"Another Manor Head…"
"Another Blue Lotus Ninth Grade…"
"This one is at Blue Lotus Eighth Grade…"
Miao Yi was beginning to shudder in fear the more he looked at the jade archives in his hand. Based on this ship alone, the Traversing Moon Palace had about thirty-seven Manor Heads and two hundred or so Mountain Chieftains participating in the Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade. Moreover, their cultivation bases were mostly excellent. Aside from his unfortunate self, the other Mountain Chieftains had cultivation bases that actually exceeded Blue Lotus Fifth Grade.
There was no need to speculate any further. Their Manor Heads must have felt that the Mountain Chieftains threatened their positions, and so they applied underhanded tactics.
The most frightening piece of information was the fact that there were sixteen Blue Lotus Ninth Grade cultivators among the two thousand people. They were only a step away from breaking through to the Red Lotus realm. As long as they could cross over that threshold, they could reach another terrifying realm.
Nearly one-fifth of the participants had a cultivation base at Blue Lotus Fifth Grade. And that was just in the Fifth Earthly Branch alone. What would the total be if he added all twelve branches together? How many would there be if he added all six nations to the equation? Miao Yi gasped. Would there be any chance of survival for those with a cultivation base at Blue Lotus Fifth Grade and below? There was nothing more to be said for a White Lotus cultivator such as himself.
If he hadn't read it, he wouldn't have known. Now that he had seen the archive, he realized that South Edict Manor was indeed too small. The experts out there were as numerous as the stars in the sky.
"Eh! There's another unfortunate soul…!" Miao Yi suddenly exclaimed.
He initially thought that he was the only White Lotus cultivator in the Fifth Earthly Branch. Unexpectedly, he discovered that there was one more like him, and a woman at that. Moreover, her cultivation base was even lower than his; she was only at a White Lotus Fifth Grade cultivation. She wasn't born from any sect, and her name was Qi Xiuhong.
There was a person even more unfortunate than him. Miao Yi suddenly regained a lot of composure in his heart. He then discreetly noted down the name 'Qi Xiuhong' and her room number, preparing himself to go later and check what was going on. After all, he had the right to go to other ships and run around as he pleased.
"I can't have any from the three major sects…"
"There are more people from Suppressing Second Hall and Suppressing Third Hall who've heard about me. It'll be difficult to control them, so I can't use them…"
"Those with a sect background will only collaborate with their comrades. They won't work together in unison, so I can't use them either…"
"Can I contact this Manor Head? He still has his subordinates. Maybe he will form a group with his subordinates? No, he might have been the one who personally enrolled them in the list of participants. It would be weird if they didn't hate him for that, so it's impossible for them to form a group with him. Even if they're willing to, this Manor Head will probably suspect his subordinates will use underhanded tactics on him. I can contact this guy."
Miao Yi took each jade archive and began to cross out names. When he saw the disciples of the three major sects on one of the archives, he drew a line and removed them. He removed the ones from Suppressing Second Hall and Suppressing Third Hall too. He removed those with a school background as well. As such, he ended up excluding most of them. That left him with about four to five hundred people that suited his criteria.
However, this amount was already of immense strength to him. It was fine without the rest. Only those without support and wished to survive would huddle together and thus, be easier to rope in. No one from the three major sects would bother with him even if he tried to rope them in. They were confident in their power, so even if they were to give him their attention, they would definitely prepare a huge list of conditions. Moreover, during a critical moment, they would ask him to make the first sacrifice to protect their own interests.
The three major sects. If he hadn't read the documents, he wouldn't have known about two hundred of their members were among the two thousand participants in the entire fleet. They were indeed deserving of their reputation as the three major sects of the Fifth Earthly Branch. And as expected, their forces were colossal. No wonder Su Jinggong and the others were that confident.
After looking over the candidate list of two thousand people, he proceeded to weigh in his decision carefully. He analyzed the list for several days, and in between each day, he would take the time and give a courtesy call to Wu Menglan for a short time.
Because of this matter, he had almost forgotten to feed the mounts of Su Jinggong and the others at the stable. For a moment, he couldn't help but be shocked. If he were to kill their mounts now, then he feared that it would be difficult for him to leave the ship without facing the consequences. He then quickly went down and settled that problem.
After spending a few days to confirm the participants on the candidate list, Miao Yi finally opened the windows in his room and let out a sigh of relief. He saw that the twenty people still remained at the bow, bracing themselves against the heat of the scorching sun. He snorted at the sight and left his room.
