Mu Qingge, the manager of the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion, respectfully entered the hall.
Giving respects to their customers was an important part of the experience they provided. And as the manager, and more importantly, as the owner, this was responsibility fell on her shoulders. Twice. Yes, this was the second time today. The second time she had to entertain unknown guests, and stop her cultivation. Twice. All because her aunt had already left this world.
Left. Not as in dead, but as in fled. Mu Qingge's aunt didn't waste a second when she realized what was going on, left Mu Qingge the deed of the pavilion, and ran away. Just like that.
No one was aware of this fact. The Mu family's official stance was that she was in secluded cultivation. The important family members knew that their only backing right now was the few loyal Nascent Soul realm uncles that remained. However, in reality, because those uncles were old and in secluded cultivation, their only real backing was the young Core Formation disciples the family had in the pipeline. Mu Qingge included.
To the public, the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion was backed by the Mu family, with a Divinity Formation realm expert as their leader. Not even the employees of the pavilion knew about the true situation.
Hence the reason Mu Qingge desperately wanted to increase her cultivation. The Phoenix' Beak Pavilion had offended hundreds of families and sects in the past, and they were still doing it right now! Because if they tried to make amends with those they offended, their 'elite' customers would become offended instead. They couldn't quit either, because their 'special' clientele had certain… expectations.
As Mu Qingge walked closer and closer to the unknown Nascent Soul expert, she could help but think of the day that she would have to disappear and leave the Mu name behind. She bowed as she thought of the vague future ahead of her.
"Esteemed guest. This Mu Qingge is the manager of our humble establishment. If there is anything unsatisfactory, we will do all we can to provide an unforgettable experience to our esteemed guest."
She saw with the corner of her eye that most of the food was untouched. There were a few troublemakers in the past, claiming to have received unpalatable dishes, but this time Mu Qingge had doubts this was the case.
Twice. This had happened twice now today. The earlier unknown guest also left the dishes untouched. What was it with today? Why was she so unlucky? Would this guy react worse than the earlier one?
Today... Today was really something else.
"Everything was delicious. My compliments to the chefs. I could only have a small taste due to my unique circumstances. Please do not take offense."
This… was practically the same thing that woman told her earlier. Was this a new game for the rich? Were they starting to lose it now that no one could leave this realm? Was there some sort of mass Qi deviation epidemic that she wasn't aware of?
Mu Qingge continued to display her perfect smile and did not leak the slightest bit of irritation. Though she had become an owner recently, she had served at the pavilion for more than a few decades. This wasn't even a challenge.
Han De didn't really care for the restaurant's employees. The only idea in his mind was to leave without making a fuss. The problem was from his side, why would he blame them? However, after seeing the manager, he thought he should try his luck.
"This isn't my first time visiting… this restaurant. I am familiar with the quality of the service, so be at ease."
If Mu Qingge were to continue bowing after this, she would cause great offense. She raised her head to meet the unknown expert's gaze. And momentarily lost control of her expression. Certainly, her subordinates had mentioned that the man was disturbingly beautiful, but…
Seeing the manager's curious look turn into a slightly flirtatious smile, Han De couldn't help but respond with a smile himself. He went through his internal checklist. Similar age, check. Interested, check. Cute, check. Freckles and/or beauty mark, check, it's freckles.
Check check check check. It was the best-case scenario for a Xianxia.
Han De was a simple guy with simple tastes. He liked sexy, seductive women who knew what they wanted.
Even in novels, he far preferred villainesses over the white lotus idiots. Though now that he was inside a Xianxia universe, he recognized the dangers of this line of thinking.
In objective terms the manager Mu Qingge wasn't as developed as the fox woman, nor was she as beautiful as Jin Shu. That said, nearly everyone in the Xianxia universe was good-looking, to the point that Han De was starting to develop serious concerns. At this point not being a heaven-defying jade beauty was much more attractive.
