Bai Xiaochun had left in the highest of spirits, and came back feeling like he was at the bottom of the barrel. After returning to his command center, he thought back to the sight of the major general's procession, and felt very irritated.
"Major general...." he thought, gritting his teeth. Then he considered how the major general had walked along with an escort of ten colonels, while he himself was only a colonel.
"I can't settle for this. I have to become a major general!" With that, his eyes began to shine with determination. Over the course of the past half year, he had spent almost no time on cultivation, nor had he done any pill concocting. Most of his time had been spent enjoying the perks of being a colonel. However, as of this moment, he had received a sharp reminder that being a colonel was not the end of the line for him.
Now that the idea of being a major general was stirring in his mind, he thought back to how Bai Lin had encouraged him to work hard to get promoted.
"If I retire as a major general," he murmured, "then when I get back to the sect, I'll be an elder in the Hall of Steel Veins...." Realizing that he didn't have all of the information he needed, he decided to go out and make some inquiries.
The truth was that such matters were not secret within the five legions, and were in fact quite well-known. It only took a bit of asking around for Bai Xiaochun to get all of the information he was looking for. Elders in the Hall of Steel Veins had a position far above ordinary elders. In fact, they were on a level that put them only slightly below the sect leader, a fact which left Bai Xiaochun gasping and deeply moved.
"How is that even possible!? This is the sect leader of the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect we're talking about! He's only in the Nascent Soul stage, but he's still in a very high position. And elders in the Hall of Steel Veins are just below that...?" Bai Xiaochun almost couldn't believe it at first, but after further enquiries, he came to understand why it was the case.
"The five legions operate beyond the control of the sect leader. Even the deva stationed at the Great Wall is only here to oversee things. The only person who directly controls the five legions is the demigod patriarch!
"The reason the Hall of Steel Veins is so powerful is because it only follows his orders!" Bai Xiaochun was both flabbergasted and also palpitating with eagerness.
If he could somehow manage to become a major general, then when his commission was up and he went back to the sect, he could get a set of five elements deva beast souls and step into the Nascent Soul stage. Furthermore, he could also become an elder in the Hall of Steel Veins!
When that happened, he would have a very high position, higher than ordinary elders in the sect. Not only would that be a big help to the River-Defying Sect, but it would also be immensely beneficial on a personal level.
The mere idea left his heart burning with anticipation, to the point where his eyes sparkled with the light of countless stars.
"I absolutely have to become a major general!" he said, slapping his thigh.
Now that he had set his goal, though, it immediately led to new anxiety. After all, he had already calculated how much battle credit it would take to become a major general, which was more than a hundred times the amount he had earned in that huge battle.
In the better part of a year which had passed since then, no major battles had even occurred.
More than a month went by, and he only got more depressed. Eventually, he climbed to the top of the great wall and looked out toward the Wildlands. Unfortunately, all he could do was wish that their huge army would come back.
"Why aren't they attacking...?" he said as he stood there sighing. "Dammit! I don't have much time to work with, only seven or eight more years. What am I supposed to do...?
"I guess the savages and soul cultivators are just too scared, and don't dare to come over and fight!"
The other cultivators noticed how he was acting, and heard his constant sighing. Soon, they began to exchanged awkward glances.
As far as they were concerned, it was a good thing that the Wildlands savages hadn't attacked in full force. However, Bai Xiaochun didn't seem to think so, which they found very strange.
Of course, the sight of him acting in such a way led some of them sigh inwardly and muse, "Why aren't they attacking? Isn't it because of you? If it weren't for you and your special methods, they would be doing things the way they usually did, and attacking several times per month."
Bai Xiaochun waited a bit longer, and yet there was no change. Every day that went by, he continued to try to think of a solution to the problem, until his eyes were bloodshot. Finally, he decided that he had to do something to speed things up.
"Fine, if the savages insist on being so uncooperative, then I'll just have to think of a new way to earn battle credit! I absolutely have to become a major general!" With that, he headed toward the huge pagoda in the middle of the city.
From what he remembered last time he had gone to exchange battle credit, the five legions had an Execution List just like the Wildlands did. Taking the heads of some of the people on that list came with hefty rewards.
"Now that I'm a colonel, I have lots of powerful experts under my command. I refuse to believe that I can't earn some battle credit with their help!" It didn't take Bai Xiaochun very long to reach the central district, and the base of the tower, where quite a group of cultivators was gathered. When they caught sight of him, they gave him solemn nods of greeting.