When he reached the ship's stern, he leaped down the boat once again and flew over the sea by riding on the waves. When he finally arrived at the ship belonging to Traversing Celestial Palace, he unexpectedly bumped into the ship's Steward yet again.
This Steward immediately came forward and cupped his fist to greet him, "Brother Miao, are there any more instructions from the Fleet Commander?"
"Haha, no. Fleet Commander wishes for me to go around each ship every now and again. She doesn't want any accidents to happen before we reach the Sea of Constellations. Brother Hong, please run along. I will go around on my own—you don't need to accompany me…"
"Brother Miao, if you aren't in a rush, why don't you come to my room and have a drink? I brought along some fine wine with me when I boarded the ship."
"No need, no need. I dare not disrupt the task that the commander entrusted to me. We will talk about it after I have finished this task. When I'm free, I'll come back and look for Brother Hong. I'll sample that wine then."
After dismissing that Steward, Miao Yi then entered the guest cabin and walked to the middle of the passageway. He observed the plate numbers hanging at the doors before he suddenly lit up and stopped at one of them. If he remembered it correctly, this was the room of that Blue Lotus Ninth Grade expert, and one of the people that he'd intended to establish a relationship with. It would be of great help to team up with such an expert in the Sea of Constellations. How could he miss this chance?
Dong dong dong! Miao Yi quickly knocked on the door after looking at both ends of the passageway and determining that there was no one around for the moment.
He heard footsteps coming from the inside, followed by the creaking of the door. The lustrous eyes of a slender middle-aged man scrutinized Miao Yi. 'I don't recognize him. I don't think I've ever seen him on this ship before.' He couldn't hold back from asking Miao Yi suspiciously, "Who are you?"
'He doesn't look that old, yet he's managed to acquire the cultivation base of Blue Lotus Ninth Grade. Evidently, he has a great future ahead of him. No wonder he incurred the envy of others—and so they sent him to the Sea of Constellations!' Miao Yi muttered in his heart. He then smiled, "I am Steward Miao Yi of Traversing Moon Palace's ship. I came with orders from the Fleet Commander to visit the other ships. I was wondering if I could come in and have a few words with you, sir?"
The other guy frowned, clearly a bit unwilling to let a mysterious person enter his own room. However, Miao Yi had orders from the Fleet Commander, so he could only step aside and say, "Please come in!"
Unexpectedly, as soon as Miao Yi came in, he quickly closed the door shut before turning back to the man and saying in transmission, "May I know if you are the honorable Manor Head Zhao Fei?"
The other party was stunned. Seeing that Miao Yi was speaking in transmission, he assumed that no one should overhear this discussion, so he replied in the same fashion and asked curiously, "Does Steward Miao know me?"
Indeed, it was him. He hadn't walked into the wrong room! Miao Yi smiled, "Zhao Fei from White Cloud Manor of Traversing Celestial Palace. No schools nor sect, and born as a Loose Cultivator. Am I right?"
Zhao Fei scrutinized Miao Yi for a moment before he continued, "Why is Steward Miao so knowledgeable about my background?"
"A few days ago, when Fleet Commander asked for details from every cultivator in the ship, I was the middleman handling this task."
"Oh!" Zhao Fei suddenly understood and nodded, "What does Steward Miao need from Zhao Fei?"
Miao Yi grinned, "I came because of Manor Head Zhao's safety in the Sea of Constellations. May I sit down and talk with Manor Head Zhao for a moment?"
Zhao Fei's eyes lit up. He could more or less guess the real intention why Miao Yi had come, but he couldn't be certain of it. He then turned around and extended his arm, "I have a simple and crude room, but if Steward Miao insists, please sit down and talk."
Miao Yi cupped his fists as a gesture of gratitude. The room had only a bed, two chairs with a tea table, and nothing else. It couldn't compare to Miao Yi's luxurious room.
They sat at the tea table. Zhao Fei was quite composed, as expected of a Manor Head. He had an expression of unrelenting tranquility as he waited for Miao Yi to state his purpose for coming over.
Miao Yi did not beat around the bush and asked him directly, "I'd like to know if Manor Head Zhao will be willing to team up with me in the Sea of Constellations?"
"I'm afraid I will have to disappoint Steward Miao," Zhao Fei said calmly, "I have already formed an alliance with the Sect of the Three Founders. If Steward Miao feels that he will have difficulty in defending himself at the Sea of Constellations, I am willing to help by making a few recommendations for you."
