Han Bai was uncertain, but he decided to humor his cousin.
"Yes, the old Prayer Beads, you didn't even want it at first. Didn't you say it sat on your abode for a few years? That was what, 2 years ago?"
Han De was baffled, the elephant in the room was obvious.
'Is he really talking about the godly item that killed the cultivation idiot?
"Treebeard, seal the area off!"
Under Han Bai's puzzlement, a formation appeared and cut off the area from outside observers. Han De looked at the woman near his cousin, Treebeard quickly understood and led her away. Once she was outside the formations Han De spoke.
"Now, my dear cousin. Where did you find those prayer beads? Explain to me as if I'm hearing it the first time."
Han Bai opened and closed his mouth a few times. He looked at Han De, then his disciples, then back at Han De again. It wasn't that this was a secret, he was just surprised at these turn of events. In the end, he did as Han De told.
"They were just old prayer beads that I found in an abandoned building. I'm not even sure where that was, it was in the middle of the mountains. I only took them on a whim. Once I found out they helped with cultivation a little, I thought I'd give them to you."
Han De removed the Crystalized Tenacity from his storage ring and showed it to Han Bai and asked him if the beads were similar to this one.
"It does look like it, but I'm not sure. I haven't seen the thing in years." Han Bai shrugged. He was curious where this was going.
"Does anyone else know about these prayer beads?"
"No, it was just a small gift, why would anyone else know about it?" Han Bai was still playing. He would have to be an idiot to not realize the importance of the Prayer Beads at this point.
Han De sighed without holding back.
'Damn, this guy was afraid he would have to cultivate if he showed the prayer beads to someone else, so he sneakily gifted it to the cultivation idiot. He killed his own cousin because he didn't want to cultivate…'
"Did you gift other things to me? You mentioned a Crystal Lotus as well?"
"Of course I did, don't I bring you gifts from my travels?" Han Bai smiled brilliantly and started counting some of his gifts over the years.
On the side, Ning Bi was very attentive. She had recognized the bead from the Brass Stallion Auction. Connecting the dots between her master's lost memories, the attack, and the Prayer Beads in question didn't take long.
Yao Qing had no idea that Han De had lost his memory, but she had already guessed that it was the Silent Silhouette that tried to kill him before. It wasn't a big jump to assume that both were related. After seeing the bead in Han De's hand she knew her guess was right. Although she had no way of confirming it, that cloudy white bead looked similar to the prayer beads that Shen Xing used before leaving this world.
Han De recognized some of the items that Han Bai mentioned, but most of it didn't ring any bells. He cut him off and asked another question.
"Does my mother or father know that you gifted me the Prayer Beads? Do they know you that you frequently send gifts to me?"
"I don't think they would waste their time with small matters like these..."
Han De had confirmed everything he wanted to know. His memories related to the item that caused the cultivation idiot's death was missing. Through the cockroach's master they had assumed it that the item was supposed to be some sort of prayer beads. Since the memories were damaged, Han De had no idea how the cultivation idiot acquired those beads no matter how hard he tried to recall.
Unexpectedly, it seems like it was a casual gift from his cousin. A small matter that wouldn't catch anyone's attention. If this was true, then lacking memories about his cousin made sense since he was connected to the Prayer Beads.
'If I was an MC right now I guess I would've felt relief and reconciled with my cousin right now…'
"Treebeard. Seal him off for further questioning. Find out where he got those beads from."
Unfortunately, Han De wasn't an MC. He was very well aware of his status. As a mid-boss in this world, he couldn't leave any stone unturned. This guy was just too suspicious. It was best to keep questioning him until the Seven Luminaries Reminiscence pill was ready.
Han De looked at the sealed Han Bai without emotion. He then remembered this guy's 'gift' and couldn't help but facepalm. No wonder his mother didn't question this guy any further…
"Treebeard, bring in the lady."
It was hard to read her due to the veil, but one could see a tiny sliver of surprise in her eyes upon seeing the sealed Han Bai. She respectfully sat down after Han De gave her permission.
"I apologize on behalf of my cousin. It seems I have failed to notice how willful he could be. He will be punished according to our family rules. We will also compensate you for any damages he has caused."
Getting no response didn't faze Han De. She was probably kidnapped or bought off by his cousin. Since she was a 'gift' it was fair to assume she was unharmed, at least physically. Han De didn't have any counseling experience, and the cultivation idiot's memories certainly wouldn't have anything close to that. This reminded him of something but the feeling went away as quickly as it came.
"I assure you no harm will come to you. I assume you would prefer a safe passage to your home as soon as possible?"
"..." The woman didn't respond but slowly shook her head.
'I see, perhaps there is an issue with her family, if they sold her, suddenly reappearing out of the blue would be problematic.'
