“What have you been up to these past few years?” Accompanied by Mao Ba’er, Xu Yangyi headed towards his room. This was an office room he had applied for at the branch. Everyone was quite curious; a majority of legions had independent estates. He had actually chosen lodgings at the branch?
Xu Yangyi naturally held his own notions. By selecting this location, Thousandedge wouldn’t even risk playing any tricks. To look at the person you wanted to kill with open eyes day after day, yet they were in seclusion right below your own eyelids… how did that feel? Perhaps Thousandedge didn’t want to know, but Xu Yangyi wanted to know very much.
“Bitter…” Mao Ba’er wiped away at nonexistent tears. “Without anyone knowing if you were dead or alive, and since I’m already an affiliated manager, who would’ve been willing to pick me? I’ve had to tighten my belt during these past couple years… Haven’t you noticed that I’ve gotten thin?”
Mao Ba’er’s canine paw silently streaked across Xu Yangyi’s snow-white shirt, his eyes radiating an intoxicated gaze—of course, it was towards the outfit that was valued at tens of thousands of Chinese dollars. In the next second, a new ashy-black mark appeared on Xu Yangyi’s shirt. Xu Yangyi swept an eye over it and the obviously fat canine body.
Mao Ba’er went ramrod straight. “Don’t sweat it! Spud, your business is my business. I haven’t been slacking in these three years, either! I went to the CSIB and took two years of ‘Cultivation Programming and Planning’ and ‘Cultivation Economics’! I’ve got the confidence to handle everything for you!”
“I hope so.”
Xu Yangyi and Mao Ba’er walked into a room, closing the door with a passing hand. Peony saw the man and dog enter, not thinking it was unexpected in the slightest. She, who had over a dozen years of seniority, had seen all kinds of managers.
“Commander.” Peony bowed respectfully and pushed on her glasses. She took out a jade slip from her pocket, her finger pausing over it. “Mingshui Province has ten cultivation clans that have passed on congratulation letters. Do you want to look?”
“No.” Xu Yangyi sat down in front of a computer. The soft chair caused his body to sink into it somewhat, and he used the computer mouse to search for a few things. “If there aren’t any extremely important matters in the future, no need to notify me.”
Peony nodded, her fingertips spitting out a wisp of white spiritual force. She swiftly wrote down on the jade slip as she said, “Their total presented congratulatory gifts sum up to 2,320 spirit stones. For the most part, it’s pill elixirs, magik artifacts, and talismans. May I ask how you plan on handling this?”
“Let it be.” Xu Yangyi said indifferently, “In these next few years, the Xingtian Legion isn’t planning on recruiting.”
“Forgive my frankness, Commander. If you recruit now, you’ll only be able to enlist the rabble.” Peony smiled. “The true good seeds will require our Xingtian Legion to make achievements.”
The words “our legion” caused Xu Yangyi to smile faintly. “Then why the hell are they bringing gifts?”
“At the moment, they have no relationship with us… but if they don’t express their standing now, they won’t even have the qualifications to declare their positions later on.” Peony smirked and laughed. “Sir, you might be unaware, but in fact, an A-rank legion isn’t the highest rank.”
Xu Yangyi raised a brow. A-rank surprisingly wasn’t the highest?
“After the completion of an A-rank mission or an assigned mission, the rank that exceeds A-rank later on, the national rating, can be applied for.” Peony supplemented, “Presently, China only has ten legions that surpass A-rank…”
“Their names?” Xu Yangyi mumbled.
“It’s odd… There isn’t a soul that knows about the scope or personnel of these ten legions that surpass A-rank. Even their number of personnel has never been heard of. And that’s not to mention the amount of people who’ve seen them. Commander, this is an impossibility. If a legion surpassing A-rank with countless eyes on them are going to mobilize, there can’t be no wind of them and it’s impossible that they’re not related to the cultivation world. But they’re like a legend, vague and hollow. In particular, even many old legions that are decades old, like Beijing’s Sunclasp Legion that’s been established for over a hundred years, haven’t NOT been investigated.”
Xu Yangyi’s interest had been evoked. Although his goal in coming to the Featherwood Guard wasn’t pure, he didn’t wish to remain under the Sword of Damocles forever. Hide? No. His nature was to thoroughly take this sword and deliver it into a forge! Nonetheless, this information caused him to suddenly become interested. 
