Chapter 226 – The Auction
Li Qingshan said, “It’s no problem! Zi Jian, since your friend has come, I don’t have to worry. I have some matters I need to attend to, so I’ll be going first. I’ll tell your father that you’re safe and sound.”
Before the two of them could reply, Li Qingshan strode off, vanishing into the crowd in the blink of an eye.
Hua Chenglu was young, but she was much more quick-witted than Yu Zijian. If he made too much contact with her, she might see through his disguise.
Hua Chenglu murmured, “Zijian, he’s so rude. Does he really want to help you? Though, his back does seem a little familiar.”
“That’s because Niu Juxia is very kind! How can he have any ill intentions?” Yu Zijian defended Li Qingshan in a hurry.
Hua Chenglu shook her head. “You’re still young and ignorant. You’d better be careful about being trafficked off somewhere. You’ll even end up having to count the buyer’s money.”
“You’re the one who’s young and ignorant. Niu Juxia is a good person. How could he do anything bad to me?!” Yu Zijian widened her eyes.
“Whatever, I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise anymore.” Hua Chenglu turned around and left.
Yu Zijian asked in a hurry, “Hey, where are you going?”
Hua Chenglu pointed at the mountain nearby with her chin. “The Green Vine mountain, obviously!”
Li Qingshan returned to the Proud Sword manor. Yu Shukuang was not there, currently out collecting food and alcohol.
Thinking about how Yu Zijian would return very soon anyway, Li Qingshan stopped worrying and ventured deep underground again through the hole in his estate outside the city.
This region was already as familiar to him as his own backyard. He knew every single proper demon in this place. After transforming into his true form, he had no need to worry about being attacked by some ignorant daemon. Instead, it made it all much more interesting. They would all emerge and greet him, “Leader, you’ve returned!”
Li Qingshan would nod slightly in a stern manner, maintaining his dignity as the leader. However, what he thought inside was, Quite a lot of these guys are about to lose their lives because of the daemon cores in them. Who’s fault is this supposed to be?
If he were still a human, there would probably be no need for him to consider this question at all. He would treat hunting down daemons for their daemon cores as something perfectly justifiable.
However, after becoming a daemon himself, receiving help from daemons and becoming friends and the leader of daemons, his thoughts gradually changed.
He walked through the deep, quiet caves, uncertain over just how far he had already walked.
A speck of blue light flickered in the endless darkness ahead of him. It was like the only star in the pitch-black night sky.
Li Qingshan was like a wanderer who had returned home. He became relieved as he sped up his steps. Before he had even entered the cavern, he heard the thunderous snore.
Li Qingshan shook his head. You sure are easy to read!
There was no need for him to hibernate at all, just like maintaining his vegetarian diet, but he continued with his primal instincts. Probably because he had failed to sense any dangerous auras, Milliped rolled over on the stone platform and did not rise.
Sleep as much as you can, while you still can!
Li Qingshan did not wake him up. He just leaned against the stone platform by himself, pressing his spine against the cold rock and sensing the pulsing spiritual qi inside. He slowly entered a meditative trance.
Xiao An, on the other hand, took out the Book of All and looked through it carefully. No matter how abundant the information in the book was, it was still more convenient when it was all stored in one’s head.
The blue butterflies of light fluttered their wings millions of times in the darkness. A month passed by quietly.
A whistling gust of wind was suddenly kicked up in the quiet cavern. The butterflies drifted about as the sea of flowers waved in the wind.
At one end of the wind was Li Qingshan sucking in a deep breath. He stood up and checked himself inside. He smiled in satisfaction.
He had already converted all of his true qi into Gui Water true qi, and he had opened another meridian at the same time. He had reached the fourth layer as a Qi Practitioner.
His true qi had never been so powerful before. He took out the Cursive Sword Calligraphy and channeled true qi into it. Sword qi flew out and pierced the stone wall silently.
A blue butterfly of light fluttered happily through the air for a while before suddenly splitting into two. The attack was so powerful that it could instantly kill regular sixth or seventh layer Qi Practitioners. It would even be able to pose a significant danger to ninth layer Qi Practitioners.
If he really ended up returning the Cursive Sword Calligraphy to its original state, just how powerful would it be? He became more and more eager. Calculating the amount of time that had passed, it was about time for him to participate in the auction.
Xiao An had already climbed into the bamboo basket automatically and was now standing in it. Li Qingshan said, “You can just stay here this time. It’s quite troublesome for me to carry a bamboo basket all the time, mostly because it just draws too much attention.”
