The remark raised yet another round of laughter. Everybody was shaking their head and feeling proud of themselves, as if beating the tax officers of the court back was a glorious endeavor.
While laughing, they were still eyeing Li Yao the same way people usually eyed a retard.
Li Yao had many words he wanted to tell the ordinary people who had been undernourished so long that they were dark, thin, and looked like a different species from the Cultivators.
However, under their pitiful gazes, he did not know where to begin.
After he left the tea shop, under the guidance of the teacher, he went to visit the local temple, which was said to be a popular place.
Religions were very important on the two sides of the Sorcerers’ River. There were many temples in the villages and even in the forests.
However, it was rarely the groundless deities that were enshrined in the temples but the Cultivators of the local sects who had sacrificed themselves in the operations to slay monsters.
It was said that the Cultivators’ souls would not entirely wither after they perished and that if the souls were enshrined, they would still protect their hometown and the people.
Therefore, after Cultivators of the Stone Martial Hall perished, temples would be established for those who had a high Cultivation and position. The deceased low-level Cultivators would also be allotted to the temples and be enshrined together with the seniors.
Most of the villages had more than one temple, which were often the most splendid buildings in the village. With green bricks, beautiful tiles, stone lions, and a bronze gate, they were a major contrast to the low, ragged cottages around them.
Inside every temple, the souls of three to five Cultivators were enshrined.
They were the things in highest demand. Every time a Cultivator of the Stone Martial Hall passed away, all the local villages would fight for them. Everybody would promise the most generous reward, hoping that the soul of the deceased could be led back to their town.
The number of souls enshrined was a symbol of the capability of a town!
Four Cultivators were enshrined in the temple that Li Yao visited, including an elder and a leader of the Stone Martial Hall. It was known as Four Saints Temple and was the largest temple nearby. No wonder the villagers said that it was a popular place and that the prayers there were often very effective.
The statues of the four Cultivators, enshrouded in gold powder, were standing inside the Four Saints Temple. A few rune arrays that could trigger colorful light had been carved in the darkness, too, making the statues look rather elegant and vivid. If the ignorant villagers ran into them at night, it would be quite understandable for to mistake them for resurrected heroes.
A few bronze plaques nearby had been carved with the life events of those Cultivators and the reasons for their demise.
Li Yao read carefully, only to discover that three of the Cultivators had perished when fighting the ferocious animals in the forests while the leader, who was at the peak of the Building Foundation Stage, had been killed by a strong evil Cultivator who had happened to flee to the local area.
Li Yao did not know how he should comment on them anymore.
It was obvious that a Cultivation sect could not solely live on the taxes of local villages. For training, the Cultivators had to hunt the demon beasts in the forests, retrieve their meat and cores, and excavate the Heavenly Materials and Earthly Treasures and crystals from the mountains. That was the bedrock of a sect.
So, the Stone Martial Hall went into the mountains to slay the monsters for the survival and development of the sect. It was not just a selfless endeavor of ‘serving the justice’.
Yet, objectively speaking, it was exactly because those Cultivators had fought the monsters and the demon beasts unwaveringly for hundreds of years that the ordinary people had been given a piece of land where they could survive.
When the monsters went down the mountains to cause trouble, or the foreign evil Cultivators fled to the villages, the ‘deities’ of the Stone Martial Hall never hesitated.
Therefore, if he was asked whether or not the Cultivators of the Stone Martial Hall had made any contribution to the ordinary people here, Li Yao found it impossible to say ‘no’ brazenly.
A Cultivator from the Stone Martial Hall scorns and patronizes the folks today and can’t look more obnoxious.
But chances are that he will unfortunately be killed while fighting the monsters in the mountains tomorrow!
From his point of view, he merely goes there to collect cores, bones, and herbs for his own training, and he certainly never bears the interests of the folks in mind. But objectively speaking, he has indeed paid with his life and contributed to the peace and happiness of the people!
Is such an ancient Cultivator a good person or a bad person?
Li Yao could not figure out the answer for the time being.
Moreover, did the ancient Cultivator really never consider the interests of the folks at all?
The Cultivators of the Stone Martial Hall were mostly locally born and raised.
The parents and children of many Cultivators were ordinary people living in the place.
When the monsters went on a rampage down the mountain, the families of the Cultivators would suffer a catastrophe, too.
When the Cultivators were slaying the monsters inside the forests, were they really simply considering their own interests without at all feeling that they were protecting their hometown?
Unlike plants, human beings had emotions. Could everything in the world simply be judged as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
Li Yao secretly sighed. After hesitating for a long time, he finally bowed to the four ancient Cultivators represented by the four statues as a modern Cultivator and called them respectfully in his heart, Seniors!
