<I came out early because your father has gone missing 6 days ago.>
Han De immediately remembered Yao Qing’s timeline. He resisted the urge to look at the 15-year old and tried to calmly analyze.
‘My father’s cultivation is too high. There is no way he’ll go missing due to natural phenomena. He won’t be stuck in a hidden realm or something. At worst he can punch his way through or send a message. Mother and father both left the sect at the same time too…’
“You three go back to the abode and cultivate.” Han De didn’t give an explanation, but his stiff face was easy to read. His disciples didn’t complain and followed their master’s instructions. Yao Qing would be frowning if her inner thoughts were displayed on her face.
After they left the Archives Han De looked at his grandfather again.
“Where was he going when it happened? Does my mother know? Or is she missing too?”
Han Shan grabbed Han De’s shoulders. “Alright, I’ll tell you everything, stay calm. Your mother doesn’t know, she is fine, scheduled for a return in 3 days. Wei’s soul light flickered before communications were lost. The soul light itself is now stable, which means his state is stable. For the time being at least.” Han Shan didn't mention the spatial disturbance to his grandson. Even he was unsure of what it meant.
Han Shan sighed. “There is no reason to keep this from you anymore. Wei went to the northern continent weak points to find a suitable location for another Breach. Little Xiu is looking for kindlings in other realms.”
When a sect elder enters closed-door seclusion they would cut off their connections to the outside world. If the seclusion time is short, no measures would be taken. However, if the expected seclusion time is too long, or if the elder was just too important, the sect would summarize the important events as they happen and send a specially imprinted jade slip to the abode of that elder. This way once they come out of seclusion they would catch up to the current events quickly.
Han Shan was the previous sect master and the previous Han family head. Any matters related to the sect, the family, and his descendants would be sent to his records room. 5 days ago after the flickering of the soul light and the loss of communication, his seclusion was interrupted as per Han Wei’s previous instructions. Therefore his grasp of current events was only second to his son.
Han De was unfamiliar with what a kindling was, and had no idea why would his father open another Breach after they were barely able to close the last one 200 years ago. Han Shan answered his grandson’s thoughts.
“Why open another Breach? It is just a cautionary measure, for now. What is a kindling? It has to do with the spiritual energy of this world.” Han Shan shook his head. “It used to be the last resort just a few millennia ago. Pity how things deteriorated this quickly.”
“Nothing in this universe is truly endless. Everything is on a cycle. When someone dies, their soul goes back to the cycle of reincarnation. This process can be interrupted, their soul can be extinguished. But the energy of it cannot be destroyed.”
Han De more or less could tell where this was going. He had a pessimistic mind, so disaster scenarios were a natural part of his daily life.
“Nothing can escape the cycle. Even stars themselves will follow it. They will be born, live for billions of years, and die. Then, a new star will form from their residue. Spiritual energy follows the same rules as everything else.”
“Countless years ago, before the Han family, before the Starfall Mountain sect, this world used to be so rich with spiritual energy, even their smallest sect would make our cultivation realm look like a mortal’s abode. After an unknown number of years, spiritual energy started to wane.”
‘Ok, got it! YES! This is fantastic news!’ Han De interrupted his grandfather.
“Spiritual energy is getting thinner and thinner, meaning this world will turn into a lower world soon, and might regress even further. Is that right?”
Han Shan smiled. “Smart.”
Han De was ecstatic. ‘I am already at the Core Formation level. If this world becomes a lower world, then all of the higher realm cultivators will leave! I’ll become the top dog, or at the very least come very close to it!’
Han Shan didn’t want his grandson to despair, so he indulged some of the plans. “A few years back we found evidence that the progress of the cycle was accelerating rapidly. A kindling can be used to stabilize the situation and buy us some time. We already have a few target worlds that we are considering and already have branches there. If we can’t make it, we’ll open a new Breach and use the tear in space to migrate our family, and the sect.”
‘Huh? Wow, that’s, hardcore man…’ The sudden news of a mass migration nearly short-circuited Han De’s brain.
“Haha, you don’t need to worry. Just focus on your cultivation. This matter was planned long ago. Your father wasn’t even born back then. Why do you think Starfall Mountain is obsessed with quality over quantity?”
Han De could only nod. His plan to become a top dog was short-lived, but he still wanted to clarify. Perhaps it could be useful in a worst-case scenario. “What would happen if we stayed? Is leaving the only way?”
As a grandfather, he knew his grandson’s character. He would consider running away a shameful act. It was the same for him, once upon a time he tried to find a way to solve this conundrum. In the end, he realized his efforts were futile. He didn’t want his grandson to go through the same motions and create a knot in his heart.
“Even now no one can break through to the Ancient Realm. In a few decades, no one will be able to reach the Immortal Realm. As the resources get scarce, secret cultivation realms will become useless. Once the spiritual veins are depleted everyone’s cultivation will start to stagnate. Prolonging our stay is just prolonging the inevitable.”
