In the hall of elders, Qiu Kang, the white-haired patriarch of the Qiu family, was covered with cold sweat. He was able to successfully coax the Martial Saint into taking part in a feast. It was no minor feat, but considering the increasingly erratic behavior of the Martial Saint, prolonging his stay was a deeply disturbing decision.
"Patriarch, we have to do somethi-..."
Qiu Kang glared at the 3rd elder, who was his nephew. It was the 2nd, 4th, and 7th elders that greeted the Martial Saint, it was no surprise that the others couldn't grasp the gravity of the situation just yet.
Qiu Kang ignored others and grabbed a brush. He drew cryptic symbols to a small piece of paper.
"Send this message to the royal palace. Then get the fastest rider and give him the family token for the relay network. We need to know the current situation in the C't Sn city as soon as possible!"
The aide took the tiny scroll and headed for the messenger birds. Meanwhile, the mention of C't Sn city caused others to perk up.
"The Martial Saint expressed his displeasure of the C't Sn city officials. Even those fools would have the sense to be careful around a master of this caliber, but something feels off..."
Did he really do that? The elders present at the time couldn't understand which city the Saint was referring to. But since their patriarch seemed to be convinced, they were also convinced.
"Elder uncle, C't Sn city isn't our concern anymore. Shouldn't we focus on our current problem instead?"
The Qiu family had protected the C't Sn city for 8 generations. Copper being the most important resource of the empire, and therefore the world, The Qiu family earned a tremendous amount of money and prestige through that assignment. Thanks to their tireless efforts, they were promoted 2 years ago, and the duty to protect the C't Sn city was given to another family.
By mentioning that C't Sn city wasn't their concern anymore, the 3rd elder was relaying his dissatisfaction about the so-called promotion. It was a dangerous line of thought in more than a few ways. Not only did it show disrespect to the royal family by questioning their judgment, it also showed a concerning lack of vision.
The 3rd elder immediately buckled under the vicious gaze of the patriarch. "This elder spoke out of turn, and begs for forgiveness from the patriarch!"
It was due to moments like these, Qiu Kang could not step down as the patriarch. His sons' generation was too conceited. The fault partially fell on him since he was the one that raised them, but Qiu Kang didn't like to play the blame game. Instead, he focused on his grandsons' generation. Thankfully, he did not repeat the same mistakes, and the Qiu family's future was more or less secure. He only needed to wait until Qiu Zhang came of age.
Qiu Kang hmphed as he collected his thoughts. Now wasn't the time to reminisce.
"The wealth and prestige of our family have increased two folds in the last two years. This is the grace bestowed upon us by the Emperor! Never forget that! Protection of the mines is insignificant next to the control of the southern trade routes!"
Being a military house that produced countless generals and imperial guards, the reluctance to switch to trading was understandable. Sadly, the current situation was well past the threshold of hesitation. Most of the family members saw the promotion as a demotion, and the fact that it was the Shi family that took over their post didn't help.
Of course, this was all within the emperor's expectations. The Qiu family was the leader of the orthodox faction, while the Shi family was the spearhead of the unorthodox. The empire wielded the friction between the two factions as a method of control. If the elders could not see that on their own, Qiu Kang had nothing else to say!
"Focus on pleasing the Martial Saint. We must avoid offending him at all costs!"
Qiu Kang gazed at the elders one by one before continuing.
"I've had the privilege to listen to the previous emperor's teachings. Achieving Godhood is a perilous endeavor. Not even the previous emperor could make an attempt. You have to be chosen by Heavens!
Those that dare to defy the will of the Heavens will suffer a fate worse than death!"
The 2nd elder, who had been present with the patriarch while meeting the Martial Saint, uncomfortably shifted on his seat. He was a Martial Expert himself, which was actually the 4th stage of the Qi Condensation realm. A rarely seen level among noble families. Suffice it to say, the 2nd elder's knowledge of cultivation was extensive.
"Patriarch, do you mean this person tried to break through, and failed?"
Qiu Kang sighed and nervously started playing with his equally white beard.
"...Rapid mood swings, physical changes that defy reason, getting distracted by his own thoughts, that intense internal energy. If they do not point to Qi deviation, what then? You think a Martial Saint could be as young and as dashing as that man? Have you ever seen a Martial Master without a single strand of gray hair?
