Jin’s whole body tensed for a moment as he concentrated solely on the potential threat.
A very powerful human had walked into Lanhua from the west. The person was below Shan Hui in raw power but considerably higher than Yan Li in cultivation martial arts. Though the person wasn’t the most powerful on the mountain when including beasties, he was at least in the top twenty. To have someone that strong pop up without any warning was extremely surprising.
...was this person really from the west?
While there were martial arts experts and even cultivation sects in the west, they were weak when compared to Lanhua or Jianghu. It wasn’t really their fault, it was just difficult to cultivate on the mainland. So even though this person had come via the northern section of Greater Peak Country he found it hard to believe he was really from the west.
But then, if he was from the east or Jianghu, shouldn’t he be coming in from the south? If a person chooses not to go through the mountains, the only other way was by sea. Thus, anyone as powerful as this person ought to be coming in from the south...
This person was a cultivator but their cultivation was strange. Their qi was circulated in a similar fashion as the Blue Flower Mountain arts, but there were also three small but robust cores located in their head, chest, and lower stomach as well. Jin was fairly ignorant of cultivating techniques, knowing only Blue Flower Mountain arts intimately and the Lotus Valley Sect by sight, but instinctively he felt this person’s cultivation wasn’t normal.
The important thing was this person wasn’t hostile. Their spirit was strong and hardy, which made it easy to see everything they were feeling. Rather than hostility it was a mixture of curiosity, hunger, resignation, and… grief. For some reason this person was sad, and had been for a long time.
He hesitated before making a decision.
Jin felt around to see which sons were closest and saw his sixth and seventh sons nearby Xifang City. In such close proximity to the source of such a strong qi, even they were able to sense that something strange had entered Lanhua. They were already looking towards the border’s direction, he could practically see them itching to investigate. With barely any prodding from him, they stopped whatever they’d been doing and headed over to the source.
This was a good chance for his sons to learn. This person wasn’t hostile or looking for trouble but couldn’t be ignored because of his strength. Some inquiries did need to be made. As long as his sons weren’t too enthusiastic, everything should be resolved peacefully.
He tapped the side of his face, pondering. Several nearby foreign dignitaries glanced at him nervously seeing his extremely serious expression, which he ignored.
It might be good to have De Ming Yu, his fifth son, on standby.
Just in case.
De Taihua and De Weishan were twins in their early twenties who took more after Shan Hui and Yan Li than Shi Ji and Lu Shao. This was a nice way of saying they acted quickly and caused trouble continuously. They were known as the “terrible duo” in the Palace, with one plotting the mischief and the other carrying it out. Both their Mother and their Fairy Nannies were run ragged because of their constant naughtiness.
The twins always admired their first and second older brothers, feeling they were kindred spirits. Their first brother wasn’t around often, but their second brother had a family in the Palace so frequently visited. They became very attached to their second brother, whether he wanted their attention or not. This explained their enthusiastic decision to join the Imperial Army at thirteen. Even though they were actually too young to join, their Mother and Imperial Father agreed to make an exception.
To make sure the soldiers weren’t bullied too badly by her sons, the Queen Consort instructed Yan Li, her second son, to personally instruct them. This was more a formality than anything. Yan Li was fully aware his two troublemaking younger brothers planned on following him around no matter what he said. Rather than be irritated by this behavior, it was better to take advantage of it.
Yan Li had many sons and daughters and had long since adapted to every form of childish mischief. Unlike his Father, the Fairy Emperor, Yan Li parented with an iron fist and was a strong disciplinarian. Whatever rules his wife, Jia Ying, laid down for the family to follow, he adhered to and never dared be lax in enforcing. If he was lax, his wife would definitely find out. And then he’d be in trouble along with his children. Therefore, he’d developed a calloused heart to the pleading, wheedling, and many other forms of trickery children used to try and get out of punishment.
This meant he wasn’t soft on De Taihua and De Weishan despite being his own, very young, siblings. It was too late for them when they realized their amicable older brother was a ruthless military instructor. They never even had the chance to flee. And desertion was heavily punished by the military code, scaring them from trying.
Fortunately, being in the military was the best thing that could have happened to them. Forced structure, no mercy for disobedience, and so much exercise they dropped onto their beds in exhaustion every night meant they never had time to be properly mischievous. They also frequently left the mountains, travelling the eastern lands and seeing much more of the world.
