Chapter 83 – Carrying an Old Man Everywhere You Go

The mists circulated around the Fire Peach Tree, manifesting the dwarvish figure of Tao Qingshan.

He said suspiciously, “Are you the Sea-Swallowing King’s disciple?”

“Here is my master’s command token.” The young Daoist smiled and took out a jade medallion and waved it in the air.
It was engraved with clouds that condensed into the character “Ge.”

Tao Qingshan instantly grew reverent.
“Please forgive me for not going out to welcome you personally.”

Ge Qian put away the medallion.
“According to my master’s estimates, there ought to be ripe Fire Peaches on the tree right about now.
I’ll have to trouble you to fetch them for me.

Tao Qingshan went rigid, then said hesitantly, “I won’t lie to you, Young Lord.
You’re one step too late.
Just two days ago, there were indeed three ripe Fire Peaches, but someone already came and took them away.”

Ge Qian frowned.
“Who took them?”

Tao Qingshan hurriedly pointed at the stone stele.
“Young Lord, please look.”

Ge Qian looked over and saw a new line of casually elegant text: “On the fourth day of the second month of the Great Zhou’s calendar, Su Yi took three Fire Peaches and left.”

Ge Qian’s brow furrowed even deeper.
“Who is this ‘Su Yi’?”

Tao Qingshan’s heart quivered.
“Young Lord, Su Yi is a mystic master possessed of vast supernatural powers.
His methods are simply unbelievable; from my perspective, he’s like a banished immortal descending upon the mortal plane, a transcendent existence.
But I’m afraid I don’t know his origins.”

Ge Qian pondered for a moment, then said, “He was well aware that my master claimed this land long ago, yet he still dared leave with the Fire Peaches, and even leave his name upon Master’s stone stele? No ordinary man would have the courage to do such a thing.”

“Young Lord, I don’t think Mystic Master Su Yi is wicked,” said Tao Qingshan cautiously.
“He seemed more like an enlightened being.
Before he left, he said that if His Excellency the Sea-Swallowing King wishes to blame someone, he should look for him directly.”

“He’s not even afraid of my master?” Surprise arose on Ge Qian’s face.
He thought, then asked, “Do you remember what he looks like?”

“Just a moment, please,” said Tao Qingshan hurriedly.
He then plucked a green leaf from the Fire Peach Tree and used his fingernail to carve an outline.
With a burst of spiritual light, a tall, lean figure appeared on the leaf’s surface.

He held a bamboo staff and had his hair tied up.
He had an ethereal, otherworldly air.

Ge Qian examined the image closely, looking stunned.
“And here I thought he was an expert of the older generation.
Who’d have thought he’d be a young man…?”

Tao Qingshan explained, “It’s also possible that he’s mastered the art of eternal youth.
After all, someone like Mystic Master Su Yi has long since transcended the ordinary martial artists of the mundane world.”

Ge Qian glanced at him.
“It seems you’re rather frightened of this Su Yi?”

“I won’t lie to you,” said Tao Qingshan hurriedly.
“I feel nothing but awe and reverence for Mystic Master Su Yi.”

“Oh,” said Ge Qian.
He paused, then shouted, his voice booming like thunder.
“Tao Qingshan!”

The dwarf’s body went rigid, and he instinctively looked up, then saw a flash of faint purple light shine in Ge Qian’s eyes.

Tao Qingshan felt his soul buzz, then he lost all awareness and stood there, frozen.

A hint of barely perceptible exasperation arose on Ge Qian’s handsome face.
“Old Man, I’ll leave the soul searching up to you.
I just want to know if Tao Qingshan is telling the truth or not.”

As he said this, something palpitated within his soul.
A burst of low, raspy laughter soon followed.
“In exchange, after you obtain the Pure Yang Fire Peaches, you have to give me half.”

Ge Qian twinged in pain.
“An existence on your level has no need for such low-grade spiritual materials, right?”

“It’s true; I have no need for a tier-four Fire Peach, but those are the rules.
My goal is to make you understand: to obtain something, you must first pay the corresponding price.”

The raspy voice continued, “Work hard, young man! The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
With me here, you are the chosen son of heaven! Your future accomplishments in the Dao will exceed that ‘master’ of yours a hundred times—no, a thousand! I’m sure of it!”

His tone seemed designed to entice.

But Ge Qian merely laughed.
“Old Man, if you were really all that, what need would you have to seek refuge within my soul? And when I’m in front of my master, you’re always too scared to even say a peep! Look at you now, bragging like that.
Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

That raspy voice fell silent, then sighed.
“Shrimp can torment a dragon in shallow waters, and dogs can bully tigers on open plains.
If not for….
Forget it, no need to go into that.
Those who know me ask about my troubles, while those who don’t question my motives!”

Ge Qian snickered, then said as if coaxing a small child.
“Let’s get to work now! If you do, I’ll give you delicious peaches!”

“Hmph!” 

