“Here follows an imperial decree! The noble and most elevated Leader of the Thousand Sect Alliance has the following to say. Listen well! The demonic fiend, the mass-murdering devil, the most evil of foes, the Scheming Fox Demon has been slain!”
Murmurs once again shoot through the gathered crowd as I watch the charade. I surreptitiously move a finger over my chin, the microscopic layer of razorblade intent qi removing the slight stubble. I don’t like running around with my face this exposed, as the wind is super cold, but it’s a small sacrifice not to be recognized. I know for a fact that all the tracking spells the sects had on me were focussed on my cultivation base. This means that my entirely new cultivation base, one made from scratch, and with self-made qi, is not on anyone’s files.
Blood can be used as a tracking agent, but then it’s the sliver of cultivation base present inside the liquid that can be tracked. Each person has their own qi intent, and this unique frequency can be traced from a long way away with enough power.
The fact that I always wore a beard and wore standard pants and shirts is now helping me avoid recognition. I think that I can walk up to my most hated enemy, and he would only see a mortal that has similar features. And because there are billions of mortals in the known world alone, there are plenty of people that look like me.
“This feat is accomplished by grand cooperation of the noblest of sects! The most elevated and noble Empyrean Lodge of Divine Light sent their illustrious patriarch and two immortal sect elders, both of whom triumphed with a great victory. Their contributions to this righteous purge can not be overstated.”
This does not mean I appreciate this propaganda, though. It’s a nice feather in my ass, but I’d love it if the pompously dressed disciple would stop lying through his teeth. Those sect elders are in no way immortal. The foundation realm does make one age a whole lot slower, but it doesn’t stop it unless you know of advanced concepts things like DNA, telomeres, and self-regulated cell death, of course.
That’s another reason I hate this place. Instead of cooperating in order to further understanding, every single person just hoards their secrets, only unraveling a fraction of the natural sciences.
“The Pluripotent Majestic Chanting Septragon Coalition provided this great feat with many of the vital ingredients for this undertaking. The Heavenly Force and Divine Shapes sects provided their most loyal Core Disciples to the mighty endeavor, and despite great losses, they have persevered in this grand task!”
I’m standing in an alley, halfways between the canyon I came in through and the center of the outpost city, watching out over a small park. The crowd is tightly packed, and I see town guards at the roads going in and out of the open plaza.
I want to shake my head, but I can sense cultivators in civilian clothing dispersed throughout the crowd. I start making my way over to the area that I’m interested in, the merchant quarters. I’ve still got the wind affinity bone in my hand, and it’s drained dry at this point. It’s still a precious crafting and alchemy material, so I should get a pretty good price for it. I’m guessing it’s worth a couple of dozen spirit stones, but as I’m currently pretending to be a mere mortal, I'll be glad if I can get a couple of silver for the thing.
I want to avoid attention for a while, as trekking through the Cultivation World is a lot easier without having everyone hounding my ass. A mortal finding a precious material and selling it for a fraction of its value is one thing. A mortal suddenly having knowledge exclusive to the Jianghu and Martial World is a whole different story.
“Sir immortal, does this mean the contributions will finally be lowered?”
I stop in my tracks as I look at the source of the absurdly rude question. I spot a starving man, a ragged hood hiding his features, but not good enough for me to miss his hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. The dude looks like a firm breeze can knock him over, but he is standing tall and looking directly at the orating disciple.
The disciple in question looks like he is about to pop. He'd been silent for long seconds when the man spoke up, most likely just basking in the attention of thousands, but it was still an interruption.
“YOU!” the disciple bellows in rage. He employs some kind of technique, dancing around weirdly as he runs through some convoluted symbolic technique. Small rays of light surround him, and I recognize him as a disciple of the Lost Light Forger Sect. Small shards of light give him a rather sad halo, but the crowd around me stares in awe at the pathetic fireworks display.
“You dare question your better? The Scheming Fox Demon wrought massive terror upon both immortal and mortal alike. And you dare ask to be relieved of this burden?”
