Early morning. Young Qin Lie blankly got out of bed as the sky had just begun to brighten. After a simple freshening up, he walked directly toward Ling Dining Hall.
The rough linen attired Qin Lie had a slim figure and could be considered delicate. However, his eyes were vacant, without any trace of vigor, causing others to feel as though he had lost his soul.
Along the way, many of Ling Town’s young martial practitioners had also woke up early. Upon seeing young Qin Lie, many of them smiled kindly.
“Good morning Qin Lie!”
Seeing Qin Lie enter, Ling Feng grinned brightly, calling out to him as he waved.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though Qin Lie was not able to hear other people’s voices; his expression was still as blank as before. He passed by Ling Feng without ceasing his footsteps, and continued onward.
“Big Brother Feng, why do you bother talking to a fool? You obviously know that he can’t respond, yet you always greet him everyday in the morning.” A bright yellow attired, well endowed sixteen year old Ling Ying casually commented as she looked at Qin Lie with contempt. She looked rather dainty, and her soft chest that provoked fanciful thoughts stood tall.
After hearing what Ling Ying had said, the expressions of the surrounding youths from Ling Family all went cold, as they grew annoyed.
Ling Ying hmphed. Her pretty face was full of disdain as she lifted her full chest, turning a blind eye to everyone’s gazes.
Most of those youths were at the fourth or fifth level of Refinement, and were simply regarded as unimportant to her, who had already reached the sixth level of Refinement.
The only one in her eyes was Ling Feng, who had reached the seventh level of Refinement.
Ling Feng slightly frowned, “Little Ying, you haven’t been at Ling Town for that long, which means you have never received any of Qin Lie’s grandfather’s benefaction, so I won’t blame you for having your own views about Qin Lie. However, we children of Ling Family have all been helped out by Grandpa Qin Shan when he was still healthy. Even though Grandpa Qin Shan passed away two years ago, we still remember all the care he showed us in our hearts. On behalf of all of us, I hope you can show Qin Lie the proper respect.”
Ling Yin was momentarily stunned, “His grandpa’s really strong?”
“Grandpa Qin Shan was an Artificer!” Ling Feng softly yelled.
Ling Ying said in deep reverence, “Common, Profound, Earth, Heaven, Divine, with each level again differentiated into seven ranks. What level of an Artificer was he? Has he forged any spirit artifacts for the Ling Family?”
“No.” Ling Feng shook his head, “Grandpa Qin Shan only knew how to repair spirit artifacts below Common Grade Five.”
“Aiyoh, scared me to death. And I wondered how awesome he was, he’s only at that level?” Ling Ying patted her well-endowed chest, evidently making an exaggerated smile.
“To us, that is already really awesome.” Ling Feng’s expression did not waver as he continued in an undercast tone of voice: “Five years ago, when Grandpa Qin Shan came to Ling Town with Qin Lie, he sought our Patriarch and had a discussion about the cost of helping us repair our Common spirit artifacts. He asked for the right to extract ores from all those various mines in Herb Mountain, and for us to allow him and Qin Lie to live in Ling Town.”
“Three years later, Grandpa Qin Shan took Qin Lie back and forth from Ling Town to Herb Mountain’s mines. In that period of time, Grandpa Qin Shan was in charge of repairing every spirit artifact lower than Common Grade Five. As long as its level did not pass Common Grade Five, he was able to completely restore it to its original shape, no matter how severely damaged the spirit artifact, without any trace of it ever having weakened!”
Firelight ignited on top of Ling Feng’s wrist, and the scarlet bracelet on his wrist suddenly lit up with many colors!
Soon after, that scarlet bracelet miraculously transformed into a glowing hammer. The hammer was only half his arm long, and its entire body was dark red. Clumps of fiery clouds were branded on the spherical part of the hammer like tattoos, and exuded blasts of burning waves of heat.
“My Firecloud Hammer is a Common Grade Two spirit artifact and is my lifeblood. Five years ago in Glacial Mountain Range, an Ice Soul Python blasted a mouthful of cold energy into my body. My Firecloud Hammer helped me withstand the cold energy and had luckily saved me, but it was severely damaged. If not for Grandpa Qin Shan helping me repair my Firecloud Hammer, it’d probably be scrapped a long time ago.”
