In the inn’s backyard, several lanterns hung from the branches of the flowers.
Huang Rang and Qu Manying sat at a stone table, and a servant brought them tea.
Qu Manying used a small dish to peel roasted chestnuts and placed them in front of Huang Rang. It took Huang Rang a while to realize that they were meant for her.
“Come, try them. They might be a little cold, not as fragrant and sweet as they should be,” Qu Manying said. “When you have free time, come and study at the Ruyi Sword Sect. Your uncle will personally roast some for you.”
These words were spoken casually, but Huang Rang was taken aback.
“What does the Sect Master do on ordinary days to be doing such things?” Huang Rang asked.
To her, this seemed unimaginable.
In her experience, the family heads she had seen were either indulging in pleasure like the Huang residence or busy with Sect affairs like Xie Hongchen. Neither of them seemed like someone who would roast chestnuts.
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Qu Manying pondered for a moment and said, “If she had married Huang Shu, she couldn’t go back to the Xi family. If she had asked me for help, I would have at least tried to help her leave the Huang family, even if she had to live alone with you and your sisters. But you don’t know Xi Yin’s character; she wouldn’t have asked for my help.”
Huang Rang picked up a chestnut and ate it. It was sweet and delicious. After a while, she said, “I know.”
How could that woman admit her own failures?
Her entire life was filled with resentment. She resented Huang Shu, his concubines, the children they bore, and then her own daughter.
That night, Huang Rang didn’t bring up the topic of “good seeds” again. She sat with Qu Manying, drank tea, and ate a bag of roasted chestnuts.
It was the first time Huang Rang had such a leisurely chat with an elder without needing to please anyone or having any ulterior motives.
She quite liked this feeling.
The next day, the rankings of the new disciples were determined.
Naturally, there were rewards for such a test of skills. The Immortal Sect specifically forged treasures and elixirs. Xie Hongchen, He Xijin, and others, as the masters of the Immortal Sect, would personally present these gifts to the future pillars of the sect.
There were many people watching the event today, making the scene lively.
Huang Rang and the others were surrounded by envious gazes. However, such honors didn’t hold much attraction for her. She found the sword quite nice, all silver with the words “Lone Blossom” carved on the hilt.
The engraved seal belonged to Xie Lingbi.
Ah, how ironic.
Huang Rang still scanned the observation platform but didn’t see Di Yiqiu’s figure.
The imposing Xi family from yesterday also didn’t show up.
At the government office, the official in charge was dealing with this mess.
As expected, the Xi Patriarch and his entourage refused to be released. His condition was simple: “If you want to release me, let Shiwen Yu come personally!”
But who dared to invite Shiwen Yu?
Indeed, Li Lu couldn’t do anything, so he could only drag the Xi Patriarch and his group out.
Then… threw them onto the street.
Outside, the chief stood by the window, secretly observing.
The Xi Patriarch’s group was already infuriated; their faces were livid.
However, Di Yiqiu thought it through quite well—given their identities, they couldn’t cause a scene on the street and become a laughingstock for no reason.
After being locked up for a night and filled with anger, the Xi Patriarch didn’t have the energy to look for Huang Rang.
They left like a group of ticking time bombs, their faces dark, and returned to the Xi family.
In the afternoon, after the trials of the new disciples were over, everyone returned to their sects.
Huang Rang bid farewell to Qu Manying and the others, and together with Xie Hongchen, she left Kanyue City and returned to the Yuhu Immortal Sect.
Meanwhile, at the Yuhu Immortal Sect, on the Dark Thunder Peak, in the Luofu Hall.
Xie Lingbi was sitting cross-legged on the bed. With Xie Hongchen gone to Kanyue City, no one would dare enter the Luofu Hall without his order.
He formed hand seals with both hands, closed his eyes, and began cultivating. In front of him, dark smoke rose from the incense burner. The black smoke twisted and slowly seeped into his forehead.
Gradually, the black smoke became lighter and lighter.
Xie Lingbi opened his eyes and murmured, “Too little, too little.”
He put away the incense burner and paced around the hall. Finally, he seemed to have thought of something and said, “Summon someone.”
“Master!” A disciple entered and knelt before him.
Xie Lingbi said, “About the things you were told to catch yesterday, did you catch them?”
The disciple quickly replied, “Yes, Master. There have indeed been some rats causing trouble lately by eating the spirit herbs. As you instructed, we captured them.”
As he spoke, the disciple brought in a cage. Inside were several plump rats.
