The capital of the Ming empire was in ruins. Craters were everywhere. Smoke was rising from the ashes. There was no blood or corpses to be found. There were no cries for help, nor wails for the dead.
The Ming Palace, the only standing structure in the capital city was also silent. Cracks could be seen on the walls, but they were still standing. Barely.
The royal guards were on high alert. Only a few of them were left. No one tried to run away, they had no place to go even if they did. The capital was their home, and the palace was their life. Now the former was nothing but a pile of ash, and the latter looked as if it could collapse at any moment.
Ming Nui and Zhang Cheng were locked in one of the secret chambers under the palace. They almost died in last night’s botched assassination attempt. If it wasn’t for the sudden appearance of a crazy woman that burned the entire city to the ground, perhaps they might’ve perished along with the other princes.
That crazy woman was Xin Meili, the matriarch of the Xin family, who had finished negotiations with the Ming Emperor a moment ago.
“Are you sure about this?” The Ming Emperor didn’t like it when people took advantage of him. It was true that this crazy realm-ignoring woman had helped, but he still didn’t like it. He preferred good samaritans that didn’t ask for something after doing a good deed. Despite that, he didn’t refuse her. Why waste this chance to sow discord among allies?
Xin Meili didn’t answer and walked away.
After she had entered the continent, she was attacked by low realm experts. Dispatching them was easy, after interrogating them she didn’t linger and started her search for her disciple, Xin Qiang.
A few days later, she stumbled upon a century-old fire lotus that bloomed right at that moment. It was a waste to leave it. The efficacy would fade rapidly once it fully bloomed. After sealing it, she came across an injured high realm expert of the same sect that attacked her.
These people were all quite resistant to torture, so she wasn’t expecting much. But out of the blue, this guy started talking about the Starfall Mountain Sect’s Han De, and their deal with the Ming Emperor for the weak points. Presumably, it was an attempt to distract her. Obviously, she didn’t let him get away and turned him into ash on the spot. She saw a glint in his ashes just as she was leaving. It was a remnant fire essence! It had a strong seal and she nearly missed it!
To gather more information she headed for the Ming capital. The timeline didn’t fit, Xin Qiang couldn’t have negotiated with the Starfall Mountain. She knew that this Ning Bi was the one that practiced the superior version of the Blazing Sun Scripture.
During her journey, on a random spot she had chosen for meditation, she saw the leaves of an earth-grade thousand years old fire ginseng.
The Ming Empire’s capital looked like a warzone when she arrived. The attackers were of the same sect that she encountered, so she didn’t hesitate and provided help. The Ming Emperor was unwilling, but still provided the coordinates of the weak points and their general characteristics. In his mind, the Xin family was working with the Han family anyway. It wasn’t hard to exploit that fact.
Luck was on her side ever since she had entered the continent. She needed leverage, and leverage she got right after entering the capital of the Ming Empire. It was truly inexplicable.
‘Hmm?’ Xin Meili had already left the capital, but she saw a tiny red light flicker for a moment at the center of a dried pond. ‘What could it be?’
* * *
Yao Qing raised her head. Master and disciple looked at each other. Yao Qing organized her thoughts and started explaining.
“I spent two decades as a mortal. I was able to regrow my roots by chance, under the catacombs of the Brass Stallion city. At that time I had no knowledge of any sect, apart from the Iron Blood that I was a part of.”
“It was nearly a century later that I learned some of the events that happened during my mortal years. It was only a few lines in the passing. In my youth, I had also tried to forget those years.”
“What I remembered was that in the year 906 of the 274th cycle, Long Xiu, the head of the Han family had gone mad with grief and started cutting down anyone and anything related to the Starfall Mountain Sect. The cause of her grief was the loss of her family.”
“Her family, including… the genius of the Starfall Mountain sect. The peerless swordmaster of his generation, her son. Whose name was forgotten in the annals of history.”
For a while, no one disturbed the solemn atmosphere. Yao Qing had told him the truth. The whole truth. She only hid the reason why she remembered Long Xiu even after all these years.
‘Yeah, yeah. I know. That idiot was a genius. Tell me something I don’t know.’ Finally, Han De shook his head. They were already in the year 906. He needed more. When he transmigrated it was 906 already. Technically the cultivation idiot’s death covered everything on the surface. But his father’s disappearance made him suspect a 2 pronged attack. Which meant that the sect, and therefore himself, was still in danger.
