To which Li Qiye responded: “You think too highly of me.”
Youzheng coughed and said: “Well… then, what are you fighting to the very end for, Young Noble?”
“I need to bear my teeth even if it means eternal damnation!” Li Qiye said: “I don’t care what kind of existence it is, all I want to do is to topple and kill them, that’s all.”
“Your firm dao heart is beyond us.” Youzheng emotionally said, appreciating the domineering declaration.
Li Qiye had a contemplative gaze and didn’t reply.
“Young Noble.” Youzheng continued while staring at Li Qiye: “Before the great battle, have you thought about saying goodbye to people, such as your friends and followers?”
This made Li Qiye think. Would he actually do something like that?
Those who love him, those he loves, those with absolute and undying loyalty towards him… There have been too many partings with them since the start of his journey.
It wasn’t that he had forgotten about these sad memories; he just didn’t wish to remember them. They have been buried in the deepest crevice of his mind.
After a long time, he stopped gazing and said: “As long as I’m around, the light of dawn will still be there. My battle will sweep through the ages and I shall return triumphantly, so there is no need to say goodbye. Save that for another day.”
Now, this domineering statement revealed his absolute confidence as well.
Youzheng stood there in a daze, just trying to imagine the scene of this great conquest…
The sudden appearance of corpses took Mingluo like a storm. Something else added to this on the second day.
“There are black stones in the corpses with incredible effects.” A piece of shocking news spread quickly everywhere.
“Black stones? What are the effects?” Many were surprised.
So during the previous night, an ancestor has captured a corpse “alive” for research on its rebirth. He managed to find some clues.
In fact, other ancestors also did the same. This rebirth phenomenon was too alluring. They couldn’t stop themselves from doing research.
“Grind the stone down to powders for a mixer can yield increased power.” One cultivator from a big system revealed.
“Really?” The crowd became ecstatic. Everyone in the world wanted to increase their power.
“It’s true, but the effect is clearer for disciples with shallow cultivation. The yield is rather insignificant for an expert.” The person said.
His system clearly experimented with these stones and came up with these results.
This disappointed many because the ones who came here were predominantly powerful.
“But many little things will add up to something great. Maybe it’s an issue of quantity?” Someone else speculated.
The crowd found this to be a logical take.
“There are more corpses spotted in the northern area.” Someone interrupted the conversation.
“Let’s go kill them then!” Numerous cultivators ran northward.
The corpses that have just gotten out of the ground didn’t have enough time to ambush anyone before being surrounded and captured.
“No need to kill it, just take its black stone and it will be finished anyway.” It became a competition for the corpses.
“There are more in the southern streets.” More information came out.
“Go go!” The horde headed southward right away.
The corpses became hot commodities. No one was afraid of them anymore. In fact, eyes lit up after hearing about their appearances.
“An ancestor is paying a lot for these black stones. It’s a very good price.”
“That ancestor is very strong already so the stones should be useless to him, why are they paying so much for them?” Someone questioned.
“Immortality.” An expert elaborated: “Look, these corpses are coming back to life, so there should be an incredible secret behind it all, maybe hints towards immortality. Which ancestor doesn’t want immortality?”
“That makes sense.” People got the point right away. A clear shift happened overnight where the corpses were no longer frightening and scream-inducing.
Actually, people were still screaming, but out of excitement instead of fear. The appearance of these corpses meant a fortune was coming their way.
Because of this, people’s eyes lit up after hearing about potential spotting and they ran there like addicts.
Initially, these corpses still weren’t that precious even when their black stone’s power-boosting potential was known. It had a negligible effect on masters so the demand remained low.
However, the paradigm shifted when systems started paying a high price for them. The black stones became a hot commodity with increasing prices. Some eager masters actually paid a ludicrous amount for them.
“I heard these black stones have a strong connection with the rumored immortal stone.” This piece of information quietly traveled across Mingluo: “The black stones inside the corpses are broken pieces from the immortal stone. Somehow these corpses had these stones inside them, managing to come back alive. Rumor has it that the original stone was left behind by an immortal and it can grant everlasting life…”
The city became crazier after hearing these rumors. Even the spectating ancestors joined the hunt for corpses.
The influx of these old men only exacerbated the demand and price for the black stones. It had reached an unreasonable amount.
Competition always followed right after a clear benefit. Thus, conflicts were inevitable as people hunt for the black stones.
Another rumor came out: “Using a large number of black stones can have a life-prolonging effect…”
All in all, people went crazy and hunted the corpses like crazy in Mingluo City.
Meanwhile, Li Qiye didn’t pay attention to anything back in his palace. He closed his eyes and meditated, only to crack a smile after hearing about the black stones’ effect: “Ignorant fools, they’ll come to find how helpless they are soon enough.”
“Do you mean those stones are poisonous?” Youzheng found this plausible after seeing the nefarious nature of the stones.
“We’ll find out soon. However, the positive properties are indeed true.” Li Qiye said.
“So what are the side-effects?” Youzheng wondered due to the high price the stones are fetching right now.
“Do you need baits to fish?” Li Qiye looked at him and answered.
