Three cups of green tea. Even in receiving guests, the visitors simply wouldn’t think to be discontent. This was because their cultivations were only at the initial stage of Qi Condensation.
Among the two older men in front of Xu Yangyi, one of them had a square face, buzzed hair, and was wearing a slightly faded changpao with a pair of black cloth shoes. The other was an elderly man with an old farmer’s style. A foot-long beard softly drooped down, the wrinkles on his face appeared like the skin of air-dried mandarin oranges, and there was a black birthmark on his left cheek. He seemed not to be any different from the other old farmer.
Yet at this moment, they secretly sighed. Since Xu Yangyi agreed to let them enter, he was likely part of the dove faction. If a middle-stage Qi Condensation cultivator of the hawk faction had come to this little village, they would truly be restless!
“Fellow Daoist Xu, I am Wang Sanshan. Seven years ago, I settled down here.” The square-faced Wang Sanshan clasped his hands, looking at Xu Yangyi, who had his eyes hung to the tea at his lips, and respectfully took out an exquisite jade box. “Congratulations to Fellow Daoist for breaking through to the middle stage. This a bit of my good will. I hope Fellow Daoist will kindly accept it.”
Wang Sanshan’s attitude was quite humble, and Xu Yangyi didn’t move at all. Instead, once Li Zongyuan took it, Xu Yangyi used his spiritual sense to sweep over it, discovering approximately twenty low-grade spirit stones. He then smiled. “Fellow Daoist will bear it to mind.”
Wang Sanshan wasn’t dissatisfied whatsoever and merely clasped his hands. He sighed gently and laughed as he sat down.
“I am Qi Nan. I have lived here for fifteen years. My congratulations to Fellow Daoist for his breakthrough to the middle stage. I also have a minor bit of goodwill. I hope Fellow Daoist won’t mind.”
It was also a jade box. Xu Yangyi ran his spiritual sense over it, yet was faintly dazed. His spiritual sense couldn’t pervade this jade box so easily. Evidently, it had undergone special processing. Chiefly, there weren’t spirit stones inside, but rather a flower petal that carried a burning mark. It was roughly the size of a palm.
The original form of the petal could no longer be seen, however, with a sweep of his spiritual sense, he could feel the tremendous spiritual force possessed by this petal. If this burning petal was transformed into liquid to be ingested, it would even exceed some pill elixirs by far!
In the Qi Condensation realm, this was already considered a generous gift. At least from what Xu Yangyi could see, he himself would part with it begrudgingly.
“A bit interesting.” He spoke for the first time. “This is?”
Qi Nan’s gaze suddenly flashed, yet he still clasped his hands respectfully. “I obtained this little trinket by chance. A mere jest before an expert.”
If the other wasn’t willing to speak, then Xu Yangyi wouldn’t force him to as well. Qi Nan continued and laughed, “Fellow Daoist Xu, are you planning to stay here permanently? In general, a place far from the city is chosen for seclusion. The more natural the ecology, the richer the qi. If Fellow Daoist is unsatisfied, twenty kilometers away from this village, there’s the nearby Dragon Cave beneath Mount Bai. Although the government failed to develop it, there are several middle-stage and late-stage Fellow Daoists sealed in death seclusion over there.” 
This was asking Xu Yangyi whether he was a permanent resident or a transient visitor. If he was a permanent resident, frequent contact couldn’t be avoided later on. If he was a passing traveler, there was a chance that this would be their only meeting.
“A passing traveler.” Xu Yangyi pursed his tea to his lips and said indifferently, “But I might stay here for around eight or ten years. I can’t say for sure.”
The three of them chatted for a while, and Wang Sanshan and Qi Nan made to leave and bid farewell. They had already attained their purpose; there wasn’t much of anything essential left.
“Master, I’ll go buy tickets now. Will we be headed off to the Four Great Joint Pools in a week?”
“Sure.” Xu Yangyi nodded but didn’t get up. Instead, he took the jade box with the petal inside that Li Zongyuan had taken with rapt interest and handed over. He began to fiddle around with it in his hands.
“Master… could it be that there’s an issue with this petal?” Li Zongyuan asked puzzledly.
Xu Yangyi wordlessly played around with the box. Only after several seconds did he laugh. “Take the box and open it.”
Just as he opened it, Li Zongyuan’s gaze glimmered. “This is…”
The inside of the box was astonishingly carved full of talismans. At this moment, an azure talisman emitted rays of light as it flashed.