<|Young master, I have found 24987 Silent Silhouette Sect disciples. 21127 is staying in the vicinity of the Red Stone Basin, while the remaining have been scattered across the 3 other remaining plates.|>
'This is your timing? Are you kidding me?'
Mu Qingge saw Han De's smile fade away and his eyes lose focus. A faint sense of crisis started to fill the room, but she ignored that.
If this was anywhere else, she would've felt threatened. But they were inside the Phoenix' Beak Pavilion. Ancient formations inside would be able to protect her from anything, for a while at least. She could afford to take bold risks.
When Han De's eyes regained focus, he spoke in a calm manner.
"I apologize. Something that needs my attention just came up."
There would be time to flirt later. What Han De needed the most right now was to stabilize his situation. That included tying up the loose ends of the cultivation idiot. He also made a mental note to visit a brothel once he got things under control.
Mu Qingge watched the handsome expert disappear into thin air. She was so shocked, she didn't notice the top-quality spirit stone pile left on the chair. Instead, she sent her spiritual sense to the master array in a panic. If the pavilion's defenses were down, there was no saving them!
She checked and rechecked every single defensive measure through the master array. Everything was in perfect condition! At that moment, Mu Qingge knew what to do. She decisively ignored the issue!
This solution was the distillation of generations worth of experience. Sometimes, people that defied common sense would appear and lay waste to the old. Often literally, and figuratively! This wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last.
After implementing the solution passed down from generation to generation, Mu Qingge was relieved. Her only regret was not being able to spend more time with the handsome expert. Their interaction was only a minute at most, and half of that time was spent with Mu Qingge bowing!
She quietly collected the shining spirit stones after finally noticing them. Truthfully, it was way too much. 20 thousand top-quality spirit stones were equivalent to 20 million regular spirit stones. The Phoenix' Beak Pavilion was expensive, but it wasn't that expensive. However, Mu Qingge wasn't going to complain about gaining 16 million spirit stones for her private emergency funds!
Perhaps this was a good day, after all, she thought. Where else would she be able to meet a heaven-defyingly handsome guy and make ridiculous amounts of money at the same time?
As she left one hall, she felt another hall's formations were powering down. The other unknown guest, a duo of a young boy and a woman, seemed to be leaving as well. Mu Qingge switched on the manager's demeanor and gracefully bowed towards the guests.
"Sister Qingge! So you are here too! Haha!"
Leaving aside the fact that she was the owner of the restaurant, Mu Qingge smiled at the boy in his mid-teens and deliberately used a familiar tone.
"Young master Xiang, was everything to your satisfaction?"
"Ah! Haha! Of course! Qing- Huh?! Sister Li Ling, where are you going? Wait for me…"
Mu Qingge was used to getting treated coldly by the customers, therefore she didn't mind the behavior. Instead of following them, she entered the hall they used, to check if there were any spirit stones. And to her surprise, there were!
Obscenely rich people really were alike, she thought. Unfortunately, after counting the spirit stones, she found out they weren't alike at all. This Qi Condensation disciple duo left only half a million spirit stones! Mu Qingge did a quick calculation and found out their bill was just short of that number.
"How petty… Hmmm..."
From extremely concerning movements of ancient freaks that openly mutilate people for daring to raise their voice, to the extremely rich masters coming out of the woodwork, Mu Qingge thought she shouldn't delay her plans any longer.
Though the spirit stones she got from that obscenely rich master were enough, she couldn't shake the feeling of impending doom. It was as if she was already too late, and her fate was sealed!
* * *
"Sister Li Ling, you are the prettiest fairy I have ever laid eyes on! This Ping Xiang was just making conversation with the Sister Qingge."
Li Ling softly hmphed and continued walking at the same pace.
"What does a boy like you know? You can't even see through the illusion treasure she had."
Ping Xiang was surprised. He muttered "Oooh…" and followed Li Ling.
Though Ping Xiang tried to make conversation, Li Ling didn't respond until they got out of the city. She threw a plain-looking white fan to the ground.
