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The Secret Hall was the most mysterious and most feared hall in the Basking Moon Sect.
In the Basking Moon Sect, the Secret Hall was primarily responsible for monitoring Sageheart, which included finding spies, defending against external enemies, and even gathering intelligence. At times, they would also plant their people on the outside. From a certain perspective, it was comparable to modern spy organizations, though it was invested with even more authority and covered a broader range of activities.
The Secret Hall and Search Hall together formed the defense that maintained Sageheart’s peace. While the Search Hall was aimed at outsiders and gathered intelligence, the Secret Hall was aimed inward, and besides intelligence, it also performed operations. As the two halls were similar in nature, they often worked together.
This was a hall that could reach both inside and outside, and it was a hall that everyone feared. It was also one of the least popular halls, for while it had great authority, it also had the least corruption.
Other than the Search Hall, the hall people hated to be visited by the most was the Secret Hall.
No one had expected Tang Jie to choose the Secret Hall—not even the prime steward from the Secret Hall, who was in a daze.
His name was Zhao Zheng, and he looked like a well-behaved peasant. When he heard Tang Jie’s choice, his eyes flashed with a sharp light.
He took several steps forward and said, “It is good fortune for my Secret Hall that Tang Jie is willing to enter the Secret Hall. Zhao Zheng represents the Secret Hall in welcoming you!”
With these words, the selection was done.
The old man from the Medicine Hall stomped his feet and sighed, “I can’t believe Xu Baibing gets this one.”
Xu Baibing was the chief of the Secret Hall, and it was only this old man who dared to use his old age to call the man by his name.
Everyone else saw that things were settled, so they came forward to congratulate Zhao Zheng.
After selecting the hall came selecting a cave estate.
The primary mountain group of the Zephyr Mountains had more than 300 mountains. 18 of them were Hall Mountains, where the halls were based, so one could not have an estate there. 64 were True Mountains, where the more than 400 Celestial Heart True Persons outside of the 19 Celestial Chiefs resided, and only they could establish estates there. There were also 6 mountains with special functions where establishing an estate was banned.
Thus, Basking Moon disciples primarily had cave estates in the remaining 200 peaks.
A Ritual Hall disciple took out a six-edged crystal and projected an image of the estates on these more than 200 mountains. The red lights were inhabited while the white ones were empty.
Each cave had a number which indicated the level and corresponding price of the cave estate.
Other than spiritual energy concentration, geography, environment, and size also played a role in the level of a cave estate. Tang Jie saw a cave estate that was located at the highest point of a mountain, at the land nexus. It had a commanding view of the surroundings, was easy to defend, and stood at a point where spiritual energy concentrated. Its court was also quiet and secluded, and its area was ten times that of the Carefree House. It was truly an excellent location for cultivation.
Alas, everyone knew that this was a good place, so it was a Level 1 cave estate, with each month costing 500 contribution points. This was why it was vacant.
The Basking Moon students had only just joined the sect, so everyone was given ten contribution points, with the elite students getting twenty contribution points—enough to rent a low-level cave estate.
But there were differences among the students. Wei Tianchong, Qi Shaoming, and the others who had joined in the Stone Gate Sect operation, while not having received as many contribution points as Tang Jie, had 100 points each, so they were able to choose somewhat better cave estates. This made the likes of Li Yunfan and Heng Wei green with envy.
As everyone was browsing, Zhao Zheng suddenly walked up to Tang Jie and said, “Lotus Peak, Embroidery Mountain, Thousand Mound Peak, Immortal Spring Peak… The nine mountains on this side all belong to the Secret Hall.”
Tang Jie curiously asked, “Do we not just pick one? Why are they also divided up into territories?”
Zhao Zheng chuckled. “There are truly no written rules regarding the cave estates, but that doesn’t mean that there are no unwritten ones.”
Tang Jie understood.
Rejecting outsiders was human nature, and from the moment a disciple chose a hall, they had chosen a faction. Even if those above didn’t care, the people below would not accept a chaotic situation where they had to mix with outsiders, instead forming organizations and marking territory so that their groups would become more united.
Sure enough, as Tang Jie looked around, he saw that the stewards from the other halls were telling their disciples to be careful with their choice and not think that they could pick from any of the 200 mountains. The Law Hall and Canon Hall had always been somewhat at loggerheads, so if a Law Hall disciple chose a Canon Hall mountain, they would be in for a very interesting time.
Not only that, there was also a difference between disciples and outer disciples. The upper half of a mountain was forbidden to outer disciples, even if one gathered enough contribution points. Of course, if one managed to reach Cognitive Creation or attain a great achievement, an outer disciple could be promoted to a disciple and thus get this privilege.