Bai Xiaochun looked up at the eye at the top of the tower, then pulled out his identity medallion and sent some spiritual sense into it to begin browsing the Execution List. The first thing that jumped out to him was the first name on the list.
As soon as he saw it, his eyes went wide.
Mistress Red-Dust's information was clearly listed there in first place on the list. She had a Deva Realm cultivation base, and was a ruthless fighter who was cold and cruel to the bone. In fact, there was even a reminder that, because she was a deva, it was best to avoid her at all costs.
The number of cultivators she had killed since she made her debut was shocking to behold, including many Nascent Soul cultivators.
Most shocking of all was that she hadn't even been practicing cultivation for 200 years!
To become a deva so quickly seemed almost impossible to Bai Xiaochun, especially considering how impoverished the Wildlands were. There was no energy of heaven and earth there, only soul power. And yet, despite being in those conditions, this Mistress Red-Dust had managed to set a heaven-defying pace in her cultivation.
"I remember Mistress Red-Dust...." Bai Xiaochun murmured. As soon as he focused on her name, a picture appeared in his mind. It depicted a young woman, more beautiful than Chen Manyao, wearing red garments that accentuated her good looks, and yet made her seem very dangerous. Her murderous aura was shocking to the extreme, even though it was just a picture.
Bai Xiaochun remembered seeing her in the flesh during the battle outside the Great Wall. She had been in the middle of fighting Chen Hetian when she had actually made a move to try to kill Bai Xiaochun....
Of course, anyone who looked at Mistress Red-Dust's name on the list would see the same image Bai Xiaochun was seeing.
She was a spectacular figure, who had a reward on her head so high that it was astonishing to behold. Anyone who killed her would be promoted to general!
If there were no generals who needed to be replaced, then a new legion would be created! That was a reward that surpassed even Bai Xiaochun's ideal of becoming a major general. As soon as he saw that reward, his eyes burned with passion and envy. However, it also caused him to purse his lips.
"So stupid! The only person who could take that shrew out is a deva, and why would a deva want to be a general in the army?" Bai Xiaochun shook his head. If he was good enough to take out a deva, then he wouldn't be sitting around at the Great Wall. He would definitely be back in the River-Defying Sect already. Besides, when it came to devas, they weren't the type of people he would ever be willing to offend.
Sighing, he went on to look at the second name on the list, which also belonged to a deva, who went by the Daoist name Wakening Insects. The number of merit points offered up for his death was shocking, to say the least.
Astonished, Bai Xiaochun continued to go down the list. Soon, he began to frown as he realized that all the names in the top 30 were those of Nascent Soul stage necromancers. Although some of the names at the bottom of the list were Core Formation cultivators, the battle credit reward for them wasn't very high. After a few calculations, Bai Xiaochun found that he would have to kill everyone from 30th place all the way down into the 200's to earn enough battle credit to become a major general.
"What am I supposed to do, then...?" he thought, sighing. Obviously, he had to give up on the idea of killing people on the Execution List. It was simply too dangerous of an undertaking. However, the thought of the honor, glory, and benefits that came with being a major general were something he just couldn't give up on. There had to be a way to get more battle credit.
"What a headache!" he thought. "How am I supposed to pull something like this off when the only thing I'm good at is concocting pills?
"Wait a second. That's not right. There is something I'm good at!" Stopping in place, he thought back to his time hanging out with Zhao Tianjiao, and how he had called himself a love saint. Suddenly, his heart began to pound.
Looking back at the Execution List, he blinked a few times, feeling a bit torn.
"Don't tell me that in order to become a major general, I'm going to have to rely on my sex appeal to seduce Mistress Red-Dust...?" The mere thought left him grieving in indignation. That was especially true considering that she was so much older than him. Although she was pretty, who knew what kind of eccentricities she had? The more he thought about it, the more that plan seemed like a huge sacrifice.
"Not worth it..." he thought, feeling more crestfallen than ever. With that, he abandoned the idea.
Quick note about Mistress Red-Dust's name. First of all, this is a Daoist name, not her real name. That fact is not confirmed until later in the novel, but it seems pretty obvious from the get-go. It's a hard name to pin down how to translate. There are different ways to interpret it, but I'm going with the way the term is used in Buddhist philosophy. The "red dust" is a metaphor referring to the world of mortals or human society. In terms of why she would have such a name, there is no explanation provided at this point, so you will have to contemplate that on your own.