The Zhang, Huo, and Feng clan members that were still in the trial made sure to search through the area. The places like that one with the embedded sword could be still visited as the threat of getting ambushed was lowered now. Going through it once more and collecting the treasures was now a possibility, the only problem was the lack of spatial rings to carry things around.
The army of puppets that were guarding the more lucrative areas was the only problem now. This would be their last test, but after battling with the combined forces of the other clans and coming up on top the triforce alliance's spirits were at an all-time high. Everyone gave out a battle cry, those automatons were the last obstacle between them and a fat payout.
While the last trial was coming to an end the people organizing the festival were keeping tabs on the results. The tokens had some weak tracking capabilities and every contestant was marked before entering. Thanks to that the judges had an idea of what was happening inside. The incapacitated contestants would be removed by the puppets inside the trial ground. This also gave them added info to what was happening inside even without being there themselves.
"Looks like that Zhang Clan is going to be the big winner this time..."
One of the judges said to one of his co-workers while noting down something on a scroll.
"Who would have thought that such a small clan could achieve this... we must get more info on them..."
The Zhang Clan was slowly attracting more attention, this was equally a good thing and a bad thing. From one side, the increase in renown would let them expand their influence, forge alliances, and make better trade deals. On the other side, it would alert the more powerful forces to their existence.
The Zhang clan was like a carp swimming upstream against a strong current as they tried leaving the small pond they were stuck in. Would they succeed in jumping over the waterfall that was blocking the way and transform into a ferocious dragon? This was still to be seen, but the probability of success wasn't low, the problem was the other dragons on the other side lurking to strike.
While the kids were wrapping up the last trial, a certain youth with a small gem in his forehead was walking down the streets. He was wearing an expensive-looking robe and was accompanied by quite the scary-looking cultivators. He had long flowing charcoal colored hair, and his face looked as if it was sculptured by the gods themselves. Still, the lofty disposition that he was carrying himself with kept the ladies at bay. The moment anyone noticed the man they could only shiver in astonishment or fear. Everyone dropped their heads, trying not to look at anyone from that group. They could tell from the insignia of the dark palm, that this was some kind of powerful young master.
"Young lord Cai, the restaurant that was reserved for you should be just around the corner!"
One of the old looking cultivators proclaimed while walking in front, his eyes scanning the area while scaring off anyone that dared to look in his young master's direction. The young man just nodded and moved forward, hands behind his back looking as if he owned the place.
It was still the middle of the day and people were in a cheerful mood, the Dao Festival was something that even the residents looked forward to. This was mostly due to the fact that they got a lot of tourists that were all big spenders. All the various rich families gathered in this one spot and everyone wanted to give a good impression. This was mostly achieved by spending a lot of money and spirit stones.
Someone like this young master was at the very top of the totem pole though, he didn't really need to show off as the dark palm symbol on his robe already made everyone drop down to their knees. Still, sometimes accidents tended to happen. A group of kids was playing around with some sticks, fighting it out while pretending to be powerful cultivators.
Kids being kids, they didn't really know about the rules of this world quite yet. One of them ended up tripping right in front of the dark palm group, the stick that he was holding on to flying forward and hitting one of the bodyguards on the foot. This wasn't something that could actually cause pain to the man, but that wasn't the problem. The real problem was, that they interfered making their young master stop in his tracks. If a certain Patriarch was here, he would probably be astonished by another child running into a haughty young master.
"How dare you!"
The bodyguard shouted out, the child shrunk back his friends too afraid to go forward as they saw many angry uncles staring at them. The mother of the children was nearby, but that wouldn't really help in this situation.
"Please appease your anger my lord, he is only a silly child..."
The bodyguard wasn't hearing any of it, his life depended on this as well. He could not let people offend his master, he needed to punish this child. He pulled out a whip, cracking it against the ground ready to deliver a sound beating to the peasants in front.
The man stopped himself, his whip moving to the side while he looked behind himself to his young lord that had spoken up. His tone was cheery as if he saw something interesting.
"You'll have to excuse my men, they are quite overprotective."
"Young lord Cai?"
The man asked a bit confused, but stepped to the side. His young lord walked forward to the mother and child. He reached out with his hand and gave the boy a pat on the head a smile on his face.
"It's fine, the bad man won't do anything to you or your beautiful mother."
The youth with the gem in his forehead pulled out something that looked like candy from his spatial ring and handed it to the child. The mother received a bewitching wink that made her face turn into a red tomato.
"Here have this, give some to your friends too."
