“How is it? Are you alright?” Fiend Gui was worried for Zhuo Fan while the others watched nervously.
Clutching his chest, Zhuo Fan muttered to himself before easing a breath, “It’s nothing, just a feeling. Double Dragon Gathering won’t go easy on us.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Double Dragon Gathering has the greatest powers in western lands. It’d be strange if it were easy. No one, not even the superior three sects will boast they’ll reach their goal.” Fiend Yang chuckled and patted his shoulder, “I am most thankful for how much care you have for the sect, but don’t beat yourself over it. You said it yourself, to be a superior three sect. We didn’t even ask you to take us to the top, so why worry? Ha-ha-ha…”
[You’re beating Steward Zhuo over it!]
The gang twitched, watching Fiend Yang’s eyes in silence.
[Anyone would feel the pressure getting a lower three sect to become a superior three sect, even Steward Zhuo. Venerables, isn’t your aim a bit off from reality?]
Zhuo Fan’s mouth twitched as well, but sighed, “Superior three sect it is, nothing to it. Blame my loose mouth.”
“Ha-ha-ha, don’t say that. It’s good for young people to have big dreams.” Fiend Yang beamed and patted Zhuo Fan harder on the shoulder.
While Zhuo Fan’s smile was bitter, his eyes were firm.
He alone knew what that throb was all about. It came with a warning label, that he was about to meet the biggest threat of his life.
Like a clash of titans, coming to a head. The winner rose while the loser was vanquished. It was a battle weaved in the fabric of destiny.
[Does that mean I’ll meet my match?]
Worry bore down on his furrowing brow…
Everyone turned to the door as a man in gray stood there, an Ethereal Stage cultivator and just as plain as the usher.
The man bowed and smiled, “People of the Demon Scheming Sect, I ask that your honored elders and venerables will be coming to Heaven Reaching Pavilion to discuss the Double Dragon Gathering.”
“We’re the ones. Please lead the way, brother.” Fiend Yang bowed. He had enough getting on one caddie’s bad side.
The fiends dumped everything in Zhuo Fan’s lap as they followed the man.
Zhuo Fan turned to his people, face hard, voice calm, “Right, let’s get this done. Pick a room and eat this, then meditate.”
Zhuo Fan threw each of them a vial.
Kui Gang perked up, “Heaven Reaching Pill?”
“It can heal meridians and renew life, but it’s also Zombie Pill’s antidote. Taking this will transform your bodies.”
“Haven’t we taken it already? You said it only works once.” Kui Gang asked.
Zhuo Fan nodded, “Its effect will only work once, but does not equal removing the poison. Your progress from removing it will have a lesser effect than when you took this pill the first time.”
It didn’t change the fact that Tie Ying and all others that took it once felt they were losing out. It was plain to see the biggest effect came from getting Zombie Pill to stiffen you up before overcoming it with the Heaven Reaching Pill.
[Ah, what a shame, wasting such a pill just to remove some poison.]
Ignorant of the fact that by not taking it the first time, they wouldn’t be alive to take it the second time. Zhuo Fan shook his head. They withdrew to their chambers and began the process while Zhuo Fan set up a defensive array.
The gentle rapping on the door was just like the first. Zhuo Fan spoke, “The venerables have left for Heaven Reaching Pavilion. What is the-“
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That was no man standing at the door, not with that figure. The two women brought a smile to his lips.
“Shuang’er, Yongning, what are you doing here?”
The two shared a long look before squealing at him, “Zhuo Fan!”
“Wait, back up, what’s going on here?” Stopping the two out of reach, Zhuo Fan asked, “Don’t tell me you’re joining the Double Dragon Gathering too.”
The two gave a dry laugh.
Yongning began, “We’re not you, some fighting junkie. We only came to watch.”
Shuang’er nodded, “The Double Dragon Gathering decides the positions of the nine sects, their resources, and their territory. Each nation sends a delegation to understand these changes that might affect their future. Taking the Demon Scheming Sect as an example, if you become a middle three sect, you will be offered a much greater territory and resources, even having a whole empire under it.”
Zhuo Fan’s eyes shook.
[That’s why the Demon Scheming Sect’s higher-ups stress so much about this tournament. They would pay anything if it means getting amazing rewards and more resources.]
[Win now to benefit for centuries!]
With more land and resources, a sect could grow to unseen heights, and it all rested on Double Dragon Gathering’s outcome.
Zhuo Fan was pensive, “You’re telling me a middle three sect has an empire all to itself? While a lower three sect can only get a third, like Tianyu’s three guardian sects?”
“Yes, and no. What matters here is the resource allocation.”
Cocking her head, Yongning had a faint smile, “Look at Beast Taming Sect, they are a lower three sect, but as they are from the Quanrong Empire, with little resources harvested there, you can say they have a sole empire under them. Tianyu, bordering the Quanrong Empire, is rich in resources. So much so that it has two lower three sects and a middle three sect sharing its haul. As for the superior three sects, they each have a large empire, with tens of more resources than us.”
“That’s why the late emperor made a deal with Quanrong in secret. By ceding land, he affected the sects’ gains and ultimately their future. Any accord between nations is for them to settle, the sects can’t interfere. This is a rule of Double Dragon Manor, all to prevent the western lands from plunging into chaos.” Shuang’er added.
Recalling the old wound, Yongning looked dispirited.
Zhuo Fan was reminded of Xie Wuyue’s words and now knew the true leader of western lands.
[It’s all Double Dragon Manor’s tactic to keep western lands’ strength up.]
In this grand design, the empires were but ant swarms, each toiling over extracting resources. As long as nothing interfered with them, the income would be constant. While the allocation was all decided in the Double Dragon Gathering, based on their efforts.
The sects would stem any budding chaos from growing out of hand while also banned from interfering with an empire’s ruling just so the western lands would keep their peace.
[Each is a cog in western lands’ machine to ramp up the power.]
By controlling the nine sects, Double Dragon Manor controlled western lands.
[It’s all so simple yet much more far-reaching than it seems, with incredible results.]
Zhuo Fan’s eyes shone.
A snort reached the trio’s ears, butting into their friendly talk, “Just like an animal pen, rearing them for slaughter. Who does Double Dragon Manor think it is?”
Zhuo Fan stared to see a very familiar man at the table. An unkempt man with a red nose was gulping down from his flask.
The others had one feeling watching him, lonesome.
“Senior, are you from Double Dragon Manor?” Zhuo Fan probed.
The guy was so strong even he didn’t notice him coming in. Making it that much easier to die if the old man wanted to.
The drunkard sneered, “Double Dragon Manor, ha-ha-ha, that was before…”