Old Peng’s punch stopped in mid-air. He immediately tied the thugs up with professional movements and stood on the side at a respectful distance.
Looking at Old Peng’s refreshed face, Han De’s eye imperceptibly twitched. Only a few hours ago they participated in a life and death battle and lost many good lackeys. Yet here was Old Peng, gleefully beating low-level thugs. This guy didn’t even consider the dignity of a Nascent Soul expert and just beat the Foundation Establishment rookies without even blinking an eye!
Han De decided to ignore it. He didn’t want to expose Ning Bi to further violence, but at least this time the culprits were obviously and comically evil. Han De, and therefore his disciples, started approaching the unfortunate boy, who was looking at Old Peng with an alarmed expression.
As they got closer, the boy’s gaze shifted from Old Peng to Han De, then to the girls behind him, then back to Han De. As he looked, his face got whiter.
Han De watched the entire process and adopted a benign smile. Since an MC type event happened right in front of him, of course he was going to check the stats of the potential MC!
The boy got even more nervous as Han De crouched near him. Han De gave a look at the beaming Old Peng and returned his attention to the boy, who had already assumed the fetal position.
“Little guy, what is your name?”
[Name: Li Gui]
[Leatherback Turtle (76.07%)]
[Monarch Jellyfish (16.14%)]
[Armored Yin Crab (5.82%)]
[Green Sea Centipede (1.97%)]
[Cultivation: Qi Condensation (13/13) (96.14%)]
[Bloodline: Azure Temple Turtle (Awakened) - (61.57%)]
[Roots: Water (40%)]
[Potential Points (Total: 22)]
[Heavenly River (Mortal)]
[Power: Extremely Weak]
[Mastery: Intermediate (2/7)]
[Stage: Qi Condensation (13/13)]
[Martial Arts Methods]
[Basic Fist (Mortal)]
[Power: Extremely Weak]
[Mastery: Intermediate (1/7)]
[Master of the Azure Temple Sect]
[Cannot be accepted as a disciple.]
Han De faced the boy with his benign smile, but he was actually reading his status.
‘What’s with his race? Why can he assume human form with only Qi Condensation cultivation?’
[Azure Temple Turtle (Awakened)]
[Power: Extremely Weak]
[Can assume human form regardless of cultivation.]
[Extremely minor improvement on underwater breath holding.]
[Extremely minor improvement in swimming speed.]
[Very slightly increases sensitivity towards Water Qi.]
[Cannot be disoriented while underwater.]
‘How did this guy awaken his bloodline to such a degree?’
After he finished looking at the boy’s status screen, Han De looked at the horrified boy once again. Tears were starting to form at the edges of the boy's eyes and his chin was shaking. Han De held back his sigh and looked at his lackey instead.
“Peng. Option 6. Variation D. Coordinate with Transcendent experts.”
Old Peng’s mouth dropped, but he pulled himself together quickly.
“Yes! Young master!”
Old Peng immediately contacted the remaining lackeys of Han De and got to work.
Option 6 meant supporting the anomaly. The first five options were termination, containment, expulsion, insulation, and ignoring the anomaly. Variation D meant open and full support to resolve any and all conflicts within the anomaly's path.
‘I really want to get this tour over with, I get the feeling that if I stay here too long, I’ll get dragged into all sorts of trouble…’
The girls sent dubious looks at the boy and their master, but ultimately they refrained from saying anything. Han De saw their expressions and sighed inside. He only got the quest 2 days ago, but he was already dearly missing his privacy. Keeping up the Profound/Hidden Expert act all day long was exhausting.
‘I definitely need some sort of hobby during the journey. I can’t cultivate all day. I just can’t!’
Since he couldn’t take a medicinal bath in front of his disciples, Han De started thinking about hobbies that a Hidden Expert could take up, all the while heading to the city palace.
‘I can’t cook anymore, that woman is just too amazing! Plus she said she’s going to make more of those steamed buns. The dumplings were extraordinary too…’
Muffled explosion sounds could be heard from the distance, but Han De didn’t care at all. If there was anything dangerous, his guards would make a move on their own.
‘Should I pick up alchemy? Not exactly a hidden occupation, but at least it doesn’t require much space. No, no, no. I never tried concocting pills before. Cultivation idiot never tried either. It would be too embarrassing if I failed on my first try in front of my disciples!’