All Qi Practitioners had hundred treasures pouches, yet he just had to carry a bamboo basket on his back. Both Sun Fubai in the bookstore and Liu Ruping had indirectly asked him about it before. Although they were probably just curious, he could not be certain that someone observant would not end up realising something.
He guaranteed, “If there’s anything good to eat or drink, I’ll definitely bring it back for you.”
“You find me troublesome?” Xiao An pouted.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Listen to me!”
Li Qingshan shot a glance at her before sighing inside, Stay calm, stay calm. Communicate, communicate.
He squatted down. “Then why don’t you want to stay here?”
“I don’t want to separate from you.” Xiao An’s eyes drooped down.
Li Qingshan said, “It’ll just be for a short while.”
“Not even a short while.”
“Whatever then, I’m going to leave you behind!” Li Qingshan strode towards the cave, alarming a large flock of butterflies. He took a few steps before looking back. All he saw was that she continued to stand in the bamboo basket, without crying or throwing a tantrum, just staring straight at him, as if she was waiting for him to take her along with him.
He made up his mind. “I’m really going to leave you behind.” When he arrived at the entrance of the tunnel, he could not help but look back. She remained just the same as before. If he really did leave like this, she would probably keep waiting until he returned.
He sighed helplessly. “Come with me!”
Together with the bamboo basket, she rose up into the air with a violent gust of wind, landing in Li Qingshan’s hand. Xiao An smiled victoriously.
Li Qingshan pinched her tender cheeks viciously. “I knew I shouldn’t have given in!”
Xiao An said, “If I’m not by your side, I can’t protect you.”
Li Qingshan suddenly fell silent.
“Leader, please leave some for me! Croak croak!” A frog leapt around frantically as it spoke human tongue.
“Cut the nonsense, or I’ll roast you whole and eat you!” Li Qingshan placed the Whale’s Ingestion of Water into the spring of the Ice Condensate water, allowing it to suck up as much water as it wanted. It had already absorbed three tanks worth of water, but it still did not seem to be full.
The frog was utterly worried out of its mind, but it was powerless to do anything.
Only when the whale filled up completely did Li Qingshan take it out in satisfaction. He fished out a Pearl Dew pill and tossed it to the frog. “Here, for you.” He would not actually take advantage of it. This frog was one of the strongest daemon soldiers under his command. If other Qi Practitioners were bold enough to come for the spring water, they would not be able to take even a drop of the spring water back even if they managed to survive the frog somehow.
The frog’s tongue shot out, and it ate the Pearl Dew pill. “Croak! Thank you, leader!” Although the spring water was teeming with spiritual qi, it still could not be compared to the effects of high quality pills refined by humans at the end of the day.
“Keep guarding this place. Don’t forget about the gathering!” Li Qingshan handed over a few more matters before leaving the cavern again.
“Croak, croak! I won’t forget!” called out the frog. With a plonk, it dove into the Ice Condensate water.
Li Qingshan moved through the cave quickly. With a jolt of the crystal whale in his hand, there was a gurgle, and it spat out a huge blade. It even condensed a beautiful, crystal hand guard. It was perfect for Li Qingshan to unleash the full advantage of his strength, and it was an appropriate size and length for him. It was extremely heavy as well, over five hundred kilograms in weight. Even Li Qingshan could not wield it with just a single hand.
He had been constantly channeling his Gui Water true qi into the Whale’s Ingestion of Water. His aura had filled it completely now, without any sluggishness anymore. It was as if it was now an extension of his limb. When he created weapons, he did not have to let out the water then wait for it to slowly freeze either. It would condense in a single moment.
However, fourth layer Gui Water true qi was still slightly insufficient to unleash the power of this high grade spiritual artifact.
Li Qingshan arrived in the Proud Sword manor. Yu Shukuang had already returned, passing a full hundred treasures pouch to Li Qingshan. He wanted to say something, but he hesitated.
Li Qingshan checked the hundred treasures pouch and smiled in satisfaction. Then he asked, “Why don’t I see your daughter?”
Yu Shukuang was surprised. “Didn’t she go to the Green Vine mountain? Why would she be able to return?”
Li Qingshan frowned. “In other words, she hasn’t returned yet?” Was the Green Vine Elder really going to disrespect the Hua family?
Yu Shukuang said, “She hasn’t returned at all. Did you see her?”
Li Qingshan told him about how he had met Yu Zijian in the market below the Green Vine mountain.
