In the end, Han De returned to the Brass Stallion city. Not by teleporting through Sebastian, but through using the Through the Starlight scripture. A leisurely walk with a signature footwork worked wonders on his mood. Of course, decisively ignoring everything related to the [Untethered] bloodline effect played a huge part as well.
He also ordered Sebastian to look into the Silent Silhouette sect's base. According to Yao Qing, they were located in a place called Red Stone Basin. Han De was half expecting Sebastian to leave at once, but the leviathan remained right behind him. Apparently, there was no need for Sebastian to do the investigation physically, which was a welcome development for Han De.
Though there was uncertainty about Sebastian's loyalty due to the unknowable effects of the bloodline, Han De far preferred to have the leviathan stay close. The benefits far outweighed the negatives. What if a random Immortal Realm expert popped up and get auto-offended by Han De's existence?
Also, since the bloodline was able to spook Han De the Divination Grandmaster so easily, there was a sense of renewed confidence in its capabilities.
'If I remember correctly, there should be a famous restaurant somewhere near here.'
Only a few hours had passed, but streets were already visibly livelier. Not enough for random arrogant young masters to pop up like mushrooms, but enough for stall vendors to audibly shoo away people. One such display was happening right now.
'Hold up. Is this guy really…'
The one getting shooed away was a bald man, wearing the iconic saffron-colored robes that had clearly seen better days. Han De couldn't see his face, and he didn't want to use his spiritual sense to get a clearer look. The old monk bowed to the vendor respectfully and left without making a fuss.
The stall owner went back to sorting his wares with disdain. Han De raised an eyebrow when he heard him mutter.
"…still a Qi Condensation disciple at that age? Hmph! If I didn…"
When Han De looked at the slow-moving old monk, he clearly saw a cultivation base much higher than his own. In fact, the pressure he felt was even higher than the pressure he felt from Treebeard, who was in the Immortal Realm.
A Xianxia universe was truly dangerous. Not only one would be careful about not offending the wrong person, but they would have to be on the constant lookout to avoid getting caught in the crossfire! Thankfully, the old monk didn't take offense. For now.
As Han De pondered on the vendor's words, his eyes lit up with understanding. The simplest explanation was that the old monk was hiding his cultivation!
'Oh, now this is a cheat. Yes. System, this I like. I take it back, Reality Sense is godlike. Seriously.'
Untold number of experts were dying every single day due to offending a master that was hiding their cultivation. How many elders had died last year just because they insulted a random lazy dog? Too many, Han De thought.
Now it made sense why Han De could detect faint cultivations from every single person in the streets. At first, he thought it was a weird occurrence, then he thought it was because of Sebastian's actions. Now it seemed obvious it was because of the Primordial Whatever Dragon bloodline.
[Nothing can hide from your senses. Nothing can fool your senses.]
Though the description sounded a bit too chuuni for Han De's tastes, Reality Sense really did what was written on the tin. There was still a tinge of regret in his heart for not being able to experience… plot-driven… illusions, but he knew that the benefits far outweighed the negatives on this one.
The System giveth, and the System taketh away.
* * *
Around the same time Han De entered Phoenix' Beak Pavilion, someone found Han De's test site.
A brown fox navigated the decimated terrain with quick steps. The mess had clearly caught its interest, especially the peculiar Sword Qi that still lingered. Since the brown fox was waiting for someone anyway, taking a closer look wouldn't hurt!
The brown fox meticulously sniffed the area, observed the remnant Sword Qi from different angles, and used its spiritual sense to reconstruct the scene in his mind. Then, it nodded in satisfaction. The mystery was solved!
Obviously, this was a master teaching their disciple. The first demonstration was raw power, and the last one was sharp enough to cut through the space itself. And yet, the Qi was clearly at the Nascent Soul level. Only a true master swordsman teaching their disciple could produce such ferocity!
That, or it was a depressed cultivator blowing off steam. The odds were 50/50.
The brown fox would've studied the strange Sword Qi more if it wasn't for the persistent feeling of dread that surrounded that place. Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to hang around after all. Besides, it wasn't Sword Qi to begin with, but some form of Light Qi instead.
Unfortunately, the brown fox wasn't fast enough, and its scent was caught by a particularly troublesome individual before it could leave.
"Amitabha. Benefactor, it is good to see you well."
The brown fox felt a chill on its spine when it saw the old monk's benevolent smile.
* * *
The Phoenix' Beak Pavilion. A restaurant that was famous across the southern continent for employing not one, but dozens of famous immortal chefs. An establishment that didn't follow, but created trends. Just like the auction house that was only a few streets away, one had to prove their qualifications first to enter this place.