Han De wanted to solve this as quickly as possible, he could feel the stares of his disciples without even relying on his spiritual sense.
"Alright, what about a friend, maybe you have a childhood friend? A fiance?"
She didn't respond, but Han De didn't miss how her eyes shook when he asked if she had a fiance.
'Hmm, if I look at the situation from outside, reluctance to mention something like that is natural. She was supposed to be my 'gift' after all, why would she talk about something like this. There might be a tiny possibility of MC involvement too…' Han De decided to clearly explain his motivations to prevent any misunderstandings. He spoke with confidence.
"I see, perhaps you have a fiance, or someone close to that. You will be able to see them again, not to worry! I am a man of my word."
The woman spoke without emotion. "No. There is no such thing."
Han De nodded and spoke with an understanding tone. "I see, I see. Even in an uncertain situation like this, you worry about this person more than yourself. You are very brave and loyal. Must be a special person indeed."
According to the movies that Han De had remembered, he had to establish empathy with the opposite party. Probably.
Han De sneakily looked around. Treebeard was as silent and as expressionless as a tree. However, his disciples were… baffled?
"You are mistaken. I did have an engagement promise, but I broke it off myself." Han De couldn't determine any emotional changes on the woman thanks to the veil she was wearing. Before he could make another comment she continued.
"That arrangement was always against my wishes. Thankfully a few years back this person lost his cultivation and I was able to remove this shackle once and for all."
'Waait, hold up, just one second.'
"Senior Bai witnessed this event and after testing my abilities he brought me here to become a disciple."
From the side, sealed Han Bai was just looking at emptiness, he couldn't move a muscle, but if he could he would've nodded. Ning Bi and Yao Qing nodded in his stead. Former had heard many stories from his father about arranged marriages, and the latter had seen many victims of it over many millennia.
Han De tentatively probed the situation. "How did you cancel this arrangement?"
"I threw the engagement gifts back at him during their family meeting."
"... I-I see…"
Han De couldn't help but look at his cousin.
'Damn, this guy killed the cultivation idiot already. That wasn't enough now he wants more?'
Although Han De did prepare for many different scenarios involving his family, this wasn't something he had considered. His number one priority was taking precautions against the inevitable betrayals, he did not think that a family member would pass off the aggro of a tier 1 MC at the first chance they got.
'Clearly I underestimated their incompetence. What a massive oversight. Of course an arrogant young master's family would be filled with arrogant young masters.'
This wasn't Han De's first rodeo with an MC. He had a better idea of the resources at his disposal, and the warning came early. Therefore his mind was calmer.
"What was his reaction?"
"... He challenged me to a duel 3 years later. If he wins I will be his wife."
Han De was surprised. "You agreed?"
"According to my family, we must provide a way out for his dignity." Undisguised contempt in her voice showed what she was truly thinking.
'Of course there is no way to convince this guy to forget about her. An MC's mind works differently. I just need to determine the source of his power-ups.'
"Do you know why he lost his cultivation?"
"... It happened sometime after his parents died. I do know why, nor do I care."
'Grampa/loli. Yep, I can smell it.'
After Han De's content look, an awkward silence ensued. Han De was making plans on the best way to deal with the situation. Only Treebeard was able to understand his master's thoughts. Ning Bi and Yao Qing were puzzled, the woman herself was irritated but she was smart enough to understand that the questions weren't asked to humiliate her.
Among his lackeys, Treebeard had the highest cultivation as a late-stage Immortal Realm expert. He could call for more from the Han family, he could even recruit them permanently. However, their loyalty wouldn't be unquestionable like his current lackeys. His mother went to great lengths to find appropriate people for him. Raising talents like this required time. Han De wasn't about to fall for the family betrayal plotline from the get-go.
<After putting Han Bai in a cell, instruct Peng to begin his questioning. Then take another Immortal Realm and go to this lower realm and find this potential Anomaly. He most likely has an Entity guiding him. Do not engage, only observe. Report back after discovery.>
Treebeard bowed, dispelled the formations and took Han Bai away. Han De nodded in satisfaction, then he saw the woman was still there. He hadn't considered what to do with her yet.
'She is in her early 20s, 9th stage at that age can only be called below average. I guess living in a lower realm lowered her cultivation speed though.'
Status check was always free, Han De was also curious about the stats from the people of lower realms. This was a good opportunity.
