After proving his point, Hei turned to Tianlan.
“You see? This is the kind of person we need to keep away from Little Bai.”
Tianlan had a serious face.
“It seems like it.”
Hei smiled after hearing Tianlan’s agreement.
“She’s still too young, we won’t have to worry about these problems for a while, but it will cause us trouble in the future.”
“Mm. It’s our duty as brothers.”
Hei patted Tianlan on the shoulders. He approved of his attitude.
“Alright, let’s head back and see what’s going on here. I’m interested in how these two met.”
Hei and Tianlan returned to the others and Hei stepped forward.
“Young miss. You said that you were saved? What kind of trouble were you in?”
He wanted to know this. It was important information in figuring out where this thing was likely to go and how it related to the matriarch, who he was trying to recruit.
He would have to plan accordingly for likely future events.
Fang Lian responded.
“My name is Fang Lian!”
“Stop calling me young miss.”
Hei turned to the matriarch who had an apologetic face.
“This is just the way she is…”
Hei turned back to Fang Lian.
“So, what kind of trouble were you in?”
Fang Lian seemed to be unwilling to say, but she saw the look in her mother’s eyes, so she answered.
“I was in the forest and was attacked by a spirit beast.”
“In the forest?”
Hei turned to the matriarch.
“Didn’t you say the Fang Clan sends elders to monitor the training of the juniors? How could your own daughter find herself in a tight spot?”
The matriarch hadn’t thought about this before. It was indeed the case that elders supervised the juniors. There shouldn’t have been a situation in which her daughter had to be saved by an outsider.
She turned to her daughter.
“How did this happen?”
Fang Lian was reluctant to speak.
“I-I heard about a fruit of harmony in the forest and I thought it could help fix your problem, so I snuck out to find it.”
Hearing this the matriarch eased up on her daughter.
“Why didn’t you just tell me? I could have gotten it on my own.”
“I wanted it to be a surprise.”
The matriarch placed her hand on Fang Lian’s head.
“Silly girl. Is it more important for it to be a surprise or for you to be safe?”
Fang Lian wasn’t able to respond.
Hei wasn’t too interested in this mother-daughter atmosphere.
“What kind of spirit beast was it? And what happened to the fruit of harmony. Did you find it?”
This was what he wanted to know. He had read about the fruit of harmony. It was able to repair spirit roots.
Hei felt that there was a strong chance that it was here.
‘It seems I’ll be able to see if my persuasion worked.’
Fang Lian turned to Hei.
“It was a red fox.”
“A red fox? A fire fox? or was it a frenzy fox?”
Hei had read some information on the common spirit beasts found in Spring Leaf Forest.
“No, it was different. I’ve never seen one like it. It had white eyes and white markings all over its body.”
Hei was interested. He turned to the matriarch.
“What kind of fox is that?”
The matriarch shook her head.
“I’ve never heard of a fox like that either.”
Hei was now interested in this fox. He turned to Fang Lian.
“How did you run into it?”
“It happened to be in the same place as the fruit of harmony. We fought over it.”
“How strong was the fox?”
“Slightly stronger than me. It managed to trick me into a trap and was about to bite me when Ji Dian stepped in and threw some kind of explosive attack at it.”
Fang Lian looked over to Ji Dian with a slightly flushed face before she continued.
“I don’t know what would have happened to me had Ji Dian not been there.”
Hei didn’t really care for her wellbeing.
“What happened to the fox? Is it dead?”
Hei wanted to go find this fox. He was looking for a good mount, and since dragons were kind of taboo, he wanted something unique.
‘A random fox appeared in the forest and I just so happened to be here to learn about it? It must be good fortune falling from the sky.’
“The fox managed to get away, but it was badly injured…”
Fang Lian was surprised that Hei placed so much interest in this fox. It wasn’t the main part of the story. Wouldn’t most people ask about the fruit of harmony or the explosive attack?
Hei accidentally spoke his thoughts out loud.
“I mean… Oh, what a terrible shame. I’ll be sure to teach that fox a lesson if I ever see it…”
He said this in a very unenthusiastic tone.
Everyone gave him strange looks.
“Cough. Anyway, did you end up claiming the fruit of harmony?”
Hei decided to move the conversation forward.
“Yes. Since Ji Dian was the only reason I was able to survive against the fox, I gave up on it. Ji Dian has it now.”
‘How convenient. Good thing I prepared for this.’
Ji Dian spoke up.
“I have no need for this.”
He took out the fruit from who knows where.
Hei noticed this.
“Is that a spatial ring?”
Hei turned to the matriarch.
“Didn’t you say they were hard to find?”
The matriarch couldn’t respond. When did 10-year-olds start carrying spatial rings?
Ji Dian saw that the matriarch was having a hard time answering Hei, so he spoke up.
