"I'm rich! I'm rich! A hundred fifty thousand premium spirit stones for two pieces of eye candy! Who would’ve thought that I would be a rich man myself one day… this way, even if I lose the province stewardship, I’m set for the rest of my life!” Grand Steward Xue gleefully muttered to himself and rubbed his hands together.
“Eh? What’re you standing around for, my dear Excellency? You should step aside as quick as you can. As your servant, I can’t put my hands on you. Oh no, no, no, that would be horribly rude. I was born into a scholarly family with many cultivators, so I most certainly can’t commit such an act of impropriety.”
The smug steward couldn’t refrain from exulting in self-satisfaction. “But that doesn’t mean no one else can. Your Excellency, do you know who this is? This is Old Willow from the Skandha Range! It wouldn’t be good if he hurts you.” 
“Weren’t you supposed to be out buying foundation stones?” Lu Yun asked frostily.
“Heh heh heh, I’m out of here in another six months. What would I be buying those for?” chuckled the steward. “Priority focus goes to earning spirit stones for the future, of course! Naturally, this is all my private property. With all due respect, my dear Excellency, it has nothing to do with you.”
The ‘Old Willow’ in question paid no mind to the conversation between Lu Yun and his steward. His eyes were fixed upon Yuying.
“That Wanfeng has a heavenly spirit root, but this other girl has an immortal one! An immortal spirit root will guarantee the golden immortal realm, at a minimum. If I use her as a cultivation vessel and take that root for my own, won’t I become one too?” The old man drooled at the tantalizing possibility.
Grand Steward Xue instantly colored when he heard this. “That’s not how business is done, Old Willow! If it’s like that, you can’t have her without at least two hundred thousand premium stones!” he added hurriedly. “With Wanfeng, that’s three hundred thousand in total!”
“That’s a tidy sum, but well within the range of affordability. Sure, three hundred thousand it is.” Old Willow smacked himself on the head for his mistake.
“Enough!” Lu Yun growled in a low voice. “Who gave you the authority to sell my people, Xue Lang?”
“The late governor, of course,” chuckled the steward. “Right before he underwent his tribulation, he instructed that I would have the final say in this household before you turn sixteen. Wanfeng and that woman by your side are part of this house, are they not? Since they are, I have the right to sell them.”
Wanfeng was dreadfully pale, her heart running amok with fear. The usually kindly grand steward was a monster in this moment!
“I’m not sixteen yet, eh?” Lu Yun furrowed his brow. It seemed his dead father had chosen the wrong person to entrust his son to. “Now you know not to judge a book by its cover, Wanfeng.”
“Yes.” Wanfeng bit her lip and nodded emphatically.
“Hehehe, I could say the same for your father. He took Wanfeng in precisely so that she could be a cultivation vessel for you! Her heavenly spirit root was meant to counteract your dormant bloodline. Too bad you can’t get your little buddy up, eh? That will never work for you.” Xue Lang dispensed with all pretenses in this retort, retaliating with a supercilious smile.
Wanfeng lowered her head. She was even whiter now, if such a thing were possible. A larger hand clasped itself over her own. Its warmth caused her body to tremble, then relax slightly.
“Alright, enough chatter. It looks like you can’t speak on this young governor’s behalf. Well, that doesn’t matter. I’ll take these two with me now. My servants will be over with the rest of the stones later.” Old Willow was growing impatient. A number of vines suddenly extended from his body and roiled toward Wanfeng and Yuying.
“An old tree spirit from the Skandha Range is making trouble in Dusk Province’s capital? How very brave of you!” A chillingly dangerous expression flickered across Yuying’s face.
She ascended into the air, white robes drifting in the wind. Seven swords fanned out from her and instantly slashed the vines to pieces. In the next moment, they followed the guidance of her fingers and shot toward Old Willow in seven streaks of emerald light.
“An origin core cultivator!” It was Old Willow’s turn to pale, but his expression turned satisfied in the next moment. “Is that so! That’s lovely. If I take your virginity, I’ll immediately become a spirit realm cultivator!”
The old man was no man at all, but a late-stage core realm tree spirit who’d lived for more than a thousand years.
Old Willow’s body began transforming. His dry, lanky figure expanded in mere seconds, shriveled skin turning to thickened bark. In no time at all, he became a treant more than thirty meters tall. And he was still growing and looking more like a tree!
Crack, crack, crack!
Yuying’s swords cut away a few of the treant’s branches, but he wasn’t seriously hurt otherwise.
“Hahaha! You might as well surrender, girl! No one at the same level can possibly penetrate a tree spirit’s defenses.” Old Willow’s voice had become as grainy as his bark, and he no longer sounded remotely human.
Still, he was an origin core realm cultivator.
His feet were piercing roots that shattered the stone tiles of the manor courtyard to plant themselves into solid earth. By now, the treant resembled a giant willow more than anything. His crown was large enough to cover the sky over half the residence, and there was a human face upon the tree’s bark.
“So it’s you, you old monster! I couldn’t do anything when you fled into the Skandha Range twelve hundred years ago, but here you come knocking today!”
On the way back to the city, Yuying had roughly estimated that it’d been twelve hundred years since she was ambushed during her heavenly tribulation. Two baleful green flames flared in her eyes.
