“Sigh. That’s a shame.”
Hei said this, but he wasn’t all that surprised.
It would actually be strange if Qiuyue were to accept his offer, given what he knew about her.
Jingfei was only his maid out of necessity right now, but he was confident that he would be able to pull her in.
And it seemed Jingfei and Qiuyue were a package deal. Jingfei would do the rest of the work in persuading Qiuyue.
“Anyway, since you want in, why would I refuse?”
Qiuyue smiled in response to these words.
Truthfully speaking, she wasn’t expecting Hei to give up so easily. After all, he was able to have Jingfei agree to be his maid. Surely, he had some compelling arguments up his sleeve.
She pulled out her identity token and was about to transfer her merit points when Hei spoke up.
“Senior Sister Qiuyue. You aren’t being flashy enough. Why not grow your merit points first?”
He had seen an opportunity to show Qiuyue more of what was available to those in the Shao Clan.
One may think he was giving her too much for free, but it had to be known that these were the basics of the basics.
With just the information he was giving her, sure she would rise to the top of the sect juniors, but in the world of alchemy, she would still be a grain of sand.
If she wished to pursue it further, she would need to come back.
‘Ugh. I’m a technique dealer.’
Hei realised that this would seem shady if the techniques were replaced with addictive substances.
Qiuyue was surprised by Hei’s words.
“How exactly am I supposed to do that? I am not an alchemist.”
Unlike Jingfei, who had branched off into alchemy, Qiuyue was fully dedicated to her study of formations.
Hearing this, Hei smiled.
“There are still 3 days left to prepare. You can learn alchemy in that time.”
“In 3 days? Do you know what the elders at the alchemy hall would do if they heard you say that?”
Qiuyue was impressed by the Shao Clan’s formation techniques, but she had already built up a foundation over many years.
It was an entirely different matter when speaking of alchemy, in which, she had no experience to speak of.
Seeing that Qiuyue was doubtful, Jingfei spoke up.
“No, it’s true. Even though I have been studying alchemy for a long time, I was terrible at it before Young Master Hei helped me.”
This was new information to Qiuyue. She had assumed that when Jingfei stopped practising her formations, it was because she had discovered her talents in alchemy.
Who would have thought she had no ability there either? Her friend was truly pitiable.
She turned to Hei and bowed slightly as she spoke.
“In that case, I would like to give it a try.”
Hei brought out a manual he had already prepared. Was there really a possible scenario where she wouldn’t agree?
This manual was different from the ones he had made for Jingfei.
Since Qiuyue was new to alchemy, he wouldn’t be able to see her habits and flaws, so he decided to use this manual to give her a solid foundation.
Qiuyue took the manual and began to read it.
While she was doing that, Hei and Jingfei went off to get some ingredients for her to practice with.
When the people at the alchemy hall saw Hei, they jumped in fright.
This fiend had returned once more? How were they supposed to eat if he took all of their merit points? Sure, they were getting pills in return, but they were also getting complaints from other apprentices due to the shortage of ingredients.
Before Hei and Jingfei even reached the receptionist’s desk, there were three elders in front of them.
And elder nervously walked up to the two. Jingfei could see that she seemed to be afraid of something.
“How may we help you today, Jingfei?”
Jingfei was surprised to see this. What was happening today?
“We just came to get some ingredients for Sister Qiuyue.”
“Qiuyue? The formation genius? Why would she want alchemy ingredients?”
It was well known in the sect that Qiuyue was quite talented in formations.
Even though she and Jingfei had both passed the advancement at the same time and at similar ages, Qiuyue had done extensive research of the apprentice level arrays.
She even looked beyond the materials available within the sect. Often asking the elders for more materials.
It got to the point where the elders started to avoid her.
The things she wanted could only be obtained by leaving the sect, which wasn’t exactly something they were jumping at the chance to do.
Jingfei responded to the elder.
“She decided to give alchemy a try.”
The elder then turned to Hei and spoke with caution.
