The Sacred Grove
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“This is the Sacred Grounds?” Wu Jian asked of no one in particular. He wasn’t sure anyone would answer him anyway. They, like him, were left staring in wonder at the scene before them.

The Sacred Grounds was not very big. A small lake that was closer in size to a pond filled most of the space. Various blossoms and trees surrounded the lake’s edge, vibrantly colored like a rainbow. Wu Jian didn’t recognize any of the plants. He could feel the chi being emitted from them, however, making him wonder if they could be used as alchemy ingredients. Perhaps he should bring some to Zhou Lihua just in case?

But it wasn’t the flowers or trees that captured Wu Jian’s attention.

It was the lake.

While it might not have been big, it was still large enough for several people to swim laps. The size didn’t really matter, however. What filled this lake was not water but a golden liquid that glowed with the luminosity of chi. He could feel the chi wafting from it even though he was standing several chih away. Every time he took a breath, he inhaled some of the residue clinging to the atmosphere and felt his cultivation stir. It felt like his dantian was working overtime to suck up all the chi present.

The liquid seemed to come from a giant tree that stood on one end. It looked like a bonsai tree, but it was several dozen times larger than any bonsai he had ever seen. He stared at the branches and watched as a single drop of golden liquid coalesced on one branch, then slowly dropped into the lake with a soft plop, creating ripples on the surface.

“I guess… we’re supposed to bathe in this,” said Hou Jingshu. “The Sacred Grounds is said to be very beneficial to people below the Human Limit Realm.” She glanced at Mei Xilan. “I’m not sure how much you can gain from this if you’re at the Human Limit Realm, but I’m sure even Mei Xilan will acquire some benefits.”

Mei Xilan said nothing as she walked up to the lake’s edge. She slipped a shoe off her foot without using her hands, then slowly tipped her jade toes into the liquid. The golden liquid looked thicker than water, and it clung to her big toe when she lifted it, but then slowly disappeared as though seeping into her skin.

“Haaaah. Unfortunately, I won’t gain much from this, but you are right. I should be able to reach the next subrealm if I cultivate in this,” she said to Hou Jingshu.

“Let’s get in,” said Wu Jian, grabbing Hou Jingshu’s hand.

“Master… can I look around? I don’t wanna get wet,” said Yōuměi.


While the black panther pranced around, Wu Jian peeled off his hanfu, leaving him topless. He was mindful of Hou Jingshu’s and Mei Xilan’s stares. The Shang Kingdom princess was biting her lip and blushing as she tried to pretend she wasn’t looking at his bare chest. Mei Xilan didn’t even bother hiding what she was doing, her expression blank as ever as she stared at him. Jia Xinyue was also staring, but his expression seemed more defeated than anything.

“You should probably take off the first layer of your hanfu,” Wu Jian said to Hou Jingshu.

“I suppose, but…” Hou Jingshu glanced at Jia Xinyue.

He understood her reluctance. Wu Jian didn’t want Jia Xinyue ogling his woman either, which was why he proposed the man wear a blindfold. It was probably fortunate that Jia Xinyue was so intimidated by him because he agreed without question. Once the only other man was blindfolded, both Hou Jingshu and Mei Xilan divested their clothing, leaving themselves in what was known simply as a du dou.

Du dou was a set of undergarments made from cotton or silk and embroidered with various patterns. It looked like a simple piece of cloth shaped like a rhombus that covered the front of a person’s chest. Four strings were fastened behind the neck and back. Wu Jian heard some wealthy clansmen liked strings made from gold or silver, but the ones these two wore was simple silk.

Hou Jingshu’s pink du dou was made of a glimmering silk that looked soft to the touch. Her chest was further hidden by breast bindings. Mei Xilan wore no breast bindings. He wondered if perhaps she didn’t need it since her chest wasn’t as large, but such thoughts seemed rude, so he banished them from his mind.

The only one who had not removed her clothing was Xian Fei.

“Are you not going to take off your hanfu, Senior Sister?” asked Mei Xilan.

“I am not. I do not want to bare my skin before a man I am not intimate with,” said the older woman, frowning. “I am frankly surprised you are so willing to show off your skin.”

Mei Xilan tilted her head. “I don’t see why that would be a problem. Jia Xinyue’s eyes are properly covered.”

“I wasn’t talking about Jia Xinyue,” said Xian Fei.

“I have decided to make Jian Wu mine, so he’s not a problem either.”

“Don’t decide something like that for yourself,” snapped Hou Jingshu. “In case you haven’t realized it yet, Jian Wu is mine. You can’t just claim him like that. Besides…” the princess crossed her arms and turned her head. “There’s someone else who’s permission you would need before you can even think about being in a relationship with him.”

Mei Xilan’s face was still blank, but the look in her eyes subtly changed. “Who’s permission do I need?”

“That’s not something you need to worry about right now. She’s not even here at the moment,” said Hou Jingshu.

Wu Jian was worried these two would continue to… argue? Were they arguing? It seemed more like Hou Jingshu was expressing extreme dislike for Mei Xilan, who hadn’t really done anything wrong. He might have told her that was wrong to do had she been someone else, but he thought it was cute that she had become so possessive of him. He would have to tease her about this later.

In either event, he ushered the three ladies into the lake. Everyone sat down at an evenly spaced distance from each other. Their purpose was to absorb the chi contained within this lake. Wu Jian closed his eyes, took a deep breath in through his nose, and slowly sank into meditation.