Xie Lingbi nodded in satisfaction and said, “Leave the cage here and withdraw.”
“Yes.” The disciples bowed and left.
Xie Lingbi held the cage, opened a hidden door leading to the underground, and walked through the dim corridor until he reached the deepest chamber.
In this dark underground, rows of “people” stood quietly.
Their eyes were empty, staring ahead without any reaction to their surroundings.
Xie Lingbi observed these people with a hint of a smile on his face. Then he opened the wire cage and released the several mice inside. The mice immediately scattered and fled into the secret chamber.
“You’ve committed countless evil deeds, deserving death a thousand times over,” Xie Lingbi said softly. “But now, being of use to me, you have at least not lived in vain.”
No one responded to him, and his voice echoed throughout the secret chamber.
Each person here once left a mark on the world, gaining some fame.
But now, they were merely his guinea pigs.
The mice in the darkness scurried quickly, making squeaking noises. Xie Lingbi closed his eyes, sensing even stronger resentment and fear.
“This feeling… this feeling,” he murmured to himself.
Outside the Yuhu Immortal Sect, Xie Hongchen returned with four new disciples, including Huang Rang.
Normally, they would have gone to Luofu Hall to meet Xie Lingbi. However, Xie Lingbi was nowhere to be seen. He claimed to be in seclusion, not even meeting Xie Hongchen.
That wasn’t a big deal; it was better not to see him. Huang Rang returned to her room and took out her treasures to examine them.
This trip to Kanyue City had been quite fruitful for her.
Besides the “Lone Blossom” sword, there was also a jade-silk sachet sent to her by Di Yiqiu. Ah, and the interesting aunt.
Huang Rang lay on the bed, tallying up her gains, feeling quite happy.
And about the Imperial Capital…
As soon as the chief of the Celestial Court returned to the capital, without waiting to be summoned by Shiwen Yu, he immediately went to the Xi family with generous gifts.
Accompanying him was the deputy chief, Bao Wu.
The Xi family’s grand mansion only opened a small door upon seeing him.
“Who are you looking for?” The servant at the door ignored the chief’s appearance, as if he didn’t recognize him.
Even someone as thick-skinned as Bao Wu felt something was off.
The chief smiled and said, “I am Di Yiqiu, the chief celestial court. I wish to see Patriarch Xi.”
“The Celestial Court?” The servant looked him up and down and said, “Wait here.”
With that, the servant disappeared, never to be seen again.
The chief patiently waited at the door, but Bao Wu couldn’t hold back.
He said, “Chief, this is not right! Whenever we came here before, the Xi family never treated us with such disrespect!”
“Indeed?” The chief knowingly responded.
Bao Wu was angry: “The court has a lot of dealings with the Xi family every year! Shouldn’t Patriarch Xi at least show some respect?”
“Hmm!” The chief nodded solemnly.
As time passed, the sun started to shift towards the west.
However, the gates of the Xi family remained tightly closed, showing no intention of welcoming guests.
Bao Wu frowned. Even with his intelligence, he knew something was amiss.
He asked, “Chief, did you offend the old man?”
Di Yiqiu hesitated for a moment and said, “Saying I offended him is not quite accurate.” — It was far more serious than that.
Bao Wu was even more puzzled: “Then this doesn’t make sense.”
Meanwhile, at the Xi family, the household servants gathered behind the door, speculating.
But none of them made any move to open the door.
Clearly, the master of the house wanted to leave the chief of the Celestial Court waiting.
But as for the reason… they weren’t quite sure.
—Everyone in Kanyue City assumed that Huang Rang had returned to deliver a message. Naturally, no one felt the need to inform the Xi family. Others in the Xi family didn’t know what had happened.
As for the Xi Patriarch and his group, they had been caught and thrown into the government office like common criminals, locked up for a night.
Who would have the face to mention such a matter?
So everyone just stood by, watching and muttering to themselves.
At this moment, the chief of the Celestial Court pulled out a letter from his sleeve and handed it to Bao Wu, saying, “Read it.”
“Oh.” Bao Wu took the letter and immediately unfolded it. Being someone with a loud voice, he began to read loudly, “To Patriarch Xi! I am Di Yiqiu, the chief of the Celestial Surveillance. During my inspection in Kanyue City, I found that you and others were not wearing the waist token, so I had you and others arrested! Although it was done in accordance with the law, upon further thought, it was also somewhat lacking in human sentiment.”