2nd Elder Chang, don't you remember the little Zhao that year? He was only a Martial Disciple, but suffered from Qi deviation during breakthrough..."
The 2nd Elder Chang, solemnly nodded.
"... How could I forget? He looked like an 80-year-old man by the time of his death."
Little Zhao's incident was used as a cautionary tale for the recklessness of the youngsters. A promising genius with an amazingly pure bloodline. He became a Martial Disciple at the age of 11, but died only 3 years later. Everyone in the Qiu family knew about it. Everyone knew how he persevered for a week, and how the endless agony warped his mind near the end.
The elders could not refute their own patriarch. He had the highest cultivation amongst them, and he was known to be on friendly terms with the previous emperor. The knowledge of the patriarch would surpass everyone else in the Qiu family. Holding doubts was meaningless.
While the elders were silently sweating, the patriarch stood up. Only he could be a proper host for a Martial Saint. This hasty 5-minute meeting was to make sure that no one would do something stupid. As the patriarch was leaving, an aide returned with a rugged-looking young man that started speaking without waiting for permission.
"Patriarch! A demon has appeared near the C't Sn city! One of those demonic cultivators of the legends!"
The 2nd elder, who was the father of this boy immediately intervened after a brief moment of surprise.
"Impertinent! You dare to act like a fool in front of the patriarch! It seems I haven't disciplined you eno-"
Patriarch raised his hand to stop the 2nd elder. The boy's fear seemed real, and he wasn't a child that would do something like this in the first place. Still, a patriarch couldn't show blatant favoritism. The face of the elders had to be maintained. Qiu Kang narrowed his eyes and the air in the hall suddenly turned dangerous.
"Speak. However, don't blame me if this turns out to be a nonsensical matter..."
"This junior encountered a demon while exchanging pointers with the young master of the Shi family..."
Qiu Zhang told his story without skipping anything. He even told the elders how he needlessly took away and nearly lost the sections of the family scripture to the Shi family young master. Although some elders were furious, many, including the patriarch, focused on the description of the so-called demonic cultivator.
Black eyes that threatened to swallow all light. Long hair that was blacker than the darkest night. Intense pressure that makes it hard to gauge his cultivation and bloodline. Strange manner of speaking. And, an exquisite gray robe that doesn't have a known insignia.
"Clean yourself up then join the feast as soon as possible. 2nd elder Chang, fill him in on the details. We need everything to be impeccable!"
* * *
Han De, who was observing them simply due to having nothing better to do, was speechless.
'What the F#$%...'
These people's minds seemed to be working in overdrive.
He took a few deep breaths while ignoring the increasingly concerned looks of the servants. As soon as he got his money, he was out of here anyway.
He had been waiting for the last 15 minutes. In that time, he was escorted to a small, but elegant-looking pavilion.
In the Starfall Mountain Sect, nearly everyone was good-looking. Men were handsome and women were beautiful. Even in the Brass Stallion city, the vast majority of people were qualified to be labeled as beautiful or handsome. Han De wasn't sure of the reason for this phenomenon, nor did he really care about it. He chalked it up as 'Xianxia' and did not pay attention to it any further.
As his spiritual sense swept through the settlement though, he was surprised. Most people here were… average-looking!
While Han De would 100% judge people by their looks, most of that judgment was directed towards Jade Beauties. He didn't bother with anyone else as long as they weren't showing signs of demonic arts.
Besides the average beauty level, he also noticed something peculiar. Women inside the family compound were being led away from the pavilion. Men all around them were wearing stoic looks.
'What the F#$% do you think I'm going to do??'
Finally, the patriarch and the elders reappeared and invited Han De to a feast as a guest of honor. It all seemed convoluted to Han De, but he played along since they specifically used the word 'feast'. A wuxia feast to be precise.
They switched to yet another location. This time a large dining hall filled with golden lights. As he expected, Han De's seat was overlooking the entire venue. Everything was going nice, until Han De saw the dish that was presented to him.
'... Round, flattened dough? This red stuff looks like tomato sauce. Smells like tomato sauce too. And the thing on the top is… Cheese. Yep, that's definitely cheese.'
Over 50 elders were patiently waiting for Han De to start eating. No one had touched their bronze forks.