“There are many of our Ling clansmen whose spirit artifacts had also been severely damaged, but thanks to Grandpa Qin Shan, those damaged spirit artifacts were able to be repaired. Otherwise, our clan would’ve encountered incomparable losses.” Ling Feng lamented as he looked at Qin Lie’s figure from afar.
“But he’s already died from an illness two years ago.” Ling Ying said in astonishment.
“Our Ling Family knows gratitude! Qin Lie is just too pitiful. He was already like this when he came to Ling Town with his grandfather five years ago. When Grandpa Qin Shan was here, there were some who took good care of him, but following Grandpa Qin Shan’s death, in these two years… Sigh.” Ling Feng changed topics, then couldn't help but sigh.
“Then isn’t Second Miss more pitiful? I heard… that the Patriarch had promised Qin Shan, that Second Miss and Qin Lie would get engaged on Second Miss’ birthday fifteen birthday next month? Since you are a native Ling Town person, can you tell me if such a thing happened?” Ling Ying suddenly lowered her voice and came closer to Ling Feng. She whispered: “Why would the Patriarch agree to Second Miss and Qin Lie’s engagement? Isn’t this just like pushing Second Miss into a pit of fire?”
“Not sure.” Ling Feng was also unclear about that.
To him, even if the Patriarch had made such an agreement with Qin Shan, after Qin Shan’s death, that agreement shouldn’t count anymore.
Ling Dining Hall.
Three four-sided wooden tables were put together to form a huge, long rectangular table. Steamed buns, porridge, and various side dishes were arranged upon the tabletop. Ling Family’s Patriarch Ling Chengye sat upright in the head seat. Beside him on each side was his sister-in-law, Du Jiaolan and Third Brother Ling Chengzhi. Next to Du Jiaolan were her two sons, Du Heng and Du Fei. As for the girls beside Ling Chengzhi, they were his eldest brother’s daughters, Ling Yushi and Ling Xuanxuan.
Ling Family had three brothers. The eldest was Ling Chengye, second Ling Chenghui, and the third was Ling Chengzhi. Ten years ago, when Ling Chenghui broke through into the Natal Opening Realm, he underwent a fiendish rebound and died by bodily explosion. His wife Du Jiaolan brought her similarly surnamed two sons, Du Heng and Du Fei, to live in Ling Family, and used Ling Family’s resources to continue cultivating.
Boundless oceans existed within this world named Spirit Realm, and upon these oceans were many continents. On these continents, all sorts of people and races unceasingly refine themselves with the spirit energy prevalent everywhere, eternally pursuing the world’s ultimate mysteries.
Here, strong practitioners stood tall like high mountains and peaks, possessed world-shocking apocalyptic spirit artifacts, and some strict martial forces with status covered every remote corner of this world like spiderwebs!
Here, not only did martial practitioners and spirit artifacts have distinct divisions of levels, even clans, sects, and merchant guilds formed interconnecting networks of complex factions. They also had strict social strata.
Spirit Realm’s cultivation of the martial way was divided into ten realms: Refinement, Natal Opening, Manifestation, Netherpassage, Fulfillment, Fragmentation, Nirvana, Imperishable, Void, and Genesis. The basic Refinement Realm was composed of nine levels, while the latter realms were subdivided into small levels of early, mid, and late stages.
Similarly, mystical spirit artifacts and strong artificers also had a distinct division of levels. They were: Common, Profound, Earth, Heaven, and Divine, with each level also possessing seven ranks.
What was even more peculiar was that even those clans and sectoral forces had their own divisions of levels. They were divided into five ranks: Limestone, Black Iron, Copper, Silver, and Gold, and were restricted in layers like a pyramid.
The lowest Limestone rank powers were Spirit Realm’s most basic forces, and their numbers were so many, they were uncountable like specks of sand within a desert. They had no choice but to attach themselves to larger powers, rely on them to survive and cultivate, and allow their dignity to get trampled on.
As for those Gold rank forces at the apex of the pyramid, they were all the most glorious peak existences. Not only did they have access to the strongest martial practitioners in the world, they had the most mystical of spirit artifacts, the widest ore vein territories, the most mysterious of forbidden secret realms, and they even commanded many Silver, Copper, Black Iron, and Limestone ranked forces!
Any order they passed down was capable of changing the color of the world, dying mountains and rivers the red of blood, and annihilating millions and millions of living creatures!