“You… won’t be refining any more pills?”
Hei gave a simple response while nodding his head.
The elders looked to each other and sighed in relief before nodding their heads and turning to leave.
Jingfei turned to Hei.
“What was all that?”
Hei gave her a smile and a thumbs up.
“They also wanted to become my maids, so they could learn our Shao Clan’s alchemy techniques, but they didn’t fit the requirements. After asking once more if I would show them our techniques, and getting the answer, all they could do was sigh in disappointment and leave.”
Jingfei looked at Hei with a blank face.
It wasn’t just her.
One of the elders who was walking away turned back angrily.
“Whose maid? You little-”
Her words were cut off when Hei pulled out his cauldron and shook it with a mischievous smile on his face.
Another of the elders took her by the shoulders and forcefully turned her around.
The alchemy hall really couldn’t suffer another round of Hei’s pill refining.
After that little incident, Hei and Jingfei purchased the ingredients for Qiuyue then returned to their residence.
When they got back to the formation room, Qiuyue had already finished her study.
They went to the alchemy room where she began her practice.
The task was to raise her success rate as high as possible by the end of the day.
Hei allowed her to practice uninterrupted for a while, paying attention to any flaws in her technique.
Failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure.
Just as Jingfei was about to give Qiuyue some words of encouragement, she succeeded in refining her first ever pill.
“So, you can’t change it?”
Failure, failure, failure, success.
“I see. That part is also correct.”
Failure, success, success, success.
“Mm. I think I’ve got it now.”
Qiuyue turned over to Hei and Jingfei who were watching her performance.
Hei was comparing her to Jingfei, who took two days to reach this point. It was quite the difference.
‘It seems she is well suited to my way of explaining things.’
The fact that Qiuyue was able to see how she was deviating from the method and adjust herself without further instruction was quite impressive.
Jingfei, on the other hand, had her eyes wide open.
Qiuyue was confused at this question. After some thought, she realised what Jingfei was asking.
“Mm. It took too long, right? I know. I was just trying to see if there was a better way to do it than what was written. That’s how it was when I was learning formations for the first time.”
Jingfei was left speechless by Qiuyue misunderstanding. How was this too long?
“… Is that so?”
“Yeah. There was a lot of stuff in the books that I found wasn’t quite right, so I learned not to follow books to the letter, but it seems that isn’t the case this time.”
Qiuyue turned to Hei.
“So, when do we begin the real practice?”
“That was the real practice. Anything more is just gaining experience.”
Qiuyue raised a brow at Hei’s words. Wasn’t this too easy?
She turned to Jingfei.
“How did you drain your mental energy? Did you refine a thousand pills after increasing your success rate?”
Jingfei blushed in embarrassment.
Hei stepped in.
“Mm. For Jingfei, we did a stress test, to see how many times she could refine the pills successfully in a row. Due to her concentration on the task, she failed to realise that her mental energy had depleted.”
“Ah. I see.”
Qiuyue believed the excuse. After all, she currently had mental energy to spare. She wouldn’t believe that Jingfei had completely depleted hers while doing the same exercise.
Jingfei looked to Hei with warm eyes.
Hei spoke to her using his Qi.
[Unlike my maid, who likes to spoil her Young Master’s fun, I take care of my people.]
Jingfei was embarrassed. She truly did like to point out Hei’s nonsense when she saw it. Who would have thought it would come back to bite her?
Hei closed his eyes tightly and looked away from Jingfei.
[It’s too late to apologise now, Jingfei. It’s just the difference between a caring young master like myself, and his heartless maid.]
Jingfei tried to place a hand on Hei’s shoulder, but he nudged it away.
Qiuyue looked on at this scene in confusion.
“What are you two doing?”
Both Hei and Jingfei had nothing to say. They had both forgotten that Qiuyue was there.
Hei quickly came up with an excuse.
“Ah. I had a pain in my shoulder, and Jingfei used her Qi to help me massage it.”