Yu Shukuang sighed. “Thank you for your troubles. As long as she hasn’t endured any harassment, I can be relieved as her father. As for whether she joins the Academy of the Hundred Schools or the Green Vine mountain, that’s probably beyond our control.”
Li Qingshan said, “I’ll be visiting the Green Vine mountain again very soon. I’ll take a look at just exactly what has happened. Just wait for the news from me!” He took out another empty hundred treasures pouch and handed it to Yu Shukuang. “I still need you to collect food, but it’s not that urgent this time. Just keep an eye out when you go about your usual business. Remember, don’t alert too many people.”
The underground daemons had an endless demand for surface food, and it would also be his main method for controlling his subordinates as the leader of the daemon soldiers. He obviously needed someone to handle this for him.
Yu Shukuang said, “That’s easy. The Proud Sword manor has already purchased over a dozen large restaurants, and it’s in charge of several large grain vendors too. It’ll be much easier to handle this from here on out!”
Li Qingshan smiled. “That’s some dedication!” Yu Shukuang had lived up to all the time and effort Li Qingshan had spent on him. He was in need of a clever subordinate who could read between the lines and plan ahead. He did not have the time or energy to construct his own network of people, but Yu Shukuang was capable of this. Otherwise, how was he supposed to have managed to create such a large Proud Sword manor?
He handed all of his silver notes to Yu Shukuang. “Don’t hesitate about the money when it comes to handling this matter. In the future, you definitely won’t just be leading some figures of the jianghu.”
Yu Shukuang’s heart skipped a beat. He smiled. “If it won’t just be some figures of the jianghu, will there be Qi Practitioners as well? I don’t have that ability with my talent. I’ve reached the innate realm at such a late age, so it’s already quite impressive for me to be able to reach the second layer of Qi Practitioner.”
Li Qingshan’s face sank. “If you’re satisfied with the second layer, then forget I said anything.” Second layer Qi Practitioners were at the bottom of the food chain among Qi Practitioners. Not only would a subordinate like that fail to provide any great help to him, but he would probably even require him to resolve many issues for him. There would be no point in keeping a subordinate like that around.
Yu Shukuang looked into Li Qingshan’s eyes. His pitch-black irises seemed to be burning. The ambition and confidence hidden within made Yu Shukuang’s heart shiver slightly. Before this person, there was no need for him to act modest. It was the exact opposite. He needed to demonstrate sufficient ambition and confidence to gain his favour. This also happened to be his specialty.
“I heard that if you practise qi, practise qi, and then practise some more qi, you can overcome some sort of barrier and step into the world of immortals. I want to try.”
Only then did Li Qingshan smile. He placed a Pill of Spring Breeze and Rain into Yu Shukuang’s palm. “That realm is called Foundation Establishment. It means that everything is just the beginning.”
There was a hubbub of noise in the town as people gathered together, brushing past one another.
Qi Practitioners that regular people rarely ever saw were everywhere. Every single one of them were slightly eager and nervous. The once-a-decade Herb Gathering ceremony of the three mountains was about to begin in three day’s time.
The great adventure in the subterranean world was about to unfold. It was filled with opportunities and danger. Some people could strike it rich overnight, while others could die as nobodies. Everyone hoped to be the former and wished for everyone else to be the latter. They had made sufficient preparations as well. Their gazes towards one another had already become extremely cold.
The quiet Tranquil teahouse was actually filled with customers. The brewer, Lu Ziyu, was basically completely tied up. Qi Practitioners at the sixth layer and higher were present everywhere now, and only they could afford to drink something so luxurious.
The other stores were basically facing the same predicament. Business was booming. However, only the store of Miscellaneous Goods had very few visitors. Once the flow of people reached here, they would be pushed away by an invisible barrier, preventing them from getting any closer. Unless they held an invitation, only powerful Qi Practitioners of the sixth layer or higher could directly step through the formations and enter the building under everyone’s envious and admiring gazes.
Li Qingshan arrived extremely early. He was already seated in his private box, quietly waiting for the auction to begin. Looking outside, every single private box was enveloped by a layer of mist, blocking any curious gazes.
At this moment, Liu Ruping walked in with a smile. Li Qingshan said immediately, “You can go. I don’t need your service!”
Liu Ruping’s smile stiffened, but she saw how resolute Li Qingshan was, so she could only back out. She thought, Since you’re so heartless, don’t blame me for being disloyal!
The lid of the bamboo basket opened by a small crack, revealing Xiao An’s crystal clear eyes. “You didn’t want me to come because you wanted to be with her…”
Smack! Li Qingshan pressed the lid down. “What would a child know about?”