“N-No, Commander.” Peony said deferentially, “This is because… among them is Senior Sunnihilator’s Sunnihilator Legion, and he’s personally verified this. But as luck would have it…” She winked. “Senior Sunnihilator—after his legion was elected as a legion that surpassed the A-rank… he faded away from view.”
“It’s the same as the other nine heroic legions. Their commanders only pop-up occasionally in the cultivation world’s major media outlets. The entire legion appears to have disappeared off the face of the Earth.”
Xu Yangyi nodded in understanding. “Are these people under attention? If my Xingtian Legion develops well in the future…”
“It’s also fairly convenient of them to join.” Peony smiled. “Commander, a well-accomplished A-rank legion isn’t limited in troops to just you alone. There are many clans willing to put out a high price to deliver their precious successors for training. After all, the mega clans are seldom pitiful. There’s no clan whatsoever that can band together an expeditionary team at any time… Right now, they’re just getting chummy. If they see that our Xingtian Legion’s growth is good in the future, they’ll have built a bridge today.”
“Especially since you’ve activated your neurons to S-rank! God, this even startled me! They’re not only bringing their heirs for training, but they really want to “progress together” with you too, a budding alchemist, talismancer, or machinist! Right now, I dare to bet! When you start recruiting, they’re definitely going to make a mess out of your doorstep!”
Mao Ba’er put on an act of holding a cup of coffee. “These little clans are too sharp… even sharper than this pupper. No matter, their missions later on have to be super good! They HAVE to be super good! And lucky to the max!” 
Peony laughed and smiled. “Commander, If there aren’t 200,000 cultivators that want to enter the Featherwood Guard, there are a hundred thousand. While maybe our treatment can’t compare to the CSIB and the Bountiful Treasures Pavilion, we’re the most liberal. There’s no cultivator that likes being tied down. Consequently, our Featherwood Guard might be counted as the second poorest among the few major powers, but our reported and prepared number of personnel is the highest. Therefore, you have no need to worry, sir. As long as you seize achievements, those hesitant elites will definitely choose us. Even if we don’t make a showing, they’ll be rushing over with request for us!”
“Oh?” Xu Yangyi simply didn’t care for elites or no elites. Instead, he laughed, “Who’s the last?”
“...” he choked in pause. “Not necessarily, right? Back then, I saw all kinds of new installations at the school which were pretty comprehensive. The training room’s gravity could be adjusted up to three times.”
Peony smiled. “Yes, all apparatuses for testing elites are delivered to Heavens Law at the first moment. As a result… almost all of Heavens Law’s things are from the support of the other three powers.”
“Otherwise, Commander, do you think Heavens Law would open so many tasks each year, give all the students free education, and grant each student an allowance? Where would so much money come from? After certain powers aid certain issues, and once grades are out, they form a 60-40 profit split. In these past couple decades, the Bountiful Treasures Pavilion has already divided at the very least close to a hundred million tons of spirit stones with Heavens Law. The CSIB for the most part jointly researches with them.”
Xu Yangyi sighed lightly in understanding, deep with emotion. The cultivation world was indeed so marvelous that it caused yearning to be born in one’s heart. “Is there anything else?” He pursed a teacup to his lips, his meaning quite obvious. If there was nothing then leave.
Peony bowed respectfully. “Commander, you’ve just been appointed. My responsibility is to explain misgivings to you. We can slowly take our time with other affairs, but there’s one matter that I must inform you of in advance.” She straightened her body, and her smile vanished. She gazed into Xu Yangyi’s eyes. “Missions are left to you to accept. However, there are eight places that you mustn’t take assignment to.”
“Please allow me to explain…” Peony gracefully walked over before a painting of birds and flowers that was approximately four meters long and two meters high. With a gentle wave of her hand, the surface painting completely disappeared and transformed into a whiteboard. Subsequently, a detailed outline of all of China distinctly emerged on the surface.
However, it was different from a map. Only four kinds of colors existed on its surface: gray, yellow, orange, and red. In addition, these colors weren't confined to a province but rather irregularly scattered across various regions over all of China.
“Slurp?” Mao Ba’er’s tongue was constantly wet with saliva.
“This is one of the Featherwood Guard’s top secrets, but it can’t be considered a secret, as well. This is because this map is frequently borrowed by the CSIB and Bountiful Treasures Pavilion.” Peony laughed haughtily, “The Featherwood Guard is the organization with the most number of people in all of China and also the organization that has ventured the widest scope. We’re a true combat faction, different from the pure logistics unit that’s the Bountiful Treasures Pavilion. This map has went through all the Featherwood Guard’s legions for decades, from A-rank to C-rank, a drafted power-distribution chart of all collected intelligence. Such a map can only be drawn by our Featherwood Guard, more accurate than any satellite!”
