In Myriad Domain, the sixteen kingdoms alliance's Skylaurel Kingdom still knew peaceful days. The great chaos that engulfed region in the past had left deep marks on Skylaurel, but not to the point of extinction, thanks to its status as a mundane kingdom. The former fourth prince had now ascended the throne. However, the past few years hadn't been easy on him.
During the invasion of Myriad Domain, all kinds of factions had also set foot in the sixteen kingdoms alliance. But the then Purple Sun Sect, later Purple Light Division of the Ninesuns Sky Sect, had met with sudden disaster and been destroyed in the space of a single night.
The alliance originally thought they would see better days after the Purple Light Division's destruction, but the Ninesuns Sky Sect sent a prompt replacement. Many factions of wandering cultivators also entered the sixteen kingdoms, setting down roots in every mundane kingdom.
As one of the four great kingdoms of the alliance, Skylaurel was a comparatively prestigious existence and one of the places most prized by the various factions. It saw more of its lands forcibly occupied than most. Although Ye Rong was emperor, the restriction and control the various factions exerted on Skylaurel almost turned him into a figurehead, a puppet.
However, about half a year ago, the Ninesuns Sky Sect had suddenly withdrawn its forces stationed in the region.
Even so, the territories they vacated were immediately seized by others. Just as before, foreign cultivators reigned unopposed. Some of the cultivators came from Great Scarlet, some from other regions. Like dragons among fish, these various factions were the sixteen kingdoms alliance's real masters.
Skylaurel's royal capital was as bustling as before, but none of the faces from the good ole days could be found now. Instead, the streets were filled with foreign cultivators dressed in every sort of bizarre attire.
The royal tutor Ye Chonglou disappeared a long time ago. Tian Shao, the most loyal of the Dragonteeth Guard, had also vanished. Although Emperor Ye Rong still had trusted aides at his side, all of them were too weak. None of them could help him vie for the control of the kingdom. Yet, he had no choice but to forge on as a puppet monarch.
As a mundane kingdom, very few rumors from the outside world made their way into Skylaurel.
Alas, after painstakingly wrestling away the imperial throne, am I destined to be a puppet for the rest of my life? Ye Rong couldn't resign himself to this. He kept close to heart the cherished memories of the old Skylaurel, of his youth, of the years he spent sharing joy and suffering with Jiang Chen.
"I wonder where Brother Jiang Chen is now?" The thought would occasionally flutter across Ye Rong's mind in the depths of the night.
Ever since Jiang Chen's departure from the Precious Tree Sect, Ye Rong's information network had lost sight of his good brother. After all, he was merely the ruler of a tiny mundane nation. The uncle and cousin Jiang Chen had left behind in Skylaurel also departed at some point in time.
The Precious Tree Sect was one that shared in Skylaurel's fate. As one of the four great sects of the the sixteen kingdoms alliance, the Precious Tree Sect used to be one of the wealthiest. In particular, its Precious Tree of the Rosy Dawn attracted the interest of many wandering cultivators.
The sect's territory was now under the control of a group of cultivators. These men were former adventurers from another region who'd formed a team and occupied the sect's lands, establishing their own called the "Tree Spirit Sect," and had collected a bunch of wandering cultivators.
When it came to strength, the Tree Spirit Sect far surpassed its predecessor. After all, the Precious Tree Sect only had two origin realm cultivators. In comparison, the Tree Spirit Sect had many origin realm cultivators, while the one calling himself sectmaster was at initial sage realm.
Like a dove occupying a magpie's nest, the Tree Spirit Sect had made themselves at home.
Back in the day, the entire Precious Tree Sect had evacuated the premises in order to hide from Great Scarlet's invasion, leaving their territory to be occupied by foreigners. If the sect ever returned now, they most likely wouldn't recognize their home anymore. A foul, murky atmosphere now reigned over their former domain.
On this day, a slender figure suddenly appeared from a ripple in the void outside the mountain gates and emerged in front of the sect's entrance. It was a woman, her figure tall and willowy, her features clear and elegant. A thin layer of grief seemed to shroud her as she landed in front of the sect.
"Who goes there?" Someone jumped out and blocked the way of this exquisite woman.
The two men barring the path naturally belonged to the Tree Spirit Sect. Seeing the gorgeous young woman in front of them, they looked at each other with eyes gleaming with evil intentions.
This woman's breathtaking appearance and her cool temperament made evil desires stir in their hearts.
"Hot damn, the heavens must have seen how hard we've had it of late. They're delivering a meal to us?" One of the two, a dry, skinny man asked his companion with a wicked laugh.
"Tsk tsk, how fine, look at this hot chick. What a sweet figure. Look at that face! If she wasn't so cold, if she could be a bit more passionate, it'd be sheer perfection! Old Yang, you have to let me go first this time." The other man, a burly bald fellow, beamed ear to ear with an obscene grin.