A gong rang through the entire hall, and Shi Peipei climbed onto the stage in a set of violet, silken clothes. She bowed with folded hands at first, thanking everyone for attending, before introducing herself and declaring that the auction had begun.
Items were auctioned off one after another. It began with a stack of low grade talismans, before progressing to mid grade talismans. The value of the items increased as the auction progressed, as did the bidding.
Li Qingshan waited calmly for the only thing that he wanted, the Sword Qi Calligraphy, to appear.
“The next item is the Sword Qi Calligraphy penned by an ancient sword immortal. It can unleash strokes of sword qi. Although it’s just a mid grade spiritual artifact, it contains great understanding of the path of the sword, and this Sword Qi Calligraphy should only be an incomplete fragment of the actual thing. If someone assembles the other fragments, it’ll be much more than just a mid grade spiritual artifact. The starting price is one hundred spiritual stones.”
As the calligraphy scroll was unfurled, Li Qingshan’s eyes narrowed. It can’t be wrong. This is it. He did not understand calligraphy, but the sharp, twisted style hidden within was exactly the same as the Cursive Sword Calligraphy.
For a final confirmation, he glanced at Xiao An. Xiao An was proficient at both calligraphy and the sword, so she could not be wrong. With a gentle nod from her, Li Qingshan smiled. While it was a little expensive compared to regular mid grade spiritual artifacts, with a starting price of a hundred spiritual stones, it was still being auctioned off as a mid grade spiritual artifact. He had prepared over a thousand spiritual stones for it, so nothing should end up going wrong.
After Shi Peipei announced the starting price, everyone fell into a temporary silence.
A hundred spiritual stones for a mid grade spiritual artifact really was not a good deal. Apart from very few people like Li Qingshan, everyone present was a knowledgeable Qi Practitioner. Who knows how many auctions they had already attended in the past. They had already grown immune to something that was supposed to originate from some ancient sword immortal. There were plenty of ancient cultivators, so why wouldn’t a few items end up being passed down?
Even if the Sword Qi Calligraphy had once shone resplendently, it was just a mid grade spiritual artifact now. No one dared to hope that they could find the other fragments. Even if they did find them, how were they supposed to assemble it?
This was similar to the Arts of the Boundless Ocean. It seemed to be hiding great value, but the value was just far too unrealistic. Most cultivators looked for practicality instead.
Li Qingshan smiled. Just when he was about to bid, a muffled voice suddenly rang out nearby from another private box, “Two hundred spiritual stones!” Right off the bat, he demonstrated his desire to obtain this item, which directly quelled the thoughts of many Qi Practitioners of casting a random bid.
Shi Peipei said, “Alright. This fellow bids two hundred spiritual stones. Is there anyone else willing to bid higher?” The Sword Qi Calligraphy had been appraised by her, and she had deemed it to be a special item. That was why she specially priced it a little high, higher than most mid grade spiritual artifacts. If a special item was unable to fetch a price befitting a special item, she would rather have it passed on. There were plenty of days to come for it to be sold.
Li Qingshan sighed slightly. As he had expected, he was not the only one who had recognised the value of this item. He also bid. “Three hundred spiritual stones!”
His voice passed through the blocking mist and immediately became twisted and vague. It was no longer even possible to tell whether it came from a man or a woman.
Shi Peipei glanced deeply at the private box. She knew that was Li Qingshan’s box, and she smiled. As it seemed, the special item would be sold for a price it deserved today.
As expected, the other box bid again after a moment of silence. “Four hundred spiritual stones!” He had actually raised the price by another hundred spiritual stones.
The auction centre fell quiet, followed by a slight hubbub. Four hundred spiritual stones were already enough to buy an inferior high grade spiritual artifact. Why would someone pay that much for a mid grade spiritual artifact? Was the Sword Qi Calligraphy really hiding something? Or did the school of Miscellany hire someone to purposefully raise the price?
There were quite a few people who became tempted, but none of them were willing to risk the spiritual stones in their hundred treasures pouches. They just watched on quietly as the two of them competed against one another. They were rather surprised by the fact that the first intense bidding war had already begun before a high grade spiritual artifact had even appeared.
Li Qingshan frowned and said calmly, “Five hundred spiritual stones.”
“Six hundred spiritual stones!” Before Li Qingshan had even finished speaking, the voice rang out again. It was twisted by the mist, but everyone could hear the fury within the voice.