Ge Qian heard a cold snort, then felt a stinging pain in his eyes as whirlpools of purple light surged through his pupils.
He fixed his gaze on Tao Qingshan. A moment later, that raspy voice exclaimed in surprise, sounding grave.

“What did you see?” Ge Qian asked hurriedly.

After a lengthy silence, the raspy voice responded, “That Su Yi is merely a Blood Circulation Realm Youth, not some old monster making himself look young.
But…” 

“But what?” Ge Qian was a little frantic.
This was the first time he’d seen the “old man” in his soul dither like this.

Historically, he talked about even Earthly Immortals as if they were beneath his notice.

“All I can say is, there’s something strange about Su Yi.
He likely has secrets no one else knows!”

The raspy voice paused, then suddenly suggested, “Little fellow, I have a certain premonition that if you overpower Su Yi and force him into submission, you might very well obtain an unexpectedly grand stroke of fortune.
How about it? Want to give it a shot?”

Ge Qian instantly went on guard, but outwardly, he feigned disinterest.
“That’s not a good enough reason.
Besides, I’m a natural-born coward.
Even Master says he’s never seen anyone so scrupulously cautious in his life.
I have to cover my eyes just to kill a chicken.”

“…..” The raspy voice fell briefly silent.
“But he stole three Fire Peaches.
As Ge Changling’s disciple, shouldn’t you get even with him? How about this? So long as you go deal with that Su Yi, I can make an exception and act directly! Whatever benefits we obtain, we can split fifty-fifty.
That ought to be good enough, right?”

But this only put Ge Qian more on edge.

He shook his head.
“I’ll report this incident to Master, and let him decide how to respond.”

The raspy voice was clearly frantic.
“What right does a coward like you have to talk about standing above the world and suppressing all enemies in his path? Feh! Your master’s right about you; you’re a coward right down to your bones!”

Ge Qian merely laughed, not the least bit upset.
“I’ll live longer if I don’t play games with my life.
Being careful is never a bad thing.
If I listen to you and go after Su Yi, and if he has other secrets about him, it won’t just be the end of me, Old Man.
Your soul will scatter into nothingness too.” 

With that, he turned and left the peach orchard.
His apricot robes fluttered, but his handsome face was grim. This was the first time he’d seen the old man hiding in his soul so desperate to deal with a youth roughly his age!

This put Ge Qian on guard.

On their way back, the raspy voice fell silent.
It seemed he’d realized that no matter what he said, it would be almost impossible to change Ge Qian’s decision.

“Su Yi, you stole my master’s peaches.
You’ll definitely pay for this.
Perhaps it won’t be long before I go looking for you….” Gu Qian emerged from the peach orchard, exhaled, then flew away on his immortal crane.

 ……

A massive tower boat floated atop the Great Azure River.

The ninth pavilion. 

“Master Su, this pavilion has two stories.
You take the second floor, and we’ll take the first,” said Yuan Luoxi crisply.

The tower ship had nine stories, as well as twelve standalone pavilions.
Occupying a pavilion wasn’t simply a matter of money; it required sufficient connections, too.

Take their pavilion: It was Fu Shan’s relationship with Zhang Yiren that got them in.

“This place is really nice.” Huang Qianjun looked around, his heart filled with emotion. 

The pavilion only had two stories, but it had its own courtyard, and it was fully furnished and outfitted with daily necessities.
The decor had an old-fashioned charm, and from the latticed windows, they had a clear view of the banks of the Great Azure.

“How about you stay here too?” said Su Yi offhandedly.

“I….” Huang Qianjun was extremely tempted.
His father had spent a lot of money to get him a room aboard the tower ship.
His cabin was within the nine stories of the main tower, and it was a first-class room too.

 But how could that compare with a stand-alone pavilion? 

“How about this? The second floor has two rooms.
You take one of them.”

Why would Su Yi care about such details? He went ahead and made the decision on Huang Qianjun’s behalf.

Huang Qianjun instantly beamed.
He was so happy, he couldn’t help but thank Su Yi repeatedly.

Yuan Luoxi couldn’t help but reevaluate him.
She realized that Su Yi seemed closer to Huang Qianjun than to her. 

Once everything was in order, the group sat at the table in the courtyard, sipped tea, and rested.

“Master Su, during my conversation with Zhang Yiren, he made a point of telling me that eight hundred spirit beasts are caged on the first five floors of the tower ship.” Cheng Wuyong suddenly spoke up.
“All of them are from the Bloodthistle Yao Mountain.
They’re all spoils of war captured alive by the Spiritmartial Marquis’ Greenplate Army.
He urged us not to go near them.”

“Spirit beasts?” Su Yi was stunned.
“Why capture so many beasts alive?”

There were numerous inhospitable regions of the Great Zhou.
Such places were perilous, and they were typically home to spirit beasts and other yao.

Take the Bloodthistle Yao Mountain the Spiritmartial Marquis was stationed at.
It was one of the Great Zhou’s famed “Eight Great Yao Mountains.”

