"So? What changed?"
Nik inquired as the loud sizzling sound of Old Kon placing a thick slice of ruby red meat over the oiled pan. According to the cook's description, this was the meat collected from a hundred-year-old spirit beast Ruby Rabbit. Nik's gaze was focused on the art that sizzled and gave off a glimmer while a sweet scent soon filled the surroundings. If the surrounding commoners weren't acquainted with the famous man's temperament, then they would have flooded the stall. Just like Nik, Yang Xin gulped and let ger gaze remain glued on the frying pan. This time, the old cook undid a jar full of black, thumb-sized sticks and placed two pieces of it over the surface of the meat and then exhaled deeply. He let the underside cook well while lowering the heat and preparing further items. Though this was a stall, the quality of meals was definitely not below the top-notch inns.
"We were informed that you killed the Demon Lord. Instead of binding you with a contract that doesn't benefit you at all, the President of the Association decided to provide the recruitment drives without any strings attached."
Yang Xin explained candidly and rubbed the back of her palm against her lips, stopping the drool from leaking as Old Kon opened the vat of spirit stock and poured the cup of liquid over the sizzling pan. By now, the two black sticks that already turned into a steaming puddle of black liquid that marred the surface of the meat. The moment the spirit stock streamed on the pan, Old Kon and the pair took a step back simultaneously, and with a loud gushing sound, steam arose at a breakneck pace. However, much to Nik's surprise, the cloud of steam didn't disappear. Instead, it congealed over the dry pan with the smoky meat still letting out soft sizzling noise.
Nik's eyes were glowing. Aside from good food, watching the food prepared artistically is always a luxury to relish.
"You really didn't think I would bring you to a plain stall, right?"
Yang Xin inquired with a happy smile. Since she was hosting Nik, it was a little relief to find out that Nik wasn't indifferent to these kinds of shows. With a satisfactory nod, she looked as Old Kon smiled and clasped his hand towards the pair. "Little Xing brought such a handsome youth. I must give my all. After all, the ones who she has to accompany are usually my age," he chuckled as Yang Xin's lips twitched, and she retorted instantly, "This is just a business meeting, Old Kon. Why are you saying this"
"Nonsense," Nik snorted and smiled at Old Kon, "Sir, it is a pleasure to witness your skills with Yang Xin by my side. This will be our first meal together."
Hearing him, Old Kon laughed brightly and summoned his martial spirit. It was some sort of cloud and human hybrid. Its surface was blue-tinted, and there was no facial feature on its face.
"Your troubles are my troubles. What's your name, youth?"
"Hmm, Little Nik, this is my martial spirit Cloud Chief. When Little Yang was a kid, she used to play with a lot!"
Old Kon sighed in emotions as Nik took a deep breath. "I understand, Old Kon. Yang Xin has grown. She does not want to play with your martial spirit anymore. Don't worry. Your troubles are mine. From now on, I'll make sure that Yang Xin plays with me."
Nik proclaimed righteously as Yang Xin and Old Kon looked at the shameless youngster with a widened gaze.
"Nik, please do not overstep the boundaries."
Yang Xin muttered darkly and crossed her arms with a cold expression forming over her face as Nik turned towards her and grinned widely. "Boundaries? I don't let invisible restrictions bind me up that easily. Instead of focusing on the future, why don't we enjoy the meal? After all, playing around exhausts a lot of nutrients. Right, Old Kon?"
Nik spoke to the old man with such familiarity that even he was tongue-tied. Old people like him who were familiar with Yang Xin usually cheer her in public the moment they see her with a youth. After all, how can Old Kon and others let Yang Xin waste her life without even marrying? Alas, Old Kon met a man more shameless and daring than him. Before he could reply, Nik, he felt Yang Xin's gaze condensing on him, and he struggled for a moment.
"Ah, right! Go!"
Old Kon instantly skipped the entire conversation and manipulated the cloud chief to wrap its arms around the steam cloud and squeeze it until droplets of glimmering green liquid fell atop the still heating pan. The moment the droplets impacted against the pan, they gushed and turned into steam once again. This time, Old Kon flipped the meat and revealed the juicy underside. A green-gold l.u.s.ter replaced the red color of the meat while the smoky brown texture made Nik and Yang Xin forget their current argument.
Finally, once both the sides were cooked, Old Kon picked the thick slice of meat and placed it in the middle of an empty plate while crushing the brittle bone of the chili lion and then garnishing the sides with a soya crow's blood. Once the meal was ready, he placed it in front of Nik and Yang Xin while placing two sets of forks and knives.
"Please enjoy while I cook more."
Old Kon's words pulled a smile from Nik and an angry snort from Yang Xin before Nik picked his fork and cut out a small piece of the dish before eating.