As expected, a Manor Head wasn't so simple. The moment he began to speak, he was already trying to find out Miao Yi's background. Miao Yi muttered in his heart, 'If I agree with his recommendation, then I might expose my lack of confidence. If that happens, then I will have to give up on recruiting him.'
"I understand Manor Head Zhao's kindness." Miao Yi chuckled. "However, I think Manor Head Zhao is making a joke."
"A joke?" Zhao Fei seemed surprised as he continued, "Why would Steward Miao say that?"
"Manor Head Zhao, you said you have an alliance with the Sect of the Three Founders. If that isn't a joke, then what is? Might I dare ask how Manor Head Zhao formed an alliance with the Sect of the Three Founders?"
"Naturally, with my cultivation base of Blue Lotus Ninth Grade. Perhaps Steward Miao thinks there are cultivators participating in the Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade with a cultivation base higher than mine? Can it be that my cultivation base isn't enough to be of great support to the Sect of the Three Founders?"
"The Sect of the Three Founders is nothing more than a middle-grade sect within the Fifth Earthly Branch. It's not too much of a stretch to call them second-rate sects too. From my understanding of the situation, there are less than fifty disciples from the Sect of the Three Founders throughout the entire fleet. Does Manor Head Zhao think these meager troops can make any difference in the Sea of Constellations?"
'Luckily, I prepared beforehand,' Miao Yi muttered in his heart.
"Can it be that Steward Miao has forgotten that the Sect of the Three Founders has troops that don't belong within the administration in the fleet?"
"Then what about it? Are you suggesting that their total number of troops can exceed more than a hundred people?"
Zhao Fei replied with an 'oh' and asked, "I wonder which sect Steward Miao comes from? And how many troops from your esteemed sect are participating in this crusade?"
"I have no school nor sect. I am just like Manor Head Zhao, someone born as a Loose Cultivator."
"Then that's strange. I wonder how Steward Miao mustered the confidence to seek me out?"
Miao Yi proudly said, "Well, just by the fact that I've already formed a coalition with two hundred people among the fleet. This includes two experts at the Blue Lotus Ninth Grade, and I still have two hundred more waiting for me to recruit them. Manor Head Zhao is precisely one of them."
Zhao Fei was shocked, "Steward Miao isn't joking, right?"
"Of course not. This is because I have an advantage that Manor Head Zhao does not have. In my hands, I have information relating to every cultivator in the fleet, and the Fleet Commander has tasked me with her orders, so I can freely go back and forth to any ship. Take for example how I'm able to sit here with Manor Head Zhao right now. I should let you know that everyone in my coalition is similar to Manor Head Zhao—weak on their own, a background without a sect, and with no way to retreat. Joining my coalition is nothing short of their only chance of survival. We can only fight in unity! Do you think I must accept Manor Head Zhao's recommendation to join the Sect of the Three Founders? Let me be blunt. I fear Manor Head Zhao will understand it, too. Allying with the Sect of the Three Founders is like asking a tiger for its skin. Once a dangerous situation arises, they will definitely push Manor Head Zhao into the frontline first. Will you form an alliance with me and fight, or will you die for the sake of the Sect of the Three Founders—does Manor Head Zhao still need to hesitate?"
Zhao Fei hesitated, but suddenly lifted his head and asked, "Steward Miao might be acting on the Fleet Commander's orders, but you're actually going around and secretly establishing your network. Aren't you afraid that I'll report you? Or rather, is Steward Miao not afraid that the others will report you?"
Miao Yi chuckled, "What's the benefit in reporting me? Will you be rewarded, or will you still be obligated to go to the Sea of Constellations to meet your doom? Moreover, I am the one greatest chance everyone has at survival. If it's Manor Head Zhao, will you still report me?"
Zhao Fei went silent, then asked again, "May I ask Steward Miao what cultivation you have, and what position you possess among the officials?"
Miao Yi shamelessly boasted, "I'm not that capable. Like Manor Head Zhao, I have the cultivation base of Blue Lotus Ninth Grade too. Before I boarded the ship, I was the Manor Head of Changfeng Manor."
Miao Yi didn't even know Changfeng Manor's location. He knew about Changfeng Cave, but what did that matter? Traversing Celestial Palace was located far away from Traversing Moon Palace. Miao Yi didn't think that Zhao Fei could grasp the precise situation of the thousands of manors in the Fifth Earthly Branch.