“I acquired this ring in the forest. There was an inheritance there that I discovered, which is also where I learned the explosive attack.”
He then turned to the matriarch.
“I have no need for the fruit of harmony. If it will help you, I will gladly give it to you.”
‘Well, here it is.’
Hei was waiting for this moment. It would decide the matriarch’s fate. Kind of…
At the very least, he didn’t want to spend the time to look for a new maid.
“Isn’t this wonderful, miss matriarch?”
He had a warm smile as he said this as if he were genuinely happy for her, but inside he was plotting.
If she were to accept this offer, she would likely manage to break through to the transcendent realm on her own, which would mean he had lost a maid.
But if she refused the offer, it would show that his private words to her were effective. It would mean that she had a pretty good level of trust towards him and his siblings.
He wanted to make it as easy for the matriarch to find her own way as possible because what he needed was absolute loyalty and not just simple gratitude.
This would be useful in increasing his strength, according to Crystalia.
He would feel indignant if he were to raise his maid to OP levels and gain nothing himself.
The matriarch had a face of struggle as she looked at Hei.
This injury had been plaguing her for over 15 years, and the cure was right in front of her. Resisting the temptation was extremely difficult, but she recalled the words Hei had said.
[What we come up with will be better for you than what you can find on your own.]
Normally, one would dismiss Hei’s words as the nonsense of a child, but something was telling her to believe in him. She had no idea why she was feeling this way.
[My Shao Clan is going to take over this world.]
The contrast between his tone when he said the words and the warm smile he had on now. It made her believe that Hei really did have the whole world in his hands and that her decision was inconsequential to him.
After thinking for a long time, the matriarch spoke.
“I appreciate your concern, but I have already found a solution for my problems.”
Ji Dian seemed a little disappointed, but he put the fruit back into his storage ring.
Fang Lian was surprised to hear her mother say that she had already found a solution. What had she risked her life for?
“You found a solution? When?”
The matriarch looked at the three for a moment before turning to her daughter and responding.
“A few minutes ago.”
Fang Lian turned to the three.
“Mm. They are Shao Tianlan and his siblings Shao Hei and Shao Bai.”
The matriarch then bent down and whispered in Fang Lian’s ear.
“Isn’t Shao Tianlan handsome?”
“M-Mother! This… What are you saying?”
Fang Lian was surprised at her mother’s sudden statement. She had never heard her mother compliment a boy before.
The matriarch stood back up and smiled at her daughter. She didn’t respond.
Seeing that her mother didn’t want to speak further, Fang Lian got to the point.
“Ji Dian just passed the selection and he has no place to live. I was wondering if we could let him stay here?”
The matriarch was slightly reluctant. She remembered the things she had heard when Hei was speaking to Ji Dian. She wasn’t too fond of having her daughter around him.
But the fact of the matter was that he had saved her life. She couldn’t refuse.
“He can stay.”
Her eyes then brightened as she turned to the three.
“You can also stay. My Fang Clan will treat you like honoured guests.”
Fang Lian was surprised to see the matriarch treating these three so well.
Seeing the almost desperate look in the matriarch’s eyes, Hei felt bad about rejecting her offer.
But reject it he did.
“Sorry, but we can’t slack off on our baking training. Our mother wouldn’t let us hear the end of it.”
The matriarch was confused.
“Mm. Our Shao Clan is a clan of bakers.”
The matriarch was wondering whether she had made the right choice. How did a clan of bakers raise such strange children?
“Well, we’ll head over to the cultivation hall now.”
She was getting bored of the standing around and wanted to get down to business. It had been a while since she was able to analyse cultivation techniques, and this was a pretty good chance.
“Yes. I shall be taking my leave.”
Fang Ren bowed and said goodbye to the matriarch before leading the way.
The three followed behind.
Seeing that they hadn’t addressed her mother Fang Lian became upset.
“Will you not say goodbye to my mother?”
Hei stopped and turned to the matriarch who had the same apologetic face from before.
“You’re right, young miss, I-“
Hei was cut off.
“It’s Fang Lian!”
“Ugh. Anyway, I am deeply sorry for offending you miss matriarch. Please accept our sincerest gratitude for your hospitality.”
Hei cupped his fist towards the matriarch before following behind Fang Ren and his siblings.
The matriarch was embarrassed. She didn’t expect her daughter to be so rude to her benefactors.
Fang Lian was still upset.
“Hmph. I don’t like that boy.”
The matriarch didn’t know what to say.
It was true that Hei seemed to have a knack for offending people. It was just a few minutes ago when he had offended her, and an hour ago when he offended a room full of elders.
The three followed behind Fang Ren who was happily leading them to the cultivation hall.
They had not joined the Fang Clan, but it seemed they would be coming here frequently to go to the cultivation hall. They also seemed to have an agreement with the matriarch and could become guest elders.
