Chapter 131 – The Places of Darkness
Zhou Wenbin explained, and only then did Li Qingshan understand that he did not have it easy as a district magistrate. In order to maintain a sufficient ‘approval rating’ so that the citizens of Jiaping city would be grateful to him, the person who watched over them all, he had to reduce taxes and costs, begin construction projects both on land and over water, and establish public facilities. Moreover, he had to ensure high salaries to maintain honesty among his subordinates, maintaining a group of aides to help him handle governance. As a result, he often struggled to make ends meet.
Zhou Wenbin spread his hands and smiled bitterly. “It’s pitiful for a government official like me. Not only am I working without a salary, but I even have to find ways to raise money.”
Li Qingshan found this rather funny. In this day and age, although the disparity in wealth was enormous, this was not necessarily a bad thing to the common people.
In the Great Xia empire, regardless of rank or status, not a single official was paid a salary, but they did not have to hand up any taxes or money either. Even when they found gold or silver mines, the local government would control it.
This was impossible in any empire or kingdom that Li Qingshan knew about, but this was the reality. The items that interested cultivators were different from ordinary people in the first place. If Zhou Wenbin wanted to, he could squeeze millions of silver taels out from Jiaping yearly, but there was no point to that at all.
However, there was one type of mine that the empire would own, namely spiritual stone mines. The salary that government officials like Zhou Wenbin and Zhuo Zhibo collected were spiritual stones.
As a result, Li Qingshan took out the several hundred thousand taels of silver he found from the procuress and handed it to Zhou Wenbin.
Zhou Wenbin said, “Aren’t you going to ask just how many Qi Gathering pills you’ll get?”
Li Qingshan said, “I’ve never been a stingy person, but of course, I do hope that others can be more generous with me as well.”
Zhou Wenbin took out a small bottle with a total of twelve Qi Gathering pills. He handed it to Li Qingshan and said, “Since this is your first time, I’ll give you a special price. If you find more silver, you are welcome to exchange it with me. However, it’ll be a hundred thousand taels for a pill.”
Li Qingshan said, “That’s very fair.” When he thought about the astronomical price of a single, tiny Qi Gathering pill, he could not help but be rather amazed. However, if it were the jianghu instead, there were plenty of people willing to pay a hundred thousand taels of silver for a single Qi Gathering pill.
Li Qingshan then took out the accounts he had found from the procuress and handed them to Zhou Wenbin. “I’m wondering if there’s any evidence against the Parlour of Clouds and Rain on there.”
Li Qingshan did not want to raise suspicion with his actions, so he did not take it out immediately. However, he thought about how there were still many girls trapped in the underground palace beneath the Parlour of Clouds and Rain. As such, he needed to find a way to get Zhou Wenbin to search through the parlour again so that the girls could be openly rescued. Otherwise, they would basically starve to death down there if nothing happened.
Zhou Wenbin did not even glance at it. He clapped his hands and a servant immediately came over and retrieved the accounts, taking it to the government office. Those aides who were skilled in this area would look through it.
Before long, a person who seemed like an advisor walked over. At first, he glanced at Li Qingshan in surprise. The Hawkwolf Guard was impressive, but there were no ordinary Black Wolf guards who could sit at the same level as the official that he served. Afterwards, he bowed at Li Qingshan slightly before reporting to Zhou Wenbin, “Sir, there are many issues with it…”
Li Qingshan looked at the pond as he wondered how he would put it. Only after Zhou Wenbin and the advisor were done talking did he say, “Sir, is this enough evidence to take down the Parlour of Clouds and Rain?”
Zhou Wenbin said, “Do you really think that we can take down the Parlour of Clouds and Rain with a single set of accounts? You’re underestimating the strength of the Sect of Clouds and Rain far too much. The person I sent to Fishes’ Gully has already returned. Qing Xiu’s entire family is already dead. They’ve handled this matter very cleanly.”
