Onyx began his explanation of how Hei could find the other envoys.
[The basic idea is to release your aura and have it return information to you. As a titled envoy, your aura will react with non-titled envoys, let’s call them vassals. When your aura meets a vassal, it will change colour and become blue, manifesting as a blue aura around the vassal. That blue aura would be visible to all titled envoys.]
“Then why is it the case that I’m sometimes able to see the blue aura but sometimes it isn’t visible? So far, I’ve only seen it when the vassal was asking for assistance.”
He thought about the times he saw the blue aura on Liling, and Jingfei.
In both cases, he had only seen the blue aura after they had asked for help.
Onyx answered his question.
[That it can’t be seen at all times is actually a defence mechanism prepared by the heavens. This is to prevent vassals from being discovered before they can grow. Only at times of extremes, will the blue aura manifest itself without being stimulated by a titled envoy.]
“Times of extremes?”
[The aura usually appears when the vassal displays a firm determination or is in distress. But these also required the presence of a titled envoy. The aura simply won’t appear if there is no titled envoy in the area.]
This cleared up the misunderstanding Hei had of how the blue aura worked. He had assumed it could only be seen when the vassals were asking for assistance.
Things would be much more convenient if that wasn’t the case.
“If it’s a defence mechanism, then why is it that mine and the other titled envoys’ auras are always visible? The same goes for you.”
[Titled envoys don’t get this particular benefit. This is because they are representatives of the heavens and aren’t allowed to hide. The same goes for armaments. We are also representatives of the heavens.]
‘What kind of nonsense is that?’
“If we’re being hunted, why would the heavens not try to protect us?”
Onyx could tell that Hei was not impressed.
[I don’t make the rules. I just know how things work. To answer your question though, it’s a face thing. How would the heavens look if their own representatives were hiding in their shells, afraid to come out?]
‘Ridiculous. No wonder the envoys were wiped out.’
[Besides, this usually isn’t an issue. Most envoys don’t have strong auras like you and your siblings. That’s because normal titled envoys don’t have spirit roots. They can’t cultivate.]
“How is that a factor?”
[Well, it’s the very reason the armaments exist. We’re the ones meant to protect the envoys. It is by pairing with us that they gain strength, and as such, their auras can remain weak, while they themselves become strong. It’s when they start consuming cultivation resources and practising other methods that they get detected by the enemy.]
[Your case is extremely strange. To have gained such strength without an armament. And I can’t detect any of that heaven-defying cultivation that these people practice. It must have something to do with your being from beyond the outer boundary. I’m guessing even the heavens themselves didn’t predict something like this.]
“Oh? The Eastern Guardian was able to predict my coming. How are the heavens unable?”
[The Eastern Guardian predicted you’re coming?]
“To be specific, it predicted ‘the one from beyond the outer boundary’.”
[That’s not what I’m talking about. Discovering that you’re from beyond the outer boundary isn’t all that difficult. But there’s something extra about you. Something… divine? I can’t quite tell.]
‘Crystalia’s doing, no doubt.’
Hei was fairly confident that whatever this unknown factor was, it had something to do with Crystalia.
[That something is probably the reason why the heavens allow you to run your mouth off the way you do. Usually, they’re quite strict you know?]
Hei had another question he had been wanting to find the answer to.
“What about the golden aura?”
[Golden aura? I’ve never heard of anything like that.]
‘Then it’s to do with my abilities granted by Crystalia.’
“How does the enemy find envoys?”
[It’s through a similar method. When you release your aura as an envoy, they are also able to detect it, similar to the way vassals react to the aura.]
Onyx paused for a moment.
[During the initial tragedy, the enemy conducted despicable experiments with the bodies of vassals. They were able to find the element which reacts to the aura of envoys. With that, they were able to create a stone which acts in the same way as a vassal. When it comes into contact with the aura of an envoy, it starts glowing blue.]
[If you run into somebody with one of these stones, you're almost guaranteed to be detected.]
“Then why haven’t I already been detected?”
Hei assumed that if he had been detected, he would have already been attacked by now.
[Usually, they don’t waste their time on the lower continents. They only leave a few operatives here because even if an envoy were to rise up, there are no inheritances here for them. Their path would be severely restricted. Beyond that, they have already set up measures to prevent armaments from passing into the lower continents.]
“Then how did you get here?”
[They aren’t the only ones with tricks.]
Given Onyx’s explanation of how the stones work, Hei had a new question.
“Why would raising my cultivation increase the risk of being detected?”
[The stones work based on the cultivation level of the person using them. If the envoy’s cultivation realm is significantly higher than the wielder of the stone, then the stone will react, even if the envoy has not actively released their aura.]
“Then, is there a way to detect detection?”
Hei wanted to know if there was a way he could know that someone had detected him. That would at least allow him to act to prevent the situation from escalating.
[There is. The aura of an envoy isn’t such an easy thing to play with. If it’s absorbed by the stones, you will feel it for sure. It’s much different to the way vassals interact with the aura.]
‘If that’s the case, and the stones only react to envoys whose cultivation is a higher than the one using the stone. Then I should be able to-’
Onyx seemed to be able to predict Hei’s thoughts.