Roars echoed throughout the city. The pedestrians started looking towards the west, which was the estate of the Li family.
‘Formations take too much space, plus it requires too much math. Not my type of thing.’
Han De tried to recall hobbies from Earth that he could reproduce here. Perhaps he could introduce chess, which was an isekai classic. But back on Earth, he didn’t play more than 10 games of chess in his entire life! Besides, it was a two-player game, and the only available players next to him had stupidly high comprehension scores! He needed to craft a chessboard too. If he used some pieces from mortal board games, the result would be too ghetto for his Hidden Expert persona.
He considered other hobbies like painting, sculpting, writing, and more, but none of them were practical. At last, after 20 minutes of walk, the city palace was in sight. Han De held back his sigh.
‘Well, I guess horticulture is the only valid choice. It is innocuous and even an idiot can do it. Plus, it might be beneficial to test some strategies for soul lily production.’
The Palace gates opened, and Han De spotted his cousin Han Bai across the giant courtyard.
“You think the Ming Empire will stand for this?! Does the Han family truly dare to start a war after all this time?!”
The man that was shouting at his cousin was most likely the mayor. His name was Li… something. Han De forgot what it was. He was really bad at remembering Xianxia names.
Li something-something saw Han De, and his furious expression changed into a murderous rage.
“You!! YOU DARE?!”
The sudden outburst startled Han De and made him remember the meat paste for a moment. He instinctively furrowed his brows. Getting shouted at by a higher realm cultivator wasn’t a pleasant thing. If he didn’t have even higher cultivation subordinates that shielded him from the suppressive aura, he would’ve been on his knees right now. Han De didn’t notice it, but that thought alone irked him in a fundamental way.
‘Why is this guy so ready to duke things out? He shouldn’t have any idea about the battle in the capital. Unless my idiot cousin told him or something, but he wouldn’t do that would he?’
Han De felt it was better to knock some sense over the mayor first, before the guy did anything stupid and pissed off his family. Unfortunately, this guy's cultivation was at Ancient Realm and none of his lackeys could deal with him. Thankfully, he had Transcendent guards.
A Transcendent guard appeared out of nowhere and the mayor of the White Forest city suddenly turned into a cloud of pink mist.
Han De didn’t see or hear anything, as the guard appeared, the mayor disappeared into a dense, and pink, mist.
‘Did he… slap? With full power?!’
The Transcendent expert bowed to Han De and gazed at the pink mist that was gently moving around. Han De used a small spiritual spell and directed the pink mist away with a breeze. The thought of that pink mist touching his clothes was enough to make him gag. Out of sight, out of mind…
While he was wondering why it was pink instead of red, the dissipating pink cloud revealed a hazy silhouette. Han De didn’t need to see the murderous rage in this silhouette's eyes to know that this was the soul of the mayor.
Under normal circumstances, it was very hard to kill an Ancient Realm expert. Although the mayor's body was lost completely, his soul was still intact. The Transcendent expert looked at Han De again, waiting for his orders.
Han De finally understood the most crucial difference between his lackeys, and his mother’s lackeys. While the former liked to beat people up, the latter seemed to favor killing them instead. It was a ‘subtle’ but crucial difference. This was something he should’ve thought of before, the lackeys’ behavior would certainly be shaped by their master.
He realized he either needed to give them very explicit instructions, or not involve his mother’s lackeys at all. He facepalmed to prevent himself from gulping.
‘I said slap him, I didn’t say kill him. Well at least you had the sense to suppress your own shockwave, I guess that is something...’
“Cousin! I did as you asked, and it was going well too, but...”
Han Bai looked at the silent rage of the mayor’s soul then glanced at the rising smoke from the Li family estate.
“...Did you change your mind?”
Han De tried his best to ignore the soul and the pink mist, but the faint raw meat smell was persisting through his breeze spell.
“No, I just added some extra things, nothing too serious.”
Han Bai looked at the dissipating pink mist again and rolled his eyes. Old Peng reappeared, his clothes seemed disheveled and his expression was serious. He bowed and looked at the surrounding people and the soul that was being suppressed before speaking.