As Bao Wu read on, he felt that something was wrong—what did you say you did?!
And the household servants behind the door also felt that something was off—”arrested,” “caught,” “in jail”?
“After Patriarch Xi was arrested, he refused to be released and demanded that His Majesty come in person. Although this request goes against the law, it is understandable. I should not refuse and instead drive you and your party to Chang Street…” Bao Wu read, dumbfounded.
But behind him, the household servants behind the door were equally shocked!
Bao Wu was about to continue reading when suddenly, the golden bronze door creaked open.
A middle-aged man with a stern face stood in front of Bao Wu.
Bao Wu, the top expert of the Celestial Court, felt a chilling killing intent emanating from this ordinary-looking man! Such strong resentment and anger made even a warrior like him instinctively take a step back.
The middle-aged man’s gaze was sharp, and he glanced at Di Yiqiu. His words were deliberate and measured as he said, “Patriarch wants you to come inside and talk.”
This time, the chief of the Celestial Court showed proper courtesy; he bowed deeply and said, “Thank you for the Patriarch’s magnanimity.”
The people inside the mansion wore a frustrated expression—can’t they be more magnanimous?
Who knows what he wrote in that letter?
Given Patriarch Xi’s temper, he probably wants to devour his heart.
But regardless, the chief of the Celestial Court eventually entered the Xi family’s mansion.
Patriarch Xi didn’t meet him; instead, after making him wait for an hour, he sent out his eldest son, Xi Feng, to dismiss him.
Of course, the chief of the Celestial Court didn’t mind.
In the end, the Xi family and the court relied on each other. The court couldn’t do without the Xi family’s quality breeding stock, and the Xi family couldn’t do without the court’s main employment.
Despite deep hatred and animosity, what else could they do but continue to coexist?
Holding their noses and suppressing their disgust, they carried on.
Meanwhile, at the Yuhu Immortal Sect…
Huang Rang continued to focus on her cultivation, but Xie Hongchen noticed that the number of external disciples coming to study had increased recently.
Moreover, these people were all children of prestigious families, mostly young men.
After joining the sect, they didn’t truly study but instead focused on getting close to Huang Rang.
Huang Rang didn’t venture outside much, but she often went to the Qilu Terrace.
So these well-born disciples practiced their skills near the Qilu Terrace. They helped Huang Rang with fertilizing and sowing seeds, and they were all eager to assist her.
And Huang Rang always smiled brightly and rarely refused.
Xie Hongchen started intentionally or unintentionally keeping her in the Yeyun hall to cultivate.
He couldn’t get close to her, but he didn’t want others to get close to her either.
Thankfully, Huang Rang didn’t mind; she didn’t care where she practiced. The most important thing was when she could touch Xie Lingbi’s robes.
In the Yeyun hall, she occasionally prepared some snacks for Xie Hongchen. She even cultivated a pot of orchids and placed it on Xie Hongchen’s desk.
Interestingly, outside of her dreams, she often prepared snacks for him, and Xie Hongchen never paid much attention. She cultivated orchids all over the mountains, yet Xie Hongchen didn’t spare them a second glance.
But now, in her dreams, Xie Hongchen praised her cooking and took care of the orchids she gave him. Huang Rang had seen him water the pot of orchids more than once.
Today, Huang Rang came to the Qilu Terrace as usual to take care of her quality breeding stock. She had the essence of golden soil, which was a precious treasure. By spreading the essence into the soil, it would make the quality breeding stock mature quickly.
And the price for this? Naturally, it was Huang Shu’s cultivation.
Huang Rang used his cultivation without any hesitation.
—Dad, using your cultivation is more useful than keeping you alive.
So, maybe it’s best not to think about achieving a human form anymore.
Huang Rang spread the golden soil of Huang Shu into the soil, and the entire land felt warm. All the quality breeding stock in the soil immediately stretched out their leaves, as if they were comfortably stretching their bodies.
After nourishing the land, Huang Rang retrieved the essence. When she lowered her head, she saw a letter lying beside it, pressed down by a stone.
Huang Rang picked it up and opened it. Inside, it read, “Miss Ah rang: Since the fifth Year of Chengyuan, I have met you at the Master-disciple’s banquet and have been admiring you ever since. When I heard that you would be participating in this skill trial, I was ecstatic…”
—This was actually a love letter.
Huang Rang crumpled the letter into a ball without even looking at the signature and casually tossed it aside.
At that moment, someone from below the mountain called out, “Senior Sister Huang, someone from the outer sect has sent you a gift!”