Han Shan shook his head then smiled. “This isn’t something for you to worry about. Your idea of utilizing the ‘human resources’ as you call it has merit. It’ll still take some years for the plan to come into fruition. You can play around with your ideas during that time, just don’t let it distract you from your cultivation too much.”
He took a jade box out of his storage ring. “This is the Seven Luminaries Reminiscence pill. It was completed 3 days ago. I know all about your situation.” Han Shan paused for a moment. “I’ve visited the traitors myself. Your mother is taking care of them perfectly.”
Han De didn’t want to think about it. This was the case where not knowing was the best option.
Han Shan’s eyes lost focus for a moment. “If something happens contact this clone. I have already left the instructions for your mother. Don’t tell her anything when she comes back. Take the pill as soon as possible.”
Han Shan disappeared into thin air, leaving Han De with a green jade box.
* * *
Han De realized he needed to make preparations for the worst. Upon his return, he contacted Peng to get ready for a ‘small scale disaster drill’ and recalled Treebeard.
‘What can I even do for preparations?! This is far above my original estimates. I even made plans for a zombie apocalypse but not for a mass migration!’
Zombies actually existed in this world. They were called corpse puppets and needed refinement, but sometimes some of them would break the control of their masters. Ancient tombs were also infested with these creatures. The concept of a zombie apocalypse was modern and not exactly compatible with Xianxia, but Han De wasn’t going to take the risk when the escape methods were so easy! Magic was really convenient!
Without Han De noticing Yao Qing had already come near him. She quickly bowed.
“Master, may I ask for a private audience?”
Han De was inwardly annoyed. ‘You are way too late, but fine whatever.’
* * *
Inside a random room of Han De’s abode, the master and the disciple were sitting seiza while facing each other. Han De he swallowed his frustrations. He knew he could not rush this, so he let Yao Qing control the flow of the conversation.
“Master.” Yao Qing was calm and collected. She kowtowed as she spoke.
“Disciple Yao Qing apologizes and will accept any punishment. This disciple did not intend to keep her knowledge of future events a secret.”
Contents of the conversation so far baffled Han De. He immediately got a bad feeling after hearing ‘knowledge of future events’. This wasn’t the script that he was hoping for. Was the genie already out of the bottle?
“Rise, and explain. It is true that you have been a disciple for a short time. That said, I don’t consider myself to be a poor judge of character. I do not believe you would try to cause harm by keeping secrets.”
Yao Qing raised her head and saw Han De’s faint smile. She took a deep breath and started explaining.
“Master. Although my body is young, my mind is not. As Yao Qing, I had lived for many millennia. I even cultivated to the Celestial Realm. Yet for unknown reasons, my mind returned to my past body. 179 days ago I found myself in the Iron Blood sect. I do not know how and I do not know the reason. It may sound impossible but it is the truth.”
“I did not intend to deceive. I had already lived my life here in this world and know about certain events that are yet to happen. My original wish was to subtly warn you about the dangers you and your family were about to encounter. As I witnessed your wisdom day by day, I am now ashamed of my previous inaction.”
“Although my knowledge of this era isn’t as clear as I’d like, I can still prove that what I say is the truth.”
Han De was always aware that his situation in this world was precarious at best. He continuously racked his brain to improve his stability. Reeducation of his lackeys was one part of the solution. However, that would inevitably open him up to scrutiny. Therefore he had thought of the reincarnator angle to solidify his position.
He had acted in an unrestrained manner towards Yao Qing. He wanted to keep her here for longer than she originally intended. One way of doing it was to impress her with his knowledge. This also served as a preparation for the reincarnator angle. It was a win-win situation, on paper, at least.
Unfortunately, this girl’s reaction was completely out of his expectations. Her original cultivation was higher than he had expected. It was so high, Han De had no idea what this supposed ‘Celestial Realm’ was. Was it even real? Was it a test? This was too out of the blue.
‘Her cultivation right now is too low and she can’t kill me, I am safe, which means she’s not making a villain’s speech. That means she merely realized my peculiarity.’
‘I may have gone too far in a few places.’
Han De realized he needed to influence the flow of the conversation. He smiled and shook his head. “You don’t have to prove anything. I already noticed that you had a secret when I saw the art that you cultivated.”
Yao Qing nodded as if she had already expected this. “Master. Are you… like me?”
Han De stayed silent for a moment. He wanted to appear as if he was mulling over his response. He had predicted this, but he still started panicking a little on the inside.
“No. My case is different. I suffered an attack on my soul some time ago. Most of my memories related to a certain Prayer Beads are damaged due to this encounter. I am not sure how I survived, but through the attack, I gained some other fragmented memories.”
