72 Chapter 72: Freedom!

Xiao Hong finally lost her composure and cursed the Heavens!

This damned thing kept throwing her into problematic situations over and over for no fucking reason. It was really too frustrating, okay? She got tossed around more than the typical Xianxia Protagonist! A sock in the dryer didn't get tossed around as much!

Worse still, she didn't even get as many benefits as a Xianxia Protagonist! 

'Like, where the hell is that unparalleled super Technique that can allow me to beat up Celestial Bridge Elders with a puny Divine Sea Cultivation Base?! Where is that old monster who will willingly donate his peerless Cultivation Base to me?! Where is my super-awesome heaven-defying Immortal Bloodline?! Where is the Immortal Inheritance of the peerless expert that defied Heavens and probably farted Nine Heavens Immortal Qi?!

'Fucking nonsense!' Xiao Hong cursed inwardly. She was ready to flip the metaphorical table on the Heavens! 

It was just that the table was too darned heavy for her to even budge.

After another quick inward rant, she calmed down.

Yun Meng, on the other hand, was startled, sensing Xiao Hong's aura flicker unstably. 

'What the heck?! We were conversing just fine, weren't we? Why the heck are you suddenly angry?' Yun Meng almost cried. 

His soul practically took a short vacation from his body when he felt the young woman's aura surge! For a moment, he thought he'd somehow offended this Immortal Cultivator and was about to be flattened into a pie! 

Luckily, the aura disappeared as soon as it came. 

If it weren't for Yun Meng being extra wary, he wouldn't even have noticed it at all. 

As Xiao Hong's aura calmed down, he realised he wasn't the reason she was offended. 

Yun Hua, who was still confused about her granduncle's behaviour and wondering what he was up to, did not sense it at all.

Having calmed down, Xiao Hong sighed in resignation, 'Well, at least, I am not in a place with completely monopolised resources. That would be a genuine nightmare.'

She turned to the duo and noticed Yun Meng eyeing her warily. Immediately, she realised what had happened and felt slightly guilty. Just as she was about to apologise, Yun Meng cleared his throat.

"Ahem." he began, a warm and pleasant smile spreading across his weathered features. It was a smile that made one have positive feelings about him, disarming suspicion and fostering trust. The sharpness in his yellow eyes dissipated, leaving only warmth. "Young Lady Xiao, how about we leave here? Such a shabby place hardly befits someone of your stature. Therefore, I would sincerely like to invite you to our Yun Family's humble residence."

Xiao Hong's lips twitched involuntarily. This Yun Meng fella was turning out to be quite interesting. Despite being blasted by her aura and then startled again by her, not only was he not overwhelmed by it, but he also quickly adapted, even trying to build connections using Yun Hua's favour. 

Nevertheless, she agreed to it. She needed to figure out where she was exactly, needed a place to stay and quickly make plans. Since Yun Meng wanted to develop a connection, she might as well form a relationship with the Yun Family. She could make use of their power and information channels - even if they were meagre. Moreover, this was only a Branch Family, meaning there was a stronger Main Family somewhere and she could use their help through this connection.

And there was no way they could refuse her requests - she would just throw a few dozen Blood Qi Ignition and Blood Qi Strengthening pills at them. If even that did not satisfy them, she would throw Blood Qi Surge Pills and Muscle Strengthening Pills. It was simply impossible for them to refuse her - did they think they had too many Flesh Tempering Martial Artists in the family?

So, she politely replied to Yun Meng and smiled lightly, "It's my honour to be invited to your family."

"Haha! The Yun Family is truly fortunate to be graced by your presence!" Yun Meng laughed heartily. "Please follow me, Miss Xiao." 

Yun Meng changed his address of Xiao Hong to be closer and less formal. 

Xiao Hong nodded lightly, following Yun Meng and Yun Hua who led her through a tunnel.

On the way, she stepped closer to Yun Hua and struck up a conversation.

"By the way, Sister Hua, you're a Martial Artist, right?" Xiao Hong eyed Yun Hua's toned arms and lithe leopard-like form with great curiosity. 

Ever since her transmigration, she had never truly seen a Martial Artist up close. Her closest encounter with a Martial Artist was when Shi Yingjun invited her to the Adamantine Fist Sect. But he was a mighty Bloodline Fusion Martial Artist - equivalent to a Fusion Stage Cultivator. And there was no way she could ask him about Martial Arts. 

'A Pathway of Ascension that is no less potent than the Immortal Path. A philosophy that believes that the Human Body has boundless potential, pushing its limits over and over until it shatters them, transcending to greater heights. That is Martial Arts.' She recalled the little information she knew about Martial Arts. 'Quite different from the Immortal Path that believes that a living being is innately deficient, therefore it must take from Heaven and Earth to perfect itself.'

The most intriguing aspect, though? Martial Artists, unlike Immortal Cultivators, seemed exempt from the Heavenly Daddy's spanking - ahem, the Heavenly Tribulation. Every major stage after the Soul Palace Stage onwards for cultivators brought a tribulation of some sort. But even the strongest Martial Spirit Manifestation experts, who were equivalent to Essence Soul Cultivators, did not have to survive the Heavenly Tribulation.