"Hop on. I'll take you somewhere good."
"Sister Li Ling is the best!"
Once the Brass Stallion completely disappeared from their sights, Li Ling breathed an internal sigh of relief. The only thing worse than getting stuck on a backwater frontier world like this, was getting stuck on a backwater world while an old expert was throwing a temper tantrum.
Thanks to a certain treasure in her possession, she had felt a tremendous aura a few hours ago, and detected ripples from Transcendent Realm deaths in the vicinity. If not for that, she would not have entered that backwater restaurant!
Li Ling's worries were only for the short term, of course. As the princess of the Li family, and the inheritor of the Grand Path Library, this seal wouldn't be able to hold her back for long.
She looked at the Seven Paths Convergence Compass once again. The primordial era treasure, the sole reason she came to this world in the first place, was close. The needle became steady and was now showing the path.
* * *
<When I give the command, bring all every single one of the Silent Silhouette sect members here. Don't allow anyone to leave. Understand?>
<|As you wish, young master.|>
Han De couldn't read Sebastian's expressions. To be on the safe side, he decided to be thorough. The less ambiguity, the better.
<Don't harm them until I say so. If they try to use some treasure, disable it. If they try to suicide, prevent it. If they try to kill each other, stop it. If they try to send a message, intercept it.
If I order you to cripple them all, cripple them all, at the same time.
If I order you to kill them all, kill them all. At. The. Same. Time.
Until I say so, no one will leave this place. Don't prevent anyone from entering, just inform me if someone is approaching.
I will not tolerate failure, is that understood?>
<|By your will, this Sebastian will not fail, young master.|>
Han De narrowed his eyes at Sebastian. He genuinely wanted to repeat his instructions one more time, but Sebastian wasn't one of his lackeys. Micro-managing may cause unintended side effects within their relationship.
'He shouldn't F#$% up after being told twice. Right? Yeah, this should be fine. Probably.'
Right now, they were hovering above the Red Stone Basin. This was the first time Han De was threading through the air. An essential function that was exclusive to the Nascent Soul realm and up. With this, he no longer needed to worry about falling off his sword during a flight. But Han De couldn't concentrate on the applications of walking on thin air right now.
Directly below, was a mountain split in two. Han De saw powerful formations around the perimeter of the mountain. He didn't know what they were for, but he trusted Sebastian would be able to disable, or outright destroy them without any issues.
Inside the chasm, were series of black buildings. The design matched the black demonic pagoda that Han De found from the captured Nascent Soul disciple.
Han De instinctively wanted to divine his future. What if this sect had connections to some faraway ancient sect? What if a higher being affiliated to the sect popped up? Was he about to create enmity with an ancient monster? Could he hide his presence somehow? Should he stay away and interrogate them solely through Sebastian?
There was a myriad of questions in Han De's mind, but unfortunately, he couldn't rely on divination to answer them.
Han De shook his head. Whether he offended someone or not, he couldn't leave things as they were. The Han family was no longer here. Leaving a hidden threat like this alone would be the definition of stupidity.
As ordered, Sebastian brought all sect members to the training platform suspended in the middle of the chasm. Nearly 25 thousand cultivators were neatly lined up like bags of rice. Their cultivations were disabled, and their movements were restricted. Fortunately, nothing unexpected happened.
Han De descended on the platform. He ignored the gazes and slowly inspected the cultivators. The cultivation idiot's murderer was etched in Han De's mind, there was no way he could forget it.
As Han De inspected them one by one without uttering a single word, the sect members' minds worked at full speed. They were the remnants of the sect since all elders and their prized disciples had already left. However, the grand array of the sect was still intact. Which meant that even if someone came for revenge, they wouldn't need to worry about them. That's why the remaining disciples stayed within the sect. They stayed so they could divvy up the treasures left behind, and sever their karma with the Silent Silhouette for good.
'As expected, that F#$%&@ isn't here.'
