It took us mere minutes to cut through the plains and enter the city. I watched the plains zip past me through the window of the carriage, not feeling even the slightest shake or shudder. I kept glancing down at the wheels to see whether we were actually flying, but the mist kept the sight from me. A couple minutes later, I was in the Lord’s massive manor set delicately upon the seventh peak.
“Follow me,” Tian Feng said, stepping out, and I followed behind, silently adding the carriage as a future bucket list item to get one day. This thing was faster than cars.
Stepping out, I followed Tian Feng’s lead as we made our way through the manor. Despite having already been here once, I could hardly tell right from left through the sprawling corridors and hallways. Walking through the halls I noticed paintings full of Qi, with strokes on carvings that only a cultivator’s eye could see. As the sun began to settle down, into dawn, the lights began to flicker on in the Lord’s manors. Candles, spirit stones, little devices, all sorts of things illuminating the manor in a beautiful and warm glow.
Trying not to be too starstruck, I focused on following Tian Feng. A bit of walking through the doors had us at the large chamber where I’d first met the Lord. I let Tian Feng take the lead as he walked through the doors, to the inner chamber, before I followed behind.
“We’d been expecting you,” Lord Zhou said, seated behind a small table, a quill in his hand. Pristine clothes were draped over his body, and he wore a futou on his head, as is customary for many lords. Another bit of trivia that’d have escaped me before the trial.
“Apologies for making you wait, my lord. Lu Jie, apprentice alchemist at your service,” I said, bowing deeply.
“No need for apologies, you were precisely on time. Which is to be expected given that TIan Feng had gone out to fetch you,” the Lord said.
“Which had been part of my surprise. I’d been told to expect someone to come, but I must admit, I had not expected to see Elder Tian Feng himself,” I said, glancing at the elder next to me.
Tian Feng stood nearby, watching over the talks without speaking a word.
“Would you care to guess why I’ve called you today?” The Lord said, his brush running strokes on the parchment in front of him.
“To… make me work for my freedom?” I tried.
“Certainly. But my purpose wasn’t mere labour. I’ve called you here Lu Jie for one of the core purposes that I have for you under my command.” For the first time since I’d arrived in the chamber, the Lord stopped his work to look up at me. “We wish to utilise the knowledge you have gained. And teaching us how you have come to posses Gu without turning into a demon.”
And there it was. The big question that had been hanging above me all this time.
“To speak the truth, my lord, it is not something I can speak of so openly,” I said, trying to think of how much I should speak as I stalled for time. The lord had helped me, so I felt like I could trust him, but this was still information that could potentially see me hanging from a noose, and marked a demon.
“We are aware of the tribulations, and of the nature of your spirit. What prevents you from speaking the truth?”
I looked at the lord, his eyes bearing down on mine. For a moment, I expected his present to sweep over me, bearing down upon my shoulders, but nothing came.
“The heavens, my Lord,” I replied honestly.
I nodded. “They rumble, threatening a tribulation anew when I speak of the matter. It is a path that diverges from regular cultivation.”
I felt Tian Feng’s eyes settle on me at that. The hair on my neck rose at the gaze, feeling concerned that I’d said something wrong.
“Curious. Quite curious. We shall make preparations then. There are methods to prevent, or even bear through a heavenly tribulation. It is not something any do, as a tribulation is provided to strengthen a cultivator and test their mettle, and one to use such cheap tricks to survive one would effectively cripple their strength as a cultivator. But in this case, I believe it is more than warranted,” the lord said, before looking up at me. “We’ll call you Lu Jie, when the preparations are ready, and then we shall hear of the truths that you hold in your chest. In the meantime, I have heard of some things you want.”
“I had some questions in regards to my… umm, employment, esteemed Lord,” I said, glancing at the man. “More specifically, I had a- ah, business proposition.”
“A business proposition… you say?” The lord asked, his eyes set on me.
The Lord’s attention was a tangible thing. Like an unseen weight on your shoulder, in the form of a physical manifestation. I knew it wasn’t a real sensation but merely a result of my spirit responding to the Lord’s spirit, yet it was nearly impossible to convince my body of that.
I gulped, trying not to hesitate as I continued. “Yes, a business proposition my lord. One regarding my own capabilities and knowledge being used in your service.”
The Lord raised his head to look at me, his neatly set eyebrows raising ever so slightly on his face to indicate his interest. “And how do you wish to do so?”
I smiled, spreading my arms out as if it was obvious. “Why of course, by taking over the illegal alchemy and cultivation pills market spreading on the seventh peak.”
A moment passed in silence, before the lord scoffed, shaking his head. “Do not talk nonsense. Why would we ever want to take over what must be purged?” The Lord said, returning his attention to his texts.
“If I may be so bold, my lord. That is where you are wrong,” I said, stepping forward as I began to put more passion in my voice. “As you are already aware, I possess memories of a past life from a different world. It was a world far more advanced than this one, yet even there, the market for illegal substances had not been eradicated, far from it instead.”
“And how does that have anything to do with our situation?” The Lord asked, frowning.
“Everything, my lord. Because, we can never eradicate thieves. We can never eradicate murderers, and we can never eradicate drug dealers. So long as the market exists, they too, will exist. But what we can do is control them. And what better way to do so than to have someone working for you be in charge of it?” I said, waiting for a response from the Lord.
The man raised a hand to his chin in thought, before looking up at me. “And how does this benefit your purpose?”
I straightened my back, putting hands behind me as I looked at the lord. “I’ve got problems with the man in charge. He goes by the name of Silver Fang. And I would benefit from the money earned from such a venture.”
