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His mother’s aura was getting stronger by the second. This Xin Qiang was done for. Han De didn’t like her, but obviously that didn’t mean he wanted her dead. He wouldn’t want to watch her die either. Out of panic, he sent a voice transmission to distract his mother.

<Why does my family always try to keep me in the dark about divination?>

Long Xiu stopped. Her aura wasn’t getting stronger anymore, but it wasn’t getting weaker either. She was still intensely staring at Xin Qiang. Han De tried to push a little bit more.

<She doesn’t have anything to do with this. I was going to check the archives for a standard divination scripture anyway. Did you really think I didn’t notice how odd everyone was behaving?>

While Han De was trying to stop the gruesome affair that was about to happen in front of him, he was also thinking about the reason for his family’s odd behavior.

‘They probably did a divination check on the cultivation idiot when he was born. With that idiot’s luck, his results would be devastating for any parent. No one would want to be reminded of such a fate. No one would want their child to learn of it either. It explains a lot, actually. No wonder they are so doting all the time...’

Long Xiu sighed. She didn’t retract her aura, but she looked at her son.

<The standard divination scripture of the sect was forbidden and long ago. It eventually was destroyed by your grandfather, along with every other method related to divination.>

This unexpected statement caused Han De to blink in surprise.

‘That's… a bit excessive... How could a sect function without divinations? What if your son goes missing, are you not even going to perform a divination?’

Han De had many memories of the cultivation idiot scoffing at low-level sects for relying on divinations. If a disciple went missing, they would try to divine their whereabouts first. They would also regularly try to divine the future of the sect to get information about potential calamities in advance.

Long Xiu thought for a while and scattered her aura. She stared at Han De’s eyes.

<Your grandfather already told you about spiritual energy decline. Divination is a matter… adjacent to it. Those that practice divination will irreparably damage their fate. Even knowing how to perform a divination is dangerous.>

<None of the remaining ancient sects would tolerate the practice of divination within their ranks. If they do, that means they will soon face a calamity and disappear as if they never existed in the first place.>

<Never share what I’ve told you to anyone, not even to your disciples. The less they know the better. The less YOU know the better as well. Never let anyone read your fate, never let anyone read your disciples’ fate.>

Long Xiu switched her gaze to Xin Qiang. It was evident that she was ‘conversing’ with her through voice transmission. Han De was speechless due to his mother’s comments. He didn’t notice how Xin Qiang’s face was rapidly turning white.

‘Is she making that up because of the cultivation idiot’s fate? Or is that really a thing? How can someone’s ‘fate’ be damaged by divination? It doesn’t make any sense...’

Han De had already learned the Immortal Sentinel Scripture. The System hadn’t stopped him. If it was really that harmful it would’ve shown a warning. In fact, the System seemed to favor the divination scriptures a great deal. It had displayed more stats, accuracy, medium, defense. The last one was probably anti-divination. Probably.

‘So far, the System has been squeaky clean. It didn’t do anything to damage me or did anything against my will. Apart from some limitations coming from its programming, there isn’t anything to complain about really.’

While he trusted his family, he trusted the System more when it came to cultivation. As far as Han De was concerned, no one in this world could rival the System on that subject.

‘Maybe this is like Qi deviation. The System increases my understanding of the methods, but it doesn’t do anything against Qi deviations. There is probably something going on with fate and divinations, but maybe it could be circumvented through careful practice. Yes, that should be it. Nothing there to be worried about! Probably.’

Han De decided not to use the scripture during the voyage. Since he wasn't burning with a passion to perform divinations, it didn’t affect him that much. However, having paid 51 Profound Points for a virtual paperweight caused great pain to his liver. But Han De endured. This wasn’t over. Sooner or later he would have a chance to practice it at Grand Master level!

‘If divination is a taboo, why would this Xin Qiang bring it to me? Is she that clueless or was this something deliberate?’

Once he returned to the real world, Han De saw the white as a sheet Xin Qiang silently looking down. His mother finally released Xin Qiang from her gaze and gently smiled at him. Just that one look was enough to make his hair stand up on the back of his neck. The context of that look was too frightening to think about.