Han De didn't waste time and used the Wandering Mirage scripture to construct an image of the cultivation idiot's murderer. Then gave Sebastian a signal to remove a small part of the restraints. Just enough to let them speak.
"I will show mercy to the first person that tells me his name."
The remaining disciples were surprised. This person wanted them to betray their own sect? They would gladly do so!
"It's senior Yuan Zemin!"
"Yuan! His family name is YUAN!!"
From the beginning to the end, the Silent Silhouette sect never paid attention to loyalty. Interpersonal relationships ruled the sect. If it wasn't for their founder, and his… tendencies… this loose coalition of experts would've disbanded long ago.
Han De silently watched them shout out the same name.
As far as he knew, the Silent Silhouette sect was part of the demonic forces. While betrayal in some way was to be expected, seeing how readily they sold one of their own gave Han De uncertain feelings.
'What kind of sect would raise such unfilial disciples? This doesn't make sense. It's too un-Xianxia-like!'
Could they be lying? That was trivial to disprove. He had completely dominated the sect! Everyone was lined up like dominos! The only reason for an outsider to do that would be slaughter. Only idiots would blatantly lie after such an act!
Not all of them were so eager though. A select few were staying silent and since Han De was keeping a close eye on everyone, and noticed those people immediately.
'Could this be a diversion? The living area of this sect is too large for so few people, it would make sense if a lot of them have already left. Then the remaining should be baits. Sacrificed for the greater good of the demonic sect.
If that is the case, then these people are perfect for the job. Even if they do betray the sect for good, they won't be able to provide good information. I can sense some energy signatures down below, possibly some decoy treasures. Gives more credibility to the betrayal of the sect facade.
The people that will keep silent will have false information too, but they'll think it's real. Having both types of disciples will give legitimacy to each other's lies.
This would've worked on a well-adjusted cultivator. Not good enough for me though. Still, nicely done. Good effort.'
There was no effort. Lack of effort was by design, but Han De didn't know that.
<|Young master, two Immortal Realm disciples are trying to commit suicide.|>
Suicide, in a demonic sect? Just for asking about someone? It was a clear sign that they knew more than others. Han De could verify the information through divination too. Even if inaccurate, at least he could sort out highly inaccurate ones and try to find a general direction.
<Sebastian, put them to sleep.>
"You." Han De pointed towards the most enthusiastic Immortal Realm expert. "Describe the position of Yuan Zemin."
"Answering to the respected senior! Yuan Zemin was the chief disciple of the patriarch Silent Silhouette, and one of the senior elders before he betrayed the sect 2 months ago."
Han De made a mental note of Yuan Zemin's betrayal, given the correct conduit this could be verified with divination.
"Where is he now?"
"Answering to the respected senior! This poor disciple doesn't know, b-but… He is probably not in this world." Seeing Han De's frown, the Immortal Realm disciple hurriedly added. "Senior Yuan Zemin was an Ancient Realm expert, he can travel across the void without harm!"
The cultivation realm was also easy to prove, hence Han De thought there was a good chance this guy was correct.
'S#$%. As expected. This is the worst-case scenario.'
Previously, Han De hadn't made a move because there were too many uncertainties. A conflict between powerful sects was the last thing he wanted. But, now that the world was sealed, and the old monster had left, and the fact that he had a pocket WMD in the form of a netherworld butler, this was the perfect time to clean up the trash. It was truly a shame that the trash in question had already left…
<Sebastian, restrain that guy's cultivation to the Nascent Soul realm and allow him to move around.>
The enthusiastic expert fell to the floor. Though he had regained control, there was a huge pressure weighing down on him, limiting his cultivation. Despite that, he felt relieved and kowtowed to the unknown master at once. Pride was useless at this point. He was an Immortal Realm expert, he had lived for more than 5000 years. Kowtowing to absolute power wasn't humiliation, it was the way to survive.
"Identify the ones that had contact with Yuan Zemin or his associates, then give me a brief history of Yuan Zemin, his master, and this sect."