Today was quite eventful.
Hei decided to ask a question.
“Will you be participating in the 5-sect summit, Sister Ren?”
“No, I won’t. My cultivation is too low for my age, so I wouldn’t perform well anyway.”
Hei could hear some sadness in Fang Ren’s voice even though she tried to sound like she didn’t care.
“Do you want to?”
“Do I want to what?”
“Participate in the 5-sect summit.”
“Eh? How -“
She was cut off.
Tianlan was the one who spoke over her.
“It’s pretty simple. For some reason Hei has been trying to help you all day. I think he likes you.”
He said this with a mischievous smile.
“Eh? Me? But…”
“But he’s too ugly huh? I understand.”
“Shut up Tianlan! That’s not what it is.”
Hei wasn’t in the mood for Tianlan’s nonsense.
Aside from gathering subordinates, he also wanted to gather a group of friends for Bai. When he was ready to leave this world, he would encourage all of his subordinates to listen to Bai, but it was also important to have friends.
He then spoke to Fang Ren.
“I want to help you get into the 5-sect summit, but in return, you will go to the Radiant Jade Sect with Little Bai and look after her for me.”
Fang Ren had told them about the 5 sects as they were touring the Fang Clan earlier.
The Radiant Jade Sect was an all-girls sect and was the only place he would allow Bai to go because he wanted to avoid the possibility of her running into a snotty-nosed little punk.
Since he wouldn’t be there to look after her himself, he decided to have someone else do it.
Bai was surprised to hear this.
“Why am I going to the Radiant Jade Sect? I want to go to the same sect as you.”
Hei was touched and also a little concerned. Was she getting too attached?
He could hear Tianlan muttering ‘What about me?’ in the background.
He turned and flashed a triumphant smile then turned back to Bai.
“Little Bai, there are things that Tianlan and I can’t teach you. Things about being a woman. I don’t think Mumu is the best choice either. Going to the Radiant Jade Sect will be good for you.”
Bai wasn’t buying it.
“If it’s things about being a woman, I can learn them from the matriarch. Isn’t she a woman?”
Hei didn’t expect Bai to come back with this.
He frantically searched for a reason that would satisfy Bai.
“The.. Um… Yes! If we go to different sects, we will be able to gather information from three different places simultaneously. We can then meet up every now and then to share our findings. This would be better than all going to the same sect and seeing the same information.”
“Hm. That is true.”
Bai didn’t want to separate from her brother who she had been close with since birth, but he did offer her a compelling reason.
The thought of learning the techniques of three different sects was an interesting one.
“That’s right. Now that that’s settled, what do you say, Sister Ren?”
“Sure, I’d love to!”
Fang Ren couldn’t get her response out fast enough.
She had already experienced the three’s unbelievable means. Not only was she basically guaranteed to make it to the 5-sect summit, but she would also be able to spend more time with her new friends.
Hei did not expect her to be so enthusiastic. He was doubting if he had made the correct choice. Maybe the matriarch’s daughter would have been a better option.
“It’s settled then. We’ll help you get into the 5-sect summit.”
The four soon arrived at the cultivation hall.
After showing the doorman their tokens, the three were allowed to enter without difficulties.
Seeing the many shelves of books, Hei couldn’t help but comment.
“Wow. This place is huge.”
It didn’t look too big from the outside, but once they were inside, they could see rows and rows of books rising from the floor all the way to the ceiling.
The whole area was spacious too. It didn’t feel cramped even with all of the bookshelves.
Fang Ren was proud to have her friends be impressed with her Clan’s library.
“And this is only the first floor. It has mostly body refining techniques and a few instructional manuals on breaking through to the externalisation realm.”
Hearing this, Bai was excited.
“Instructional manuals? Let’s see.”
This was exactly what she was looking for, but she wasn’t sure they would be on the first floor.
Unlike other people, Bai and Tianlan couldn’t just break through. If they wanted to continue in the Way of Essence, they had to first let Hei break through.
The three had the thought that Hei’s passive cultivation wasn’t only for the body refining realm.
Bai had speculated that if Hei were to break through to a higher realm, his passive cultivation would kick in and merge the new concepts with his current technique, creating a new technique that refines his body while also giving him the benefits of being an externalisation cultivator.
They would then create the second layer of the Way of Essence using Hei’s new passive cultivation method, which Bai and Tianlan would cultivate.
Fang Ren led Bai to the instructional manuals, which she read quickly. There really were only a few books.
“It seems the externalisation realm is achieved when one saturates their environment with their branded Qi. By trying to communicate with the natural Qi, they will eventually enter into a relationship with it whereby which they can learn of their surroundings.”
Bai was explaining what she had understood.
“The first part shouldn’t be difficult for you, Brother. You have been using your Qi this way for a long time.”