This was something he had thought of before he started educating his lackeys about the ‘Anomalies’. Originally he was going to start leaving obvious breadcrumbs after taking the Seven Luminaries Reminiscence pill. Plans were meant to be broken. He could only move up his ‘Reincarnator’ scenario to an early date.
Han De continued with a broken smile. “Mind you, these are just fragments. Images, sounds, sometimes peculiar feelings. Not much to go on, but still somewhat useful on their own.”
Yao Qing nodded. She already had a feeling that this was the case. In her original timeline, Han De had died in this world. His heaven-defying abilities could only be explained in such a manner. Rewriting the Blazing Sun or the Celestial Storm scriptures in a day cannot be done through some random legacy.
Regaining memories from past lives wasn’t unheard of, but it was still something as rare as phoenix feathers. Aside from the irregular Shen Xing, most would only regain fragments like Han De in front of her. Yao Qing suspected that some of his fragmented memories belonged to the primordial era and most likely carried over some of his intuition from that life as well. The ancient concept he exuded from his spear art, that primordial disciple acceptance ceremony, and how easily he modified the scriptures. They all fit together.
Yao Qing was afraid that the confirmation she sought would irrevocably taint her view of Han De. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. She remembered Han De’s words when they were flying towards the Starfall Mountain. His strong rejection of demonic methods and how he called out the hypocrisy of the sects had made a deep impression on her.
She also thought of another possibility. ‘What if his memories are more than fragments? What if he is just telling me what I want to hear? It is true, if he has more than fragments then the best option would be to hide it. No, maybe he can’t directly tell. He might be afraid of someone divining it. My situation is too unique, but primordial relics are highly sought after. Who would be able to resist?’
After letting her mull over, Han De continued. He wanted to probe some information quickly and move on. He suspected that she would leave after this conversation. She’d have to be an idiot to not notice the undertone of his grandfather's visit. Han De was determined to finish on a positive note. The future was uncertain, there was no need to create more enemies.
“Were you my disciple as well in your -how should we call it- previous timeline? Is that why you have become my disciple despite having reached the Celestial Realm before?”
“No, master. At this point in time, my roots were already stolen by Shen Xing, the demonic disciple that master had killed in Brass Stallion city. I became a mortal. It was over 20 years later I was able to regrow my roots and become a cultivator again.” Yao Qing spoke without emotion. One would think she was talking about someone else. She had stopped caring about the gory details long ago.
This confirmed that the System wasn’t caught in her time loop. Han De was already 99.99% sure about this, but he acted as if he was surprised. “I see. Then what are your plans?”
Han De’s intent was obvious. Yao Qing kowtowed again. “Master, I did not lie. Your mastery over the spear is truly far above me at my best. I truly wished to become your disciple to learn. I may have cultivated to a higher realm before, but that was another timeline, another me. I now realize just how much I still have to learn. Please give me a chance.”
Han De’s jaw dropped on its own. According to the template in his mind, this girl should have the pride of a higher realm master. Staying as a disciple would be demeaning. Scamming him for some resources and giving some tips about the future was completely acceptable. Han De thought it was a bargain. But staying here after this?
‘Is she that confident in her future knowledge? Or Unexpectedly, is her face really this thick? Is she going to blatantly ask for more resources now? Try to get everything while she could? Is there another angle that I’m not aware of? Why did she tell me her secret in the first place? Sure you might be suspicious about me, but why tell your own?’
Hundreds of thoughts flashed through Han De’s mind. He tried to consider every angle. Was it his mother? Was it his father? Was it something else in the future? He had assumed the reason his mother went on a killing spree was due to the cultivation idiot’s death. Back then he wanted to play it safe and use Yao Qing as an early warning system. If she had realized that she was late and wanted to bail that was fine. Perhaps she realized she wasn’t late? Han De’s mind was running in circles.
Yao Qing was still kowtowing while patiently waiting for his response. Han De thought of a wild idea. ‘There is no way she is sincere, right? I mean, I did improve her Celestial Storm Scripture, but I only improved it to the master level. She was already closing to the Advanced level herself...’
Han De relied on the System completely for comprehending methods. He knew the difference between comprehension levels. Although he couldn’t stomach the normally written cultivation methods, a ‘Celestial Realm’ master should be able to understand them, right? Especially one with 8 points in comprehension. Especially one that lived for god knows how long.
After thinking it through, Han De realized he couldn’t come to a decision right now. ‘I guess ‘letting’ her stay doesn’t have any short term disadvantages. I can keep an eye on her and intervene if I smell anything fishy. If somehow she really is actually sincere, I was acting like a Profound Expert anyway.’ Han De made a mental note to ask about the Celestial Realm to his grandfather.
“... Very well. Since you are showing your sincerity, I can only respond with sincerity. Raise your head. You are already my disciple. That fact won’t change now, or in the future.”