Li Qingshan was furious. “Those bastards! Sir, you serve the government, so how can you fear a sect?”
Zhou Wenbin said, “I’m not afraid of them. I’m just helpless. These cultivation sects all have their own foundations and legacies. Some larger sects have been around for longer than the empire itself. Even when the founding emperor was around, he could only pacify them at most, making them promise to peacefully coexist as long as it did not get in the way of their interests. Afterwards, the Academy of the Hundred Schools was established, raising talents to contend against them.”
In short, they would not purposefully come and make trouble for Zhou Wenbin, but Zhou Wenbin did not want to make things difficult for them either. He had come here to cultivate, not to actually serve as an upright official and speak for the people. However, no one could blame him for anything.
Li Qingshan thought, Fortunately, I crushed Zhao Liangqing, or I would have never been able to achieve anything through the law!
“As a result, you have to prepare against plots from the Sect of Clouds and Rain as well. Sometimes, they might even be more terrifying than Zhuo Zhibo. Zhuo Zhibo is a part of the Hawkwolf Guard, which is why he fears you backing. However, they might not have so many qualms. Most of the losses of the Hawkwolf Guard arise from conflicts with these sects, killed off silently and soundlessly. There have even been hawk commanders like Zhuo Zhibo or district magistrates like me who have been killed off mysteriously.”
Li Qingshan was not too surprised. He had witnessed an example of this already. Despite Gu Yanying’s identity, she still failed to kill that White Lotus Mother. Although she forced the latter into hiding, she still lost many subordinates.
The White Wolf guards under her command were powerful cultivators who had undergone a heavenly tribulation and reached Foundation Establishment at the very least. They were figures who could run amok through Jiaping city or even the Clear River prefecture. The Soaring Dragon Elder of the Sword Collection palace did not fear the authority of the Hawkwolf Guard at all. He was even bold enough to kill the Dark Queen’s beloved pet right in front of Gu Yanying or even fight with her. And that was with the Hawk God standing behind Gu Yanying. This only demonstrated the fearlessness of these cultivation sects.
He could not help but sigh in amazement. “Regardless of the day or age, it’s all about strength. Stuff like status will never be as convenient as strength.”
Zhou Wenbin said, “You should have a mental map of the Green province, right? If you don’t mind, let’s take a look.”
Li Qingshan unfurled the mental map of the Green province.
Zhou Wenbin stroked the map gently. “What a nice thing.” Countless specks of light lit up on there like the twinkling stars of the night sky.
“The places that light up all have people with status in the government. Even fifth layer Qi Practitioners would not be bold enough to kill a first layer Qi Practitioner Hawkwolf guard like you publicly. However, there’s nothing like that beyond the specks of light. There is only strength. You must remember this. As long as they have absolute confidence, people will be bold enough to attack you over the contents of your hundred treasures pouch. Not only will your wolf hide fail to protect you at times, it can even draw in hostility.”
Li Qingshan looked at the mental map he had gone through many times already and gained a new understanding. The stars were bright and clustered, but they would never surpass the immensity and darkness of the night sky. These remote mountains and marshes were lawless lands. They were the place where daemons and demons danced, a battlefield for cultivators.
A revelation like that brought him far more help than a few additional Qi Gathering pills. It gave him a completely new understanding with respect to his identity and position. However, not only did he feel no fear, but he even felt enlightened instead.
As it turned out, he was still worrying about how he could finish off Zhuo Zhibo without raising too much suspicion if Zhuo Zhibo decided to turn against him, but now, these areas of darkness beyond the light brought him convenience. He could openly slaughter everyone and anyone before pushing all of the blame onto an unknown, powerful cultivator or some terrifying daemon passing by.
Zhou Wenbin failed to see any fear on Li Qingshan’s face at all. That was an emotion that every single cultivator of orthodox origins would reveal when they heard something like this for the first time. Even Zhou Wenbin himself had not been an exception, which was why he decided to remain in the light for his entire life, protecting himself and distancing himself from that world of darkness.