Hou Gun left the Saintly Sword Sect shortly after Húndàn Qie and the winners of the tournament did. Now was his only chance to slip away. Teng Qigang was preoccupied with running the sect in the sect master’s absence and Húndàn Wang was practicing his swordsmanship even more diligently than before. No one would notice him leaving, and with luck, he’d be able to return before anyone realized he was gone.

He wasn’t going far anyway.

It was late in the evening when he arrived in Mencho. While most everyone had already gone back to their clans and sects, there were still people from the tournament who remained. Some of them were likely from clans who were looking to invite fresh blood into their families. Blood purity was important, but power was more important, and bringing a powerful individual into a clan brought many benefits: fame, glory, and strong children being the top three among them.

A hood covered Hou Gun’s head as he dodged a group of young man who were laughing as they left a tavern. He didn’t know what they were talking about, and he didn’t care. After traveling down the street, he finally spotted his destination.

The Yue Dao was an excellent tavern. It looked like a ten-storied pagoda from the outside. The building was painted in a deep crimson and the tiles on the roofs were gold-plated. Hou Gun walked up to the entrance, marked by a pair of pillars that held aloft the extended roof.

Inside it was dimly lit but still bright enough that he could see just fine. There were not many tables in this establishment, but that was because they catered only to a certain type of individual--namely, those who could afford their prices. A young woman dressed in an elegant hanfu that revealed some cleavage bowed to him as he entered.

“Welcome, young master. Do you have a reservation?” asked the woman.

“I do. It should be under Shao Yimu,” said Hou Gun.

The woman looked at her registar, found the name in question, then smiled and bowed once more. “Your party is already waiting for you. Please, follow me.”

He was led to a room on the top floor. Two people were already inside. One of them was a handsome man with jade-like skin, thin eyebrows, and a well-defined face. He wore a thick hanfu that looked nondescript at a glance but was made from the finest fabrics. His long hair was currently tied behind his head. He greeted Hou Gun with a smile.

“Welcome, first prince of the Shang Kingdom.”

“Shao Yimu,” Hou Gun greeted cordially as he walked in. He sat down, turned to the other man, and bowed his head. “Ancestor Yi Fu.”

“You are late. I’m surprised by your audacity. Do you think this ancestor has time to waste idling?” asked Ancestor Yi Fu.

“Apologies. Slipping out of the Saintly Sword Sect undetected took time.”

“I do not want to hear your excuses. Do you think we need you to enact our plans, boy? The only reason we’re agreeing to work with you is because it will make our job of conquering this nation easier, but do not deceive yourself into thinking we need you.”

“Of course.”

Hou Gun did not release his smile even though he wanted to ball his hands into fists and yell at the man. He would have done just that had this been anyone else, but the man before him had strength beyond reproach. Ancestor Yi Fu was the ancestor of the Burning Flame Pavilion.

Ancestor was the term used to describe the previous sect master after they stepped down from the position to focus on cultivating. Very few sects in the Shang Kingdom had their own ancestor. Their members were not strong enough to live that long. Only the Saintly Sword Sect and Ice Phoenix Sect had their own ancestor.

The Four Great Pavilions of the Ming Province each had their own ancestor. Hou Gun didn’t know who among the ancestors was the strongest, but Yi Fu was at the peak of the Deva Realm.

The Deva Realm was known by many as the realm of true strength. Cultivators who reached this realm became the core for the military of large kingdom’s like the Xia Dynasty, Ten Kingdom’s Alliance, Southern Tang Dynasty, and the Three Celestial Sects. The Deva Realm granted cultivators a powerful increase in chi and greater control. Cultivators at this realm had refined their chi to the point where they could use Heaven Rank techniques with little effort. They could also manipulate natural laws like time, space, and dimension.

This realm only had three stages, but each stage was almost impossible to overcome, and that was the reason so few cultivators tried. They were known as the Heavenly Tribulations because each time a cultivator tried to break through a subrealm, they would call down the Judgement of Heaven.

The Judgement of Heaven came in the form of lightning. Many people had theorized that this was heaven's way of trying to punish cultivators overstepping their boundaries, while others claimed heaven was giving them a trial to overcome, and only people who overcame it deserved to reach the next realm.

“Now, now,” Shao Yimu said with a placating smile as he gestured for them to calm down. “Let’s not get into a spat right off the bat. Come. Come. Let’s share a drink together. We can discuss the situation after that.”

Yi Fu grunted but didn’t argue as Shao Yimu poured him a glass of wine. He chugged the entire glass in one gulp, then placed it back on the table so the younger man could pour another.

Hou Gun wondered about Shao Yimu’s relationship with this ancestor. They were from different sects, but he seemed adept at handling him. He would not have been as capable if their positions were reversed. Part of the reason he didn’t dispute this man despite Ancestor Yi Fu’s words angering him was because the barely repressed power he could feel coming off this man intimidated him.

This is why we cannot fight against the Ming Province and the Zhou Kingdom. They both have Deva Realm cultivators like this. We have no hope of winning unless the Heavenly Sword Sect intervenes, and from what I hear, the Zhou Kingdom has a secret weapon to prevent that from happening.

Hou Gun had already decided that defending the Shang Kingdom was a lost cause. Nothing else mattered to him so long as he could be installed as a figurehead when the Shang Kingdom became a protectorate of the Ming Province and Zhou Kingdom.

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