“What about my father, or grandfather?”
“I am sorry. I only know that she lost her family.”
“Any idea of the culprits?”
Yao Qing shook her head. “At first I thought it was the Silent Silhouette Sect. However, with Ning Bi’s… I suspect the family that resided in the Blazing Sun hidden realm might have played a role as well.”
‘The Blazing Sun family? Hidden realm? It is true, that Xin something-something really did intensely stared at Ning Bi back then. But Ning Bi shouldn’t have stayed with the Starfall Mountain during Yao Qing’s timeline. Well with her luck getting in contact with Xin something-something would be easy. Yao Qing shouldn’t know about the Xin family encounter at the Brass Stallion...’
“Why are you suspecting the Blazing Sun family?”
Yao Qing seemed hesitant but she still answered her master’s question. “Ning Bi appeared from the hidden realm a thousand years from now. She destroyed the hidden realm first, then the continents one by one, starting with the southern continent. Once she was done, she shattered the world to escape from the seal.”
Han De had noticed before that Yao Qing was apprehensive about Ning Bi. ‘So this was the reason. Well, she only purified the planet. That’s nothing. She’s going to purify entire frickin’ planes of existence. A planet can only be called cute next to that…’
Still, this was Ning Bi. It was better to tie this loose end now before it became a grudge. Considering how Ning Bi’s brain worked, this grudge might somehow implicate him as well.
“That is not the Ning Bi you know now. A thousand years is a long time. I have told you before, seemingly insignificant events can have massive and unpredictable outcomes. Your very existence probably altered history before you even became my disciple.”
Han De profoundly closed his eyes.
“The right person in the wrong place can make all the difference... in the world.”
He slowly reopened them again.
“There is no need for anyone to be burdened with a possibility. Not you, not Ning Bi.”
Yao Qing narrowed her eyes. She slowly started nodding after mulling over her master’s words.
“Now, what is this ‘seal’ that you mentioned.” Since she shattered the planet to escape the seal, that must’ve been one hell of a seal. Of course it immediately caught Han De’s attention.
“At the time no one had any idea. No one knew when it became active. I became aware of it only 2 centuries before Ning Bi’s appearance. The seal was placed by the Silent Silhouette Sect. It was their attempt to stunt the spiritual energy decline. They sealed the world through the Heavenly Qi Gathering formation.”
Han De felt that something wasn’t right. ‘Isn’t this Silent Silhouette Sect a demonic sect? Not only that they are a hidden sect as well. Why are they even sealing the world? Why didn’t they just leave during the Breach 200 years ago? Aren’t they supposed to be near Red Stone Basin? The center of the previous Breach?’
“Did the spiritual energy decline stop?”
As Yao Qing expected, her master wasn't surprised at the decline. “No, but it supposedly slowed it down. But it didn’t matter, war and conflict kept escalating due to scarcity of resources.”
Han De suppressed the urge to sigh. ‘I really won’t be able to become the top dog, my ticket to an easy life is gone...’
‘Her information was surprisingly useless. It could be the Silent Silhouette, but it could be someone else. It could be that the seal was activated and cut off my father from this world. If that is the case can my mother return?’
His thoughts were interrupted by Yao Qing. “Master, the big sheet of spiritual iron that I saw at the Eleventh Pavilion is a tertiary plank of the Heavenly Qi Gathering formation. Dense spiritual energy activates the plate, if the anchoring rocks get placed according to the formation, it’ll become a part of the seal.”
Han De raised his eyebrow. He had checked those things with the System. They were just ordinary spiritual iron and ordinary rocks. “I checked them myself and could not find anything out of the ordinary. Are you sure?”
“Yes, the plank only becomes a part of the formation once the core seal is activated. The anchors will resonate and let the core locate the plates. They will only resonate when placed in a strict formation. The rocks themselves are useless after the formation is fully activated. A plank can be located once it is saturated with spiritual energy. It just can’t become part of the seal if the anchors aren’t in place.”
‘What a needlessly bothersome formation...’
“What do you know about this Silent Silhouette Sect?”