Han De didn’t mind his disciples hearing about how he dealt with anomalies. He didn’t even mind if they heard the term ‘anomaly’ itself. This was all easily explainable within his character as benevolent Hidden Expert and as an active elder of the Starfall Mountain sect. In fact, he didn’t take any measures to hide any of it on purpose. He was very well aware of the Streisand effect.
Han Bai seemed to have some unknown connection with his mother, judging from the tendencies of the latter, letting his cousin hear the handling of an anomaly didn’t matter at all.
As for the soul that was bubbling with rage, Han De’s hands were tied. At the beginning, he was going to let him go or confine him depending on how things went. But his mother’s lackeys completely shut that down. This guy’s fate was sealed.
At the same time, Yao Qing narrowed her eyes. She had tried to pry information out of Old Peng before, but failed every time. Although Old Peng did throw her a bone by telling her some of the absurdly crazy contingency plans, she was ultimately refused. Even abusing her position as a disciple didn’t work. Even involving Jin Shu and Ning Bi didn’t produce any results! Therefore, she was very curious about the inner workings of her master’s group.
Old Peng nodded and started speaking.
“Young master, the boy’s twin sister was being held by the Li family, along with hundreds of females belonging to various species. They were meant to be used as a cultivation vessel for the Li family patriarch’s pursuit of immortality.”
The key terms for Han De were cultivation vessels and the pursuit of immortality. These red flags indicated that there was some sick Xianxia stuff going on around the Li family. Han De didn’t want to hear any details, so he waved his hand to stop the explanation. Old Peng being the diligent lackey, considered his next words carefully.
“According to the Li family elders, the twins are the 25th generation abominations and they are to be... handled appropriately...”
The boy was a hybrid of 4 different species. At the time, Han De thought that the percentages shown by the System were useless. He thought the boy had mixed and somewhat complicated ancestry. Trying to untangle that mess would’ve been futile. Especially when the boy was about to cry just by looking at him.
Now that the cultivation vessels and a noble family were involved, there was a new and unsettling possibility that could explain it.
“Did they make axlotl tanks?”
In Han De’s mind, cultivation vessels were human pill furnaces. Demonic cultivators would use them… for reasons. Han De wasn’t sure of the mechanics behind it, and now that he was in a real Xianxia world, he didn’t want to find out either. Once he learned, there wouldn’t be a way to unlearn.
This being a real Xianxia world, of course some insane cultivators would naturally find some insane new uses to further reduce their sanity points. That was all he needed to know.
“Master, what’s an axlotl tank?”
Han De only realized he said that out loud after hearing Ning Bi’s question. There was no way he could explain something like that to her. He mildly shook his head.
“Something from an old story, made by a fictional tribe called Tleilaxu. It is unpleasant, to say the least.”
Han Bai was curious how his cousin would handle the situation. Using cultivation vessels to create a way for immortality was a common but futile effort among demonic cultivators. It was still rather surprising to see it happen in this world though. This Li family was ahead of the curve from the perspective of demonic cultivators.
The effect of Han De’s breeze spell was long gone but the faint scent of raw meat still lingered. Han De kept thinking about what he should do.
Everyone would have violent thoughts, but most people wouldn’t act on them. It was hard for someone to repeatedly encounter life and death situations in a modern society. Even if someone did repeatedly encounter such threats, the structure of society would serve as a safety net and allow those individuals to at least somewhat maintain their restraint.
Unfortunately, Han De did not have that safety net. This was a kill or be killed kind of world. A world where his mother actively kept encouraging him to let go of his ‘useless’ morals.
Han De had also long realized that he had a tendency to give kill orders during distressing situations. It didn’t take a genius to realize that this was the corrupting effect of power. If he wanted something to go away, it was just one order away.
‘I only wanted to free the slaves and do something good and productive for a change...’
Han De facepalmed and sighed.
“How many participated or helped?”
Old Peng answered without blinking an eye.
“Nearly all of the Li family elders have their own cultivation vessels, but it was the Li family head’s vessels that produced the twins.”
‘Damn, this really is some tleilaxu shit…”
Han De looked at the still furious soul that was being suppressed by the Transcendent expert.
“Gather up the elders and those that directly participated. Burn their souls. Burn their scriptures.”
Even if he ignored the cultivation vessels, the Li family head already had enmity with him. Although the Ming Empire had fallen, and the Li family alone wouldn’t be able to do anything, Han De wasn’t about to leave this to chance.
