"The Golden Lotus be praised; that's an anticlimactic finish, to say the least. Ladies, we'll celebrate our reunion later. I have a contest to steamroll through," Xinzi said, and the sanguine mist shot across the sky, racing past succeeding buildings on its way to the battlefield.
"Terrifying…" Yan Le exhaled a gust of air.
When the Sanguine Mist appeared and the disciples' Blood Energy went berserk, Yan Le believed that a rank three Blood Spirit had somehow left the Blood Spirit valley to sneak into the White Immortal sect. News of unexplained deaths and disappearances in recent weeks supported that idea.
Little did she expect her abbot's voice to follow, leaving no doubt about who was to blame...or praise, for this sadistic execution.
"What should we do with the corpses?" Yan Le asked, making A'Zhi and A'Zhu leave their record-guarding duties to rush to her side. With a longer history of serving Xinzi, the two knew precisely what to do. "Leave them hanging. Soon, others will be here to collect the remains. In the meantime, we three should go cheer our abbot on."
Since Xinzi didn't bother to leave orders, the twins realized that the Law Enforcement hall's subsequent moves would not have significant influence on the big picture. That being the case, how could they loiter within the temple's walls and miss their lord's awe-inspiring return?
Meanwhile, perched on the outer court's highest mountain peak, two stone platforms—one white, one black—welcomed the contestants. Dozens had gathered already. The men puffed their chests out or sat cross-legged on the white platform. The ladies shared the black platform, exchanging smiles that blend encouragement with a murderous competitive spirit. Both sides beamed with pride and battle-intent. The audience reveled in the atmosphere, and what an audience it was.
Thousands of crammed White Immortal sect disciples aside, members of vassal sects and clans joined the fun, sitting alongside their acquaintances and placing wagers to liven up the atmosphere. One group stood out—wearing brown monastic robes and tall bamboo hats that covered half their faces.
"Eh? Foolish child, what do you know? Rong Suishan is the yang patriarch's very own nephew and will come prepared with treasures and subordinates. In one vs. many battles, Xia Hu is the number one outer disciple. Facing these two, what can a lone monk do?" Amidst the White Immortal sect and vassal disciples, this group of suspicious monks fueled the flames of war, using whatever argument they could get their hands on to argue in Rong Suishan or Xia Hu's favor and make Xinzi's odds plummet.
In this rabble of thousands, Qi Refinement, Foundation Building and even Pulse Condensation experts assembled. Tall banners swayed amidst the mellow winds, welcoming all indiscriminately. For once, status didn't separate the masses, and all stood on the same floor—well, not quite.
Supported by a fourth-layer Levitation Array, a smaller platform hovered in the sky. But while half the size of the white and black stone platform, so far, this levitating platform only hosted eight people: Guang Fanghu, Zi Yao, Lord Hanxing, Lady Ziyun, and the masters of the four highest ranked vassal factions of the White Immortal sect: the Nameless Sword mountain, Thousand Roads mountain, Albizia court and Shui clan.
For centuries, these four factions maintained the White Immortal sect's control over the various facets of the Dongli state. The Thousand Roads mountain handled alms and Lianism. The Nameless Sword mountain led daoism and witch hunts, the Albizia court managed brothels and dual cultivation norms, and the Shui clan controlled the bureaucracy, economy and royal throne. Needless to say, it was only thanks to the White Immortal sect's martial force that these factions could handle their respective jobs without a care for the Soaring Crane mountain's watchful eyes.
'What a splendid scale. Guang Fanghu, Guang Fanghu, congratulations. You're officially presiding over the largest Yin-Yang Controller contest our sect has ever hosted. How does it feel to keep your over-inflated ego balanced at last?' Connecting to Guang Fanghu, Zi Yao and Lady Ziyun, Lord Hanxing sparked a mental debate. The larger an event's scale, the wider it spread. The Yin-Yang Controller selection gathered the most outstanding disciples of a generation. How could their names be allowed to reach the ears of enemy factions?
To protect their gifted disciples, the White Immortal typically restrained the amount of seats available and only invited a select few vassals to enjoy the event. Guang Fanghu broke this unwritten rule and Zi Yao didn't stop him. In any other generation, this would be a sinful deed. But now that the likes of Xia Hu and Xinzi would be exposed to the public's scrutiny, Guang Fanghu's move deserved the death penalty.