Han De blinked several times, he used his spiritual sense to check the utensils in front of him, then checked the utensils of the elders. His suspicions were confirmed. They really were forks and knives. Not a chopstick on sight.
'Where is the meat? I thought wuxia feasts would have huge animals roasted whole. At least there should be something close to manga meat...'
Although he complained inside, Han De still cut a slice, then he folded it and took a big bite.
'It looks like a pizza, and it tastes like a pizza. It really is pizza. The dough is a little bit dry though, and the tomato has a greeny taste. The cheese is nice but still a bit too tangy and chunky…'
Han De's face constantly switched between bafflement, surprise, uncertainty, and joy. The pizza was quite mediocre. However, it was still pizza. At this moment, he truly understood why the Japanese protagonists searched for rice and soy sauce like madmen. Han De loved eating Asian food, but that was a taste he gained as an adult. In reality, he grew up eating fast food. Most of his meals as an adult were fast food too. Time and money were always in short supply back on Earth.
"V-Venerable Martial Saint. I-Is everything to your satisfaction?"
The moment was shattered by the desperate-to-please tone of the patriarch.
'Heh, it's not like pizza is some kind of inconceivable idea. Still, getting served pizza in a wuxia setting, with a fork and knife no less...'
"This dish... is very delicious. What is it called?"
"It's called Sfs'ath venerable Martial Saint! It is the famous and widely praised traditional Qin Empir-"
"That's enough thank you. These utensils, are they unique to the empire as well?"
"They are the traditional utensils that have been in use for generations. There are certain factions that prefer to use… unorthodox… utensils. Our Qiu family though, follows the long-lasting traditions of the Qin Empire."
Thankfully, the white-haired patriarch did not go on to a self-praise session this time. Han De nodded and continued eating. The rest of the attendees followed suit, and with this, the feast had started officially. Like Han De, they used their hands to fold their slices Sfs'ath, but they were obviously lacking in finesse.
'This is great. Now I can bring back pizza to the sect without raising suspicions about its origin. By stretching the truth I could also bring stuff like proper cutlery, hamburgers, soda, even pies…
… Oh, he finally arrived?'
There was a flash of spiritual energy that had the same quality as the imported MC he saw earlier. He hurriedly sent his spiritual sense.
'Hmmm… The Q-whatever family really does seem like a minor plotline for this MC. These people give serious arrogant elder vibes too.
*Sigh* I wish I could take shots after every YOU DARE?'
Han De obviously didn't touch the alcohol, which looked like some sort of fruit wine. He didn't do a status check on it either. If he got too close, he would definitely start gulping everything like there's no tomorrow. Getting drunk right now, would definitely solve all of his issues.
A feast was a celebration, and a chance to socialize for people of high status. One by one the elders of the Qiu family presented themselves. They were traders, guild masters, generals, retired royal guards, tax collectors, and more traders. Han De nodded and returned to eating after each introduction. They were trying hard to make everything look normal, the least he could do was to give minimal effort!
Besides, he realized he enjoyed this kind of weird, first contact-y situation.
"Venerable Martial Saint, this is my grandson, Qiu Zhang. He is the genius of our Qiu family that became a Martial Adept at the age of 15!"
Han De was going to nod without thinking, but the boy's features seemed familiar. He gave him a thumbs up after remembering.
"Ah, you are Boy A. That Mountain Smashing Honey Badger."
Boy A, Qiu Zhang, hesitated for a moment before replying. The patriarch near him gave a covert signal to a servant with his hands.
"T-This junior feels honored that venerable Martial Saint remembers an insignificant person!"
Han De waved his hand and returned to eating. Boy A was most likely the designated Arrogant Young Master of the area. A few ideas about the possible circumstances came to Han De's mind.
Unlike his homeworld, Han De was completely unknown here, and he was about to leave in a matter of days, if not hours. He was free of any repercussions for his actions. With that in mind, interacting with a recycled god MC wasn't a big deal as long as he didn't offend him. Since he didn't have to put up a show for his family, disciples, or his lackeys, odds of offending them were exponentially lower too.
Depending on the circumstances, he didn't mind helping either side. There were many ways to hide from a Qi Condensation disciple, even if they had godly treasure. Plus, he was a grandmaster illusionist. Mental illusions were supposed to be especially OP against lower realm cultivators.