Youzheng took a second before understanding Li Qiye. He blurted out: “You mean, these black stones are…”
Li Qiye closed his eyes again, seemingly asleep.
There weren’t enough black stones to go around. Whenever a corpse appeared, masters would head there right away. The weak couldn’t find anything.
For some unknown reasons, perhaps too many have been killed and that the corpses have fled, it became harder to find corpses in Mingluo. Even one or two became a rare sight in just two days.
“Looks like we’ve killed them all.” One person sighed in disappointment after wasting half a day searching.
All they could do was lament the situation. It’s not like more corpses would spawn.
Just when everyone thought that this was the end of this story, a command was issued inside the city.
“Seal the city off, bring all the natives here.” A powerful Eternal commanded.
The native citizens and cultivators from Mingluo were herded together by stronger experts.
“What are you doing?! How lawless!” It didn’t take long before the natives were imprisoned. It was too late to escape. Resistance was futile because they were simply too weak.
“What’s going on?” The neutral outsiders found this strange.
“Hey, you all are being unreasonable here.” One outsider spoke on the side of justice. After all, they were only guests at Mingluo. Suddenly capturing the natives was too extreme.
“Hmph, what are you going to do about it?” The jailers didn’t play nice and barked back at the protester: “Don’t mess with the Trade Federation’s business.”
“You!” The protester became angry but his friend immediately pulled him back.
After the group of experts left, his friend quietly reminded him: “It’s best not to mess with the Trade Federation to avoid being killed. They aren’t as imperious as Hidden Gold Grotto but once they choose to do something, they’ll move with lightning speed and great destruction.”
Though the kind-hearted protester felt indignant, he really couldn’t afford to mess with the Trade Federation. Even the strongest sect in his system couldn’t do so either.
Another message eventually spread across the city – that the Trade Federation will execute people by the city gate.
“Execution? Why are they doing that to the natives who are too weak to provoke them in the first place.” People became confused.
“Using them as bait, of course. The corpses want to suck blood so the federation wants to use the natives’ blood to lead them out.” One expert immediately realized what was going on. His expression soured.
“I see, it’s another type of blood offering.” Many took a deep breath and muttered, unhappy about the development.
The words, blood offering, made people uneasy. This was a taboo considered to be part of the heretical and evil dao.
But now, the trade alliance was resorting to this method.
“How can they do this?!” One visiting cultivator shouted with indignation.
“Benefits move the heart.” An ancestor shook his head: “This might be an order from the higher-ups in the federation. Ordinary members can’t give this command. Remember, Venerable Deer Merchant is very old now, few in Imperial is as old as him so he doesn’t have long to live. If these black stones can really prolong life, then the federation won’t mind…”
Venerable Deer Merchant was the leader of the Trade Federation.
“They’ll invite the fury of the crowd by doing this taboo act.” One expert said.
“That’s why they’re using the natives of Mingluo.” An ancestor replied: “This entire system doesn’t even have a single Ascender, so how are they going to oppose the federation? Outsiders won’t want to step up for their sake either.”
“That’s true.” Many smiled wryly at the sad circumstance.
No one in this declining system could help the natives here. The system had no allies to speak of either. Who would stand up for them?
The Trade Federation wouldn’t dare to do this against a powerful system, but Stone Harmony was only a fish on the chopping board. “I do agree that the Trade Federation is out of line for doing this.” One ancestor stated his disapproval.
“What can we do when they’re so strong?” A different ancestor said: “Hidden Gold Grotto might act all that, but it isn’t necessarily as powerful as the federation. The geezers in that alliance have a dozen systems or so behind them.”
“That’s true, they would be ruling right now if it wasn’t for the three behemoths.” The first ancestor sighed and admitted the federation’s power.
This federation was considered the biggest alliance in Imperial Lineage. Funnily enough, their slogan and creed during their foundation focused on justice and fairness.
Their goal was to avoid total hegemony by the three behemoths. That’s why some old Eternals agreed to form this alliance.
The leader and faciliator was the oldest and strongest Eternal – Venerable Deer Merchant. 
Later on, more Eternals joined the mix. Outside of their leader, there were five deputy leaders as well with the title of Heavenly Merchant. They were quite mighty and famous, far stronger than the ten Vajras of Hidden Gold Grotto, at least in a one-on-one scenario.
This alliance lacked institutional consolidation and the members only joined on a personal level. However, behind them were their respective systems.
Thus, the actual power of the federation was quite considerable. Provoking any member was the same as messing with a beehive.
Though Hidden Gold Grotto seemed to be on a meteoric rise recently judging by their attitude, it might not actually be stronger than the federation.
After all, the grotto only represented one system while the federation had a dozen. They were outmatched in terms of military strength and resources.
That’s why people usually refrained from provoking the federation, the three behemoths not included.
No one dared to say anything to stop this blood offering. They disliked this extreme measure and wanted to stand up for justice. Alas, the disparity was too great.
Standing up for strangers and antagonizing the federation would be unwise.
On the next day, the sealed gate of the city slowly opened.
“It’s happening.” The spectators came out of the city in order to watch the development.
They saw platforms erected with grooves on the ground to lead blood everywhere as bait for the corpses.
To which Li Qiye responded: “You think too highly of me.”