He sized up the beautiful woman's figure up and down, not bothering to conceal his lust. His face expression, the look in his eyes… all seemed to be undressing her in front of him.
However, his companion wasn't willing. "Old Gao, why would you go first? You want to score this magnificent thing first and leave me with your sloppy seconds? Piss off! Over my dead body!"
None of the two were willing to cede an inch.
Quiet and cold, the woman looked at each blade of grass and each tree of the Precious Tree Sect, sadness and regret welling in her eyes.
"Precious Tree Sect… The trees, the mountains, the rivers, nothing has changed, but the faces are now those of strangers… Old lord, Jiang Chen, where on earth are you? Where did you go?" The woman's lips moved faintly as if murmuring to herself. "Perhaps I truly erred. If I hadn't left Skylaurel, hadn't left the Precious Tree Sect, then things could've turned out much better." This woman was Ye Chonglou's adopted daughter, as well as his disciple, Dan Fei.
Her appearance was as it had ever been, as if she was impenetrable to the vestiges of the passing years. The bold, heroic spirit was simply now a little dimmer in this woman who used to be the greatest beauty in Skylaurel, replaced by a newfound sadness absent from her youth.
"Hey girl, what are you mumbling about?"
"Which clan are you from, do you have a husband?" The two men babbled flighty nonsense at her, flirting and whistling.
"Is there something wrong with her mind?" The bald Old Gao looked at Dan Fei with some suspicion.
"Who cares? Even if there's a problem with her mind, an unearthly beauty like that is a sumptuous feast all the same," the skinny Old Yang said with a depraved laugh.
An icy glint suddenly flashed in Dan Fei's phoenix eyes as she snapped out of her distress.
"Oh, looks like her brain's working fine."
"Tsk tsk, this little girl seems to have heard us talking about her. She looks a little shy, and maybe also a little angry?"
Dan Fei coldly looked at the two of them, responding quietly, "I don't want to kill people. Cut off your own tongues and get lost."
The two men blinked, then looked at each other, wondering if they heard wrong. This sweet and delicate girl seemed so weak even the wind could blow her away, but her tone was quite the pompous one when she spoke.
Cut off their tongues and get lost?
The bald Old Guo couldn't hold back his laughter. "Interesting, interesting! Who would have imagined this little girl would be so amusing? It's more interesting doing a girl like her with some fight in them. Don't you think so, Old Yang?"
"Hehe, indeed indeed. The personality of a wild mare, she's even more to my liking!"
The two of them felt no threat coming from this weak and tender girl. Moreover, this was the sixteen kingdoms alliance, not the Upper Eight Regions. In this kind of remote backcountry, no one was mad enough to throw their weight around in the Tree Spirit Sect.
"Girl, you want to cut off this lord's tongue? Come come, let's have a kiss. I can let you cut off my tongue if you can, I'll die happy either way. Hahaha…"
Dan Fei's expression darkened. Her body flashed by the man's side like a gust of wind, stopping roughly seven to eight meters behind him.
The skinny man froze. For a split second, he seemed to feel a slight strength cutting across his throat.
As soon as this thought struck him, his head suddenly loosened from his neck and slid down, landing on the ground before he could even close his eyes. Rolling to and fro, the world in front of him suddenly seemed to have been turned upside down...
The next moment, realization finally dawned that his head had been separated from the rest of his body. Unfortunately, this thought was to the last of his life.
Lewdness morphed into dread on the bald man's face, like seeing a ghost in broad daylight. He looked at the beheaded corpse of his companion, so frightened he almost wet his pants.
W-what kind of speed was that?
He didn't even see anything before his companion's head was removed. Both of them were origin realm. They were existences who could move unimpeded in the sixteen kingdoms alliance. With that kind of cultivation, how did his companion end up beheaded in a remote backwater by a strange pretty girl?
Fear spread through every cell of his body.
"D-don't come any closer," the trembling bald man stammered, his face pale, "Young lady, celestial maiden, goddess… I've sinned, I-I was blinded by lust. I've really sinned. Here, I'll slap myself, so please don't kill me, I beg you…"
Despite his tall and sturdy frame, the bald man didn't have a whiff of courage to his name. Left, right, his slaps landed on his own face without interruption.
"Do you want to live?" Dan Fei asked, her voice chilly.
"I-I do." The bald man knelt on the ground with a thump. "Exalted maiden, this villain is blind and offended you. Just think of me as a fart and let me go!"
"Tell me, who's presently occupying the Precious Tree Sect?" Despite her serene tone, Dan Fei's aura froze the man to the bone. He shivered uncontrollably.