“Why not simply ask us for what you need? If your knowledge proves to be as vital as we believe it is, no amount of money will be too much to ask for.”
But then I will be under your thumb.
I did not say the words out loud, instead, changing to a different point. “I could, my lord. But this is something that I believe is mutually beneficial. The Alchemy halls have an iron clad grip on all alchemists within the empire. Even a lord such as you need to refer to them in matters of Alchemy. Such is the control the Jade court and the emperor possesses over all alchemists.
“But if you allow me to take out Silver Fang, I could regulate what is in circulation and what isn’t, bringing many rogue alchemists under your control, without them ever being aware of it. It would allow you to reap profits from what is currently, harming your rule,” I said, watching the Lord’s expression.
“What you suggest, is treason,” Tian Feng spoke up for the first time, and I almost wanted to curse him.
Taking a gamble, I replied. “Was it not treason to shelter me? If the world is to be believed, I am a demon after all?” I said, before closing my eyes, as I let Chi flood my body and break into Gu. The miasma flooded my cores, as my eyes darkened. Talons extended from my hand, purple and Black flames lingering like wisps of dark promises. An aura of fear and threatening intimidation flowing outwards, as I stood, the perfect visage of a demon in flesh.
Neither of the elders so much as flinched.
“Are you a demon Lu Jie?” the lord asked me calmly.
I stared at the man, feeling the vile whispers of the Gu floating in my ears.
Tear his throat out. Bleed him dry. Enemy. That is who he is.
Memories of a darkness spent through in these thoughts returned to me. The half that I’d put to sleep, while I had roamed free in a new found world. But not anymore.
“No, my lord,” I replied calmly, standing still.
“Then what we have done is no treason,” the lord replied.
I stared at the man, and found his mind made. Trying not to sigh, I let the Gu free, as the dark energy faded from my body.
“But,” the Lord added. “It would make for a good test. As lords, we are not powerless to task someone to something of this nature. What would you require for this?”
This time, I let the smile reaching my face blossom as I spoke the words. “Access to your library, and a whole lot of money.”
I walked across through Lord’s manor, elder Tian Feng guiding me around. The Lord had agreed to the task, if I could provide him with a pill that was purer than what was normally available, and in enough quantities. Which was the first task to be done before I was summoned to spill my guts out in regards to my abilities.
Leaving that whole other problem aside for the moment, if I could provide these pills that you could only get your hands on through secured channels on my own… I held back my grin, imagining what was possible.
I had joked often about a drug empire, but with the potential I saw in these pills? There was a real possibility to change the empire as a whole, if the knowledge so preciously guarded was allowed to be utilized and spread.
Being able to allow change and reform to spread to the populace while using the Lord as an authority figure to validate the changes I planned to bring was the end goal.
That and a cozy retirement in Taizhou where I lived comfortably with my drug money and messed around in my lab with Labby.
“How is La Bi coming along?” Elder Tian Feng asked, sleeves fluttering beside me. That or one of his clones did, not that I could tell them apart.
“She’s recovering. Her Dantian is healed for the most part, so all that remains is for her to rest a while before she can be back to normal,” I replied, keeping my pace with the Elder.
“That is good to hear,” Tian Feng replied, glancing back at me once. “Sect Elder Yan has not been very pleased by this turn of events. As you must already know by now. All the more so because his prodigal daughter went with you of all people. I suggest keeping your eyes on any shadows that may lurk,” Tiang Feng said, glancing behind me once.
I looked back around and saw nothing, yet a strange creeping sensation still crawled up my spine. Alright, warning received.
“How about the twins?” I asked. I hadn’t heard much of anything about the sect recently, and I was curious.
“The one you crippled had his dantian fixed, with effort. The cost was significant enough to further add to Elder Yan’s rage, especially because the boy now has to cultivate all over again, and his talent has been broken. He will not reach the heights he once did. The other, curiously enough, has chosen to keep the scars you gave him. His face is now half marred with your flames, which has further added to the rumours of you within the sect itself. He will likely seek vengeance, but for now, the Lord’s shelter wards the worst of it.”
A tried not to grimace, thinking of having to deal with that mess. I did have plans in place, in regards to both the Elder and the twins, yet these were vague things set far in the future.
We walked through a couple more corridors before I saw the chamber we were headed to. It was set within the central corridor of the manor, the innermost chamber of the three layers of the Lord’s manors. Each later formed a square corridor that connected with the other square corridors. Like a tesseract cube, but in two dimensions instead, and spread over a hill.
Tian Feng walked ahead of me, pushing open the door to the chamber, before walking in. I followed right after through the pristine doors that brimmed with Qi, and froze as I stepped inside.
Rows of shelves with books, scrolls and a myriad of jade slips greeted me. Tools, herbs, equipment and everything else that I could think a typical alchemist would need was here in these chambers. My eyes glanced across the empty jade slips of white, sitting in rows on the shelf.
“These are for taking notes,” Elder Tian Feng pointed out. “The others contain alchemical arts the Lord’s Manor has collected over the centuries.”
I walked inside, taking in the sight, and feeling a strange sense of joy at the beautiful room. Suddenly I could understand why so many alchemists picked the halls, and chose to serve, if they could have a chance at something like this.
“You can pick any resources you need from this chamber. And if you require others, you can request them from me,” Tian Feng said, handing me a jade slip. “Use that to enter the chamber.”
I looked back down at the jade slip in my hands, pressing them tighter, before I put my fists together and bowed.
“I won’t disappoint.”