Spiritual Mountain Sect, Offerings Booth.
Every year at this time, the Spiritual Mountain Sect would send a portion of their cultivators to head to various large families and villages nearby to receive their yearly offerings. At the same time, the Spiritual Mountain Sect offered them protection.
That was also why the Cleansing Moon Li family still gritted their teeth to produce offerings. It was not only to provide Li Chengfeng with the possibility of becoming a cultivator, it was also so they would not be harassed in Cheng’an.
The cultivators of the Spiritual Mountain Sect often talked about being free from attachments, ascending beyond life and death but since they were all still mortals who had not attained immortality, they were still reliant on their flesh vessels, needing to eat, drink and defecate like everyone else.
There was a saying that the poor became scholars while the rich trained to be martial artists. Being a scholar did not require too much capital, even the poor could become outstanding scholars and find success. Martial arts was not the same. It required intense training from a young age. Famous masters could not be hired without money, who are required for true, authentic practices. The poor would not be able to buy good medicine either to recover after such intense training.
Even many well-to-do families did not dare dream of being cultivators. Forget about the spiritual medicine and herbs required, just the magical items and treasures used would cost a fortune!
A sect cannot cover all of a disciple’s costs, therefore newly-recruited disciples had to pay a portion of their costs or they would definitely be kicked out soon.
That was also why the most powerful cultivator sects required more and more powerful clans to provide offerings and donations. In return, these clans had a higher chance of being recruited as cultivators.
Standing before the gates of the Spiritual Mountain Sect was a long line of disciples who had gone down the mountain to collect offerings. They all carried small Ruyi pouches with them. They looked very simple but could store vast amounts of objects. Everyone’s offerings were inside.
The offerings booth was halfway up Bull Ear’s Peak. At the foot of the mountain was a stone path that led to the gates halfway up the mountain. Behind the gates was a large stone stage, tall and majestic. The earliest ones to pay the offerings had been patriarchs of major families, hence this stage was meant to intimidate, showing off their magnificence.
There was a long, green table on the stage. One end of the table was raised, next to it was a delicate flower stand. The stand was carved with detailed arrays. Every disciple would put their Ruyi pouches on the stand, where the pouch would emit multi-coloured rays and then vanish. Then, a giant mirror next to the stand would display smoke-like numbers to tabulate the offerings within the pouch.
Three men stood behind, two of them with beards on their chins and clad in cultivator’s robes with two green stripes. They stood on both sides like entrance deities to intimidate the disciples and scare them from trying to steal anything. At the centre stood a man with a black mole on his left cheek called Sun Boyi. Every time he saw the stand ‘swallow’ a pouch and produce the numbers, he could flick his hand gently across an accounting book at the booth. A line of text recording the numbers would appear.
“Ouyang family of Dongchuan, five thousand silvers in offerings!”
“Liu family of Dongchuan, eight thousand silvers in offerings!”
“Xie family of Yinzhou, four thousand three hundred silvers in offerings!”
“Zhao family of Heyue, thirteen thousand silvers in offerings!”
“Zhan family of the Northwest… a hundred thousand silvers in offerings!”
The numbers shocked everyone in line, who started whispering, “Zhan of the Northwest? Who? Who’s THAT rich?”
“Who else? It’s the Champion Marquis’ family!”
“Huh? But they’re in the northwest region, no? Why didn’t they go for the western sects, why did they come to Spiritual Mountain?”
“Nonsense, what do you take Spiritual Mountain for? We’re ranked third amongst all the sects in the world! Do you know people would die for a chance to enter our sect? Why would the Zhan family not see this?”
“Tsk, stop it. In general, major clans usually distribute their descendants into different sects to gain everyone’s favour! How do you think the Zhan family has been able to remain in favour for centuries? I just wonder if they’re going to send the phoenix or the dragon to us.”
“Haven’t you heard? They’re sending the phoenix and the dragon to the other sects. All that’s left are the pig and the dog.”
The Champion Marquis had three sons and one daughter, each talented in different ways. They were called the dragon, the phoenix, the dog and the pig by common folk.
The eldest son, Zhan Qitian, was said to be 6 foot 3 tall, majestic as a dragon and had potential to be a legendary character. At eight years old, his extraordinary skills were discovered, being a prodigy in both literature and martial arts. At twelve, the Universe Religion broke their rules to take him in. At fifteen, he completed his foundational cultivation, breaking records. At twenty, he successfully cultivated the Invincible Golden Body, shocking the world!
His second child was a daughter, said to be an absolute beauty. Regardless of that, she was an outstanding talent in the female cultivator world, taken in by the Phoenix Hibiscus Court as a disciple at just ten years old. At thirteen, she successfully completed her foundational cultivation before hitting puberty, breaking Zhan Qitian’s world record, at the same time being the earliest female cultivator to have completed foundational cultivation. The entire world was astonished.