If not for his faith in Zi Yao's judgment, Hanxing would be beating his nephew black and blue already. 'Uncle, please restrain your wrath. The current White immortal sect is different from the past. Generational talents fill our ranks, the neighboring powers look at us in awe and, the Anyue state aside, our overall strength eclipses all our enemies. All legendary accomplishments rely on the stars' blessings; and the stars have aligned to push forth my White Immortal sect's hegemony. Boldness must now lead our steps,' Guang Fanghu said and swept the thousands of crammed figures tens of meters below him.
'Today, I want three things. One, let our might spread beyond the Dongli cultivation world. Two, get our sheltered talents out of their comfort zone and make them realize that, from this day onward, the world's eyes will be on them. Three, draw the interest of the imperial court. In this generation, we must solve the Zi clan's problem. If any one of our top prospects can draw the attention of the Eastern Imperial court and study in the Eastern Academy, we can build connections with the imperial clan and end this problem once and for all. If not, at the very least, they should be able to draw the Yanzhou Hegemon's attention. It won't be easy, but we can still work with that.'
Guang Fanghu laid his thoughts bare, startling Lord Hanxing who, despite all his mental preparations, had not expected such wild ambitions. What was the Eastern Imperial court? The ruling force of an entire continent, a top ten faction of the Great Desolation world with access to cultivation realms that the Dongli people could only read in history books. The laws that criminalized all mysterious beasts, sentient or not, stemmed from the Eastern Imperial court. Likewise, only the imperial court could again legalize association with mysterious beasts.
But while on the surface, Guang Fanghu's words made sense. For the White Immortal sect to influence continental laws, at the very least, they'd need a high-ranking representative in the imperial clan. How could they possibly achieve that in a single generation? Guang Fanghu shook his head, then glanced at Zi Yao. A purple-haired enchantress with cold lavender eyes and a flawless hourglass figure, the yin matriarch ignored the exchange—glancing at the yin platform, where Chun Xu sat in meditation.
Lord Hanxing followed the matriarch's gaze, and his eyes sparkled in enlightenment.
'What can we not solve through the power of a tight cum-drainer? So that's how it is, eh? No wonder you've raised her with even more care than your flesh and blood. Dreadful, oh so dreadful. How did loathsome scoundrels such as you two give birth to a sweet lass like Dong Ling? Yao'er, spill the beans. Who's Dong Ling's dad? I swear I won't tell your husband,' Lord Hanxing said, but unable to restrain himself, he burst into laughter, making the vassal masters realize that they'd just missed out on a privy exchange.
'Hanxing, watch your tongue. You've passed the age for such jokes over 700 years ago.' Lady Ziyun chimed in, putting an end to the inflamed exchange. Zi Yao didn't bother to defend herself and, if the harsh words affected her, her collected look hid it well. Guang Fanghu's face, however, twisted into an ugly grimace.
'Lord Hanxing, you out of all people are not qualified to…' Guang Fanghu started, but before he could finish the words, a cold-blue beam of light raced up the mountain peak—landing on the yin platform. The light dispersed, revealing a striking figure that all instantly gravitated to. Dong Ling made her entrance. Her windblown hair shimmered like amethyst gems. Her skin glowed just the same, and her smile seized the audience.
But as eyes rose, hearts drummed and men-in-heat pushed through the crowd to flock at the dazzling goddess' feet, Guang Fanghu vanished, activating the minor teleportation of Nascent Soul experts to appear before his daughter instantly. The overwhelming pressure of a late-stage Nascent Soul expert poured forth, forcing hundreds to reel back and suffer dizzy spells.
"Oh dad, hi! Missed me?" Unimpressed, Dong Ling passed one hand across her scalp, whipping her hair for good measure. But as she expected her father to launch into a long tirade, Guang Fanghu fell onto his knees and hugged his daughter's thighs!
"Ling'er! Sniff, sniff, heartless daughter, you're back! How could you abandon your poor old man without news for an entire month? Do you know how worried I was? Aaah! My heart, I won't forgive you!" Guang Fanghu broke into tears, and the world came to a screeching halt.