A dynamic sect would not cut off the path between the lower and upper classes. Thus, outside of Basking Moon Academy, the Basking Moon Sect had left a promotion path within the sect, but promoting through these channels would naturally be more costly and difficult than going through the academy.
With their seniors’ warning, no one made a mistake. After looking around, Tang Jie chose a cave estate on Immortal Spring Peak. It was located on the summit, where the spring flowed, trees were abundant, the view was gorgeous, and the spiritual energy was abundant. It was a Level 3 cave estate and cost one hundred contribution points a month.
Zhao Zheng saw the place he had chosen and praised, “It’s a good place.”
Tang Jie awkwardly said, “I didn’t want to pick that good a place at first, but when I saw how open the view was, I couldn’t help myself.”
The cave estate he had chosen had an excellent position. From there, he could see the majority of the surrounding region, which was perfect for observing with his Celestial Eye. Thus, even though Tang Jie wanted to be inconspicuous, he still couldn’t miss out on this excellent observation point.
The other disciples had also finished picking. After exchanging cave estate locations, they followed their respective hall stewards, bidding farewell to each other.
Tang Jie patted Wei Tianchong on the shoulder. “Take care of yourself.”
Wei Tianchong grinned. “Relax. I’m more familiar with this place than you. If you need something, come to find me at Sunwatch Peak. Haaa, Master didn’t let me enter the Service Hall, but I still have to live on Sunwatch Peak. I’m so unlucky.”
Tang Jie smiled. “I’ll do that.”
After saying goodbye to Wei Tianchong and the others, Tang Jie followed Zhao Zheng from the Welcome Peak to the Mountain of Heavenly Secrets.
The Mountain of Heavenly Secrets was the base of the Secret Hall, and it was where the disciples under the Secret Hall handled administrative matters.
While flying, Zhao Zheng explained to Tang Jie the internal structure of the Secret Hall.
First was the hall master, Xu Baibing. He was a peak Celestial Heart cultivator who normally lived on the 19 Star Peaks. Just like Feng Hongluan, he rarely actually did any work. In truth, the hall masters were mostly like this, there for show and very rarely doing any actual management. Their primary purpose was to serve as an anchor, and they were doing their job so long as they could intimidate any potential foes while cultivating.
Second to the hall master were the two deputy hall masters.
The first deputy hall master was Chang Tianshui, and the second deputy hall master was Zhu Rongcheng.
They were both at peak Celestial Heart, but their strength was inferior to the 19 Celestial Chiefs’. Even so, they were people who could firmly hold onto a minor sect.
Outside of the hall master and the deputy hall masters, the ones with the highest status were the chamberlains.
All chamberlains were Celestial Heart True Persons, and they had all been through the Heart Demon Period. In other words, only those Celestial Heart True Persons at the middle tier could be appointed.
Beneath the chamberlains were the stewards. True Persons at the Heart Demon Period or below and very senior peak Mortal Shedding experts could be appointed to this position.
Zhao Zheng was at the first tier of Celestial Heart, while that elder from the Medicine Hall had been at peak Mortal Shedding. However, he had been around for a sufficiently long time and belonged to that category of people who had no hope of reaching Celestial Heart and were simply waiting around for their deaths.
Beneath stewards were servants and adjutants.
Servants were the most basic disciples entrusted with missions, and adjutants were like squad captains. Normally, only those at peak Mortal Shedding were appointed to this position.
In truth, the halls all had the same basic structure. The ones that differed the most were probably the three halls under the Combat Department. They had the most people, and they also had more ranks.
Tang Jie, as a newcomer, had to start as a lowly servant disciple.
Fortunately, cultivators spent most of their energy on cultivating and their statuses meant little. At most, it was just a matter of how much they received as a monthly salary and who was the leader in team operations. If one was moving alone, then one’s status was meaningless.
Zhao Zheng led Tang Jie to the Mountain of Heavenly Secrets and first arranged for his identity placard. This was like the student placards, his proof of identity that would allow him to go in and out, and it also recorded his contribution points. Tang Jie’s placard already had one thousand contribution points. Unlike other disciples, he had no need to take a mission on his first month in order to ensure his livelihood.
“Starting from now, you are a servant disciple under my Secret Hall. Every month, you can withdraw three thousand spirit coins.” Looking at Tang Jie, Zhao Zheng smiled. “Originally, I should be taking you to see the hall masters and chamberlains, but we cultivators have very lackadaisical personalities, and all we think about every day is cultivating. Not wanting to be disturbed, we aren’t very willing to meet people. Thus, in this hall, it is very common to go many years without seeing the hall master. While there’s an organization, there’s no soul to it. Please don’t mind it too much.”
Tang Jie was alarmed by this line about the organization having no soul to it, almost believing that this guy had also transmigrated. But he realized that while this was a more modern-day mindset, it also fit the situation, so this was probably a sincere assessment. He smiled and asked, “Are the other halls like this?”