I want to interject again. I really feel like asking the idiot what massive terror I wrought upon mortals. I really can’t remember doing anything like that.
Before I can react, the disciple gestures imperiously. From where he is standing, a ridiculously ornate podium, the light flashes down towards the mortal man. The small fragments of light strike the starving peasant down, the crowd having long since parted around the individual.
The technique is rather flashy, but all the disciple is doing is burning small pieces of treated wood. Throwing these around does provide a nice light show, but his sect’s signature technique isn’t even enough to kill the man outright. The wooden splinters leave cauterized wounds in their wake, and somehow the disciple’s aim is bad enough to miss all the vital spots.
I can see the indecision in the disciple’s eyes, obviously having wanted to kill the peasant outright. I can see the gears turning in his head, turning as he comes up with a new idea. First, he waves his hand in an obvious gesture. The disguised cultivators in the crowd stop walking towards the fallen peasant and return to their places.
“Every day, we, the noble warriors against all that is evil, still suffer from the Scheming Fox Demon’s machinations. We have fought a thousand years to keep the common people safe from his wicked ways. All we ask for risking our lives is a portion of your labors. And you would ask to shirk this responsibility? Let this fool’s suffering be a lesson to all!”
I keep myself in check. A small form at the edge of the circle surrounding the fallen peasant wants to rush towards the man. Only the packed crowd is keeping the slight figure back.
“We, who risk life and limb, without who, you all would be dead, are generous enough to leave you with two-tenths of your labor. You obviously don’t appreciate this fact. Voluntary contributions will be raised to nine out of ten this month as a most generous lesson in appreciation. Even now, news has reached us of a new fiend emerging from the ashes of the old one. One that indiscriminately murders all he comes across with exploding-”
I leave before I hurt someone. Instead of immediately striking at the idiot, I send out a trickle of Will towards the disciple. Ignoring the continuation of his speech, I send a small packet of extremely neutral qi towards him, letting it flow through the Will thread into his cultivation base.
I sense that he is at the Core Forming stage, a murky crystal of cloudy junk qi growing behind his navel. I place a small tracking qi formation there. With that, I put the guy out of my mind and walk away. The slow moans of the wounded peasant follow me for a long distance.
The merchant district isn’t so much a district, as a larger amount of stores in a certain area. The houses and buildings here aren’t as tightly packed as in the lower class areas. Wide decorated roads, trimmed bushes, and the occasional glowing lighting formation give the neighborhood a rather spacious and open feel. The buildings are of better quality too, decorations and roof tiles, giving the stores and warehouses a more expensive feel.
There are still many, many people around, the ratios shifting to include a higher percentage of well-dressed merchants and nobles. The occasional cultivator is also walking the streets, clad in the efficient apparel of the Jianghu or adorned with Sect colors and frills.
I keep my head down and take a few minutes to clean the worst stains and repair the largest tears in my simple robe. I look like a well-off peasant or a down-on-their-luck cultivator, and that’s just fine by me. I’ve been walking through the streets, trying to find a merchant that isn’t too obviously in someone’s pocket, and have not been having much luck.
Lola is tucked into my robes and sleeping. The tension of constantly being surrounded by monsters that can eat her for a bedtime snack doing a number on the rabbit. She might be a small little thing, but I don’t want to take the risk of her cuteness catching the eyes of a wealthy noble or rich cultivator. That’s just trouble I’m not looking for.
Deciding I might as well get it over with, I make a turn and walk to one of the larger buildings. I’m less likely to get scammed while dealing with a bigger trading company, I think, and it should overall cause less suspicion.
I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open for news, but the main talk of the town is still the expedition meant to take me out. The sheer amount of contradictory rumors I overhear are driving me up the wall, though. The general opinion is extremely easy to manipulate when news can only travel through a limited amount of channels.
Overhearing these rumors does allow me to find out what the mains sects are planning. There are a worrying number of people talking about how darker sects are next, and that the righteous sects will usher in a new age of prosperity for the common folk. It seems that there are plans in the works to eliminate a few of the less-liked parties in the immortal political landscape.