In the case of the auction house, qualifications were there as a security measure. In the case of the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion though, qualifications were there as a marketing tool. This restaurant was known as a 'safe heaven' for the elite, a place that was free of the unqualified masses.
Naturally, Han De wasn't aware of this. His only impression of this place was that it was a restaurant for the filthy rich. And if Han De weren't filthy rich, no one else could be!
Therefore he didn't think much about the social status of this place and simply walked in with his Profound Expert persona and asked for a table on the top floor.
The last time he came here his lackeys handled everything, including proof of their qualifications in form of a jade token. Han De's experience was smooth from beginning to end, and the only impression he had of this place was their professionalism, and the food quality.
The attendant -who was an expert at throwing out the nouveau riche-, did a double-take, then hurriedly brought this matter to his supervisor's attention. The supervisor called the young master of the restaurant, and the young master called for the owner before personally leading Han De to the top floor. All of this process took less than a minute. None of them asked for qualifications, because none of them could dare to!
One of the reasons for their swift response was the result of their intuition honed by many years of experience. Otherwise, the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion would've been destroyed thousand times over!
One look was enough to realize that their guest wasn't someone they could offend. Top-class robes, flawless jade-like skin, pitch-black eyes, and sword-like eyebrows, all on a young Nascent Soul expert that carried an arrogance that could only belong to a peerless expert.
However, the prime reason they acted so decisively, was because another hidden expert had entered just an hour ago! Their alertness was at the highest level after nearly making a fatal mistake!
'These guys really know their stuff…'
Xianxia restaurants would always be filled with hidden dangers. Seeing the employees careful attitude relieved some of Han De's concerns. His earlier visit had certainly left an impression, but now he was amazed by their thoroughness.
As Han De climbed the steps, he tried to use his Reality Sense to get a feeling of the patrons' cultivations. It's not that he didn't trust Tan Renshu, he just knew that the list was only a part of the picture.
Floors one through four had lower than Immortal Realm cultivations, save for one. Unfortunately, Han De couldn't ascertain that person's realm, but he could guess that it was lower than the old monk he encountered.
The 5th floor was the empty buffer zone, designed to create a clear separation between the rich, and the filthy rich. Even without the Reality Sense, Han De had guessed that it was a floor to do shady deals among the VVIP. Of the 12 people present, he couldn't recognize the cultivation bases of anyone.
And finally, the 6th and final floor. To give credit to the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion, this floor was really lavishly decorated. Even the simplest furniture had some spiritual energy. The entire floor had 8 halls, divided by heavy-duty formations hidden inside ridiculously expensive-looking walls.
'I knew they had formations, but this is pretty impressive. For a restaurant that is. Hmm, the fact that I can sense them now means Reality Sense works on formations too.
*Sigh* If I had this Reality Sense early on it would've saved me so much trouble…'
Han De sat down near the window and ordered one of every dish. He smiled after the attendant left the room. Conditions could hardly be more ideal!
Only two other halls were occupied. One had ten experts of high cultivation. And the other one…
'One Qi Condensation, and one Immortal Realm. Huh. There's something else too, what is that tiny thing near the Qi Condensation disciple?'
Han De assumed the worst and assigned the labels Potential MC A and B. It was quite unfortunate he couldn't see them. Reality Sense was only a wallhack for detecting spiritual energy.
'No, actually, it is fortunate that I don't see everything. This universe is dangerous, there should be many experts that can notice if someone is watching them, directly or indirectly. This Reality Sense might be a super OP cheat from one perspective, but it may bring trouble as well.'
Han De tried to turn the Reality Sense off, temporarily of course. Unfortunately, it was an effect that was always on. Whether he liked it or not, from now on he would be able to sense many hidden things.
The first thought that came to his mind was to increase his training for ignoring the obvious. If Han De were to discover a Transcendent freak acting like a Foundation Establishment disciple with poor aptitude, his own acting needed to be impeccable.
Knowing someone was an ancient freak was different than acting like someone could be an ancient freak.
*tap* *tap* *tap*
The Immortal Sentinel scripture started operating at full force, using Han De's chair as a conduit.
The information about the chair appeared in his mind as if it was a forgotten memory. This was the first time he used divination on a proper object unrelated to himself. He knew of this dissonance through grandmaster knowledge, but this was the first time he experienced it firsthand.
As if he had done it a million times before, Han De let the memories come and go, and only held on to what he needed.
Flashes of guests with a wide variety in cultivation bases played like a slide show. Lack of clear ownership would result in an unclear divination, but since Han De wasn't looking for anything specific, this was to his advantage.
'Oh yeah… This is the stuff. Finally, some successful divination…'
Han De the Divination Grandmaster's lips curled upwards.
