Once Han De accepted what had already happened, he immediately went into damage control mode.
<Who else knows of our involvement?>
From Han De's previous pause, Old Peng had guessed that Han De's mood wasn't favorable. Putting two and two together after that was easy.
<… Everyone involved knows…>
<Disciple Jin Shu wanted to let everyone know that the fall of the sect, and the family that adopted the anomaly know the reason for their downfall. W-We advised her not to do that, but she insisted that it was paying an old debt. And since she had the command token from the Long family…>
'… She… bankrupted, tortured, and even destroyed sects and martial arts families, ruined their future, and made them know that it was the MC's fault? Then beat up the MC and let him get away too?! On purpose?!'
Han De never could've guessed that his disciple with maximum comprehension level would be so expert in seeking death. In fact, this wasn't even at the level of an expert anymore. This was the master level territory.
'S#$%, considering how that guy held a grudge about her being his fiancé…'
<Wait, how did that guy know Jin Shu was Jin Shu? Did you verify his identity, from three separate sources?>
<…The Long family announced young master's disciples, their names, and even their origins. Their constitutions were leaked too. Elder Long Xiu stopped most of it, but most of the time she was busy searching for the young master…>
'... No wonder mother was so taciturn when she talked about my disciples…'
<The identity of the anomaly, we have confirmed from eyewitnesses from our side. Two intelligence guilds confirmed his origin. And finally, disciple Jin Shu herself confirmed his identity from an image. There is no doubt that he was the same person.>
Han De didn't fully understand his standing inside the Long family. Long Ai seemed to favor him massively, to the point that she presented almighty 'weak' cultivation scriptures! How would that translate to the Long family, that was yet to be seen. Once he had more of an idea, he could think of ways to deal, or 'come to an understanding' with the same Long family elders that interfered with his disciple's matters.
<Report those elders' movements and treat them with extreme caution.
Next, find that anomaly again, ask for loyal experts from the Han family and my mother as backup. Make a deal, contain, or eliminate. In that order.
Finally, initiate a passive search for someone called Yuan Zemin. An Ancient Realm expert that has ties to the Silent Silhouette, the Daoist, and his sect.>
The passive search was to inconspicuously collect general intelligence and sift through them for the specific objective. While searching, the lackeys wouldn't even know they were looking for Yuan Zemin. Only the intelligence organizers would have that knowledge.
Han De sent a mental illusion of Yuan Zemin's appearance to Old Peng.
<By your orders! Young master!>
Starting to work on a solution took off some of the weight on Han De's shoulders. Now it was the waiting game.
The Nameless Horror's death-seeking ways had to be fixed, one way or the other. This wasn't just for Han De's sake, but for hers as well.
Ning Bi, Yao Qing, even Yu Xian and Liang Cuifen. Their fates seemed extravagant but still relatively normal in the grand scheme of things. Jin Shu though, hers was 'The Nameless Horror'. That, had the potential to hold some tragedy.
Han De sighed.
<Anything else happened that needed your intervention?>
Reading about the lives of his disciples didn't feel right with Han De. Not to mention that the scroll itself was a bit too verbose. He would rather not read report after report how his disciples cultivated everyday day.
Old Peng didn't need to think long.
<Some anomalies had movements, but the only noteworthy effort was the clean-up of disciple Ning Bi's kin.>
'Right, Ning Bi's father turned out to be an exiled royal. Just as I guessed, he wasn't an ordinary guy… Wait, clean-up?'
Old Peng's eyes went to the scroll…
<Stop, just tell me.>
… but Han De's serious tone left no room for him.
<Some of the Long family elders wanted to test her. They discreetly swapped some of the servants. Once we found that out, we tried to contact Elder Long Xiu, but by the time we went through disciple Ning Bi had already dealt with the situation, right before dealing with her relatives.>
Those Long family elders were dangerously close crossing lines.
'I see. This is mother's way of apologizing.'
Long Xiu herself didn't explain the circumstances and let Han De discover the situation on his own. That meant that she was letting him decide how to deal with them.
Before Han De's return, there seemed to be political problems surrounding his mother's position. How else could some random elders interfere with his disciples? Now though, it seems the problems were solved already. Otherwise, his mother would never be able to control her temper.
