After seeing the small settlement, Han De had come to a realization.
Through the power of money, anything was possible. However, this was a backwater planet where the most powerful guy could smash a large boulder. Maybe. At worst, he was confident that they could smash a medium-sized boulder. Probably.
In any case, lower power levels meant more fragmentation. That meant there were multiple kingdoms, multiple empires, and most importantly, multiple currencies.
While he did have a frankly absurd amount of gold, he didn't have any local currency. This was a serious problem for Han De's immediate plans.
He needed to exchange currency, and the small settlement seemed to fit the bill. Because at its center, there was a rich-looking palace.
Previously, Boys A and B had shown him the utmost respect. Some of it was due to shock, but most of it had to do with his displayed cultivation level. Even the 6th Stage of the Qi Condensation realm commanded tremendous respect on this noob planet. 6th stage was called Martial Grandmaster by the locals! Grandmaster! Attaching Grandmaster to anything would automagically add tremendous weight and respect to the subject. And he had shown 7th stage to those kids.
The cultivation Han De currently displayed was at the 8th Stage of the Qi Condensation realm. Also known as Martial Emperor by the locals. There was no deeper meaning to his actions, he was only curious.
And that was why there were hundreds of people kowtowing to him right now.
While descending towards the small settlement, he naturally chose the biggest courtyard of the palace.
Before he could even hop down from his sword, hundreds of people entered the courtyard and threw themselves to the ground as if they were expecting him.
After the initial confusion, Han De finally hopped down. The muffled sound of him stepping on the ground caused a silent commotion. Immediately a white-haired uncle seemingly appeared out of nowhere and greeted Han De with reverence.
"Qiu Hanying of the Qiu family greets honorable Martial Saint!"
Being in his Arrogant Young Master act, Han De controlled his facial expressions perfectly and prevented himself from raising an eyebrow. However, this level of control was unnecessary, since everyone's eyes were completely locked to the ground.
'Saint? Shouldn't it be Emperor? Yes, the 8th Stage is Emperor, and the 9th Stage is Saint.
Ah, I see. This guy is only at 4th Stage, he can't tell my Stage clearly since the difference is so high.'
Han De felt too lazy to correct him. He lazily waved his hand even though no one could see it.
"Dispense with the trivialities. I'm not familiar with the surroundings and require some directions."
The white-haired uncle gave a look at a young man behind him and lightly nodded. Scores of people moved with precision and vacated the courtyard in moments. Han De ignored their practiced actions. Although the gesture was nice, he had watched many high school drill teams on Earth. The performance of the locals looked mundane in comparison.
"I've heard there is a city nearby that houses 20.4 million people. Where is it?"
This was one of the conversation points of the merchants. One of them enthusiastically kept mentioning the census numbers. The number felt a bit off to Han De, but considering this was a Wuxia world in a Xianxia universe, he didn't dwell on it.
Servants brought an expensive-looking chair that resembled a throne, along with an equally expensive-looking table. As Han De sat down, a jade teapot was produced from somewhere and an older grandpa was already brewing tea with utmost concentration.
'Ok, that's impressive. Now this feels more like ancient China and less like a wannabe super bowl halftime show.'
Han De waited for an answer after giving mental +1 to the tea grandpa, but the white-haired guy, Qui-something, stayed silent. Was he waiting for the tea? Was this supposed to be a ceremony? Han De had no clue.
Once the grandpa was done with brewing, he poured the tea with utmost concentration and presented it personally. Han De used his Profound Expert series movements to take a sip from the freshly brewed tea. And of course, he only sipped after doing a status-check for poison. One could never be too careful against poison!
"Answering to the esteemed Martial Saint's previous question. The city Xi'Ayan is known to house 30 million citizens. It is the capital of our Qin Empire! The jewel of the Nine Mountains continent!"
'... Damn, that answer took a while...'
The white-haired guy's dignified and pride-filled tone caused Han De to pause.