'Interesting. The number of guests did decrease, but the overall cultivations increased. Some of them even have unclear silhouettes. They should be on the last stages of the 2nd step or above to be able to disrupt this kind of divination.'
Those were the dangerous types. If Han De could already detect them here, then the situation wasn't as peaceful as Tan Renshu claimed. Granted, his divination scripture's power level was at the legendary [Very Weak] realm, so his ability to gain information couldn't be compared to a family of merchants.
Though in this case what he gathered wasn't information, but statistics instead.
Han De dared to use divination inside the restaurant because of the shielding formations surrounding the halls. Unless they were in the same room with him, no one would be able to feel the energy fluctuations from the Immortal Sentinel scripture. If he had done this on the streets he would most certainly attract unwanted attention.
After finishing his indirect divinations and getting similar results across the board, Han De thought about other ways to get information. Confirming facts from multiple independent sources was critical to making informed decisions. Usually, his lackeys would handle these matters, but naturally they weren't here right now.
'I could disguise myself and visit some random information guilds…'
Even the thought of it made Han De shook his head. What was he supposed to do? Call himself 'De Han' and hope no one would recognize him? Any information guild worth its weight in salt would be able to recognize a notorious young master like Han De, no matter how many layers of illusion he may put on himself. One should never try to teach their grandmother to suck eggs.
Rapidly approaching Core Formation cultivators interrupted Han De's train of thought. There were nearly twenty of them! Han De's breath got heavier, and his body became warmer. He became ready to use the Through the Starlight scripture at a moment's notice.
'They… aren't moving that fast, and there is some distance between them… Doesn't look like an attack formation.'
Han De wanted to divine his future by instinct, but alas, he couldn't. Then he remembered. He had ordered one of every dish, and the waiters of this place were cultivators.
'S#$%, so many people moving at once. I need to get used to that, and quick.'
A late-stage Core Formation expert asked for permission to enter. By now Han De was 99% sure that they really were normal servants. However, he still couldn't help but be wary. Even if he was a Nascent Soul cultivator, a sneak attack from a treasure had a chance to injure him before he could ask Sebastian to nuke the place!
Fortunately, saner thoughts prevailed, and Han De calmed himself down. He watched the servants decorate the giant table with glowing dishes. There wasn't a speck of ill intent in the air! These people were only doing their jobs, and they were doing it well.
Han De couldn't help but feel a bit embarrassed, and a bit concerned. If this was before he could hole up in his abode and slowly adjust to the situation at his own pace. But now Sebastian was watching his every move. Presumably. He had to adjust, and fast.
He decided to start right after stuffing himself full of literally glowing food. As usual, he inspected every dish with the System to make sure there wasn't anything poisonous. Just in case. For good measure, he decided to check his every bite as well. All was well until he finally started eating.
'… Not… bad…?'
Being a half-ascended Nascent Soul expert, his body had gone through certain changes. All of his senses had become sharper. Including his sense of taste.
'Ginger, garlic, caramel, what is this other spice? I don't think I've ever tasted something like this before.'
Red braised pork belly, a classic dish that Han De had eaten before, both on Earth, and on this very same restaurant in the Xianxia universe. Now, he could taste every single ingredient inside the dish. Han De quickly realized this wasn't a good development. What should've been a guaranteed enjoyable dish, had turned into an introductory experience into culinary autopsy.
Han De ate a little bit of every dish. Their taste was neither enjoyable nor unpleasant. It was as if Han De ate the ingredients individually, rather than a complete dish.
'Why the hell does this tofu pudding tastes like drywall?!'
[Traditional Sweet Tofu Pudding]
[Prepared according to the imperial methods popularized by the mortal Wang dynasty 9.87411 million years ago. Due to inadequate control of the immortal chef, 34.71% of the spiritual energy was lost, and 55.41% became semi-decayed. Made from extremely low-grade spiritual soybeans, extremely low-grade morning dew, and calcium sulfate dihydrate extracted from 9.17243 years old stone milk.]
[Safe for consumption. Has no effect on current cultivation base.]
Han De sighed with resignation.
Food was one of the few normal things he could enjoy in a Xianxia universe. One of the reasons why he specifically avoided cultivator cooking scriptures was to stay ignorant. Had he accidentally grandmastered one, he knew he would have to say goodbye to enjoying simple meals. Ignorance was bliss. Truly.
'Alright, maybe this is just a phase. Maybe I'll get used to it in time. Yeah, this should be a temporary condition, it makes sense in hindsight, right?'
While Han De was desperately trying to convince himself, a late-stage Core Formation expert slowly climbed the stairs. The top floor didn't have the same traffic as the lower floors. Apparently, other customers valued their privacy, just like Han De. Which was why this lone cultivator struck like a sore thumb. Eventually, the cultivator arrived at Han De's door.