Inaction and calmness meant only one thing. She had already won.
<What happened with her relatives?>
<Members of the mortal royalty tried to coerce disciple Ning Bi's parents. We have no evidence, but this behavior change was sudden, and persistent.>
'That was the line you shouldn't have crossed… S#$%...' Han De was thinking of both the mortal royalty, and the Long family elders.
<Bring me the most detailed descriptions of the Long family tree, and the dealings of the suspected elders. Discreetly.>
Old Peng nodded without a word. They could've obtained the official records of the Long family through Elder Long Xiu, but since their young master ordered discretion, that wasn't an option. The report would be made through their own observations only.
<What happened to the mortals?>
<Disciple Ning Bi decided to deal with the matter herself. We were able to intervene after she requested help with clean-up. After that, the Long family elders couldn't interfere. We suppressed the event as best as we could and created a story for the parents.>
<… How did she deal with them?>
Old Peng secretly glanced at the scroll case, but in the end, he still gave the report verbally.
<Disciple Ning Bi cut all of them down. Including the twelve that carried the primary bloodline, the Queen, and eleven of her relatives. A total of 216 people died, 214 souls were confirmed to enter the cycle of reincarnation. The Queen's and her personal maid's souls are believed to have been dissipated. Most likely as a side effect from an unknown art used by the Long family.>
If Han De were to take a look at the report, he would see detailed descriptions of the wounds found on the bodies, as well as a small jade sheet that contained pictures of the scene in detail. All of the dead were neatly cataloged, even their missing limbs were meticulously found and matched to their bodies.
While Han De's lackeys were somewhat hesitant to record details of the disciples' daily lives, they kept meticulous records of the extraordinary events surrounding them. Such was the case of Ning Bi massacring the royal family. The triple tribulation of the three disciples a few days after that was another.
However, the report, the scroll case, had long disappeared from Han De's mind.
All of the time spent with Ning Bi flashed before Han De's eyes.
The cheerful little girl was a bit… vengeful, true. But through her father's stories, she was a pseudo-Xianxia lover already. She even had a chuuni spirit! Though the System labeled her as the Purifier of Planes, Han De had long accepted that she was, in fact, a 13-year-old girl.
Looking back, Han De knew he ignored her brutal and unforgiving nature. In the sect, she had one-shotted dozens of geniuses without mercy. She had crippled a genius by cutting off his arms. Beaten up would-be playboys and arrogant disciples. Han De was aware of it all, and was slowly trying to instill a sense of peace, and moderation… But the ultimate effect was that Han De ignored her.
No matter how Han De looked at it, a 13-year-old girl slaughtering 216 defenseless mortals, was clearly a failure on his part. He felt he had utterly failed Ning Bi.
Han De conjured an illusory chair without thinking and sat down.
He was well aware, that he wasn't a good guy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he had ordered his lackeys to kill more people than Ning Bi had ever seen in her life. And that wasn't even the worst. The number of people that died due to the cockroach's death was simply incalculable. Simply by existing, Han De would cause more deaths in the future.
Han De wasn't going to lose any sleep over the deaths of demonic cultivators that made unspeakable mass experiments on innocent people. Nor did he care for the lives of the cockroach, and his father. If Han De could kill the father cockroach right at this instant, he wouldn't even think about it for a second.
A Xianxia universe was a brutal place. Han De could accept that, because he had no other choice.
When it came to his disciples though, and especially when it came to Ning Bi, he couldn't simply abandon them to the wolves. Instinctively, he wanted to protect them. Instinctively, he wanted to give them time to flourish.
<Do any of them still interfere with my disciples?>
<13 days ago they stopped blocking us, and 11 days ago they completely handled all matters to Elder Long Xiu.>
'13 days, that's… a day before they contacted me. I met Long Ai 11 days ago.'
Just as he suspected, Long Ai knew more than she let on.
'Should I assume she knows about the System?…'
Han De sighed. He thought he was finally getting luckier, but apparently, his luck had decided to double down and dig even deeper.