And Ling Family, was merely a small clan power that wasn’t even of the Limestone rank. Ling Family and its surrounding small families all attached themselves to Icestone City’s Limestone ranked force, Nebula Pavilion. They had to send enough offerings to Nebula Pavilion every year in order to obtain Nebula Pavilion’s protection, and live in Ling Town.
The sound of footsteps that came from afar approached. Not long after, Qin Lie’s figure punctually appeared. He mechanically sat in the seat opposite Ling Chengye with a blank expression on his face, then lifted his rice bowl and began to eat.
Over the past five years, Qin Lie always arrived right on time for early morning breakfast. Even though Qin Lie was a fool in the eyes of everyone in Ling Town, his habit of being on time for meals had never changed. For the first three years, it was always Qin Shan who had brought him over. After Qin Shan’s death, Qin Lie came alone, and still maintained this custom.
After eating breakfast everyday, Qin Lie would enter the Herb Mountain behind Ling Town and go into those mines within the mountain. Only until it turned dark would he return to Ling Town before supper. After having the evening meal with the Ling Family, he would return to his residence to rest.
Day after day, year after year, this was how he lived, without any ripple or change in his lifestyle.
It had been five years, yet no one knew what exactly he and his grandfather were doing to spend so much time in Herb Mountain’s mines. Even Patriarch Ling Chengye had always been puzzled.
“Hey!” Du Fei suddenly couldn’t help but sneer. He slanted his eyes and glanced at Qin Lie, then taunted mockingly: “My future Brother-in-law’s table manners aren’t bad. It’s fine even if he gets engaged to Xuanxuan next month. Just pretend that you’re raising an oddly cute obedient dog.”
After he finished speaking, Du Fei laughed weirdly while looking in Ling Xuanxuan’s direction.
Ling Xuanxuan’s delicate body that was wrapped in fiery red leather armor was already beginning to show the first signs of appeal. She had an extremely small elegant face, spirited intelligent eyes, yet her barely fifteen year old self’s reputation was widespread.
Ling Xuanxuan’s halfway exposed jade white hand heavily slammed on the table. The rice bowl in front of her violently leaped up due to the impact, and the unfinished porridge splashed toward Du Jiaolan’s family of three who were sitting on the opposing side. Even though the three’s reaction speed was extremely fast, they were still splashed into a miserable state by the porridge.
“I’m not going to get engaged to him even if I die!”
Without waiting for Du Jiaolan to get angry, Ling Xuanxuan quickly got up. Not even caring about her father Ling Chengye’s unsightly expression, she charged out of the room like a ball of flame.
After encountering the wooden door, she swung her little hand and an orange colored flame suddenly shot out, splitting the wide wooden door apart. Before the ten or so pieces of broken wood had time to fall on the ground, Ling Xuanxuan’s exquisite figure had already disappeared.
Just as Ling Chengye was prepared to angrily admonish her, he was suddenly stunned in place. He looked at the broken down pieces of wood, then his eyes slightly lit up, as he revealed a thoughtful expression.
“Big Brother! When did Xuanxuan step into the seventh level of Refinement? The emission of spirit energy, this is clearly an indicator of the seventh level of Refinement!” Ling Chengzhi said with uncontained excitement. His entire face was filled with pleasant surprise, “To have stepped into the seventh level of Refinement at fifteen, Xuanxuan’s natural talent is even more shocking than Yushi! At her current rate, she will surely be able to step into the Natal Opening Realm before the age of twenty… In the future, she will definitely be able to receive Nebula Pavilion’s good graces!”
Ling Chengye restrained his inner excitement, coughed lightly, and asked Ling Yushi, “When did Xuanxuan break through?”
Ling Yushi, who donned a long green dress had her dark, long hair spread over her shoulders, the expression on her delicate face was as graceful as an orchid flower. Her skin that was as white as jade and her figure that seemed tall and slender even when sitting down, caused the gaze of Du Heng, who was sitting on the side to heat up, as his gaze wouldn't even move away from her body for even an inch.
“She just broke through seven days ago. At first, she wanted to immediately rush over and tell daddy this news, but…” Ling Yushi changed topics and sighed lightly: “But two days ago, she unexpectedly heard about daddy already having promised Grandpa Qin Shan that she will be engaged to Qin Lie on her birthday, so…”
Ling Yushi didn’t continue, but Ling Chengye had already guessed the cause with a helpless expression.
Right at this moment, Qin Lie, who acted as though no one else was present and was immersed in eating, suddenly stood up as though he had not heard anyone speaking or clashing. Just like how he had acted in the past, he left after eating his fill.
