Onyx’s words were tinged with sadness. It was apparent that he was thinking about a woman he had once known.
Hei would have asked about it, but to be honest, he didn’t care. That would only be seeking more side quests.
Jingfei couldn’t hear Onyx because he was speaking directly into Hei’s mind, but hearing Hei’s words made her feel proud.
In the sect, she was just another apprentice, but in front of Hei, she was a woman. A part of her identity that she usually didn’t pay any mind.
“Anyway, I’ve brought the ingredients, so we can get to practice now.”
The three went to the alchemy room, where Hei arranged the new information.
After testing the revised technique and fixing its flaws, he gave it to Jingfei to practice.
Jingfei studied the technique seriously.
Since she was going to be practising a new pill formula today, she knew her success rate would plummet.
She didn’t want to let Hei down, so she didn’t skip a single step or take a single word lightly.
After her intensive study, she began her practice and much to her surprise, her success rate was still pretty good.
Hei could see Jingfei’s surprise, so he explained.
“The Shao Clan’s method is one of building foundations. What you learn for one pill can be applied to another.”
This was plain to see. Jingfei felt familiar with most of the process, even though it was an entirely new formula.
“You will find a lot of cross-over between pills that seem vastly different. Most apprentices subconsciously alter their techniques to adjust for what they think will be different, but this only weakens their fundamentals.”
This was information Hei had derived from the books.
They always warned students to be extremely cautious when trying to refine a new pill recipe, as cauldron explosions were far more likely to happen at these times.
That would be good advice if there was no one there who could handle the explosion.
Hei decided to forgo this kind of thinking in his manual. He instead instructed the student to be bold in their refining. To view the new pill in the same way as a pill they had refined a thousand times before.
If mistakes were to happen, he would correct them on the spot, like he was doing for Jingfei.
Of course, this would likely cause a lot of injuries if it spread among the public. It was only a method feasible for those who could handle cauldron explosions and faulty pills.
As a result, within the first batch of pills, Jingfei’s success rate had recovered to its peak.
She jumped up and hugged Hei, before realising that it wasn’t appropriate behaviour for a maid.
Hei wasn’t too bothered by it.
“Mm. Now that you have reached this level, it is no longer necessary for you to practice. You should save your mental energy for the formation practice.”
“Now, what do we do?”
“We take all the merit points?”
Hei nodded his head.
“We take all the merit points.”
He then turned to leave, but Jingfei followed after him.
“You should just give me your identity token. I will handle this part. Rest until I return.”
“OK, but I want to be there when you collect the formation books.”
Hei wasn’t sure why Jingfei wanted to be there. After all, he was just going to purchase all the books. It wasn’t like he was going to have to make choices where Jingfei’s input would be useful.
But it was a non-issue, so he agreed.
From there, Hei began a crazy pill refining frenzy.
He would buy ingredients and return the refined pills within minutes.
At some point, he decided to just set up shop in the alchemy hall. He popped his cauldron on the ground in front of the receptionist’s desk and refined the pills there and then.
He would buy and sell as required until he was satisfied
Normally, the elders would have removed Hei from the area, but they were interested in his refining technique.
Before they could even ask him to leave, there would be a pill placed onto the receptionist’s desk.
One elder tried to place a hand on his shoulder, but a pill landed in her hand instead.
While they were impressed by his technique, they were also quite anxious.
Even the entire alchemy hall only had so many merit points and resources. The system was never designed with such a high success rate in mind.
At the rate Hei was depleting the merit points, they would be gone by the end of the day.
They were only able to breathe a sigh of relief after Hei had consumed all the resources required for the pill formula he was working on. That was when he decided to stop.
The point wasn’t to disrupt the merit point market. He just wanted to rob a rude elder.
The elders watched with wide eyes as Hei packed up his cauldron, dusted himself off and returned to his residence.
They were wondering how they could ask for his techniques.
On a normal day, they would have used the same approach as Elder Ping, but news had already spread about the formation duel that was to take place in a few days.
The difference between them and Elder Ping was that they had seen Hei’s ability with their own eyes.
Challenging him to an alchemy duel would be equivalent to slapping one’s own face.
Even though they had only seen him refine pills at the apprentice level, they had no doubt that he was far above that.