Overall, the risk was near 0. And most importantly, Han De had nothing better to do.
The feast continued, but the air had become tense with anticipation. Han De didn't know how his body worked with the calories, so he decided to call it a day after eating 5 whole pizzas. There were other dishes, but he didn't try them since none of them were pizza.
"What's the status of our transaction? Let's not delay it any further. It's better to keep things short and sweet."
An elder from a few rows away immediately stood up and presented a piece of paper to Han De.
'7467.1514kg of gold? Did they seriously weigh everything? Wait, kg? As in kilogram? That can't be right. It's just a pile of gold. It can't possibly be 7 tons. It must be a local measurement unit.'
Nearly a million gold and silver coins and taels was the summary of the receipt. Just seeing that number was giving Han De warm and happy feelings.
"Venerable Martial Saint, we have loaded 5 carriages for transport! Awaiting your orders!"
While the money elder was talking, Han De caught the sight of a dark-clothed attendant sneakily approaching the white-haired patriarch. These people were obviously afraid of him; the news must be extremely important for the attendant to approach the patriarch like this. His physical senses were sharp enough to hear the conversation without his spiritual sense.
"Patriarch, there is a problem at the outer gates. It seems the Yu family trash found some backing and beat up some of our guards..."
Han De saw the patriarch do some finger movements behind his back. The attendant though, didn't budge and continued his frantic whispering.
"We found two dozen elites beaten up. They said it was the trash tha-"
"Enough! Not now."
The attendant ignored the patriarch's hushed admonishment and kept whispering.
"They said he is coming this way after hearing about the feast..."
The patriarch froze.
'Yeah, he's been beating people up non-stop. I wish I had popcorn right now.'
Han De smiled, then raised his voice and spoke directly to the patriarch.
"Having trouble with security?"
The patriarch flinched. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Han De adopted a benevolent smile and started his probing.
"I happen to have excellent hearing. That attendant mentioned a Yu family trash? What makes that person trash, I wonder?"
The distance between Han De and the patriarch was beyond the capability of excellent hearing. However, this surprised no one. Some of them have already seen Han De pour out a big pile of gold from thin air. Hearing barely audible whispering some distance away was nothing next to that.
The patriarch deeply bowed before he started explaining.
"This lowly one apologizes for the interruption. Responding to Martial Saint's question. The one called Yu Xian is the son of Yu Zexian, an exiled empire minister. Yu Xian stayed with our Qiu family out of pity shown by the previous emperor. He does not possess a bloodline, and his meridians are blocked. Neither orthodox, nor unorthodox methods can cure him."
'Family down on their luck. Check.
Blocked meridians. Check.
No mention of his mother. Check. Possible tragic backstory element.'
Han De nodded.
"If he stays here at the behest of the previous emperor, why is he beating up guards? What grudge could he possibly have with his benefactors?"
The answer came from far away.
"Junior Bo Ye apologizes for interrupting. This junior can explain. Yu Xian is just a toad that wants to eat swan meat."
'Bo Ye? Isn't he Boy A? Wasn't he called Q-something?'
Han De stopped the patriarch from intervening, then nodded at Boy A to continue.
"The previous emperor took pity on the Yu family and approved a marriage contract between Yu Xian and Wang Xun, before Wang Xun was even born. Instead of returning the contract, this Yu Xian insists on humiliating Wang and Qiu families! Wan-"
"That's enough. I think I get the general idea."
Judging from the passionate tone of Boy A, it was obvious he had a thing for the said girl. Obviously, being engaged to a 'trash' wouldn't sit well with a noble-born girl either. The previous owner of the harem idiot's body probably didn't back down out of pride. Lots of bullying occurred until things advanced to the point of no return, probably because of an arbitrary time clause of the marriage contract, or some sort of event that was going to happen.
"Hmmm. Does the girl like you too?"
'... Not even a pause, huh. Confident, are we?'
"How did you harm the Yu family?"
Boy A's gaze turned to the patriarch for a brief moment before speaking.
"Yu Zexian and his son were entrusted to us by the previous emperor. We wouldn't dare to harm a strand of their hair!"
Han De rolled his eyes.
"I didn't ask if you harmed the individuals. I asked how, how did you harm their family. I am asking him, not you."