After the dragon and the phoenix, the remaining two sons lived in the glow of their elder brother and sister. They were mediocre at best, merely called the pig and the dog because it was said one liked to drink and play while the other was a reserved, polite man.
Everyone had lowered their heads in whispers, though suddenly silence ran like a wave down the crowd.
The man handling the records looked up in puzzlement to see the crowd of disciples parting for an elderly man pulling a cart slowly up. In the cart was a man in long robes. His face was grotesque, as if it had been roasted in a fire. Both his eyes were gone, leaving two terrifying black holes!
It was a chilling sight.
Sun Boyi, still handling the records, was stunned upon seeing the man. He was initially indifferent but realised this man looked familiar. With closer inspection, his eyes widened as he let out an agonised scream, “Brother!!”
Sun Boyi pounced over to grab his older brother, completely shocked by his grotesque state. He turned suddenly and strangled the man, asking through clenched teeth, “Was it you? You did this to him?”
The old man could not breathe, struggling to say, “No, not, this has… nothing… nothing to do with me…”
Sun Boyi’s eyes were wild. “Then what happened to him?!”
The old man was suffocating to death while the disciples in the queue all shuddered, not daring to speak. At this moment, a middle-ranked cultivator with green stripes yelled, “Sun Boyi, stop it!”
Sun Boyi panted heavily, letting the old man go abruptly. The old man fell to the ground, coughing violently as he looked up and struggled to explain himself. “Please show mercy, I’m innocent!”
The green-striped cultivator stepped forward to study Sun Boyi’s older brother in confusion. “What happened here?”
The old man crawled up and bowed in greeting, his voice hoarse, “I am the butler of the Cleansing Moon Li family, Li Kun! A few days ago, when the master came to the Li family residence to receive the offerings, he was attacked at the alley nearby! Since it was so close to our home, the Li family has been very terrified and uncomfortable, they specially sent me to escort the master safely back to the mountain and explain the situation! I hope you will all show mercy!”
When he finished, he kowtowed fervently, each knock loud on the hard stone ground.
The green-striped cultivator smirked coldly. “Hmmph, so they basically sent this old butler to his death, huh?”
Sun Boyi suddenly roared, “That is impossible! My brother wouldn’t end up like that just over a little offering!”
The green-striped cultivator furrowed his brows, staring at Li Kun intently. However, he saw that while Li Kun was terrified, he showed no signs of lying. He nodded slightly. “He’s alive but has lost his wits. I’m not sure if he can be saved.”
Sun Boyi fell heavily to his knees, “Master Zhang, my elder brother was the one who raised me, he’s the only family I have! Please, you must save him! And I will be your slave!”
Master Zhang waved, “You’re both disciples of the Spiritual Mountain Sect, we are responsible for you two. Bring him away, let the Acting Sect Master take a look at him first.”
Several disciples came forward to carry Sun Boyi’s brother up the mountain.
Master Zhang turned to Li Kun and said coldly, “So since you said he was robbed, it seems the Li family isn’t providing any offerings this time?”
Li Kun quickly replied, “Of course not! The Li family knows that it will be difficult to push the blame since the master was robbed near our residence, hence we have brought ten thousand silvers as an apology!”
Master Zhang’s icy expression softened slightly.
“Apology?” Sun Boyi gritted his teeth and glared murderously. “The Li family must die!”
“Sun Boyi! Kneel!” Master Zhang scolded sternly, scaring Sun Boyi into falling to his knees instantly.
Master Zhang said, “Do not speak so rashly before we know the truth!”
Sun Boyi wiped his tears and replied in a low voice, “Yes, Master!”
“Because we do not have magical items to store our valuables like you all, my carriage entourage is currently at the foot of the mountain. I’d like to invite you to follow me down the mountain to get it.”
Master Zhang nodded slightly, thinking the Cleansing Moon Sect would not dare pull any tricks now. He turned to two disciples. “You both go.”
However, Master Zhang then eyed Li Kun. “You follow me, tell me what happened. If the Li family is innocent, we will deal with it reasonably. If we find that you’re lying… Hmmph!”
Master Zhang huffed loudly, each huff thumping down on Li Kun’s heart like a heavy hammer. He was so afraid his bent back bent even more.
Master Zhang was about to leave when he saw Sun Boyi still kneeling, clenching his teeth and his features contorted. He scolded, “What are you staring at? Haven’t you got some accounting to do?”
Sun Boyi scrambled up and glared at Li Kun. He flicked his wrist across the booth and a line of red text appeared on the book: ‘Cleansing Moon Li family of Cheng’an, ten thousand silvers in offerings!”
The line of words was unusually red, so red it looked like fresh blood!