Though much of the east was now under Lanhua rule, that didn’t stop individuals from being violent, cruel, and selfish. There was still corruption cases, there was still injustice and crime. The Lanhua army personally went out to maintain order because of the random lawlessness that persisted. But to easterns, these things were considered “minor evils” and easily tolerated. At least their local leaders were now held responsible for their actions and criminals eventually caught. Life by their estimation was far more peaceful and fair under Lanhua than their old rulers.
The twins, who were raised protected and with deep affection, were shocked to see how terrible humanity behaved outside of Lanhua. The stark contrast made them understand how precious their family and nation was compared to the cold world. Their carefree personalities settled down somewhat and by their late teens, they decided to take their duties of protecting their family and country more seriously.
Once they behaved liked sensible adults, Yan Li began giving them time off from their military duties. It happened that today was one of those days, they’d gotten an entire week to themselves. They’d already greeted their parents and annoyed their siblings, and were now visiting friends who were also off duty. While they were drinking with an army buddy, they felt something strange on the border. They were debating whether to go and check it out when their Imperial Father personally had them go on his behalf.
It was rare for their Imperial Father to specifically have them go do something. They sometimes suspected he didn’t trust them and that was why, but he also may have forgotten them. That happened sometimes because of how frequently they were gone. Excited and curious, they left with only a “goodbye and see you later” to their army friends.
As they got closer to the border, the “something strange” sharpened into an obvious cultivator’s aura. The twins glanced at each other, eyebrows raised in delight. This person was stronger than them, perhaps even stronger than Second Brother! The cultivator must not be too dangerous though, otherwise Imperial Father wouldn’t have sent them.
Together they suppressed their eye colors until their eyes looked almost black before entering the city. If they walked in with glowing gold and blue eyes, the population would get excited and cause them trouble.
Following the aura into Xifang City, they arrived at the typically packed commercial district. They were troubled by the number of civilians. What were all these people doing walking around during the peak of winter? If a real fight broke out, they were just asking to be collateral damage. Tsk!
“Ah, where is this person?” De Taihua asked in exasperation. They’d been following their target, or been trying to follow them.
De Weishan scratched his head, equally puzzled. “They should be right here?”
The cultivator wasn’t suppressing their aura at all, so it was spreading over a large area like a strange blanket. The people of Lanhua had long adapted to strong auras and were callously indifferent to them at this point. Thus the street was packed with shoppers. The twins didn’t have as good “spirit sight” as their Father, making them unable to see the spirit and the corporal at the same time. They were forced to switch between the two visions, trying to find the cultivator in question.
They had narrowed it down to this spot in front of a food stall, but were still having trouble. There was a crowd of people wanting food from there and they weren’t sure which person it was in the crowd they were looking for.
It was a malatang stall. A new kind of food stall involved cooking various skewered foods into boiling hot and spicy flavored water. It was extremely popular during wintery days like today, which is why there was a crowd. Even the twins were drooling slightly at the sight of the food and had to elbow each other to force themselves to concentrate.
A ragged looking man, poorly dressed for winter, with a scraggly beard and filthy appearance was hovering around the outside of the crowd. When someone would walk away with their fresh steaming food, he would gaze at them with intense longing. This made the purchaser uncomfortable and hastily make a retreat.
The stall owner eventually noticed his customers dwindling. When he realized the ragged man was the source he immediately came out from behind his stall and firmly shooed the man away.
The man didn’t fight, but simply drooped slightly in embarrassment at the chastening he was receiving before leaving quietly. As he left, the strong aura followed him.
“It’s the beggar!” De Taihua shook his twin’s shoulder excitedly.
De Weishan watched the ragged man’s meek behavior, “Why is a guy that powerful so…”
“Right? Did you see how he looked at the malatang?” De Taihua suddenly brightened. “Hey, hey, let’s get some malatang!”
“Eh? Right now?”
“Yes, yes, right now!”
De Taihua pushed De Weishan towards the stall. The younger twin looked back at his brother with raised eyebrows, “It’s me? I’m buying it?”
“That’s right, buy a lot and find me when you’re done!”
“Wha--” De Weishan didn’t get a chance to ask exactly what his sibling was planning before De Taihua had left. After a moment, he shrugged and walked towards the stall. He’d been craving malatang ever since they got here so he didn’t mind his surprise errand.