“I have also brought news of the Starfall Mountain elder Xiao Lan. I found her body while traveling through the Ming Empire.”

Long Xiu narrowed her eyes at Xin Qiang, and slightly nodded. She liked smart girls like this one.

Meanwhile, Han De was successfully distracted.

‘Starfall Mountain Elder? Xiao Lan? Is there another Xiao Lan? Is that a different pronunciation?’

Xin Qiang removed her storage ring and gave it to Treebeard that appeared out of nowhere once again. The silent lackey took out the corpse of Xiao Lan. He didn’t need to unseal the ring, perhaps due to her previous experience, Xin Qiang unsealed it herself before coming aboard.

The brown, leathery, and horribly twisted face of the corpse caused Han De to flinch. He immediately averted his gaze and waved his hand at Treebeard to remove it from his sight. This sight was too much even when he was at his best, but he had only eaten 5 minutes ago. His stomach was adequately full. While he tried to calm himself down, his thoughts inevitably went to Xiao Lan.

She had lived a terrible life all things considered. The cultivation idiot crippled her step-brother turned lover. She left her family and her sect for him, but that only gave her a life of quiet suffering.

Han De inadvertently sighed. He felt a vague sense of guilt towards her due to the memories of the cultivation idiot. She was a stranger, and she caused Han De a lot of trouble, but that didn’t mean he wanted to see her dead. Truly, this Xiao Lan was as unlucky as him!

‘Right, she said Elder Xiao Lan. When did she become a Starfall Mountain elder? Didn’t I send her away with resources and tons of money?’

Han De looked around to find Old Peng. Treebeard realized who his young master was looking for, and used the power of space to bring Old Peng into the room. Han De gave a mental +1 to this ent.

“Peng. ‘Elder’ Xiao Lan died... Talk.”

Old Peng subconsciously gulped and gave Han De a scroll. This was Xiao Ping’s anomaly file that he readied once he got the news about Xin Qiang. Han De started reading the section about Love Interest A.

‘Reached Core Formation after the duel? Invited to the sect by my father? Left to visit her relatives 16 days ago?’

“Who was the one in charge of her? What is their status?”

“T-The last report came 3 days ago. Since he is a Unity Realm expert, he has a soul light and it is still intact…”

The standard procedure for watching love interests was sending an expert at least 3 realms higher than them. Xiao Lan was no exception. That distorted face was Xiao Lan’s, there was no question. This meant that the expert in charge of keeping an eye on her was still alive. But he was most likely captured or crippled.

The prime suspects were obviously her family and the Celestial River sect. Even in the worst-case scenario, they should’ve reported her disappearance, along with his lackey’s.

Han De narrowed his eyes. He looked at Xin Qiang and waited for her to continue her news.

“S-She was killed by a man that called himself Xiao Ping. A late-stage Nascent Soul realm cultivator, protected by nearly 50 Immortal Realm experts from the Ming Empire. He was still absorbing her remnant life force when we arrived.”

Han De raised an eyebrow.

‘He is an MC, why would he do that to his Love Interest A? The cultivation difference is so huge too, he was only at the mid-stage of the Core Formation realm, just like me.’

Han De shook his head.

‘It fits if he is transitioning into a demonic MC. This might actually be a part of his background tragedy. A prelude to a super-power up.’

“T-This person blamed you for what happened to Elder Xiao Lan, and vowed revenge against you, your family, and your disciples…”

When the name Xiao Ping appeared, Han De was expecting some sort of revenge development. But he didn’t expect it to come with full force. So far he had kept his calm, mostly. But that was changing by the second.

‘50 Immortal Realm experts mean he has the support of the Ming Empire. They killed her even though she became a Starfall Mountain elder. They even imprisoned or crippled one of my lackeys too…’

‘I shouldn’t have considered my ‘image’ back then. I should’ve just told my lackeys to kill him on the battlegrounds after he appeared. All of this could’ve been avoided if I hadn’t hesitated.’

Han De began pacing the room out of habit. His mind filtered everyone in the room. The frowning disciples, the mother with dead eyes, the lackeys with dark faces, he ignored them all.