"Our Qiu family have been loyal subjects of the Qin Empire for 12 generations! This Four Rivers Prefecture was a reward from the great Qin Emperor over 300 years ago for our contributions in the defense of..."
Han De narrowed his eyes, but no one saw this slip up because everyone present was still intently staring at the ground. Including the white-haired guy.
'Is he doing this on purpose? Surely he can't be boasting without a reason… Surely...'
The boasting continued. Han De was too baffled to interrupt, and the white-haired guy was too happy to stop. 12 generations of history were condensed and polished into 5 minutes of passionate self-praise. The strict format of speech and the mannerisms of the servants gave an almost ritualistic vibe to Han De.
Then, it dawned on him. This was some sort of traditional greeting. Different cultures had different customs, and technically speaking, Han De was standing on another planet, speaking with locals that had no contact with anyone but their own world. Technically, this was their First Contact.
Han De involuntarily facepalmed. Not only he listened to exposition, but he ended up listening to an especially useless one.
The welcoming ritual was completed without a hitch. The Qiu family patriarch and the elders finally raised their heads and froze at the sight in front of them. They could sense no ill intent in the air, but the Martial Saint was looking at them with an unsettling grin. His young features and the elegant but alien-looking gray robes further intensified the feeling of something being off.
"I appreciate your hospitality. I, Jean Luc, am an explorer from a land far, far away. My continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where-..."
Han De stiffened up when he realized he was getting in the mood. At the same time, he also realized he could cosplay as a Starfleet officer with his illusion arts. Uniforms were easy. He could even make a tricorder. Obviously, it wouldn't have any functions, but it could still have blinking lights and make tricorder sounds. He could even jury rig a shuttlecraft illusion on top of his sword. The possibilities were endless...
'It wouldn't hurt to do some cosplay before the Long Ai arrives, would it? Just a bit of harmless fun! When will I get to have this chance after I return? It's not like it'll cost me anything, just a bit of spiritual energy is all it takes. I can even reclaim some of the unspent Qi later…'
Han De thought he was missing something crucial. Something that had been staring into his face, but he was too busy with trivial events to notice.
"As I was saying, I heard there was a big city with 20.4 million or so residents. If you could point me in that direction, I would be ever so grateful!"
"Responding to the venerable Martial Saint. The city Xi'Ayan is behind the Blue Mountains, and across the Noble Swan River."
The answer from the white-haired guy was unexpectedly useless. The name of those mountains and the river was meaningless. Han De didn't even know what this settlement was called. He vaguely remembered that the white-haired guy mentioned it, but that was it. While he did know that City A was northwest-ish, he would rather not fly for hours. The time was limited, and asking for directions here would only take a few minutes.
"Bring me a map. You can draw a new one too if you want. I'll compensate you for it."
The Patriarch of the Qiu family nodded to one of the elders behind him. The courtyard became silent after the sound of that elder's footsteps disappeared. The Qiu family representatives acted respectfully, but they were making calculations in their minds. What they saw was unsettling.
The behavior of the Martial Saint suggested that he was unstable. Forget forging connections with another empire, if the Qiu family would come out unscathed today, the patriarch would call it a once-in-a-century victory.
Martial Saints were empire-level beings. Their power was enough to destroy multiple armies without breaking a sweat. Even the Qin Empire only had one Martial Saint, and that was the previous emperor.
Patriarch and the elders waited while covered in cold sweat. Why did the heavens bring this disaster upon them? What did they do to deserve such fate?
Han De's mind jumped from idea to idea while he waited for the map. Perhaps due to his time being limited, he wanted to do dozens of different things. Each new idea was great, but executing them would take time from his previous, more 'important' plans. Each new thought only increased Han De's frustrations.
The elder returned with a silk map that looked more like a bedsheet and explained the lay of the land. This settlement was near the southern border, while the capital was in the center. There was one particular landmark that was etched with gold paint. What could be so important that it had to be differentiated among hundreds of other cities.
"That is the jewel of our kingdom, the T'ng city! The copper mines there are one of the most important treasures of the Qin Empire!"