Zhao Zheng stroked his chin. “Oh, the Combat Department’s three halls are an exception. Those people have higher requirements, and they have combat formations that require training, and they also need to mobilize often for group operations. In addition, the inner halls have more frequent rotations so that everyone can get familiar with each other. The Secret Hall is different. We only have a few fixed positions, and we have few people—three-thousand-some people if you consider disciples and outer disciples—so rotations aren’t really possible. Thus, we just make everything a mission and let whoever wants to do it take the mission.”
Tang Jie chuckled. “I see. That’s pretty carefree.”
Zhao Zheng laughed. “Of course, there are also times when there are problems, and if we lack manpower, we have to use a little force. At those times, you had better not use cultivation as an excuse to not participate.”
Tang Jie firmly replied, “This disciple understands!”
“Then go and take a look around. If you have any questions, you can come and ask me,” Zhao Zheng said.
Tang Jie accepted the order and began to stroll around the Mountain of Heavenly Secrets.
The core of the Mountain of Heavenly Secrets was the central hall, which was where missions were assigned. Behind the hall was a small hall called the Hall of Profundity. This was where intelligence was handled and missions were issued. All missions came from here.
There were also halls on the sides: the pill house, the tool refining house, the formation chamber, and the talisman-making hall. These places had nothing to do with the Medicine Hall or Formation Hall; they had been established by the hall itself to give disciples who were talented in these aspects a place to practice. In addition, they could also produce basic products here, saving them from having to seek out the corresponding four inner halls.
Behind the Hall of Profundity was a small pavilion where cultivation texts were stored, also separately established by the Secret Hall.
In short, the Secret Hall was like its own small sect, with everything a sect was expected to have, even its own blessed land—there was a small four-hundred-year blessed land beneath the Mountain of Heavenly Secrets, and it was said that the two deputy hall masters resided there.
After making a circle of the place and getting a basic understanding of how the Secret Hall was laid out, Tang Jie returned to Zhao Zheng. Zhao Zheng exchanged some words with him and gave him some reminders before telling him that he could go back. Now that he had finished guiding the new disciple, Zhao Zheng went to turn in his mission for contribution points, after which he returned to his cave estate to cultivate, with no telling when he would next emerge.
This was how relationships between cultivators were. They spent the vast majority of their time alone, quietly cultivating or quietly carrying out missions. For this reason, you would never know when someone abruptly left. After a very long time, you might bring up some person in a conversation and only then find out that he had died one hundred years ago.
This was the life of a cultivator.
The thought made Tang Jie inexplicably emotional.
After saying goodbye to Zhao Zheng, Tang Jie flew to Immortal Spring Peak.
Upon arriving at the cave estate he had chosen, he looked up at the words written on the signboard:
“Spirit Realm Cave.”
“Spirit Realm Cave… No doubting that this was the realm of spirits, but the mortal heart misses home… Spring has come, peach blossoms drifting across the water, and no longer can one tell from where the Immortal spring flows.” Tang Jie couldn’t help but mutter a passage from Wang Wei’s “Journey to the Peach Blossom Spring”. He nodded and said, “Not bad!”
(Note: Wang Wei was a Tang Dynasty poet, and “Journey to the Peach Blossom Spring” is a poem adaptation of a Jin Dynasty story of how a fisherman inadvertently comes upon the utopic Peach Blossom Spring. However, the fisherman ultimately decides to leave the utopia, as he misses his hometown, thinking that he can find his way back, but he eventually realizes that he can no longer find it.)
In front of the Spirit Realm Cave was a barrier of white light. This was the seal of a formation.
Tang Jie presented his jade identity placard to the barrier. The barrier scanned the placard and then disappeared. At the same time, one hundred points were subtracted from the placard.
Upon entering the cave, Tang Jie found that the environment truly was excellent. The entire cave estate was clean and spotless thanks to a dust washing formation. The area was spacious and abundant with spiritual energy, much better than what could be found at Basking Moon Academy.
Even more rare was that there was actually a small spirit field in the cave, awash in sunlight. A gurgling stream flowed from the distance, passing by the spirit field. The spirit field came with the cave estate, with no need to pay an additional fee. But getting any more spirit fields would require purchasing them from the Agriculture Hall, and one would need to hire someone to farm them.
But for Tang Jie, this small spirit field was enough.
He immediately took out a blade-like plant.
This was a plant that had grown from his beans. It was half a meter high and appeared like a saw, covered with sharp teeth. Tang Jie had needed quite some time to dig it out, as it had an intense self-protective instinct, constantly extending its thorn-like teeth from its roots to stop Tang Jie from digging it out. Of course, it couldn’t escape from Tang Jie’s demonic hand.