“Those that followed their orders voluntarily without coercion but did not harm the victims directly will be crippled by their meridians and spiritual roots. They can live the rest of their natural lives as mortal eunuchs.”
Cultivators would think that this was a worse than death situation, but Han De disagreed. He wasn’t comfortable with killing or letting them go. The best situation would be to imprison them, but that was a risk in and of itself. Crippling was the best of both worlds. They wouldn’t die, but they would become so weak that they were essentially removed from society.
“Anyone that was forced to do their bidding can leave without harm.”
“Help the victims recover, use high-grade medicine when needed. Find their families and give them double the standard anomaly recovery package. Coordinate with the Transcendent experts, leave some people behind to carry out the remaining work. They can regroup with us later. Handle everything else by using these orders as the guidelines.”
Han De alternated his gaze between Old Peng and Han Bai. The latter narrowed his eyes at this sight, but Han De didn’t mind him.
“All of these orders came from the Han family. The one carrying it out is my cousin Han Bai. My name will never be mentioned. I was never here.”
Han Bai rolled his eyes, then smirked. Han De had never given an order by using the identity of the Han family before.
“Cousin, so you have decided to take over the family first? Auntie Xui will be pleased!”
Han De raised his eyebrow.
“If you keep calling her auntie in private, one day you will slip up, and that’ll be the last mistake you’ll ever make.”
“But, she is my aunt. Why shouldn’t I call her auntie?”
The innocent-sounding question sent an uncomfortable feeling down Han De’s spine. There was something wrong with his cousin’s phrasing, but he didn’t know what it was. If the cultivation idiot was here, he would’ve called it a cultivator’s intuition. Unfortunately, Han Bai interrupted his thoughts.
“What about the twins?”
“What about them?”
Han Bai was taken aback for a second due to Han De’s nonchalant response.
"They said they were abominations…”
As far as Han De was concerned, this was a fantasy land with talking mushrooms and flying islands and intelligent lightning. A mixture of 4 species wasn’t even close to being groundbreaking, not even by Xianxia standards. The System didn’t say anything about the boy being an abomination either.
‘Granted, I didn’t see the boy’s true form, and only saw his human form, but that doesn’t matter.’
Han De waved his hand dismissively.
“They are the victims and they are still alive. All life is sacred and life should be cherished. The twins will receive the Han family’s full help and that is final.”
Han Bai could only faintly nod at his cousins' decisiveness. He kept his complaints to himself.
Jin Shu, like the other two disciples, was silently listening to her master’s orders. She fell in deep thought after hearing her master’s comment about life.
Most of her life was spent in her family home, being groomed by her family elders after her parent’s death. She had value because of her beauty and her bloodline. If one was missing, she would’ve been worthless and worthless things would be discarded.
Removal of the parasitic bloodline was the first time someone went above and beyond her worth. She understood the difficulty of removing a bloodline that was nearly done with consuming her body. Even the talent that suddenly appeared in her after the removal still wasn’t enough to compensate for any of it. While her master recovered, she thought for a long time, and decided to agree to anything that was demanded of her.
Only, no one demanded anything. She cultivated, learned, interacted with other disciples. She kept waiting and watching, but her master really seemed to be only interested in teaching. She couldn’t detect a single lustful gaze from him.
The last couple of days she witnessed him gathering poor and unfortunate kids to the sect. She saw him caring deeply about his subordinates and even promising to restore their cultivations. He even spared the lives of the abominations, even though he condemned the culprits into a fate worse than death.
‘Life should be cherished...’ She repeated those words in her mind. Her experience taught her that life, was a balance sheet. One had to be patient and calculate all the variables in order to stay alive. ‘All life is sacred...’ This way of thinking was foreign and weird, but it still somehow made sense.
Jin Shu was wise enough to recognize that her experience so far was an insignificant part of an eternal journey. There was no need to be inflexible.
Meanwhile, Han De was completely oblivious to the change in his disciple. The words he spoke were mainly meant for Ning Bi. Among his disciples, her fate was the one that concerned him the most.
Han De was hoping he did the right thing, but he wasn’t sure. The thing that concerned him the most wasn’t the lives of the elders, but the effects that his decision would cause on his psyche. The difference was subtle, and recognizing it increased his anxiety.
Han De tried not to think about the Li family anymore. What was done was done, and there was no turning back.