‘30,000 merit points. Nice!’
Hei was thinking about how he would be able to take a large bite out of Elder Ping’s assets.
Even though there was still the price of books to pay, he should still be left over with 15,000 merit points, which would become 150,000.
Imagine the number of missions one would have to complete to amass the same amount.
At the very least, it wasn’t something Hei was willing to do.
[So… Aren’t you going to ask about my silence?]
Even though Onyx had been following Hei the entire time, he hadn’t said a word since the morning.
Hei wasn’t bothered by Onyx’s silence. He had a cool flying sword following behind him. Quite aesthetically pleasing.
When Hei got back to the residence, Jingfei was already waiting at the entrance.
She seemed to be in a hurry for some reason.
“What’s the rush, Jingfei? Do they stop selling books at some time of day?”
“That’s not it.”
“Then what is it?”
“Never mind that.”
Hei just let it go. It didn’t really matter what Jingfei was doing.
When they reached the formation hall, Jingfei seemed to be looking for something, but she couldn’t find it.
She was a little depressed, but she regained her composure as they went to purchase the books.
The receptionist was surprised to see that the two were purchasing one of each one-star book.
There were rarely transactions this large in the formation hall.
The total cost came to 12,000 merit points, which Jingfei paid without hesitation.
She handed the books to Hei before turning to the exit.
When she did, her eyes brightened.
She walked over to Qiuyue who had just entered the hall.
Qiuyue was surprised to be called out to by Jingfei like this.
It had been quite a while since it last happened.
“Why haven’t you been coming to the formation hall these past few days? Are you no longer interested in the duel?”
She then looked over to Hei, who was walking towards them.
“Or have you been learning from our junior brother over there?”
“No. Actually, I have been practising my alchemy.”
“Alchemy? Sigh. So, you really have given up?”
Qiuyue thought it was a shame. She had been looking forward to seeing what this junior brother would be pulling out of his hat.
Hei was the one who responded.
“Don’t worry Senior Sister Qiuyue. We have just purchased all of the one-star books and are going to study them now.”
Qiuyue opened her eyes wide. This time, she didn’t turn away from Hei.
After seeing that Jingfei seemed to be doing well, she became less defensive around him.
“You purchased all of the one-star books? That has to be over 10,000 merit points.”
She turned over to Jingfei.
“How did you get so many?”
She then realised something.
“It was the alchemy!”
She heard that Jingfei had been seen going to and from the alchemy hall, sometimes accompanied by Hei.
“That’s right. Young Master Hei has been helping me with my alchemy, and that was how we were able to raise the merit points we needed.”
“Not only formations but also alchemy?”
Qiuyue turned to Hei with a raised brow.
“If you want, you can also learn with us, Senior Sister Qiuyue.”
Hearing Hei’s words, Jingfei’s eyes lit up, but Qiuyue’s response poured a bucket of water over her.
“No thanks. I’ll be fine on my own.”
Qiuyue wasn’t about to fall for Hei’s tricks. Jingfei was still alright for now, but there was no guarantee it would remain that way.
Jingfei pulled Qiuyue over to a quiet corner.
She activated a barrier to prevent sound from escaping.
Jingfei didn’t know that Hei’s friends, the natural Qi, couldn’t care less whether she wanted Hei to hear her words or not. They would be telling him regardless.
Such was the case inside of Hei’s radius, where Jingfei and Qiuyue still were. It was extremely hard to hide things from him.
Jingfei’s expression turned serious as she spoke.
“Qiuyue. The other day, Young Master Hei paralysed me.”
Qiuyue opened her eyes wide. She never imagined such a thing would actually happen. Hei was still below the age of descent, after all.
Jingfei nodded her head, looking straight into Qiuyue’s eyes.
Qiuyue turned to Hei, who seemed to be uncomfortable. A sign of guilt, no doubt.
It seemed the sect was correct about men. They were no good. Even the young ones.
She frowned and placed her hands of Jingfei’s shoulders.
“Do you want me to tell the elders? They will come to punish him immediately.”
Jingfei shook her head.
“Is he threatening you into silence?”
“No, Qiuyue. He didn’t do anything to me afterwards.”
Qiuyue was stunned for a moment.