The white-haired patriarch bowed his head and stopped trying to intervene. Boy A couldn't withstand Han De's gaze and bowed as well.
"T-This junior spread some rumors about Yu Zexian's lineage, then sent him away on a trading mission with low supplies. This junior also gave cleaning duties to Yu Xian, and spread rumors about his activities with… animals..."
Not… what I was expecting, to be honest.'
Han De waited for a while, but Boy A did not continue. Was he trying to remember all the things he did? Every elder in the hall was staring at their feet in solemn silence. Han De got curious.
Boy A was already fidgeting. He answered with a trembling voice.
"That is all."
"... That is all?"
Boy A nodded, but that only made Han De frown.
"You… didn't beat him up?"
Boy A shook his head with a blank stare.
"Didn't beat up his dad?"
Another negative head movement.
Positive head movement. Both Han De and Boy A were baffled.
"You… didn't kidnap and rape his childhood sweetheart?"
"N-No! This junior would never do something like that!"
"So you only spread rumors that he rapes animals?"
Boy A's mouth dropped, then he looked away. Naturally, Han De was keeping a close eye, the boy couldn't fool him.
'OK. Maybe he isn't the designated Arrogant Young Master like I thought. This is too sloppy by any standard.'
Reputation was important, but in Han De's opinion, a ruined reputation could not provide an MC with enough fuel. An MC needed some hardcore tragedy to keep them up at night. Something that could push the boundaries of their sanity. At least, that was Han De's preferred type.
'Did that harem S#$% luck out with his origin? …Well. He already has tragedy from his previous life, I suppose. This is probably just the subplot for the first arc...
Wait, if Boy A didn't dare harm him, who tried to kill the original owner?'
Han De gave it a thought for exactly 7 seconds, then he realized he didn't care. What he really cared about, and what he really wanted to watch, was the MC's reaction. Preferably with some popcorn.
"You, money elder. Let's go to the carriages. As for everyone else, thank you for your hospitality. The Qui family is quite impressive. I won't forget your names! No need to see me off. Continue with the feast!"
It was Qiu, not Qui, but no one dared to correct him. Patriarch and the others couldn't move a muscle until they received the news of Martial Saint's departure, after which, everyone collectively breathed a sigh of relief. The first one to regain his composure was the patriarch.
"Use scouting equipment to survey the skies. We'll send another coded message after a few hours. Not a single word of what happened here must get out to others!
Send out scouts towards the direction of the capital. They will stay hidden and only observe. Prepare another team of scouts for long-term surveillance, and plant more spies on the capital. Their only job will be to look out for the news regarding the Martial Saint."
The 2nd elder understood the patriarch's intentions, but that only made him frown.
"Patriarch, didn't we send the news to the royal family already?"
"Yes, we did. At the time it was the correct call, but in hindsight it was a mistake. Once the Martial Saint dies, we'll need to leave his body intact and leave some of the treasures on the body.
The message sent to the emperor doesn't mention the ring or its ability. They won't know anything as long as we act fast enough."
Of course, the patriarch saw Han De's storage ring. No such thing existed in this world, nor did they have any records of anything like it. However, they were humans at the end of the day, and humans always had wild imaginations. Once they saw something, thinking about its applications came naturally.
"Grandfather, what about the sword? Didn't you say he was standing on a sword in midair? Isn't a treasure like that more important than a ring that can carry supplies?"
Patriarch scoffed, but he didn't admonish Qiu Zhang for not calling him patriarch.
"That sword looked too ordinary. Even our sergeants wield better weapons than that. A good waste of quality metal and that is that, or I'm not a swordsman!
His real weapon must be inside that ring."
Patriarch fell into deep thought and started mumbling.
"How long can he last? Emperor of the Hua continent died 2 weeks after Qi deviation, but that's only the findings of our spies after the Hua emperor went insane. We have to assume the worst and prepare for all possibilities."
Another attendant with dark clothes entered the hall and headed straight for the patriarch. The Qiu family was still in emergency mode, since no one else knew about the Martial Saint's departure. Patriarch didn't listen to the report, he turned to Qiu Zhang instead and spoke with a sharp tone.
"Since that trash made the first move after so many years, we don't need to be courteous anymore. Take care of him."
Qiu Zhang smiled. Good things came to those who wait! At least that was what Qiu Zhang thought at that moment.