He headed directly toward the Herb Mountain behind Ling Town.
“Big Brother, I have a few words I want to discuss with you in private.” Ling Chengzhi also suddenly got up and shot his elder brother a meaningful look. After Qin Lie had left, he also left the dining hall.
Ling Chengye followed behind him with a pensive look on his face.
On the rugged uneven mountain path, Ling Chengye and Ling Chengzhi maintained a steady distance from Qin Lie while also walking in the direction of Herb Mountain. The two’s gazes swiftly landed on Qin Lie’s body, as they chatted in a low voice.
“It’s been five years. Since the time Qin Shan had brought Qin Lie over, this grandfather-grandson pair were always in the mines during the day. Big Brother, aren’t you curious about what they were doing in the mines? What they discovered?”
“Of course I’m curious. But I had an agreement with Qin Shan to not charge into the mines without reason. Besides, our Ling Family have already cleared Herb Mountain’s mines for many years, and never found any valuable spirit stones. Else, why would I promise the mines to that grandfather-grandson pair?”
“And what exactly is going on with Xuanxuan and Qin Lie’s engagement? Big Brother, I know you would never sacrifice Xuanxuan’s lifelong happiness, so why?”
“Before Qin Shan passed away, he adamantly wanted me to agree to this matter. On behalf of all the help he gave us these few years, I made the promise with gritted teeth. But it isn’t like how you think it is. He probably wished that Qin Lie would be able to continue being looked after by our Ling Family after he passed away.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is merely an engagement. Qin Lie and Xuanxuan are both fifteen years old. He requested for us to take care of Qin Lie until he turns seventeen. Once Qin Lie turns seventeen, any one of us could break off the engagement. The reason why this engagement exists is because he wanted Qin Lie to have the status of a son-in-law, so that our Ling Family members won’t mess around with him, that’s all.”
“Don’t worry. Xuanxuan has already broken through into the seventh level of Refinement. She will definitely enter Nebula Pavilion in the future. I obviously will not allow Qin Lie to influence her future prospects. When the time comes, I will immediately break off the engagement!”
“So that’s how it is.” Ling Chengzhi nodded. He muttered: “Big Brother, I have something that I’m not sure whether I should say, sigh…”
“If you have something to say, just say it!” Ling Family’s Patriarch shouted with a frown.
“Based on what you have said, the engagement is merely for appearance’s sake. If that’s the case, Xuanxuan doesn’t really have to get engaged to Qin Lie. Isn’t also possible for him to get engaged to Yushi instead? Even though Yushi is two years older than Qin Lie, there should be no harm in that, right?” Ling Chengzhi probed.
Ling Family’s Patriarch’s complexion suddenly darkened.
“Big Brother, since Sister-in-law had passed away much too early, I know that you love Yushi and Xuanxuan both equally. I am also the same.” Ling Chengzhi considered his phrasing, and said sincerely: “However, even an engagement could influence a girl’s reputation. Xuanxuan is only fifteen, but she actually reached the seventh level of Refinement! Even in normal times, you and I could see her talent for cultivation and her comprehension of spirit arts far surpass Yushi’s. Xuanxuan’s future… absolutely cannot be bound. She will become our Ling Family’s true hope!”
When the conversation reached here, Ling Chengzhi’s expression became respectful, “In the future, Xuanxuan will enter an even higher world of martial practitioners, reach a level that we can’t even hope to attain! Under this kind of situation, there is a chance that she could marry into a powerful force whose power we can’t even imagine! However, if she has a past engagement, then she’ll have a stain. This will affect her future prospects…”
“Third Brother, you are becoming more and more pragmatic.” Ling Family’s Patriarch shook his head and sighed, “Allow me some time to think about this. Sigh. With Yushi’s gentle temperament, I know that she will definitely agree to this if I ask her to bear this burden, but I just can’t do this to her…”
“For the clan’s future, and also for Xuanxuan’s future, I ask Big Brother to seriously consider this.” Ling Chengzhi said with persuasion.
Ling Family’s Patriarch remained silent for a long time. After a long while, he finally spoke: “Let’s not talk about this for now. You’ve always been in charge of Herb Mountain and I’ve never asked you about it much. Why are you insisting on taking me to Herb Mountain today?”
“You’ll understand when we get there. I have a faint feeling that this matter may have something to do with Qin Lie.”