No matter what, the ancient Cultivators represented the history of the civilization of mankind and the past of all the modern Cultivators.
Would there be a future without a past?
When he was about to leave, Li Yao noticed a detail.
In front of the four statues, dozens of trays of sacrificial offerings, including roasted chicken, meat, and steamed buns, were placed.
Li Yao knew that, considering the poverty of the local villages, they could barely afford porridge. The chicken, meat, and steam buns were the most delicious food that they would not dream of having for even the spring festival.
There was no telling how much trouble the villagers had gone through to purchase so many items for the statues and how much of their good will was attached to the offerings!
However, those offerings were now slowly deteriorating in front of the statues and would certainly entertain the rats and ants later.
A few dirty, beggar-like kids, with barely any clothes on them, were standing outside of the temple. They were standing on their toes and drooling while they stared at the offerings. Yet, they could only watch the chicken and meat slowly decay but had no courage to even lick the food.
Li Yao heard the thunderous sounds inside the kids’ belly.
His appreciation for the ancient Cultivators that he had just gained was immediately suppressed again.
At this time, cries were echoing in the village outside, which seemed to be contagious. Very soon, the entire village, and even a few villages nearby, were drowned by tears.
Li Yao exited the temple to see what happened, only to discover that almost a hundred white flags had been raised in the village. Many folks were already inwhite 1 , apparently quite familiar with the situation.
“The other day, Elder Lei of the Stone Martial Hall led twenty new deities into the mountain for a trial. They unfortunately alarmed an eccentric boa that had lurked below the ground for decades and was about to evolve into a dragon. Elder Lei and six new deities perished. Perished!”
Cries and moans were echoing everywhere within the range of Stone Martial Town.
Li Yao spent one day tracing and executing the eccentric boa that had a red lump on the head. He then dug out the corpses of Elder Lei and three Cultivators from the beast’s stomach and carefully preserved them. When nobody was around at night, he put the dead bodies down at an intersection below the mountain.
Bowing to the deceased three times, he returned to his own boat at the pier on the Sorcerers’ River with complicated feelings.
Later, while he explored the towns by the river on the way east, he lost the arrogance of one from a modern civilization and tried to observe the issues from the perspective of locals.
The next twenty or so towns were more or less the same. They were all centered around the Cultivation sects. The Cultivators in such places were indeed high and mighty existences who were even more powerful than the emperor.
However, the terrain along the Sorcerers’ River was almost identical to the nearby of Stone Martial Town. Mountains were high, forests were dense, and monsters and ferocious animals were many. Without Cultivators fighting them, it was impossible for ordinary people to live.
If Li Yao were a local peasant, what could he have done faced with the deadly monsters and animals except for placing all his hope on the ‘deities’?
If Li Yao were a local Cultivator, he would not necessarily have felt guilty about the relationship at all. Instead, he would feel that it was only natural that the folks admired, worshipped, and revered him, because he was training hard every day to guarantee the peace of the local villagers at the risk of his own life.
After a few days, they finally moved out of the zigzagging part of the Sorcerers’ River and entered a new stretch of the Sorcerers’ River, which was mostly hills and plateaus.
Starting from the place, they had gradually entered the southeast of the Great Qian Dynasty, which was the most prosperous land with the most intense spiritual energy. The land was much more developed there. Naturally, there were few primitive forests or ferocious monsters.
The hills and lands were all utilized at a high efficiency however small they were. It was barely possible to find a desolate land the size of a fingernail.
After a thousand years of land annexation, most of the land and forests belonged to the local noble families. They were rented to peasants for tilling.
The noble families were often affiliated with a certain Cultivation sect. So, some of the best lands were the Cultivation sect’s property, and there was no way that ordinary people could lay their hands on it.
The population there was too large for the usable land. The territories of most of the Cultivation sects were right next to each other.
Therefore, the threats around this stretch of the Sorcerers’ River were no longer wildlife but other Cultivation sects!
Here, Li Yao witnessed a fight between two Cultivation sects for the first time.
Under the lead of almost ten Building Foundation Stage Cultivators, almost a hundred Cultivators in the Refinement Stage, holding the banners of their respective sects, crashed into each other like two throngs of tigers. They were attacking each other so cruelly that they did not seem to care that they were of the same kind.
After fighting for less than an hour, three Building Foundation Stage Cultivators and more than twenty Refinement Stage Cultivators had been killed.
The reason of the fight, however, was not for an unparalleled technique or any Heavenly Materials and Earthly Treasures but simply a cow.
A regular cow!