Jingfei then actually went to massage Hei’s shoulders, both acting like it was natural.
Qiuyue wasn’t quite buying it, but it didn’t seem to be anything important.
“So, do we spend the next few days increasing our merit points?”
She now had the means to do so, and she wouldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Hei thought for a moment before answering.
“Mm. But we should keep it to a level where Elder Ping can actually pay. How many merit points do you think she has?”
Both Jingfei and Qiuyue thought for a while.
“All things considered, it should be around 400,000.”
“Mm. That sounds about right.”
Hei was surprised that it was so high. For students to amass that many merit points, would require a lot of successful pill refining, or a minimum of 4,000 missions.
It would surely take years to accomplish both of those things.
“How did she get so many?”
Jingfei was the one to answer.
“The elders get a weekly allowance and additional merit points for each student they teach. There are also missions specific to elders, which pay more merit points than what disciples can earn.”
Qiuyue added on.
“There are also various competitions in which elders can get rewards depending on the performance of their disciples. Those would be the ones who have taken them as their master.”
Hei had gotten the information that he needed.
“Then we’ll push it up to 35,000. That way we have some breathing room.”
Jingfei and Qiuyue agreed with this. It would be awkward if Elder Ping owed more than she could pay.
Qiuyue raised a point.
“But this whole thing hinges on whether or not she will pay.”
“Let me ask you. Do elders value face?”
“Then that problem has already been solved. Remember, the juniors will be watching. Before the competition, I will arrogantly declare the conditions, which will bind the elder to pay us once she loses.”
“Men really are manipulative.”
Qiuyue didn’t like the way Hei was so easily able to exploit a person’s honour. It was true. If the conditions were known by everyone, there really wasn’t a way for Elder Ping to renege.
“At least Elder Ping is a stranger to me. I’ve never called her teacher.”
“…That is also true.”
Qiuyue could see how both sides had shady motives. She was exploiting an opportunity at the expense of an acquaintance and Hei was exploiting social constraints, which would usually be respected.
Jingfei was just there for the ride. She couldn’t exactly tell Hei to stop what he was doing. It could very well cause her to fall back into helplessness.
And she didn’t particularly care for the merit points. She had much bigger concerns.
The three discussed what they would be doing for the next few days.
Qiuyue brought up the point that they had left the content of the challenge open-ended.
Hei’s condition was that the content had to be within the scope of one-star array masters, but didn’t mention that the information had to be obtainable within the sect.
With that in mind, Hei prepared a training plan for Jingfei to practice in the remaining time. The objective was to get her to view formations as merely Qi interacting with earth nodes.
By familiarising herself with the common interactions between earth nodes and Qi, she would be able to understand a formation at a micro level.
This would allow her to infer the effects of the formation as a whole by combining the effects at each of the earth nodes.
Qiuyue found this approach fascinating. It ignored the shape of the circulation paths entirely.
She decided that she would join in the fun from time to time, but she would place her focus on increasing her merit points.
The time she spent now, would multiply her merit points many-fold. Well worth the monotony of refining pills.
Hei would, of course, be ‘supervising’ aka sitting around and doing nothing. He may give Jingfei the occasional pointer, but for the next few days, his schedule was empty.
The days went by quite fast, and it was now the day of the competition.
Hei exited the mountain, Onyx floating beside him, Jingfei at his other side.
He looked to the main sect and spoke.
“Alright. It’s time for us to rob an old lady.”
“It doesn’t quite sound right when you say it like that.”
“Then, it’s time for us to fairly compete with a fellow member of the sect, which will allow both parties to exchange ideas and will hopefully be mutually beneficial.”
“… I think the first one sounds more like you.”
[I would have to agree.]
“Hey! What do you think I am? I didn’t come to rob old ladies!”
“Mm. You came to collect maids.”
[Sounds about right.]
“I’ll have you know, I was moved by the pleas of a damsel in distress. Whether she became my maid or not had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
“That’s about as believable as your illusions.”
“… OK. You got me there.”