as Han De was moving on, an idea popped out of nowhere.
'Doesn't that perverted skill makes Ning Bi's spiritual power reserves inexhaustible?!'