I limit the listening process to its minimum and dedicate that mental space to observing everything around me the moment I step into the Blue Scions Trade Association building. The combination between its name and the garish yellow storefront never fails to irritate me. Shaking off that annoyance, I try to smile as not a single attendant comes my way.
The foyer is large and clean, smooth wooden pillars supporting a high ceiling, glossy white walls giving the place an airy feel. The back wall is covered in desks, and there are attendants standing behind small podiums everywhere.
Each one of the rather pretty and well-dressed attendants glances my way, and never looks at me again. I just smile and walk over to the line where the rest of the peasants are queueing up. Although I’m not looking forward to the theatre that will soon follow. It will be as tedious as it will be predictable.
And to no-one’s surprise, once I place the small wing-bone of the winged cat-beast in front of the tired looking receptionist, it gets busy. The bone is thoroughly drained at this point, and it’s the smallest one, just a sliver of the wing, but it’s still a Heaven Realm bone.
I just smile benevolently as the workers kowtow their little hearts out, showing that they are indeed very sorry. They apologize furiously about not seeing me for the mountain that I really am, and that their ancestors are super ashamed, and all that.
I just nod and let myself be escorted by the constantly bowing department head that is called to escort me. The rest of the process is as tedious as it is annoying. I am seated in an extremely opulent room. The amount of wealth in this single room can probably feed the entire mortal population of this town for months. It’s all meant to put me in a mental state that makes it easier for them to fleece me.
Nodding and smiling gets me through the testing phase of the negotiations; the tea ceremony. The girl serving me is beautiful and keeps accidentally brushing up against me. I look at her curves for a few seconds, appreciating the sight, before turning my attention back to the now smiling department head.
The startled expression on the fellow’s face makes me realize that maybe I should react like an actual human for a bit. I’m pretty used to acting like an aloof immortal, but I’m nowhere near that level at the moment. I use the mental space that’s now free with automating my physical reaction. The blush that starts creeping up my face seems to put the department head at ease. He settles back down, reassured by knowing that I am falling for his tactics.
The negotiations conclude pretty quickly after that. I reply with a blunt fuck-off type of reaction to his initial offer, and a give a counteroffer that is the actual worth of the bone. The slight look of shock shows me that I really need to determine which role I want to play. There’s no way that a downtrodden cultivator like me knows the actual worth of a Heaven Realm bone. And a mortal probably never even heard of the term 'spirit stone' to begin with.
The mood chills, the talk speeds up, and there is a lot of grinding of teeth and angrily gripping of armrests. Instead of the massive payday that the department head was expecting, he merely manages to earn an extra month of salary. Two hours after stepping into the trading house, I’m walking out again, this time carrying a heavy bag filled with spirit stones, gold, and silver.
I sense that I'm followed without even trying, so I immediately make a beeline to one of the more prominent buildings of the entire town. The Flowing Spring Overlook Inn is a massive organization with branches everywhere. Their buildings are all the same squat pagodas, their flat tops allowing for easy expansion. The height of these cultivator hotels is usually a pretty good indicator for the relative success of a town, with booming towns getting larger and larger towers.
I sense multiple tails on me, and more joining shortly. By the time I arrive at the demure entrance of the hotel chain, a small crowd is jostling for position as they try to tail me stealthily. I pretend like I’m none the wiser, and step into the building with a smile on my face.
For once, I decide to act like how a bottom-tier cultivator that just lucked into a small fortune should. I splurge on one of the most expensive rooms, boasting the purest qi and the highest concentration of easily-absorbable elements. I nod as the pretty receptionist rattles off a whole litany of vaguely useful features at me, and I say yes to all of them. Another pretty woman escorts me up the stairs. Then I feel the pressure of an Earth Realm expert bloom past me. The front of power avoids me, but pressures my tails, letting them know that they are not appreciated here.
I decide to whistle a small tune as the formation-driven elevator sends me to one of the higher floors.Previous Chapter Next Chapter