“This is a formation that isolates spiritual sense.” Xu Yangyi finally set down his teacup and muttered to himself for a moment. “I recognize a few of the runes inside. Its purpose seems to be as a measuring stick. If its standard is exceeded, the item inside can be clearly seen. If it isn’t, the box has to be opened to look.”
“Why would he do this?” Li Zongyuan was stunned. “Although this petal’s accumulated qi is pretty high, it can be considered a generous gift at most, not a major one. Isn’t this unnecessary?”
Xu Yangyi looked at the entrance with a smile that wasn’t a smile. “Yes… this petal can’t be considered a major gift, so why did he expend such effort?”
“What do you say? Fellow Daoist Qi?”
Li Zongyuan jumped in fright and snapped his head up to look around, yet he didn’t see a thing.
“As expected, Fellow Daoist Xu is fierce… How did you know my humble self was still here?”
Followed by a quiet sigh, a crow flew down from the beams of the room. A foggy black mist that emitted from each of its feathers followed. In less than two seconds, the crow stood before them as the old farmer from just now and bowed deeply.
“Clan Master of the Qi Demon Clan pays respects to the Fellow Daoist. The power of Fellow Daoist’s spiritual sense and the remarkability of his strength is something I have not oft seen among middle-stage cultivators.”
These words were spoken by Qi Nan with exceptional sincerity, and he only stood up again after maintaining his bow for no less than five seconds.
“But… I’m rather curious. How did Fellow Daoist know that I was still here? Though the cultivations of my Qi Clan isn’t high, our ancestors passed down a few Minor Daos of Talismancy. Even in the middle stage of Qi Condensation, my traces would be almost undetectable.”
Xu Yangyi looked at the other with a smile that wasn’t yet a smile. “You have no idea where I’m from. It’s nothing strange.”
“Where we’re from, such a crude testing method, if not four or five times, will happen two or three times per week.” He casually took the jade box and pushed it forward on the table. “In comparison, Fellow Daoist’s probe is child’s play.”
Qi Nan’s face faintly flushed red in embarrassment. “I have underestimated Fellow Daoist.”
Silence suddenly arrived, and Qi Nan seemed to steel his resolve. Xu Yangyi didn’t rush him. After a full ten minutes passed, Qi Nan lifted his head and looked at Xu Yangyi solemnly.
“Fellow Daoist Xu…” Qi Nan’s aged body moved closer and he said respectfully, “In no way do I harbor malice… Before you, I had already used this test on several middle-stage cultivators.”
Xu Yangyi nodded, hinting for the other to continue speaking.
“I am unsure, but does Fellow Daoist Xu know of this insect?” Qi Nan took off his conical bamboo hat and took a black beetle that was on it. The beetle was the size of a pinky nail. He coughed lightly and said, “Its name is known as the reaction beetle. It can sense whether a person designated by the prompter is generally strong or weak. The instant it saw Fellow Daoist, this insect… didn’t make a sound.”
His gaze was a little complex as he looked towards Xu Yangyi. “I have never encountered a situation like this! At first, I thought it was a problem with the reaction beetle. It wasn’t until I left that I found out… that it had unexpectedly died already!”
“There’s only one kind of situation where the reaction beetle would die… and that’s when someone else far surpasses it. I’ve cultivated for several decades, yet apart from Fellow Daoist, I have never met a single person to this day that was able to cause my reaction beetle to die.” Here onwards, Qi Nan’s expression turned from respectful to fiery. He said heavily, “Truth be told, I’ve already handed over five of those petals. All to indigenous or perhaps permanently residing, locally famous cultivators…”
He paused deliberately, and Xu Yangyi smiled. “You mean to say that there are many of these kinds of petals.”
“Correct.” Qi Nan inhaled deeply and licked his lips. “Each time I ask if the gift is satisfactory… If the gift can truly be seen, I would’ve naturally responded here. However…”
He narrowed his eyes. “Until this day, only three middle-stage cultivators could actually see the petal clearly. Fellow Daoist Xu happens to be the third. I’m not sure…” He glanced intentionally or otherwise at Li Zongyuan and stopped talking.
“I might as well.” Xu Yangyi waved his hand and all the doors and windows immediately seemed to shut tightly with a rattle as if they were closed by large invisible hands.