[The enemy usually pairs a weaker cultivator with a stronger one. So, subduing the one who detected you may not be as easy as you think.]
“I see. Then, teach me the technique.”
Hei decided he could think about how he would react to these situations later. For now, he should at least learn the technique that would allow him to detect the vassals with ease.
This would become a key element in his strategy.
However, with this new information, there was something he needed to do.
He decided to allocate a portion of his mental energy to constantly watching out for changes in his envoy aura. This way, he wouldn’t be caught off-guard if someone detected him using one of those stones.
This was an extra burden on his mental energy, but since he had been constantly using it for years, he could keep up his defence at all times.
But it affected his spiritual perception range. He couldn’t both monitor his aura and use wide-range spiritual perception at the same time.
He decided that avoiding detection was far more important than having a wide spiritual perception. And besides, the natural Qi was still his best friend. His radius was still there and the natural Qi would tell him of anything that came too close.
So, he still had his minimum amount of protection from sneak attacks. Anything that came within 10 metres of him would instantly be analysed by the natural Qi and the data would be delivered to Hei.
With his plan in place, Hei began his search for the missing disciples.
He wanted to avoid getting any other people involved, so he started off by searching the forests around the sect.
He decided to do a thorough search of the area, but now that his spiritual perception was reduced, the process became extremely tedious.
Even after combing through the entire forest around the sect and other nearby forests, he was still unable to find a trace of the missing disciples.
On the bright side, he had discovered that his words held quite a bit of weight with the animals of the forest.
He had learnt of this when he had gotten tired of the noises they would make.
He decided to give telling them to quiet down and go, and to his surprise, they did exactly that.
So, most of his journey was a peaceful and quiet one.
Along with that, he had picked up quite a few natural treasures on the way.
He also ran into a few humans during his search, and a few of them were fighting with each other, but it had nothing to do with him, so he didn’t pay much attention to it.
After failing to find anything in the forests, all he could do was head to the nearby villages, towns and cities to gather information.
He used some of the treasures he had found to exchange for gold and silver in the towns and cities he went to.
He found it became necessary to have money because, at this point, he had already been out here for a few weeks.
During this time, he managed to get his communication system to a point where he could speak with Bai and Mei from where he was.
Every now and then, he would let them know that he was okay.
He found that there were two approaches he could take when looking for the disciples.
One, he could go around trying to sneakily gather information, acting as a spy and making sure no one saw him.
Or two, he could just rely on his lie detection ability to get accurate information.
He chose the second option. Pretending to be a spy was…
He decided to just go around and ask every single person he came across if they had seen or heard of the missing disciples.
Every time he would ask someone these things, he would create a barrier to prevent anyone else from witnessing the process.
If he found anyone who knew anything about them, he was prepared to take certain actions.
This was especially so, because he could run into another kidnapper out here.
To his misfortune, no one had so much as heard of them, let alone seen them.
Based on his lie detection ability, none of them were giving him false information.
That being the case, he could only move on to the next person and then the next.
Even after going through several towns and cities, he was still unable to find a single trace of the missing disciples.
Left with no other choice, Hei decided to check the places he had avoided this entire time.
The place he was standing in front of right now was called the Crimson Palace.
The Crimson Palace was a curious place. It was densely populated with women and there were also a few men there.
Interestingly enough, the women would usually stay within the building, but the men would come and go.
As Hei entered the place, he couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few people hidden behind the structures of the building.
They all had masks on which even his spiritual perception couldn’t see past, causing him to become interested in them.
He assumed they were some kind of security force.
Another interesting thing. He wasn’t the only one hiding his appearance here. In fact, he was one of many people doing the same.
He watched as a man rushed to the receptionist and quietly handed over a bag of money, before proceeding further into the building.
Hei walked up to the receptionist, who seemed to be looking at him disdainfully, but he decided to ignore it.
It seemed those who came in disguise weren’t very respected in this place.
He put up a barrier, isolating himself and the receptionist, before creating nine images with his Qi.
“Do you know anything about these young ladies?”
Upon seeing the images, the receptionist’s brows raised slightly. But she quickly returned to a neutral expression.
“My, you have excellent taste. Unfortunately, our establishment doesn’t employ these particular young women. Maybe you can try the Rose Pavilion in the next town over.”
Seeing that she had obviously dodged his question, Hei reiterated.
“I didn’t ask if they are employees. I asked if you know anything about them.”
She picked up a folded fan and expanded it, covering the lower half of her face.
As she spoke, Hei saw a flash of colour.
Instead of interrogating the woman further Hei decided to take a different approach.
He cupped his fist toward her.
“Thank you for your time.”
With that, he disappeared from the place.
The receptionist closed her fan again and had a concerned look on her face.
Having found a lead, Hei placed a marker on her in his spiritual perception. He wouldn’t be letting her out of his sight for even a moment.
He went to a nearby inn and purchased a simple room.
There, he spent his time monitoring the receptionist and working on some things.