Han De nodded to the patriarch's answer.
"Right… Is the scale of this map accurate?"
"O-of course! This map was made by our 4th elder, who has invented a revolutionary way of calculating distance! Aside from the ones made for the royal family, this map is the most accurate map in the whole world!"
'They sure do love to boast…
If the scale is accurate, City A is only a few minutes of flight away at full speed.'
Han De etched all the landmarks into his memory. This information was worth remembering.
"Good. Very good! You have done well. One last thing I require is currency exchange. The people of the City C were very disrespectful and refused to cooperate on this matter."
A wave of hand later, a pile of solid gold taels appeared from Han De's storage ring. City C was just a made-up excuse, an attempt to tap into their pride.
"You can take 1/20th of this gold, if you exchange the rest with the currency of your empire. I am too busy to facilitate communications with the City C to discuss the termination of hostilities."
Han De tried to remember some diplomatic-sounding quotes, but his unpreparedness caused him to draw blank. At the last second, certain series of protocol droids appeared in his mind with great clarity. He made a mental note to dig some diplomatic-sounding quotes from his memories.
"T-This amount will require some time, please forgive our incompetence great Martial Saint!"
Han De waved his hand to the kowtowing elders.
"It's fine. I can wait for a while but don't make it too long. Serve me some of your local cuisines while I'm waiting."
The elders gave some words of gratitude, but Han De was no longer paying any attention to them. He started using his spiritual sense to observe the cultivations of the locals. Apparently, the 8th Stage was a bit too high in the local hierarchy. His initial goal was achieved, but Han De found the constantly anxious people rather tiring.
'Those boys that were fighting over the bloodline scripture were at the 3rd stage, and this patriarch is at 5th. Maybe the sweet spot is 5th or 6th stages depending on the situation.'
While observing the area, as a precaution, Han De started thinking about easy illusions to shock & awe the would-be arrogant side characters.
'...Is that… full-plate armor?'
Outside the courtyard, near the entrance of the estate, there was an unfamiliar sight. Hundreds of soldiers were neatly in formation, guarding the area around the courtyard, and all of them were wearing armor. Heavy armor that covered them from head to toe. The bronze-colored scales underneath the leather adornments, were most definitely made of bronze. It was definitely made for protection.
'It really is armor… It looks like ancient Chinese armor too!'
Talismans, inscriptions, even tattoos were a thing, but Han De hadn't encountered a single person wearing armor. Jewelry, sure. But armor? Non-existent. Everyone wore Daoist robes without exception. The material they were made out of was easily tougher than bronze or steel, but they were still robes.
Due to remembering the existence of the concept, full-plate armor became the newest hot subject thanks to Han De's easily distractible state.
'If I can make those scales out of the shield spell and put a few, or maybe 50 layers of shield each, it can drastically improve my defenses.'
The new ability to change the shield spell's shape was quite handy in this case. The shield spell would provide the protection, and the illusion art would provide the visuals. Using real materials wasn't an option. Forging was a completely alien concept to Han De, and learning it right now would require too much effort. Meanwhile, an illusion coupled with a shield spell was much easier. They didn't last as long as a suit of metal armor, but at least it was doable. An illusion could also take any kind of shape he could imagine, as long as he put enough effort into it!
'At least 2 scale armors, 1 full plate, and maybe a coat of plates type might look nice for variety. Some sort of dark lord armor is a must too. With bat wings? Or fallen angelic wings?
Hmm. Now that I think about it, sci-fi armor would be a piece of cake too. But then I would have to wear sci-fi armor. A space marine riding a flying sword? No thank you…'
Han De's spiritual sense was still inspecting the armored soldiers that surrounded the courtyard. The soldiers themselves weren't anything special, they weren't even cultivators. Still, seeing them all in one place like that was enough to activate the cheerleader effect.
'If I can make it to higher realms one day… I could make my own space marine chapter with illusions… Infusing will is possible at, what, Immortal Realm?
Wouldn't that be nice...'