“A gift?” Huang Rang’s eyebrows furrowed. The disciple continued, “Yes, a very… strange gift.”
Currently, in the immortal sect, only He Xijin and others would send her some silver notes. Who else would send her a gift?
She descended the stone steps, following the winding mountain path to the outer sect.
Indeed, in the outer sect station, there was a very oddly wrapped gift. It looked like a person.
No, it was a person!
Others looked at her with strange eyes—don’t make wild guesses! Huang Rang quickly said, “Open it for me!”
Due to her status and strength, other disciples showed her considerable respect. Someone immediately came forward and opened the peculiar gift.
Inside was indeed a person, a puppet made of iron and wood.
The puppet was quite tall, and its joints were cleverly connected.
It had no inscriptions, but Huang Rang immediately recognized who made it.
She had seen such puppets in Miao Yunzhi’s Bone Cliff.
Huang Rang swallowed her thoughts of ridicule. She skeptically toyed with the puppet, but it lacked any vitality. Moreover, it was made of refined iron and thick wood, making it extremely heavy.
This wasn’t Bone Cliff, and she didn’t need to brew medicine or do miscellaneous tasks for herself.
So why did he send her this puppet?
Perplexed, Huang Rang still ordered people to carry the puppet and returned to her room, crossing mountains and valleys.
The puppet was tall and extremely cumbersome. The disciples of the immortal sect were panting and sweating while carrying it.
Meanwhile, in the Celestial Court…
The chief of the Celestial Court sat in the study, and a finely woven snow silk on the opposite wall displayed a certain scene.
Several immortal sect disciples were carrying his masterpiece across mountains and valleys. On the earlobe of the puppet, a string of shiny bronze keys dangled.
“…,” the chief of the Celestial Court hesitated to speak.
Back in her residence, after the disciples left, Huang Rang touched and examined the puppet, and eventually, she noticed the keys hanging from its ear.
She removed the keys and searched for a while until she finally found a keyhole in the puppet’s ear. She inserted the key and gently twisted it. The puppet’s head lifted slightly, and there was a faint clicking sound inside.
At the Celestial Court, in the study…
Di Yiqiu saw Huang Rang’s face right in front of the puppet’s eyes. Even from such a close distance, her delicate and beautiful face was still so enchanting. Di Yiqiu propped his chin with his hand and watched attentively.
And at that moment, Huang Rang twisted the bronze key inserted into the puppet’s ear over and over again…
Di Yiqiu frowned—she’s twisting it too much. This type of combat puppet is powerful.
Indeed, the puppet suddenly raised its arm and struck Huang Rang!
Unable to dodge in time, with a loud smack, the puppet hit her in the face.
She covered her face, looking shocked.
Di Yiqiu, watching through the Nine-Curve Spirit Eye, was equally astonished.
In the room, Huang Rang dodged left and right, but the puppet chased her and attacked her all over. The puppet’s strength was boundless, and its massive size made matters worse. It pounded the table to pieces and shattered flower pots… In no time, Huang Rang’s room became a complete mess.
She had no choice but to run out of the room.
It seemed that she went beyond the puppet’s range, and it lost track of her, no longer pursuing her.
However, she couldn’t go back in; as soon as she entered, the puppet would strike again.
Huang Rang stood at the doorway of her room, facing the puppet in the ruins.
Through the Nine-Curve Spirit Eye, Di Yiqiu observed her gaze.
He witnessed her astonishment slowly turning into anger.
—Does she not realize that this is a combat puppet?
Of course, Huang Rang had no idea.
Who could tell? She was just an earth spirit, and the Huang family wouldn’t purchase any combat puppets.
The YuHu Immortal Sect was a Daoist sect, personally taught by the Master. Only the imperial court, in order to rapidly increase its military power, had the chief of the Celestial Court personally create these combat puppets.
How could Huang Rang know about this thing? Besides, there was no label on its face!
She twisted it to its highest combat power level and got trapped outside the door. Meanwhile, her room was in chaos, making it impossible for her to enter.
In such a miserable moment, how could the heavens not add insult to injury?
The sky began to rain.
Huang Rang stood in the drizzling rain, attempting to rush back in several times but always being beaten back. The puppet stood guard at the door, waiting for her to approach, then pouncing on her with brutal force.
The light rain gradually intensified, soaking her clothes and hair and turning her into a drenched chicken.
The chief of Celestial Court covered his face with his hand, unable to bear watching.