"Lord Patriarch. The Gentle Wind City Lord has accepted our offer but the Raging Fire City Lord turned away our messenger at the gate."
As soon as he left his meditation chambers, he was approached with the news. Anger showed clearly on his subordinate's face, but they kept to their role of messenger, and their station of servant, and abstained from adding the suggestion of swift vengeance that they clearly wanted to say.
"It is good that some of our clansmen are being returned to us. We shall make sure to retrieve the others once matters have been dealt with."
The Wu Patriarch spoke to assuage the servant's fears. He knew that the messengers gossiped among each other, as their oaths only prevented them from sharing with those outside the clan, and if he appeared to be in control of the situation, then that perception would spread to the rest of his clan.
A second servant stepped forward, seeing nothing else forthcoming from their Clan Head, and spoke.
"Lord Patriarch, a delegation from the Gao Clan has arrived and are demanding they speak with you."
"Very well, bring them to the main hall, I will be there shortly."
Both servants ran off to carry out their duties whilst Wu Jian made his way to his office. There, new reports and documents awaited him and he made a point of reading every single one before eventually standing up and going to meet his new guests. Plans were spun and plots weaved in his head throughout his journey to the main hall but once those grand double doors opened to grant him entry, he became solely focused on the task at hand.
"Finally, do you know how long we've been waiting? This is an insult to the Gao Clan and I will not let it stand!"
Within the hall 2 Core Formation cultivators stood, flanked by 4 guards of the same Realm but a lesser Stage. Each guard carried a sword at their hip and a reflective shield upon their back whilst the 2 envoys stood unarmed.
The one who spoke up, a tall, hook nosed man with blond hair, was glaring at the arriving Patriarch whilst his counterpart, an icy expressioned woman with the same hair colour, whispered something to him. He seemed to calm down at whatever she said but still looked at Wu Jian expectantly. In response to this, the Wu Patriarch disregarded them completely, walking towards his throne with slow, measured steps and making sure to take his time. The visiting man turned red and looked like he was about to burst until the woman lifted her hand and placed it upon her fellow envoy's shoulder firmly. The two then stayed silent until Wu Jian finished the ascent to his throne.
"What business does the great Gao Clan have with my humble Wu Clan?"
He spoke, taking the opportunity to look over the delegation in more detail. The two blondes were in the Late Stage of the Core Formation Realm whilst their guards were in the Early Stage. Even before his divine sense picked up on the faint connection between their souls and the distant Clan Treasure, the Wu Patriarch knew that the two were blood members of the Gao Clan.
They were home grown experts, cultivators who had been raised almost entirely on the clan's resources, and it showed through their cultivation bases. The each had a firm, solid foundation that was a lot more refined than any that he saw in his own clan members, but they lacked the aura of true warriors that was present in any who had to struggle on the line between life and death to further their cultivation. Perhaps in the future they would earn such an aura, but until then they lacked an edge that made the dangerous against those in the same Stage of cultivation.
The guards had impure cultivation bases, likely having formed their core by swallowing a pill instead of creating it themselves. This meant they would never reach the Nascent Soul Realm and their progress throughout the stages of the Core Formation Realm would be painstakingly slow and taxing upon them. Unfortunately, this was probably the best case scenario for them as it was rare to have the talent to make it to the Core Formation Realm without using an external aidand these cultivators were not truly part of the Gao Clan, being hired by or contracted to them instead, and so could not rely on the power granted by a Clan Treasure to advance. These guards had effectively crippled themselves but in returnreached a Realm that they would be unlikely to reach through their own efforts, gaining the extra life span that came with entering that Realm, greater power than they had ever had before, and a greater ability to support their descendants in their own cultivation.
"We had come to check upon the state of our Wang Clan allies."
The woman was the one to reply, her chilly voice cutting short Wu Jian's quiet contemplation.
"But unfortunately it seems that they have been deprived of their freedoms. Now we are here to see what explanation you have for this, Wu Patriarch?"
For his part, the male envoy stood to the side looking smug. After all, why shouldn't he? He came from a larger, much more established clan that could crush the one he was visiting by sending just 2 of their Nascent Soul Realm cultivators. On top of that, the Wu Clan's actions had handed them the Casus Beli, a just reason to go to war, that they needed to do so. Now, as long as Wu Jian could not give them a proper explanation, the Gao Clan could send their armies to seize control of the smaller clan without loosing face and suffering the repercussions that came with that.
"I was under the impression that the Gao Clan did not need such weak allies."
Wu Jian spoke, succeeding in riling up the man once again.
"But I suppose an explanation is in order."
He waved his hand and a servant rushed out a side entrance, returning shortly with a leather bound and chained up manual held at arms length away from them.
"With my breakthrough to the Nascent Soul Realm, I gained a certain sense for people's souls and, when the Wang Patriarch visited our clan, I was able to sense something off about his."
The servant had reached his throne and offered the book to him, which he took and withdrew a key from within his storage ring.
"So, when I investigated further, I found that he was using a demonic technique that stole the souls of other cultivators and merged them with his own in a desperate bid to break through his bottlenecks and ascend to the same Realm as I."
By now, the chains binding the manual had been unlocked and the book was floating towards the visiting envoys under the guidance of Wu Jian's Qi.
"Tell me, does the Gao Clan make a habit of allying with Demonic Cultivators?"
"We did no such thing!"
The woman waved a hand for the man to stop and bowed her head slightly towards the Wu Patriarch.
"The Gao Clan apologises for any inconvenience caused to your Wu Clan."
The woman shot her brother a glare and he quieted.
"We would also request that we take the Wang Patriarch back to the Gao Clan for punishment. After all, the Wang Clan has greater involvement with our Gao Clan than it does your Wu Clan."
She clasped her hands in front of her.
"Grant us this face."
The room stilled at the mention of respect. Wu Jian had piled up insult against insult against the Gao Clan but, at the end of the day, they were just words. Their request had merit and to deny it would be a direct slap to the Gao Clan's face, itmay even merit a public retaliation.
"Unfortunately, I have to keep custody of the Wang Patriarch."
Wu Jian started and, before the envoys had chance to reply, continued.
"This is due to his soul's abnormal state. His soul has taken half a step towards the Nascent Soul Realm, despite low cultivation. I am afraid that anyone below the Peak Stage of the Core Formation Realm's soul will be injured by the soul attacks that he is now able to perform, and I cannot in good conscience allow him to be escorted by anyone less and risk their harm and his escape."
If the woman was fazed by his answer she didn't show it. Instead, her head raised from its inclined position and her eyes scanned the manual that floated open in front of her and the light of calculation flashed within them.
She spoke after a long stretch of silence.
"The Gao Clan will send an escort of sufficient strength to retrieve the Wang Patriarch 12 dawns from now. I trust this arrangement will be fine with the Wu Patriarch."
The enthroned cultivator nodded his head.
"Then we must bid you goodbye."
She continued, clasping her hands towards Wu Jian once more.
"May you find Longevity and the Dao."
She intoned, the rest of her delegation giving respectful bows after she spoke.
"May you find Longevity and the Dao."
The Wu Patriarch repeated, clasping his hands back.
And with that, servants opened the large doors of the main hall and the Gao delegation left.