Yao Qing took a deep breath. “They are based on Red Mountain overlooking the Red Stone Basin. They are very secretive and like to work behind the scenes. It took me quite a while just to learn of their existence. Shen Xing was supposed to be their rising star. He eventually replaced Yuan Zemin as the sect leader, which should be their current leader. A cruel man with cruel methods.”
Her hatred was obvious. It wasn’t surprising, all regressors needed some sort of motivation. Hers was revenge that she probably couldn’t get the first time due to Ning Bi’s appearance. Han De listened to her descriptions, but most of them were useless due to the time difference. The knowledge she had was only relevant after a few hundred years.
The Sun and the Ming empires were to collapse on their own. Silent Silhouette Sect would take over some of the mid-sized sects for purposes unknown. Most likely due to the Heavenly Qi Gathering formation. These were the most immediately applicable pieces of information.
Han De waited for her to continue, but apparently, that was it. ‘She is really useless. She really is the shame of all regressor templates. Wow…’
‘Is this her thing? She admits being a regressor but ‘somehow’ can’t remember anything worthwhile? Is this supposed to be a 4D misdirection?’
Han De looked at the available information. If he helped his family he would become a refugee. If he didn’t, he would have to suffer countless wars and conflict over declining resources. It wasn’t even a choice. Even if he would become a refugee, he would become a rich refugee.
‘Really, is that really all you know? Did you live a pampered life and became this naive after thousands of years?!’
Everything about this bothered Han De. The more he thought about it the more he thought it was possible. Yao Qing looked like she would become a tremendous beauty. Even as a mortal it wasn’t hard to imagine her living a pampered life.
‘Ning Bi is also like this. She has that otome game heroine element in her. Yao Qing might have that too. A second otome game heroine… I guess it’s not so bad. Their capture targets can become my free advertisers even if we leave this world. Yao Qing fears Ning Bi so she would yield if there is a conflict. Let’s hope Jin Shu isn’t a third one…’
‘Right, since she is pampered, I should make sure that she never talk about this to anyone again. If this was on Earth she would’ve long become a lab rat. A Xianxia lab rat would be even worse…’
Han De was reminded of the hermit wizard archetype from D&D. Their high intelligence would make them incredibly clever, but their low wisdom would make them act like idiots. He temporarily filed Yao Qing under the hermit wizard category, pending further investigations.
“It might be needless to say, but you should never divulge your nature to others. You should also be wary of the urge to change things to someone’s advantage. Even if that urge stems from a desire to help others.”
“The slightest push, the smallest touch, sends echoes throughout life. Even a small act may have more severe repercussions than you know, or can see. From one act can come tremendous power, when the echo has traveled as far as it can.”
Yao Qing seriously listened to her master’s words. Throughout the entire conversation, he was remarkably calm. His questions were on point, and his warnings carried a weight that was beyond this realm. She realized she had made the right choice. ‘He really might be…’ She calmed herself and didn’t dare continue that line of thought.
Han De wrote down Jin Shu’s cultivation method on the spot. It was the best wood element method he had seen, or rather, the most expensive wood element method he had seen. However, compared to the Blazing Sun or the Celestial Storm, it could only be considered basic. He gave it to Yao Qing and sent her away.
The information about the seal was too important to delay. He wrote down the explanation and put in some generic excuses about how he made the conjecture. He used the sect seal on the scroll and instructed Peng to deliver it to his grandfather’s clone and warn his mother.
He didn’t want to do it himself because he knew it would generate questions. But, if he were to take the Seven Luminaries Reminiscence pill right now, not only he would buy some time, but he could also brush away any inconsistencies in his story as the after-effects of the pill.
In all honesty, Han De was rather conflicted. He wouldn’t mind getting locked into this world as long as his cultivation was higher than others. No more Immortal Realms? That’s great! I already have Treebeard! No more Nascent Souls? That’s even better! There were too many of them anyway!
‘The seal might not cut it on its own, but kindling plus the seal might. Even then, perhaps it would only delay the inevitable. The problem is, there is no way to make the higher cultivation people leave before sealing...’
Han De sighed and took the green jade box from his storage ring. As soon as he opened the lid he heard that demonic voice again.
[Primitive Herb Arrangement Detected]
[Effect: Soul Restoration]
[Do you wish to absorb?]