He could not help but admit that there really was something different about this teenager. He seemed to have a deep interest in battle, slaughter, chaos, and disorder, but he was not like a brainless madman who lived to fight. Instead, he was courageous but not reckless.
Perhaps he was more suited to joining some large sect instead of walking down the path of the Hawkwolf Guard or the Academy of the Hundred Schools. Basically every large sect prefered disciples like this. Whether it be for purging demons or for purging the orthodoxy, they all required people who could fight.
In the eyes of ordinary people, cultivators seemed to have detached from the mortal world, avoiding all contact with the bloodshed and affairs of mortals, only needing to meditate and chant everyday, dwelling in the wilderness. They would be able to elongate their lives or even achieve eternal life.
If it were based on their true intentions, who would be bold enough to take risks and fight with people? Who didn’t want to walk the path of longevity peacefully, devoting all their time to making spiritual artifacts and talismans, refining pills, and ingesting medicines, spending all their time cultivation and seeking enlightenment instead of learning techniques? However, this path was riddled with far too many hardships, and it was just far too crowded.
Everyone required pills and medicines, but there was a limit to spiritual herbs. Everyone required blessed lands to cultivate in, but there was a limit to nice dwellings. They could choose to stand aside and watch others enjoy the pills, medicines, blessed lands, and rapid cultivation. Meanwhile, they themselves would gradually decline before turning into a pile of bones in a grave, or they could contend with others and see who was better.
Not only did they have to contend with the heavens for their fate, but they had to contend with humans for victory.
Even if peace was brought to the world, and there was harmony among all people, wouldn’t the daemons, demons, ghosts, and monsters hidden in the darkness want to regain the upper hand and rule over the nine provinces? In this wilderness without order, who knows how many sects had been established and destroyed. They could only follow the most primitive principle—survival of the fittest. Only the strongest would be respected.
Between the Sword Collection palace and the Umbral Yin sect, one wielded swords, while the other controlled ghosts. Perhaps they were not the sects that were the best at cultivation, but they each possessed their advantages. They had followed this principle and survived and thrived under it.
Li Qingshan stowed the mental map of the Green province away. He said, “Since I’ve already offended them, I might as well offend them a little more. I have this identity, so if I don’t use it, it’ll be a pity.”
Zhou Wenbin knew that it was impossible for him to have any chances at reaching a compromise or reconciling after killing the people of the Sect of Clouds and Rain in public. Thinking about his youthful mentality and his lingering anger, he said, “Fine then. I’ll give around another dozen guards to you. Although this set of accounts can’t take them down, it’s enough to press them and make them spit out some silver.”
At this moment, a caretaker came over and reported, “Sir, there’s a fatty at the door wishing to see you. He said he’s the district magistrate of Qingyang city. These are his documents.”
Zhou Wenbin smiled. “Looks like your old boss is here.”
Li Qingshan smiled as well. “Maintaining peace in the city is the job of the vice magistrates in the first place. Wouldn’t sending sir Ye instead of me be more appropriate?”
Zhou Wenbin waved his hand. “You go tell him that. I’m going to start cultivating, so let him know to see me tomorrow.” Clearly, he did not take an ordinary person like Ye Dachuan seriously. All he needed to do was pay him a little more silver for the sake of the prefect.
Li Qingshan arrived at the front of the government office. He saw Ye Dachuan pointing around with the advisor. “Look, now this is a big city. Big cities are just different. Although it’s a little worse compared to Clear River city, it’s way better than that shitty place of Qingyang.” The advisor was delighted as well as he stood beside him. Finally, he felt like he had achieved some success after following this fatty.
“Sir Ye, it has been quite a few days. How have you been?”
Ye Dachuan turned around and saw Li Qingshan in his Black Wolf uniform. Although he knew Li Qingshan had actually become one, he still could not help himself. “Y- you’ve really…”
Li Qingshan smiled. “I have great riches and honour to give you! Do you want it or not?”