<Any other noteworthy news?>
<Other than the triple tribulation, there is none.>
'… Right, Yao Qing could control tribulation lightning…'
When did he teach them to be so flashy? Naturally, he didn't. Neither did he give Jin Shu a master class at seeking death, nor did he teach Ning Bi to slaughter mortals. Most of his 'teachings' involved letting them figure things on their own. That was exactly the problem.
Han De's 'teachings' were non-existent.
<Lead me to Ning Bi.>
* * *
Old Peng would've given the coordinates of disciple Ning Bi's palace on top of the celestial ship, if Han De had not insisted on walking.
Though Han De was in deep thought, after an hour of walking, he noticed the horizon hadn't changed at all. The size of the so-called celestial ship was so big, not even his Nascent Soul eyes could see the end of it.
Considering how the same ship housed millions of Starfall Mountain disciples on board, Han De knew that he shouldn't be surprised. However, seeing was believing. A supermassive spaceship was truly something else.
While walking, Han De also realized his Reality Sense was resetting.
While talking to his parents, or Old Peng, all he could get from the Reality Sense was the location of Long Ai. Even at high orbit, her energy signature overwhelmed everything else, rendering the Reality Sense useless. He could still use his physical and spiritual senses to detect his surroundings like normal, but that was the end of it.
Now though, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. Long Ai's position hadn't changed at all, but Han De could sense something pierce through. Whether this was good or bad, he didn't know. Therefore he assumed it was bad, and started periodically checking the condition of his body and soul. Just in case.
"Disciple Ning Bi and her parents stay at that palace."
Old Peng gestured towards a landscape that looked more like a sect than a residence. There were multiple lakes, grasslands, hills, and forests surrounding the main complex. Han De's first thought was that it was complete overkill as a living space. Even his estate in the Starfall Mountain sect looked humble next to this monstrosity.
"Over a thousand servants work inside. Around a hundred was withdrawn 13 days ago. We have thoroughly checked the background of the remaining and added two hundred of our own."
Han De followed Old Peng without speaking. Because he realized the faint reading he had with the Reality Sense was coming from inside the palace.
The closer he got to the main building, the stronger that reading became. With every step, Han De had a sinking feeling. Was he too late? Was Ning Bi possessed by the so-called False Ruler? Even though he knew not to believe the words of the void grandpa, he couldn't help but start assuming the worst. His expression turned grim.
As a guest, etiquette required him to wait, so that he could be properly welcomed. Han De wasn't in the mood for useless gestures at the moment. He dived into the main building and hurriedly walked towards the energy signature, with a sea of servants behind him.
The servants themselves could hardly breathe. It was as if the very air had turned oppressive. There wasn't any cultivation pressure weighing down on them, this was just their instinct. Those that had to follow the gray-robed 'guest' and the grim-looking Senior Peng were truly unlucky!
Han De stood in front of the last pair of closed doors. Behind was the private training grounds, marked by words made from gold essence. He could hear faint breathing sounds, the whistling from the pair of weapons, even the sound of sweat droplets hitting the ground. The accuracy of his Nascent Soul hearing would've impressed him, if he didn't feel an intense wave of phantom heat coming from inside.
Suddenly, the sound of training inside the hall stopped, and breathing became intensified. Han De wasn't surprised, since Ning Bi could see everything, or rather perceive everything anytime she closed her eyes. Her Breach skill was truly not ordinary.
Han De couldn't hesitate any longer. He ignored the ever more intensifying heat and opened the doors.
Inside the giant training hall decorated with scores of puppets and hundreds of fine formations, what greeted Han De wasn't the familiar visage of Ning Bi, but a silhouette instead. A silhouette that was covered with roaring orange fires. The only distinguishable features were the pair of bright red eyes and the double warglaives.
'System, do you expect me to believe that that's a heart demon?'
Naturally, there was no response.
Unlike the case of random MC with a grandpa residing inside, Han De couldn't detect any form of cultivation from the strange burning energy. Instantly, he arrived at two conclusions. Either the level of his Reality Sense was too low, or this wasn't a possession. At least, not yet.
'It could be a precursor to possession too… F#$%'
Han De continued to ignore the phantom burning sensation and walked towards Ning Bi. Flames surrounding her shook with each step. By the time he was within dozen steps away, Han De noticed a drop in temperature. A few steps later flames started shrinking.