As he was about to plant the bean stalk, Tang Jie said, “We’re at our new home, so I trust that you won’t throw a tantrum while I’m trying to plant you.”
Sure enough, the plant obediently allowed Tang Jie to plant it.
After planting the bean, Tang Jie began to take out other things and arrange them, and he was soon done moving into this cave estate.
The Spirit Realm Cave had a protective formation on the outside and its own little world within it. In its depths was a large stone with a gentle air. This was a rare Art Stone, which was a perfect place to cultivate.
Once he was done moving in, Tang Jie made an excursion out of the mountains to pick up Yiyi and Shi Jingzhai and bring them back to his cave. With his identity placard, he could now freely bring in others.
Starting from today, Tang Jie resumed his past life. As he already had some contribution points, he didn’t need to rush to complete missions like others, and he spent every day cultivating in the mountains.
In this period, Wei Tianchong and Shi Meng came to see him several times. Shi Meng had entered the Storehouse Hall and was charged with managing the storehouses. This was a good thing for him. He was never good in combat, and in the inner halls, he could do some shift work, which was safe and worry-free. This was somewhat lacking in ambition, for without a chance at opportunities, it would be difficult to make it far, but it was safe and steady. In truth, many people in the Basking Moon Sect took this path. When they believed that they had few future prospects, they would choose this path to ensure they had a safe life. On the contrary, it was those disciples with some future prospect who energetically advanced and often died along the way.
Peng Yaolong and Bei Canghan also paid a visit, both to congratulate him on his graduation and to leave behind their addresses so they could stay in touch. While the halls vied against each other, that was no reason they couldn’t be friends.
Life became simple and easy.
But within the Nine Executions Immortal Formation, things were the exact opposite.
Tang Jie let out a heaven-shaking roar as he punched at the sky.
The gale from his punch had the entire world quaking in fear.
An enormous hand came down from the heavens and slapped down that steely fist.
The collision had Tang Jie’s nearly ten-meter-tall body tumbling from the sky like a doll, landing in a large crater.
“Tang Jie, it’s useless. You’re no match for me!”
He Chong bellowed from the sky.
His body flashed with golden light, like a divine suit of golden armor. He slowly drew back his right hand, and the giant palm it had manifested disappeared.
Tang Jie turned over and stood up. Wiping the bloodstain from the corner of his mouth, he smiled. “Is that so? Then why do you seem afraid of me?”
He Chong froze, and his body trembled.
Tang Jie was right. He truly was afraid.
He had been imprisoned in the Nine Executions Immortal Formation with Tang Jie for six years now.
In these six years, he had seen Tang Jie’s strength soar with his own eyes, going from someone who didn’t even have the right to challenge him to someone who could at least run with his tail behind his legs, then to someone who used the Duplication spell to constantly challenge him, and now, he was someone who dared to directly challenge him!
Although he was still no match for him, He Chong no longer found it easy to kill him. That giant palm just now had taken all his strength, but it had not been enough to lethally injure Tang Jie.
And this change had only taken six years!
In six years, although Tang Jie still hadn’t managed to reach his level, the gap was shrinking at a terrifying speed!
No one had ever been able to improve so much in so little time.
If this kept up, it would only be another ten years at most before he was no longer a match for Tang Jie!
How could this thought not scare He Chong?
Tang Jie saw He Chong’s face getting uglier and uglier, and laughed. “Just wait, He Chong. With each clash, I take another step forward. You can’t kill me, only watch as I grow! I’m leaving now. I say, can’t you hold back a little? So that I don’t have to use the Duplication spell again?”
He suddenly thrust out his hands. “Scram!”
Bang! Bang! Deng Yuqing and Duan Fourth were sent flying. The two of them had been trying to ambush Tang Jie, but he had managed to notice them.
After taking one last glance at He Chong, Tang Jie coldly laughed and turned to leave.
He Chong truly didn’t give chase.
Once Tang Jie was far enough away and saw that no one was following, he suddenly paled and threw up blood.
“Sh*t, this old thing is really ruthless. He almost flattened me,” Tang Jie cursed.
With his current body, he was still far from contending against a True Person like He Chong. Even in a head-on battle, there was still a large gap.
He needed to improve himself further!
To do this, he needed another God Giant Blood Fruit.
He cast his gaze toward the distant lake of lava.
“Perhaps it’s time to do another challenge,” Tang Jie muttered.
As he was thinking, he returned to his secret base.
It was a hidden mountain cave that was further concealed by a formation.
As he stepped into the cave, he could hear a great wailing.
Deep in the cave, a man had been nailed to the wall by seven stones with beast heads.
The Seven Demon Soul-Sealing Nails!
Poor, poor Mei Huaping. Didn’t even get a swift death.
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