Peony pointed towards a gray region. “This map employs the balance between human and demon powers. Gray represents no danger whatsoever. Initial-stage Qi Condensation cultivators can freely enter and exit there.”
“For example, Sanshui City where Commander took his graduation exam. Although it’s a city-level establishment, its geographical location is too lacking. There are no great mountains or vast lakes in the surroundings, inferior to an extremely flourishing place like Shanghai. It’s under the jurisdiction of the second of the hundred poorest counties, so it was assessed a D-rank region. However, a majority of D-rank regions are counties like the specific case of Sanshui City. In all of China, there over 600 cities. Among over 1,600 counties, perhaps there are less than twenty examples.”
Xu Yangyi looked at the map with rapt attention and inwardly nodded. Most areas were gray, not cities that the eyes of normal people would find strange to develop. On the contrary, such heavily industrialized cities were still fine to develop in many cases but without great mountains and vast rivers in the surroundings.
For instance… the capital city in each major province. They were almost an expanse of grey. This was also related to the End of Days. As qi became increasingly sparse in cities, the newly proposed “Qi Confinement theory” had already been completely destroyed by industrialization. Although there was qi, it absolutely couldn’t be considered dense. The underground and outer suburbs far from the city were a cultivator’s treasured places.
Nonetheless, one couldn’t fast at the initial stage of Qi Condensation, so if one wanted to go to such a relatively qi-rich place to cultivate, rogue cultivators couldn’t accomplish this in the very least. This led those who went there to be humans or demons of status. Those places far from cities, for example: prairies, vast deserts, and so on, on the contrary, didn’t possess a single area that was gray.
“The grey represents the confines of Qi Condensation and possibly the Great Circle of Qi Condensation, but it is uncertain. This is also because demons migrate quite often. As for the orange, this represents places with Foundation Establishment seniors. Humans have Foundation Establishment cultivators, but demons certainly have Foundation Establishment greater demons, too. These cities are distant from a good many grey cities. Usually, it's rather developed cities. There are relatively many cities that are close to large natural landscapes.”
Xu Yangyi narrowed his eyes and looked over. He discovered that a majority of these locations were concentrated in the west and then secondly the north. There weren’t many regions in the south and east.
“Does the red symbolize Core Formation cultivators?” he questioned.
“No, Commander. Core Formation cultivators have their own fixed Dao sanctums, but there’s quite the chance that they’re not within their abode…” She laughed. “Core Formation is the world’s apex. Who can know of the four seas or wherever Core Formation Dao Masters wander to?”
“Then what’s the red?” Mao Ba’er asked in confusion as well, “Strawberries? Cherry tomatoes?”
Peony curbed her smile and inhaled deeply. Pausing for two seconds, she then said gravely, “Commander, please allow me to bring it to your attention once more. I hope you memorize it at all costs. Under any circumstances, you absolutely must not take missions in the red regions.”
Xu Yangyi quietly looked at her, mumbling to himself for a brief moment. He asked probingly, “Are these regions of extreme danger?”
“They are areas of certain death.” Peony bowed respectfully and said heavily, “All red areas, after the founding of modern China, have all together engulfed one Core Formation master… 200 Great Circle Foundation Establishment… and 2,000 Foundation Establishment cultivators.”
1. Sword of Damocles is an old tale. It refers to the story of Damocles, a courier, who exclaimed that a King, Dionysius, was a great man. Dionysius invited Damocles to eat and enjoy the festivities. At the end of the party, Damocles noticed that there was a sword hanging above his head, held only by a string. Losing his mood to party, Damocles asked to leave immediately. This story refers to an idea that one lives under constant threat and danger at any moment.
2. Translating this passage actually made me understand something. Like I said, doing Mao Ba’er’s dialogue can be difficult. Super good = 一九 (one nine). In Chinese, these numbers are of great significance, essentially the combination meaning “super good” or “best”. Lucky to the max = 八二 (eight two). In Chinese, these numbers are considered lucky/fortunate. The combination of these two is super lucky or favorable circumstances. It also made me realize something about Mao Ba’er’s name. In the early chapters, I think I made a note saying that Mao Ba’er’s name is directly translated as Cat Eight-Two. In this new context of numbers with meaning, I could’ve probably translated Mao Ba’er’s name as “Lucky Cat”.