Boom! She slammed her body into the monstrous willow, trading a vicious blow with her enemy.
“Who are you!” Old Willow colored again, this time in shock.
This rotten luck! I didn’t expect that brat to bring back an origin core woman. Thank goodness I invited Old Willow here today, or I’d be dead otherwise! Cold sweat dripped down Xue Lang’s face. I’m only late-stage golden core myself. I can’t possibly intervene in a battle between two origin cores! I’ll hide for now and get payment after Old Willow takes that woman down.
But before then, I should seize Wanfeng for my own. Despite her talent, I’ve only taught her a single low-grade wind combat art, heheheh. She probably doesn’t know how to fight yet. Grand Steward Xue walked toward Lu Yun and his prey, these thoughts on his mind.
“You’ll be dead in six months anyway, my good Excellency. Why not take pity on me before you die? I’ve served your family for a hundred years, haven’t I?” He stopped before the two youths. “Three hundred thousand premium stones is more than enough for me to comfortably retire on.”
Wanfeng’s expression instantly changed. She stepped between Lu Yun and Steward Xue, her spirit sword ringing clear of its sheath.
“Tsk, you’re grown up! You’re bold enough to draw your weapon against me now, huh? Ooh, is that a spirit weapon?” Xue Lang’s eyes glowed with greed. “Hohoho, I’ll certainly take this gift. That weapon is worth at least several hundred premium stones!”
“You’ve wrought your own doom, Xue Lang.” Lu Yun patted Wanfeng reassuringly on the shoulder. It was his turn to put himself between her and the steward. “Your life won't be spared even if the celestial emperor himself came now.”
In the tomb, Wanfeng had protected him despite suffering debilitating fear. Even after she’d been pushed beyond the brink, she forced herself awake and remained conscious until they were truly safe.
Lu Yun could do no less than treat her as his own, considering all that. For the grand steward to try selling her off… that was a death sentence in his eyes.
“You still think your governorship holds any importance, you mewling whelp? Do you imagine anyone will answer your orders? You’re about to be a homeless stray very soon!” Xue Lang cackled. “I’ve decided to depart from House Lu. I am no longer your servant, thus there’s no problem with insubordination. Die!”
His expression was vicious as he reached out a palm and brought it crashing down on Lu Yun.
“Move!” Lu Yun swept the anxious Wanfeng behind him, then drove both hands forward. Nine draconic forms appeared around him, inky and potent.
Xue Lang’s withered palm made forceful contact with Lu Yun’s body. The nine shadowy dragons shook, sending the old steward flying like a dead leaf.
“How can this be?!” Xue Lang’s eyes widened incredulously. Lu Yun had used a combat art!
The boy with a dormant bloodline that precluded him from cultivating had deployed a skill that was supposedly inaccessible to him!
The robust energies the grand steward felt were more than a match for his own. Encountering such abrupt resistance had sent him flying, while Lu Yun remained firmly in place. Shadows coalesced around him like a casket, safeguarding his body within.
“Little bastard! You became a cultivator without anyone knowing. You’ve learned a powerful combat art, too!” Xue Lang picked himself back up off the ground, disheveled and spiteful.
I’ll come back later, after Old Willow deals with that woman! Deciding this, he made a mad dash for his life. A dark yellow light from the sword beneath his feet hoisted him aloft and took him toward the city’s outskirts.
“You’re not going anywhere!” roared Lu Yun. His hands made a strange seal, causing a phenomenon like a number of small, golden dragons to swarm between his fingers.
There was a sudden quake throughout the entire residence. Nine golden dragons rose from the ground of the governor’s residence and flew into the skies, enveloping the entire capital in their influence.
“The Enneawyrm Provenance Formation! Who activated it?” The cultivators who’d just sent off the plague—er, Dusk Phalanx—were scared anew by the soaring dragons.
“Lu Yun! It has to be him! What does that crazy guy want, exactly?!” The members of House Ge were chilled to the bone.
The Enneawyrm Provenance Formation didn't only protect the governor’s residence; its range included all within the city’s limits. In other words, anyone inside the walls was theoretically open to attack. It would be trivial for the formation master to destroy House Ge, if he so wanted.
“I underestimated that brat. He’s more decisive than I thought.” Having just returned home, Feng Li looked up with considerable awe at the nine dragons in the sky. “Both of Dusk Province’s major weapons have made a showing, eh? That’ll be enough to daunt certain individuals.”
He spoke of the formation in the city, and the Dusk Phalanx in the north; both had made appearances tonight.
“The Enneawyrm Provenance Formation! Are you trying to kill me, you little bastard?!” Those proved to be Xue Lang’s last words. He shrieked hideously as one of the dragons turned him into a bloody mist with a twist of its body.
“Get out of the way, Yuying!” Blood seeped out of all of Lu Yun’s orifices. Powering the Enneawyrm Provenance alone was too much of an exertion for him. Without the Tome of Life and Death in his body, as well as the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers, he would’ve been sucked dry at the moment of its activation.
“Die!” roared Lu Yun. He pressed both hands down in a vicious motion.
Boom boom boom!
Nine draconic shadows slammed into the giant willow in the middle of the courtyard.
1. Skandhas are the Buddhist five factors that constitute and explain a sentient being’s person and personality.