The people around the area sighted out in relief. This young lord looked to be on the milder side, the child and his mother left with the rest of the children that were now munching on the treats. The group then went back to their route and towards the restaurant that they were heading towards leaving these commoners to themselves.
"What a nice young man... you wouldn't think he would be from that dark palm sect..."
"This is quite the scoop, such a benevolent young master, a good fit for my daughter!"
"Dream on, he wouldn't want her even as a concubine."
Some people bickered, some laughed while others were a bit skeptical but they couldn't deny the act of mercy. They dispersed after a while leaving the area a newfound admiration for the dark palm master awakening in some of them.
The young master that was called Deng Cai headed to the most luxurious restaurant in the city. It was a large building that looked more like a small castle than a place you would go to eat. The top floor was bought out for this young master's needs, this being one of the boons of being a direct disciple of a powerful Master. He knew that his Master would reward him further if he did well in the coming tournament, but he wasn't worried. The people participating were way below him, he could take them out with his pinky.
"Please follow me, young lord, we have everything prepared for you upstairs!"
A butler looking fellow that didn't look like he belonged to this era guided the small group of people. They used an elevator like treasure to arrive at the top floor. The people were greeted to a group of scantly clad beauties that were swimming around a large swimming pool.
"Please enjoy yourself young lord... everything on this level is specially prepared..."
The butler grinned a bit while looking at the women on the level, some were dancing some were already coming over to guide the clients to a more relaxing part of the restaurant. The man just nodded and headed out, two voluptuous women at each side. They were treating him like a king, feeding him special spirit grapes and letting him grope the ladies all over.
The guard that was close to punishing the child not long ago just looked at the youth. He was still a bit new to this group so he didn't know what to make of this. He was smart enough to not bring it up at least, he wasn't here to party. Still, the way this young man was getting treated was quite envious. This was also a stark contrast to the way he acted previously, gone was the look of a virtuous person, it was now replaced by a lecherous grin.
'Ah, this is the life... as long as I remain Master's disciple, women, wine and power I can have it all... maybe even...'
The man thought to the most powerful member of the sect, shaking his head in disappointment.
'That old fart is a monster... better to wait till his life runs out before even trying to make a move...'
He took a swig from his wine glass while a busty dancer lady offered him some food, feeding him mouth to mouth. While this was happening the youth suddenly felt something, another smirk appearing on his face.
'Here comes the harvest...'
A little ball of light flew through the window, the people in the area oblivious to its existence. It was followed by two more, even the dark palm disciple couldn't really 'see' those balls of light, but he could feel them moving closer. They came to a stop in front of his head, just hovering there as if their purpose was to be there.
Deng Cai closed his eyes for a moment, not paying attention to the scantily clad women around him for the time being. He was focused on the orbs of radiating energy in front of him. They in response moved in closer and finally entered into that gem on his forehead. The gem gave off a faint sheen which soon subsided after the light orbs were absorbed.
'Ah, the young pure ones always taste the best... sadly they were just plain commoners with minimal spiritual energy.'
The man licked his lips and laughed out loud in a rather creepy fashion. This startled the dancing ladies, that took a moment to gather themselves. The sound of zither music drowned out the cackling man while another scene was playing out elsewhere.
"Little Tei... what's wrong, are you feeling unwell?"
The mother from the previous encounter was shaking her son a bit. He looked a bit out of it his eyes glossed over, his hands slumped forward. The boy didn't react, his arms and legs flailing as if he was a ragdoll without any life in him. He was obviously still breathing and was warm to the touch but something was wrong.
"Why won't you answer?"
The woman started shouting, this wasn't the first child the others were all doing the same thing. It was as if something sucked out the very being out of them and left them just a shell of their former self. It didn't look like anything was wrong with them on the outside, but the kids seemed vacant and unresponsive.
The woman had no idea what could be wrong with her children, they were just fine a moment ago but suddenly dropped to their knees. They weren't responding to her, she wasn't a doctor and her husband was still out working. The only thing the woman could do was to gather up her children and place them in bed.
This wasn't the first or last case like this, soon the clinics in the jade city were getting filled up with unresponsive children and people. The doctors were baffled by the strange symptoms by they all came to one consensus, all of these people were missing parts of their soul. The longer they stayed in this state the worse it would get, the only cure was either to return the stolen soul fragment or using a soul treasure that would allow the soul to repair itself. Such treasures were far too rare, the only thing these people could do was to slowly watch as their loved ones drifted away.
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