The Great Zhou divided Spirit beasts into nine tiers based on their threat level.

Tier-one was the weakest; they were only marginally more powerful than ordinary wild beasts.

Tier-nine was the strongest.
Such beasts already had a degree of sentience, and they had innate talent and inborn yao energy.
Ordinary Martial Dao Grandmasters would have to run for their lives upon encountering them.

Only Xiantian Martial Ancestors had a fighting chance.

Within the Great Zhou, there were rumors of levels above tier-nine.
People said that yao spirits existed too.
These were terrifying existences capable of contending with Earthly Immortals.

But of course, Su Yi knew that this classification system only applied to the Azure Continent.

In the Nine Provinces of the Wilds, even tiny, ordinary sects could easily dispose of so-called “yao spirits.”

“Most of the spirit beasts are headed for the prefectural capital for peak-level factions to purchase.
They’re used as whetstones to sharpen warriors’ Martial Daos.
Factions like Heaven’s Origin Academy, Blueriver Sword Manor, the Governor’s Estate, as well as our Yuan Family purchase live beasts from the battlefield year-round,” explained Cheng Wuyong.
“This is common practice throughout the Great Zhou.
After all, a warrior who’s never experienced bloodshed is unworthy of the title.”

When he heard that, Huang Qianjun’s face heated up in embarrassment.
Despite all his years of life, he’d never even seen a spirit beast, much less killed one.

He couldn’t help but ask in a whisper, “Miss Yuan, have you killed a spirit beast before?”

Yuan Luoxi rolled her eyes then said derisively, “ When I was nine years old, I used a knife to stab a stork spirit to death.
From that day forth, I’ve been certain to kill a spirit beast of one sort or another once a week.
I’ve long since lost track of how many yao have perished at my hands.
You’re asking ‘if I’ve ever killed one before’? What a joke!” 

Her shiny pink lips curved upward with unspoken pride.

Miss Yuan, your words are like a dagger to the heart…! Huang Qianjun felt the sudden urge to cover his face and flee the room.

Seth's Thoughts

“Those who know me ask about my troubles, while those who don’t question my motives!”

This is a line of poetry.
You can find the full poem the Old Man in Ge Qian’s soul quotes here.
It’s number 65, 黍離  SHU LI.

____

The terms used here might be a bit unclear, so here’s a somewhat more detailed explanation.
The author has been somewhat vague, and there's a lot we don't know yet, so it’s possible that I’ve misunderstood some of the finer points.
This is just how I understand it:

Spirit beasts are a type of yao, but more animal-like.
They’re not fully sentient, but their sentience increases with their strength.
At low levels, they’re basically just animals, but they’re strong enough to contend with cultivators.
At high levels, they still look like animals, and they can’t talk, but they’re intelligent.
They cannot take on human form or feign a human appearance.
Think “animals, but stronger and with more potential.”

This is in contrast to a fully sentient nature spirit like Tao Qingshan.
Think “unsexy dryads”.
Nature spirits can and do include animals, though, which weren’t necessarily spirit beasts to begin with.
Tao Qingshan can appear in human form, but he has yet to cast aside the limitations of his original body.

The text hasn’t said anything about this outright, but you can probably assume that plants/animals that become nature spirits were either special to begin with (ie they were spiritual materials or spirit beasts) OR that they had some kind of lucky encounter ie “they just happened to grow beside a spiritual spring” or “they ate a special medicinal herb.” Tao Qingshan falls into the former category, as the Pure Yang Fire Peach Tree is a high-quality material.
We have not seen any yao in the latter category, but then, Tao Qingshan is the first yao to appear unless you count the great peng in the first chapter.
And a great peng was definitely special to begin with. 

Note that nature spirits are not necessarily stronger than spirit beasts.
They're just different categories of (relatively low-level) yao.

We don't know much about proper yao cultivators yet, but it sounds like the line that separates them from lesser yao is that they've shed the metaphorical shackles of their true body.
Tao Qingshan is appearing in human form, but that’s more like the tree’s avatar; he’s still fundamentally a peach tree.
A proper yao cultivator (presumably) still has some connection to their original body, but they will spend most of their time in human form, and their human(oid) body is the real deal. 

In short:

No sentience= normal plants and animals or low-level spirit beasts/spiritual medicines

Some degree of sentience but cannot take on a human appearance= high-level spirit beasts

Full sentience, and can appear in human form, but lacks a truly human body= Nature Spirits

Fully sentient, has a fully humanoid body, and has cast aside the shackles of their original animal/plantlike body= full-fledged yao cultivator

Hopefully that helps!

___

I might need to change the term “yao spirits” later.
It's a literal translation, but I don't like it, and the word spirit is over-used….
But that's what it says, and I temporarily can't think of anything better.
I'll revisit the term when it becomes more relevant to the plot.
If I change the term, I'll let you know in another note.

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