This made Xiao Hong, who was struggling with her own limits, infinitely curious about Martial Arts. Now that she had an opportunity to closely interact with a Martial Arts Family, she intended to fully satisfy her curiosity.

"You are right, Miss Xiao. I am a Blood Qi Awakening Martial Artist." Yun Hua's chin tilted up just a tad as she replied 'indifferently'. Even though she tried to sound indifferent, as though she wasn't proud at all, her puffed-up chest indicated otherwise.

Having kept her progress secret for so long, she finally got the chance to proudly show off her achievements to a peer! At the age of 18, she had achieved what most people did at 40 or even later. She was even faster than her cousin who had achieved the same at 22! Now at the age of 21, she was about to break through once again, reaching the mid-stage of Blood Qi Awakening. 

If it weren't for the relatively weaker physical quality she had as a woman, she would have already reached the mid-stage. 

Since her granduncle was currying favour with this Miss Xiao, she must be some kind of big shot, right? So, Yun Hua figured she would keep her secret under wraps for now. 

"Sister Hua, you're so talented!" Xiao Hong praised, her voice filled with admiration. Her eyes shone as she played along, drawing great amusement from Yun Hua who was trying her best to keep a humble facade, but was failing fabulously. 

Though, it wasn't false to say that she was talented. If Yun Hua had access to the same resources that a disciple from a Martial Super Sect like the Adamantine Fist Sect, she might've long surpassed Xiao Hong in strength. Or at least, that was Xiao Hong's evaluation.

"I-It's not that amazing, it's just average." Yun Hua tried to suppress her pride and attempted to reply modestly, however, her flushed face and raised chin completely exposed her inner thoughts!

Yun Meng, who was leading the two, felt his mouth twitch violently. The secondhand embarrassment almost made him want to bury his face in the walls of the tunnel! 

That is a damned Sky Spirit Immortal Cultivator, alright? A casual flick of her pinky finger could probably evaporate the entire family compound! And you're happily showing off your meagre strength in front of her?!

Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do. Clearly, Miss Xiao was having the time of her life, drawing great amusement at the expense of his grandniece. Thankfully, it was devoid of any malice and later on, Yun Hua might even gain a lot from this. So, he just let it be.

After nearly fifteen minutes of walking through the tunnel, they finally reached an extremely sturdy, formidable-looking gate. It looked like it could easily survive a siege and a half! Yun Meng then launched into a five-minute display of furious lock-opening and security measure-disarming that would make even a seasoned dungeon master raise an eyebrow. 

Xiao Hong, meanwhile, gaped like a fish out of water. She was genuinely bewildered at the sheer amount of locks and security measures there were! 

'What are you guarding? The Imperial Treasury?!'

"Please follow me, Miss Xiao." Yun Meng declared, his voice layer with an undertone that felt suspiciously like… pride?

She nodded and followed after him, completely unaware of the surprises she would encounter over the next few hours.

Another fifteen minutes later.

Xiao Hong nodded inwardly, looking at the third gate. She appreciated this level of caution. 

Another half hour later, Xiao Hong was starting to suspect Yun Meng might be using this whole "security measures" thing as an elaborate form of exercise. Y'know, to pump up those dexterity stats?

Yun Meng studiously avoided Xiao Hong's strange gaze while expertly unlocking the dozens of locks on the sixth door. There was nothing he could do, alright! It was a tradition started by one of his ancestors: every Family Head had to somehow increase the security of the Yun Family somehow - it was part of the test to become a Family Head. How was it his fault that his predecessors were all sorely lacking in creativity and simply added more doors to their escape route?!

What was worse was that any more doors and the escape route would become a dead end instead! So, he had to wrack his brains for a year before he could finally take the damned position! 

Every time he recalled those tiring days and sleepless nights, Yun Meng's blood pressure shot up so much he nearly broke through to the Flesh Tempering Stage!

Fast forward another fifteen minutes. 

Yun Hua caressed the hilt of her short swords, wondering how well they would serve as a shovel. She, very urgently,  needed to disappear into a hole! 

Meanwhile, Xiao Hong was already delirious and having her own absurd fantasies. She wondered, 'Huh? Perhaps I will find my super-awesome Heavenly Divine Supreme Treasure behind this door?'

***

In a nondescript courtyard among dozens of others in Xing Luo City's west sector, stood a rather small 2-storey house. The light-yellow paint had almost completely faded, leaving patches of red brick exposed. Obviously, the owner of the house never bothered to have it renovated or even maintained after it was built, leaving the signs of wear and tear to build up.

Inside the house. 

With a light clack, a tile in the corner of a room was lifted, revealing a somewhat dusty Yun Meng. He jumped up, landing quietly next to the tunnel. Quickly dusting himself off, he turned around and lent a polite hand to Xiao Hong.

Yun Hua, the last to come out, stared at Xiao Hong. She rubbed the dark smudge on her nose, bewildered by the pristine Xiao Hong - seemingly completely untouched by the dusty environment of the tunnel. How in the Heavens does this woman not have a single speck of dust on her?! 