[Name: Jin Shu]
[Race: Human (100%)]
[Cultivation: Qi Condensation (9/13) (24.74%)]
[Bloodline: Ancient Four-Winged Butterfly (Mutated/Parasitic) - (71.23%)]
[Roots: Wood (14%) (Sealed: 63%)]
[Potential Points (Total: 8) (Sealed: 30)]
[Will: 3 (8)]
[Talent: 1 (4)]
[Comprehension: 3 (10)]
[Luck: 1 (8)]
[Blossoming Dream (Mortal)]
[Power: Extremely Weak]
[Mastery: Intermediate (4/8)]
[Stage: Qi Condensation (9/13)]
[Martial Arts Methods]
[Flowing Roots (Mortal)]
[Power: Extremely Weak]
[Mastery: Intermediate (2/8)]
[Expand to view more...]
[Cannon Fodder (Sealed)]
[Potential sealed by the bloodline. Becoming a disciple will unlock a limited timed quest. If failed, disciple status will be automatically removed. Cannot be accepted as a disciple if bloodline reaches 100.00% (Estimated Time: 35.247415 years)]
'Not bad… There is a good chance that I can scam h- Wait. Can I even accept her as a disciple now?'
Han De's initial disciple limit was 2. He had only learned of that number because it was indirectly mentioned through a quest. After his privilege upgrade, he had heard of the beginner level Disciples Panel, but he hadn't checked it out yet.
[Core Disciples: 1/1]
[Requirements: 32 Points Minimum]
[Ning Bi (35)]
[Inner Disciples: 1/2]
[Requirements: 30 Points Minimum]
[Yao Qing (30)]
[Outer Disciples: 0/4]
[Requirements: 28 Points Minimum]
'It did say the panel was at the beginner level… But this is really barebones. What is the difference between the levels?'
Naturally, there was no response. Han De was used to it, so he started formulating an approach on how to scam Jin Shu into being his disciple.
While Han De was reading her status, looking at the Disciples Panel, and formulating a plan, from Jin Shu's perspective he looked as if he was ogling her. His eyes made horizontal movements constantly. This was because the System displayed its text in the Latin alphabet. While this world used something close to the Chinese characters, which were written and read vertically.
Ning Bi and Yao Qing were familiar with this type of eye movement. During Yao Qing's ceremony, Han De did the same movements for nearly 5 minutes. Although, at that time he was looking at nothingness.
Finally, after a few minutes of silence, Han De spoke while directly looking into Jin Shu's eyes.
"Your Ancient Four-Winged Butterfly bloodline is impressive. It is unfortunate it mutated and became parasitic."
Jin Shu's eyes shook. Her father had spent nearly all of his resources into unlocking her bloodline. After her parents died the family hadn't abandoned her purely because of the potential that the bloodline represented.
Han De continued.
"I'm sure you've felt it. Your bloodline is getting stronger and stronger with the passage of time. It wasn't your imagination that you've been getting slower and slower to advance."
"Since you've come to this higher realm, you must have some ambition. I'll be blunt. With your current skills you will be able to enter a mid-level sect and enjoy the life of an average disciple. If you were a child you would be able to enter Starfall Mountain and stay here as a below-average disciple, but unfortunately, you are too old."
Jin Shu's eyes wavered and she involuntarily looked down. She was prepared to get rejected but didn't realize her situation was this bad. In her realm, she was an unrivaled genius after all.
"That said, if your bloodline were to be removed, your potential would explode. Then any sect would be begging for you to join them. Starfall Mountain included."
Han De let the silence linger for a moment. He wanted his words to have the full effect.
"You or your family may have spent enormous resources at awakening your bloodline, but right now it is a noose around your neck. I would suggest you remove it as soon as possible."
Jin Shu's bitter smile was visible even behind a veil. "I cannot remove it even if I wanted to. It has already passed the 6th stage."
Ning Bi had no idea what the 6th stage represented. She was generally ignorant about bloodlines. Yao Qing, however, was different. She knew Jin Shu's fate would be a slow and painful death the moment Han De mentioned that her bloodline mutated and became parasitic. It was a cruel torture that only insane sects would use. In a righteous sect, the most merciful treatment would be a swift death. Although normal bloodlines could be removed easily when they were below the 4th stage, removing a mutated one that was past the 3rd stage was nearly impossible.
Han De continued with confidence. This was the final stretch.
"I can remove your bloodline."
"However, doing so is extremely complicated. It requires complex and precise calculations that involves many factors. It also depletes a tremendous amount of my own strength. Therefore I will only use such a method on a direct disciple."
Han De smiled. "As I said. If your bloodline were removed, your potential would explode, and every sect would beg for you to join them. Starfall Mountain included. Your potential would be similar to that of Yao Qing here."
Han De looked at the Yao Qing who was staring at him with disbelief. He kept his slight smile and stood up.
"Take your time to decide. Ning Bi, Yao Qing, escort this lady around the sect. Show her around. If by the end of the day her decision is made, bring her to my abode."