“Nothing at all? Are you sure he didn’t dull your senses?”
It was already well known that the Dark-Skinned Con Man could do all sorts of strange things with his illusions.
Rumour said he could peel off a layer of one’s skin, and one wouldn’t feel a thing.
Jingfei denied it.
“He didn’t. I had originally thought the same way as you, and harshly accused him.”
She bit her bottom lip as she recalled the sadness that she had inflicted upon Hei.
“Do you know what he did next?”
Having heard the story so far, there was no room for doubt.
“Obviously, he violently assaulted you. What else could happen?”
Jingfei shook her head.
“He gave me his bed and covered me in a blanket. He then gave me control of the formations and left, only leaving a few heartbroken words.”
Qiuyue found this even harder to believe than if Jingfei had been assaulted.
She had heard of plenty of examples where the man didn’t cause any harm to the woman, but none of them involved a woman he had paralysed.
Once she was paralysed, it was over, without exception. That was the way the founders of the sect had been abused, which led to one of the core teachings:
–Be extremely cautious when consuming something that has been left in the presence of a man for any amount of time. Even if you have known him your entire life, never let your guard down!–
This was an iron-clad rule that was drilled into the disciples.
Jingfei could see Qiuyue’s shock.
“He locked himself out of his own home so that I would feel safe.”
Qiuyue took another look at Hei, who still seemed to be uncomfortable.
This time, however, she didn’t see a guilty criminal, but a shy little child instead.
She turned back to Jingfei.
“But the question still remains. Why did he paralyse you? There is no good reason.”
Jingfei smiled in response.
“That was the Shao Clan’s alchemy foundations. It uses an enormous amount of mental energy.”
“So your mental energy ran out, causing you to lose control over your body?”
Qiuyue raised a brow. This was completely different from what she had pictured in her mind.
“But the technique didn’t explain that it would consume mental energy at such a rate, right?”
Qiuyue gave Jingfei a confused look.
“Then, it failed to outline the possible effects of depleting your mental energy, right?”
“No. Those were clearly written.”
“… So you could have prevented your paralysis by simply pacing yourself? There was no deception?”
Jingfei felt that the tone of the conversation had changed. Why did she feel like she was on the receiving end of something?
“If you want to put it that way… I suppose so…”
Qiuyue’s eyebrow twitched.
“You accused our junior brother of wicked intent over something like that? He was clearly trying to help you.”
Jingfei blushed in embarrassment.
“You wouldn’t say that if you were the one in my place. It was terrifying.”
Qiuyue shook her head.
“Think again. I would have realised that my mental energy was running low, long before it was completely depleted.”
“But… I was excited to see the pills forming successfully.”
Qiuyue placed her hands on her hips.
“You really are negligent, Jingfei! Do you know what kind of emotional pain that can cause?”
She looked over to Hei, then back to Jingfei.
“I do hope you made it up to him.”
Jingfei was confused at how things turned out like this.
Wasn’t she the one who had come to tell Qiuyue that Hei was not a bad person? How did it turn into Qiuyue showing her that Hei deserved better?
“I did! I took him to see The Phoenix And The Vermillion Bird.”
Qiuyue covered her face with her hand before responding.
“You took him to see that train wreck? How many times have I told you that no one likes that movie?”
“I like it.”
“That makes a grand total of one.”
“But… What about the tragic romance between the heroine and the villainess?”
Qiuyue paused for a moment.
“OK. You got me on that one.”
“Right? But Young Master Hei didn’t even notice it. He just liked the fighting.”
Both young ladies turned to Hei and then back to each other.
They both rolled their eyes and said ‘Men’ before Jingfei finished up.
“Anyway, Qiuyue. What I’m trying to say, is that Young Master Hei is not a bad person. I think you should come with us. You will learn a lot. I promise.”
Qiuyue thought for a moment.
The thought flashed by that it was possible that Hei had created some elaborate scheme to lure both of them in, but he was only 10 years old.
He wouldn’t be able to do such a thing unless he was receiving instruction from someone else, and there were no other men in the sect.
After Jingfei disabled the barrier, Qiuyue turned to Hei.
“I have been curious about the Shao Clan’s techniques. I would like to see them for myself. Would you allow me to do so?”