While Xiao Hong stared at Yun Meng in astonishment. Looking at him now, she felt completely disoriented! Good Heavens, she would never have expected that this nearly 7-foot-tall gorilla-like figure held the soul of a rabbit!  'Six! Six thick-ass fucking doors! Seriously, what the hell are you guarding against? Godzilla?!'

***

A few minutes later, Xiao Hong found herself nestled inside a private 'carriage-taxi'.

The 'carriage-taxi' was essentially like public transport in the ancient times, allowing people of the city to commute pretty much all over the respective sector of the city. These public carriages, Xiao Hong noticed through the window, were large and slow, often drawn by horses and carrying a few dozen passengers along predetermined routes. Efficiency wasn't their strong suit, but affordability was.

Unlike the public carriages, the private versions were smaller, nimbler, and boasted a human engine – a robust 6th Layer Body-Refining cultivator in his late 40s – pulling them at a brisk pace. 

Xiao Hong continued to stare, curiously watching the streets. People hurrying, vendors hawking their wares, tea stalls and food carts flashed by. 

While she was observing all this, Yun Meng was explaining to her the situation of Xing Luo City.

"Along with my Yun Family, the Ferocious Bear Gang and the Liang Family, form the three main powers of Xing Luo City. Each of us has a peak-stage Blood Qi Awakening Martial Artist holding down the fort. 

"Moreover, there are at least a dozen mid-stage Blood Qi Awakening Elders in each faction. At least, publicly. Internally, it is entirely possible that they have more, possibly even twice as many…

"Each of us holds a great share of the City's fortune, almost monopolising certain industries. With my Yun Family completely monopolising the textile and rice transport industries. The Liang Family monopolises the…" Yun Meng continued to introduce the configuration of local powers to Xiao Hong, who was only half listening to him. 

She had finally gathered the courage to spread out her Divine Sense upon seeing so many mortals who did not have even the slightest trace of extraordinary power. And the results were a monotonous echo of what her eyes saw - a sea of mortals, with only a smattering of Body Refiners, none surpassing the 3rd Layer. 

Even when the carriage crossed over to the Northern more prosperous area, there was only a slight increase in the number of Body Refiners.

'It seems that I really am in some backwater place.' Xiao Hong concluded.

The very next moment, a thought sprung to her mind, 'Huh. Doesn't that mean I'm essentially the top dog in this city? And probably even in nearby, stronger cities roo?' 

Her eyes sparkled with an intensity that would put a certain sparkly-eyed, talisman-wielding, mind-bending shitstain to shame!

Immediately, she turned to Yun Meng, interrupting his rant denouncing the Ferocious Bear Gang as a bunch of braindead, uncivilised pieces of trash.

"By the way Sir Yun, what do you know about the Provincial Capital? How strong are the experts there?" Xiao Hong stared at Yun Meng intensely.

"Ah?" Yun Meng was startled for a moment at being interrupted and stared at so intensely, but quickly regathered himself.

"I believe the strongest expert there, I believe, is the Patriarch of the Jiang Family, a peak-stage Divine Sea Cultivator." He replied to Xiao Hong honestly. "There are many other mid-stage and early-stage Divine Sea Stage Cultivators among Immortal Cultivators. Moreover, among Martial Artists, there are quite a few Life Transformation Stage Martial Artists.

"Of course, this information is quite old, it has been nearly two decades since I last visited the Provincial Capital." Yun Meng added after a short pause. It was actually during this visit that he comprehended what Immortal Cultivators were and the powers they wielded. Before that, he only had a slight inkling through his connections.

Xiao Hong heaved a sigh of relief internally, realising that there was no one who could beat her nearby. Just in case, she continued to inquire, "Oh? Is this the same in all provinces?"

Yun Meng observed the young woman, who seemed a lot more relaxed than before. His eyes flickered imperceptibly. 

"Not at all. The Golden Star Province is one of the weakest in overall strength. There are provinces which are much stronger than the Golden Star Province. However, I have no real way to know exactly how strong they are." said Yun Meng.

Xiao Hong nodded and thanked Yun Meng. Internally though, she was practically doing a victory dance!

'With this, I can basically confirm that I am among the strongest in this Golden Star Province. With my current strength, as long as I don't go around courting death like an arrogant Young Master, nothing can harm me.' Xiao Hong smirked inwardly. 

An unprecedented sense of lightness swept through her entire being like she was floating in the sky. It was like the first time she reached the Sky Spirit Stage and was able to fly with her own power! 

'Now that I think about it, doesn't that mean I'm essentially free?!' Her heart leapt in unprecedented joy. 'Doesn't this mean that I don't have to worry about a single thing?! No need to worry about reaching Nirvana before 30, no need to worry about lustful Young Masters, no need to worry about anything!'

Suddenly, she realised that being in a backwater place was not such a bad thing at all! 

Meanwhile, Yun Hua was thunderstruck. Immortal Cultivators were real?!

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