“The crucial part is in the communication. If I’m not wrong, this is done by colliding against it with your branded Qi. It requires a lot of control and is apparently against the will of the heavens which causes the tribulation.”
“But there’s another way, right?”
Hei was used to how Bai would explain things in detail before getting to the point.
“Indeed, there is. If I’m not wrong, the reason why cultivators collide their branded Qi against natural Qi is to forcibly transfer the stored information. It’s like trying to get paint out of a can by poking a hole through it. It works, but there is a lot of resistance, and the flow is restricted.”
“So we should open the lid.”
“Exactly. If we move in the same direction as the natural Qi, while maintaining contact, we can get the information without the resistance. The problem is it requires even more control and we will use up more Qi than doing it the normal way.”
“But the information will be richer.”
“Then let’s do it that way.”
As he said this, the three felt a wave pass over them.
They turned to the source and what they saw left them surprised.
It was Fang Ren.
“Your explanation was much clearer than the instruction manuals. I tried colliding my Qi against the natural Qi and this happened.”
Fang Ren was also surprised. She had just been listening to Bai’s explanation when she noticed that it differed from the instruction manuals.
The instruction manuals would use words like ‘Force the natural Qi to relinquish the information you seek.’ whereas Bai spoke of the exact actions that were required.
Fang Ren had been trying to smother and restrain the natural Qi like the clan elders had told her to rather than directly colliding against it, which resulted in her being unable to break through to the externalisation realm.
To be fair to the clan elders, Fang Ren would have succeeded that way, had her Qi not been too thin.
Due to her five elements mixed roots, her Qi had become thin compared to her peers who had more concentrated spirit roots. It would have required creative thinking for her to break through.
Now, not only had she heard Bai’s simplified and direct explanation, but she had also cultivated their modified technique, which increased the density of her Qi.
Breaking through was only a matter of time.
Bai noticed the odd spark flashing near Fang Ren every now and then.
“It looks like your tribulation is coming.”
She pointed at Fang Ren who also noticed the sparks.
“Mm. Then I’ll head over the ascension hall.”
Fang Ren had told the three about the Fang Clan’s ascension hall, where the elders would help juniors overcome their cultivation tribulations.
Tribulations were meant to be overcome by oneself, but over time, cultivators had discovered ways to lessen the difficulty.
It involved absorbing portions of the lightning as it fell, reducing the burden on the cultivator as they were struck.
After Fang Ren had left, Hei spoke up.
“I guess it’s my turn.”
He spread out his Qi as he would normally do during battles and tried to feel the natural Qi.
It was difficult for him because it would always be moving towards his body and be absorbed, so he decided to feedback his own Qi into his body, following the flow of the natural Qi.
As time passed, he was able to spread his Qi thinly and space it around the natural Qi. This was straining on his mental energy, as it was a level of control, he didn’t usually practice.
Soon enough, Hei noticed that he could almost see what was behind him. It was a strange feeling, like the blackness behind him was wriggling, trying to take form.
He decided to close his eyes, so he could use the more familiar front view.
[And so, the Mountain Splitting Sword Saint cleaved the mountain clean in half. This was how he got his name.]
[A foolish bunch were the envoys of the heavens. Claiming to be representatives of what they did not understand.]
[When practising dual cultivation, it is important for the male to be physically stimulated, otherwise-]
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can stop right there!”
Hei was ‘feeling’ the information stored in the books around him. He didn’t particularly want to know the ins and outs of dual cultivation.
Tianlan was observing everything in detail.
“This is crazy!”
Bai was interested in why Tianlan would react like this.
“What is it, Big Brother? Is there a problem?”
“Not a problem…”
Tianlan was still surprised by what he was seeing.
“It looks like Hei is the natural Qi’s best friend who they can’t wait to tell all of their secrets.”
“Brother always overdoes things. How are his cultivation paths?”
Tianlan paused to collect his words.
“They are changing slowly. No, it’s not that they are changing, it’s more like there are additional paths being carved out through his body. All of the original ones are still there.”
Bai smiled. It seemed her thoughts were correct.
“Then we can wait for him to complete his breakthrough. I’ll take a look at some of the other books to get some more information on spirit roots, so we can solve the matriarch’s problem.”
Bai turned to go to a bookshelf when a huge wave of Qi passed by.
All of the shelves shook violently and the whole building seemed to be affected.
Before any major damage could take place, symbols lit up all around and the shaking was reduced until it came to a stop.
Bai turned around and stared at Hei with wide eyes. She could tell that it was the same thing as what had happened to Fang Ren but on a completely different scale.
Hei was also surprised. All of a sudden, a massive influx of information came barging its way into his head.
He was frustrated that the ground would always shake whenever he cultivated intentionally.
“These cultivation breakthroughs are way too conspicuous. Low key darn it. Be more low key!”