'This… should be 5 meters.'
Since Han De spent many days observing the distance between him and Ning Bi due to the Vigil quest, he had extremely rich experience in judging distance up to 5 meters away.
He didn't stop. Once he was at an arm's length, the flames had already mostly disappeared. And the flickers that remained were completely gone once he patted Ning Bi's head.
The little girl's eyes were shaking non-stop. It was as if she was witnessing something impossible. However, Han De ignored that and simply smiled.
"You've worked hard."
Ning Bi plunged her head into Han De's robes. Though he was surprised, this was a suitable response for someone of her age. Especially considering the circumstances of their separation. Calling the situation back then bleak would be a gross understatement from his perspective.
She held on to him for a long time, as if she feared he would disappear again in the blink of an eye. Han De tried to comfort her as much as he could. Seeing such a normal response from the little Purifier of Planes relieved part of his worries. At the same time, his anger towards those Long family elders was steadily rising. To prey on vulnerabilities of his disciples, to corner them to such an extent…
But this wasn't the time for dealing with those people. The situation with Ning Bi was much more concerning. Han De thought of his bloodline effects once more.
[Nothing can hide from your senses. Nothing can fool your senses.]
Reality Sense was a pretty straightforward cheat. Immensely useful for someone like Han De. Easy to understand, easy to abuse.
[Passively collapses other domains.]
[Notes: Permanent. Cannot be removed or modified.]
[Notes: Effects will be very limited before Unity Realm.]
Domain was a pretty low-level power when it came to Xianxia novels. Therefore Han De hadn't paid any attention to the Chaos Domain. It looked like its effects were entirely positive! Why would he look a gift horse in the mouth?
Seeing how flames around Ning Bi vanished to thin air though, his mind started working.
The Vigil quest required Ning Bi to never get too far away from Han De. The limit was 5 meters, to be exact. It just so happened that the Chaos Domain's range seemed roughly the same.
'Quite the coincidence, isn't that right, System?'
Naturally, there was no response.
[Fate will be distorted under your domain.]
[Notes: Permanent. Cannot be removed or modified.]
'You know, at this point, it would be better to just lay down your plan. What, do you want Ning Bi's fate to change? Is that what this means?'
Naturally, there was no response.
Another pain point was the latest quest.
[Quest: Be Careful What You Wish For]
[Status: In Progress]
[Summary: Your beloved disciples have worked hard, and now all of them are on the verge of forming their very own Cores. A truly joyous occasion for any master!
Such potential would naturally be the subject of jealousy. And no one can be more jealous than the Heavens themselves!
The tribulations your disciples will face may endanger their cultivations, their lives, and even their souls! Be their master, and guide them into awakening their bloodlines. Show the Heavens, that you will not tolerate their arrogance!]
[Requirements: Awaken the bloodlines of all disciples]
[Time Remaining: 9.9 Days]
[Success: Tier 5 Exchange Token]
[Failure: Disciples list will be reset. Privilege level strike (Current: 0/3)]
Ning Bi's Divine Phoenix bloodline required flames of the previous cycle to awaken. The panic from getting two toxic MCs as disciples had prevented him from asking. If anyone could know what "Flames of the previous cycle" meant, that would be Long Ai.
Jin Shu's Lifebringer bloodline also required something from the so-called previous cycle. But this time it was a seed.
Yao Qing's was the easiest. Indomitable Tyrant bloodline needed to absorb the impossible "Very Powerful" tribulation lightning. Something that could be easily induced by using the Potential Point Upgrade Token in Han De's inventory. Since this was the easiest, Han De immediately assumed it was the most dangerous.
Sometime later, Ning Bi finally let Han De go. Looking at her shy, embarrassed, and panicky expression, he couldn't help but feel some guilt. Han De understood why she acted that way.
In the past, he had always displayed the attitude of a Profound Expert and put up an invisible wall between his disciples and himself. It was an essential safety measure for Han De's continued existence.
Now he was starting to doubt if that was a good idea.
Ning Bi was still listed as suspended in the disciples panel. However, Han De had made the decision quite a while ago.
'Even if the System rejects, you'll always be my disciple.'