Later that day, the receptionist left the Crimson Palace and was about to leave Hei’s spiritual perception range, so he decided to follow her.
With Hei’s experience of having used his spiritual perception constantly ever since he had entered the externalisation realm, he was able to manipulate the spiritual perceptions of others, such that he would become invisible to them.
It also helped that the natural Qi cooperated quite a lot
Unfortunately for him, she didn’t do anything eventful. All she did was go home, but since her home was far away from any other inns, Hei had to spend the night outside.
He decided to rest on her rooftop.
During the whole night, nothing, in particular, happened, so Hei was left quite bored. But at least he was able to gaze at the stars.
This continued until the fourth day where Hei heard something interesting.
“Somebody had come here looking for you the other day.”
‘There it is.’
Hei paid closer attention.
He increased the quality of his spiritual perception, trying to discern the identity of the other person, but they were also in disguise.
“Thanks, Auntie Feng. You’re always helping us.”
“That wasn’t the first time either. What have you girls gotten yourselves into?”
“Sigh. It isn’t us. People keep chasing us, but we haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Well, whatever. You know you can always rely on me. I may not have much, but it’s enough to take care of you all.”
“Mm. But we can’t risk getting you involved. I have to go and tell the others, so I may not be able to see you for a while… Goodbye, Auntie Feng.”
The other person left with those words.
“Sigh. Wasn’t that sect supposed to be a good place for young women? How did it become something like this?”
Hei decided to follow after the girl who had left.
He made sure to keep a good distance behind her to avoid detection.
It helped that he was quite adept at removing his presence. He made very little sound as he moved and didn’t leave any footprints.
This was due to his fighting style, which aimed to avoid impacting the environment.
Every time he stepped on the ground, he reinforced whatever was beneath his feet, using his Qi. This made it very hard to see that he had been there.
The girl went into a nearby forest.
‘Isn’t this the very same forest where I gave up?’
In his initial searching, Hei had gotten to this forest when he decided that this method was not effective. If he had just continued a little further, he could have saved himself a lot of time.
‘Why do things have to work like this?’
Hei complained in his mind, but he continued following the girl, making sure not to lose her.
The girl stopped when she met two other people.
“Bad news. Auntie Feng says people have been looking for us.”
“Not good. Let’s tell the others.”
The three were about to leave, but one of them stopped the others.
“Wait! Someone’s here.”
The three got into a defensive formation.
“Come on out. We know you’re here.”
Hei contemplated staying hidden. It was always possible that she had detected someone else. Or, she was just bluffing.
But he hadn't detected anyone else, and he didn't really need to stay hidden any longer, so he decided to show himself.
When the three saw Hei’s appearance, which was fully clothed in black with a mask that appeared to be made of chains, they became alert.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Why even ask? There’s only one kind of person who would be looking for us. Enemies!”
The three simultaneously launched attacks at Hei, which did them no good.
Before their attacks could land, they found themselves frozen in place.
“What is this?”
To their surprise, Hei did exactly that.
They retreated immediately, creating distance between them and Hei.
“This is my identity jade. I am a disciple of the Radiant Jade Sect and I have been sent on a mission to find you.”
Hei threw his identity jade over to the three.
It hadn’t yet been confirmed that they were the missing disciples, but Hei was fairly confident that they were.
“A male disciple? You couldn’t come up with a better lie than that?”
These three had gone missing long before Hei had joined the sect. To hear that there was a male disciple all of a sudden...
It was laughable.
“I was invited to the sect by Peak Leader Jingfei. She is the peak leader of the Man Peak, and as such, she is able to invite male disciples into the sect.”
“Senior Sister Jingfei?”
The three seemed to know Jingfei. They looked to each other, but in the end, they still didn’t trust Hei.
“There should be six more missing disciples. Do you know where they are?”
“We're the only ones. We don’t know anyone else.”
Hei saw a flash of colour.
“Just tell me where they are.”
“What if we refuse?”
Hei paused for a moment.
“So, you won’t betray your friends. Is that it?”
The three nodded their heads.
Hei couldn’t see their faces, but he could almost feel their determination. He took the opportunity to try the method he had learned from Onyx.
His aura intensified as it wrapped around the three.
After a moment, from their bodies, nothing emerged.
‘Not vassals, huh?’
Hei was slightly disappointed, but he decided to move on.
Hei spoke in beast language asking for assistance from those within the forest.
Not long later, a tiny green cat came out from the bushes.
“I’ve seen them. I could show you where they are, Mister.”
“Whoa there, Mister. Don’t you think it’s better if we both have something to gain from this? Maybe a little something to eat?”
The cat narrowed its eyes little as it tilted its head and seemed to be smiling.
Hei pulled out one of the natural treasures he had found and held out his palm with it on top.
The cat jumped onto his arm, and when it saw what he was holding, its eyes opened wide.
“… Are you sure about this, Mister?”
Hei nodded his head.
Without any pause, the cat swallowed up the treasure.
“Mm. I’ll show you the way.”
With that, the cat jumped off Hei’s hand and started walking.
Hei followed behind it and had the three girls follow behind using Bai’s Marionette ability.