Nik sighed softly while his exhalation collected into a steam cloud and dispersing with a green glow. Meanwhile, the moment his teeth sunk into the treat, juices exploded! The most prominent taste was its spiciness before a thin layer of sweetness satisfied his taste buds and then exploded into multi-layered flavors! This was the first time Nik was eating a hundred-year-old beast cooked far more delicious than any thousand-year-old treat.
Nik praised softly while the old man had already started to prepare the next dish. Yang Xin, on the other hand, started from the opposite direction from where Nik cut his piece of the dish and ate with her eyes narrowed down in pleasure.
"Anyway, Yang Xin, since I don't have any incentive to continue working with the Association, what are you going to do?"
Nik resumed the main conversation while Yang Xin grew serious and stated the terms of the deal. "Now that we know your apparent strength, the Association wants to hire you more than ever. Of course, it is under the assumption that we increase the scope of our search into the true danger areas of the Star Dou forest. The remuneration can be anything as long as it is relative to the spiritual herbs you obtain."
Nik thought for a while.
"So why do we even need a contract if this task is based on the goods I bring?"
Yang Xin knew this, and even the President said the same thing. The entire initiative was in Nik's hands now, but Yang Xin didn't like the thought of it. She had raised her status and strength step-by-step. She was used to being the person in control, and this contract would have provided adequate handle.
"Say, if I bring a precious herb and ask for an external spirit bone, is that possible?"
Nik inquired as Old Kon continued demonstrating his skill.
Yang Xin nodded as Nik exhaled deeply.
"The conditions are lax, and the rewards are based on the risks I venture. A fair deal indeed... but, something feels missing."
Nik muttered while licking that brownish processed blood of the soya crow. His words made Yang Xin frown.
"These conditions are already the best."
"That isn't it," Nik smirked and shook his head. He thought for a moment before shaking his head again. "Anyway, I'll do it. I hope that our partnership lives long."
Yang Xin felt a little weird when she heard Nik's words and gazing at his impassive expression. This was the first time he looked like this.
'Man... a can of beer is what this meal is missing...'
Nik muttered internally. He had already marked Old Kon with his pheromone. Tonight, he would be trying out his special boost of the skill [Pheromone Illusion].
Once the duo reached an agreement, they continued to chat as Yang Xin finally iterated some of her exploits that were already public knowledge. Soon, the pair left the stall, and Nik decided to break off and head to another location that needs to be visited. In reality, Nik felt a little guilty for not accomplishing this task sooner. It took Nik half-an-hour to reach the Huyan Estate. The guardsmen instantly gave way to Nik the moment he smiled at them, and one of the attendants led him straight to the office where an old maid waited for him.
"Ah, Nik! As sturdy I mean, as hot sigh, good to see you."
The old woman sighed as Nik gave the beautiful lady the greeting she deserved before entering the room. Huyan Xiong was already informed about Nik's visit, and the moment Xiong looked at Nik, he flew into a rage. "Lad! Are you going to keep Lanruo stranded forever? You better"
"Ai, quieten down a little."
Nik's glare landed on Huyan Xiong as his kind expression that was only exposed to women and his students disappeared, replaced with an incomparably dull expression. Seeing this, Xiong's words turned into a lump and stuck against his throat while Nik snorted and sat across Xiong. Why should a father-in-law fly akin screaming chicken just because they would become relatives? Nik wasn't that kind-hearted. By now, he had already killed two father-in-laws. Xiong was lucky as it is. In fact, due to Xiong's slightly likable nature, Nik had decided to eventually make preparations for him and this family so that Lanruo doesn't feel lonely.
"Whatever facade we must put to keep Lanruo happy, we'll do it in front of her. No need to flex your status in front of me."
Nik stated the fact and then gestured Xiong to sit. "Today, I am here to propose marriage to Lanruo. I will be the one who will plan it out, understood?"
Xiong's lips twitched, but he didn't dare raise his voice, not after knowing the full extent of his recent exploits.
"You are just a part of the guests. Oh, and whatever dowry and stuff you feel necessary to send off Lanruo with, at least, don't make that pretentious. Instead of beautiful rocks and clothes that she would enjoy buying in my accompany, you should focus on items suited for her health and cultivation. It would be better if there is no dowry at all, but I don't think that's possible."
Hearing Nik's words, Xiong nodded. There was no way he would send his daughter off without everything he owns. But Nik had already limited that. Honestly, in this world, during love marriages, dowry is what the parents give out of love and not any political schemes.
Nik looked at Xiong's meek expression and nodded in satisfaction. He honestly didn't enjoy talking to people with fake smiles. Xiong was one of them, and Ye Zong was another. In fact, aside from a few guys like Ray, Brian, Rick, and Gunta, Nik practically felt repulsed by men on a general basis.
After the simple matter of initiation was finished, Nik returned to the Sacred Family's estate, where Shen Yue had already returned while the girls were waiting for him. He had already notified Xue Yin of his inability to learn from her today, but this time, he returned with a surprise of his own.