‘Shit… Shit, shit, shit. This is pretty much the worst-case scenario. Late-stage Nascent soul in 2 months. Probably will breakthrough into Spirit Origin soon…’

Every cultivation realm was a qualitative change. Unless one was an MC, it was impossible to exchange blows with an expert of a higher realm. Right now Xiao Ping could kill Han De with a flick of his sleeve. Of course, he’d have to go through Han De’s life-saving items first, and once Han De is aware of a sneak attack the escape items will come into play as well. But those were just delaying tactics. What if the reinforcements never arrive?

‘I can’t even order someone to kill him. His father is the frickin’ emperor! What the hell am I gonna say?’

‘ “Sorry, your highness. I accidentally sent 10 Transcendent Masters on an accidental assassination mission and they accidentally burned the soul of the son you favored. Truly my bad! But don’t worry, it won’t happen again!” ‘

Han De took a deep breath. Panicking wasn’t going to help him.

‘I can’t kill him without cause. Xiao Lan’s and the lackey’s status are too low for a revenge kill. Let’s not start a war just yet.’

‘Xiao Ping attacking me is actually my best choice. That’ll give me the justification. I only need to stay alive during his attack.’

The thought made him shake his head. Ning Bi had to stay close to him at all times. Even shockwaves from a Nascent Soul attack could easily kill a Qi Condensation disciple. Han De couldn’t put her in the line of fire, therefore he couldn’t put himself as well.

Suddenly he stopped. There was a strange pressure in the air. Only after looking around, he spotted his mother and her unfocused and dead-looking eyes.

‘F#$%...’

When Han De first gave the order to kill Xiao Ping, it was out of panic. Later, he justified it by calling him an MC. Surely an MC wouldn’t get caught by an arrogant young master’s lackeys. And in the end, he was right.

Later he almost dueled him but was interrupted by the Ming Emperor. At that point, he couldn’t issue a kill order. He was both relieved and concerned at the same time. Perhaps he was hoping that the issue would get solved over time, perhaps this Xiao Ping could move beyond revenge, and go to higher realms without ever bothering him.

Of course, he knew that wasn’t the case anymore. Now, he had no qualms about giving an order to burn his soul. Back in the Brass Stallion city, the cockroach was a threat to his very existence. Although the violence of the cockroach's death gave him quite a few sleepless nights, he didn’t regret it. As far as Han De was concerned, Xiao Ping was now at the same level of threat.

But. That didn’t mean Han De was OK with his mother’s way of handling things. He just wanted Xiao Ping dead, not the whole Ming Empire and its inhabitants.

“M-Mother, let’s calm d-down…”

Long Xiu’s gaze turned to her son. She gave a smile that wasn’t a smile. Many things were going through her mind, but when she looked at her son, her decision was already made. Her smile grew wider, but it still failed to reach her eyes.

“M-Mother, it’s just an empty threat from an ant, there is no need to be concerne-”

“My little De. I know you are soft, but this is something mommy has to do.”

Han De watched his mother stand up. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. That wide smile was still present on her face.

“I tolerated that Ming trash for your sake, but no more.”

Long Xiu disappeared into thin air. Everyone in the room focused on the window. The bright sunlight that was coming from it disappeared. After a muffled whoosh sound, the cloudless sky changed into a hazy smoke, followed by a heavy stench of ash.

Han De gestured towards Ning Bi and went over to the deck with her. The disciples, the lackeys, and the Han family members all saw the scorched ground. With the intelligence network of the Han family, they could immediately tell where they were. This was the Ming Empire capital, or more accurately, what remained of it. The only standing structure was the Ming Palace in the distance. Long Xiu was standing in mid-air between the flagship and the palace.

“Ming Zian. You should’ve known better. I will give you a minute. If you cripple all your descendants and tear off all your limbs, I will allow your suffering to end after your lifespan…”

Long Xiu didn’t shout, but her voice was heard by everyone. Her tone didn’t have a hint of anger or any other emotions. It was as if she was reading an instruction manual out loud.

Han De felt tremendous regret for having his mother listen in on their conversation. The news would eventually go to her ears, but at least he would have time to prepare and calm her down. But now, they skipped directly to the worst-case scenario. Just thinking about it was enough to turn his stomach upside down.

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