Hei was surprised at the turn of events, but he gave Jingfei a thumbs up as he responded.
“Sure. You can come over to the Man Peak, where… hmm.”
Hei realised that the man peak was no more, but he had already prepared an excuse.
“Mm. We will show you the work we have been doing over the past few days.”
Hei quite liked Qiuyue’s personality.
Through the conversation she just had with Jingfei, Hei was able to see that she was quite a reasonable person. Just right to be Bai’s friend.
After that, the four went over to the mountain. Onyx had remained silent.
When they reached the Man Peak, Hei deactivated the defensive formation so that Qiuyue would be able to enter without a key.
As she saw Hei and Jingfei’s bodies disappearing into the mountain, Qiuyue opened her eyes wide.
Noticing that she hadn’t come in after a while, Hei popped his head out.
Coincidentally, it appeared on the trunk of a tree, creating a very strange image.
“Won’t you be joining us, Senior Sister Qiuyue?”
Snapped out of her daze, Qiuyue followed Hei into the mountain.
When she passed the illusion and saw the magnificent sign that read ‘Shao’, she was stunned.
“What have you done to the Man Peak?”
Jingfei was about to answer, when Hei flung his sleeve, placing his hands behind his back and looked off into the sky.
“Having heard your tale of those brave men who died to protect their loved ones, I was compelled to do this.”
“You were compelled to destroy the mountain?”
Qiuyue wasn’t impressed. And most of all, she didn’t want her name to be attached to this nonsense.
Hei looked to Qiuyue with great sorrow in his eyes.
He released a subtle aura, which made it seem as if the sky dimmed as he lowered his head.
“Destroyed the mountain. Sigh. That is indeed what one would see…”
He shook his head as he looked to the ground.
Qiuyue was sucked into Hei’s atmosphere. She felt like she had said something she shouldn’t have.
Jingfei looked at this scene with wide eyes.
Hei raised his gaze back into the sky.
“Just like those men who fell to protect their women, so must the Man Peak fall. And just like they are still remembered, so will the Man Peak be remembered.”
He turned to Qiuyue.
“I will turn this Man Peak into the greatest safe haven within the sect. No matter what calamity befalls the sect, its women will be safe.”
He looked back into the sky, a single tear escaping his eye.
“This is in honour of those brave men. That their monument will continue to protect that which they gave their lives for.”
Qiuyue was stunned.
Hei looked back to her before wiping his tears away.
“A destroyed mountain. Sigh. That is truly what one would see.”
He shook his head as he walked past the threshold of the residence.
Qiuyue gazed at his back. The back of a misunderstood hero.
Before Qiuyue could speak her words, she heard Jingfei, who was unable to suppress her laughter any longer.
“How can you laugh, Jingfei?”
She was slightly angry at Jingfei who failed to read the mood.
Hearing this, Hei begged Jingfei with his eyes.
How could she ruin all of his work?
“No, it’s nothing. Young Master Hei is such a kind and generous person. It’s not like he destroyed the entire mountain because he didn’t want to live in a cultivator cave or anything.”
Hei pouted as he looked at Jingfei with betrayed eyes.
He then turned to Qiuyue, who evidently wasn’t fond of having her feelings played with.
“OK. It’s true. But I meant what I said. I will turn this place into an impenetrable stronghold for the sect. You will all be safe here. That way, those men who died to protect their families can rest in peace.”
Qiuyue knew that Hei was just making an excuse for his mistake, but it was a pretty good one.
From what she could see, the mountain was possibly the greatest formation in all of the sect.
She was even slightly touched by his motivation, even though the Dark-Skinned Con Man really was slick. Without even realising it, she was pulled into his atmosphere and didn’t doubt a word he had said during his performance.
She then noticed something.
“You purchased the one-star books, meaning you lack one-star knowledge. How did you create such a formation then?”
Hei smiled in response.
“Simple. Even with just the foundational knowledge, one can do some interesting things. For example, the mountain is primarily a combination of an illusion formation and a defence formation. Both of which fall within the scope of apprentice array masters.”
“But to make them like this… How did you come up with it?”
“You shouldn’t be impressed by just this much. You will soon see that-”
Jingfei jumped in.
“Nothing is beyond reach for our Shao Clan.”