The enthusiastic expert pointer towards four people without hesitation. Those four were known to be close with Yuan Zemin's faction.
The fact that there was a faction was a surprise to Han De. Why would the patriarch's direct disciple need a faction of his own? Normally, Han De wouldn't have cared, but Yuan Zemin was the one irreconcilable enemy that he had. Sitting through 15 minutes of exposition dump was nothing. And sit through he did.
After listening to the ramblings about the sect's story of creation, Han De was dumbfounded.
"You are telling me, this Silent Silhouette guy created this sect, and stopped caring about it right after? And the reason for that, was because he had the 'gift' of foresight?"
The person that explained was completely serious. Other members of the sect didn't react suspiciously either. Han De even asked Sebastian to check whether the exposition guy was lying, but Sebastian confirmed that there were no falsehoods.
'I guess a guy with loose screws could create a sect given his cultivation is high enough. Even I can create a sect now that I'm at the Nascent Soul realm.'
Han De couldn't help but feel frustrated.
'So not only I can't kill this Yuan Zemin now, but I also don't know what kind of backing he has. I don't know where he went, and I don't know where his master is.'
Should he just give up? Han De immediately discarded that idea. He-, no, the cultivation idiot died because of that guy, because of some prayer beads! How could Han De ever let this go? He wasn't consumed by the idea of seeking revenge, but given the opportunity, he would definitely extinguish the soul of Yuan Zemin.
Han De glanced at the two Immortal Realm experts that attempted suicide. They were also identified as known associates of the Yuan Zemin's faction. Considering that they were unceremoniously left in this world, Han De was certain that these low-level grunts wouldn't have any useful information. However, he still felt that he couldn't let them be.
A little voice on his head warned Han De against taking things out of proportion. But Han De didn't want to listen. Heaven Defying Tyrannical Scripture started cycling on its own. Someone, anyone, had to pay. Today.
Han De lightly shook his head. Death, would be an easy escape for these people. He still had a bunch of filthy-rich-grade healing pills. But there was something even better. Han De, could be considered half a healer himself!
Golden light enveloped the surroundings. This was the AoE effect of the Golden Touch spiritual spell. Even an Immortal Realm expert could be healed, albeit slowly. Perhaps this could work!
The swordsman within Han De smiled. Now, he could slowly teach these people the gravity of their mistakes, over and over again. The tiny healer within him was excited. Now, he could experim-… use his powers to heal the wounded. Over and over again. The swordsman and the tiny healer came to a tacit agreement.
Meanwhile, the illusionist within him scoffed at the swordsman and the tiny healer. Only barbarians would resort to such crude methods. These people needed to learn from their mistakes. And only a mind illusion could adequately teach them the correct path. In fact, if done right, the effects had a chance of spilling over their next reincarnation. The prospects were extremely exciting!
However, there was a much louder, and much more forceful voice in Han De's mind. The swordsman, the tiny healer, and the illusionist swiftly disappeared.
'What the F#$% am I thinking?! Why am I thinking about starting a whole new series of grudges?! What if one of these guys became an MC in their next lives?!'
Han De took deep breaths to calm himself down. This wasn't the first time that he felt an inexplicable need for violence. A dragon and a fox, then the fox woman had tried to kill him. In fact, the former duo had nearly succeeded! Perhaps it was pure luck that Han De didn't die that day. All of his rationality was thrown out the window when he saw them imprisoned in the dungeons beneath his estate.
Fortunately, sanity had won that day, and Han De didn't kill them, nor did he torture them. Today was another victory for the team sanity. Han De hoped that it wouldn't be the last.
'When I kill Yuan Zemin, it needs to be laser-focused. His soul should be extinguished with a single precision strike. Nothing more, nothing less.'
Given enough reason, Han De could let go of the people that tried to kill him, but such a thing wasn't possible for those that did kill him. Of course, the one that died was the cultivation idiot. Not Han De. Of course. Naturally. Probably…