Qi Nan clenched his teeth and took a few deep breaths. He then cautiously took out a cell phone, his aged Adam’s apple trembling. “Fellow Daoist Xu, before you look at this, I hope you can pledge a sworn heart-devil oath…”
“You’re joking.” Before Qi Nan’s voice had fallen, Xu Yangyi pursed his teacup to his mouth with his usual expression. “Has Fellow Daoist Qi misunderstood something?”
Qi Nan stood up at his original position with a complicated expression. He couldn’t advance, yet he couldn’t retreat.
“There are people with the qualifications to take out an item as they please and make me immediately take a vow.” Xu Yangyi glanced at the other indifferently. “But that doesn’t include you at all.”
An initial-stage cultivator, just the master of a clan, could only have come to seek collaboration. According to Xu Yangyi’s thoughts, Qi Nan should’ve already quietly sought out many middle-stage cultivators. Indeed, in this era of Cultivation Civilization, there wasn’t a person in the outside world that would openly commit murder to seize treasures. However, if it was in some old forest that was deep in the mountains… say, during the exploration of a secret realm that managed to avoid being cleaned out… this illustrated that their clan possessed a method that needn’t fear middle-stage cultivators.
The disparity between the initial and middle stages was great. Xu Yangyi, who had just broken through, clearly understood this. Such a dangerous person had come visiting and then wanted him to swear an oath?
Besides, just considering the idea, the other was obviously the weaker party. He had come knocking on his door for a collaboration, yet wanted him to swear an oath. This was like an unknown company running to an international monopoly and saying to them: I have an opportunity, but you have to swear a pledge.
There was only one result. Make a pledge? Not a chance, say it or don’t. No? Get out.
Qi Nan choked a belly full of words in his stomach. After a while, he stood up with his slightly flushed face. “It’s very possible that this matter is connected to a secret realm. Since Fellow Daoist is not willing to swear an oath, I won’t make things difficult.”
From the corner of his eye, Xu Yangyi saw Li Zongyuan focusing a meaningful look on him with great effort, yet he simply didn’t pay it any heed. He calmly shook his head. “See yourself out.”
Qi Nan was completely floored by these words!
He had only tested Xu Yangyi to give himself space to breath! Who would’ve thought that the other would’ve washed his hands of the matter and then shut the door?! Presently, he couldn’t move forward, nor could he pull back. Standing in place for ages, the crow-demon departed with a calm face, not uttering a single word.
From the beginning to end, Xu Yangyi hadn’t even glanced at him.
Swish! Li Zongyuan moved two steps towards the door, watching Qi Nan’s silhouette with unwillingness.
Not only had Qi Nan not anticipated this, not even Li Zongyuan had. Xu Yangyi had actually declined! Moreover, he had declined without a shred of leeway!
“Master!” It wasn’t until Qi Nan’s figure disappeared did Li Zongyuan anxiously turn his head. “You, t-this might be connected to a secret realm! How could you decline it?”
Xu Yangyi’s face was still. Secret realms, he knew of them. If any industry or domain required something that could stir the people’s hearts, then a secret realm was the cultivation community’s most inspiring legend!
So-and-so picked up an arcane effort in some secret realm and achieved Foundation Establishment… So-and-so obtained a high-grade magik artifact in some secret realm and entered the top-hundred cultivator ranking… Because so-and-so saved a beauty like a gallant hero, he and that beautiful female cultivator fell deeply in love, two trees growing as one… This was just like in movies and television shows, when the main character picked up a million bucks on the side of the road.
Were it not for these legends, the most fundamental of desires wouldn’t exist. Any industry required these kinds of myths.
A secret realm was perhaps a different world or a large ancient site… After several millenniums of geographical transformations, they had already been buried within the nooks and crannies of the Earth. Only one with great destiny and great willpower could possibly come across them. A majority of secret realms were hidden opportunities that could cause the heart to race.
Thinking of this, Xu Yangyi smiled.
In the modern age, was there any opportunity that could upstage the Eternal Alchemy Canon?
1. Real place. Only thing here I am unsure about is Mount Bai. Since this region is actually a mountain chain that borders on North Korea, as well. Although this might be referring to the largest mountain of the entire chain, which is known in korean/manchu/chinese as many things, but in chinese, namely as “the ever-white mountain”. Also known as Baekdu/Paektu mountain in Korean.