Reborn as a Demonic Tree

Chapter 268: Inner Circle

Chapter 268: Inner Circle

"Stella, withdraw your blade," Ashlock instructed.

His adopted daughter huffed the hair out of her eyes in annoyance but thankfully listened to him. She wiped the fresh blood off the black metal with a cloth before depositing the sword in her spatial ring in a flash of silver light.

Sebastian hesitantly raised his head now that the instant threat of death had passed and let out a sigh of relief.

"So you want to join the inner circle," Ashlock spoke into Sebastian's mind with {Abyssal Whispers}. Since he had already cast the skill on him the last time they met under his canopy, he could reawaken the connection so long as Sebastian was within the range of his roots. He also projected his words to Stella and the Grand Elder so they didn't have to listen to a one-sided conversation.

Sebastian quickly fished a bottle of Mind Fortress pills from his pocket and popped the cork. He only gulped down a single pill compared to the three he had last time.

"Immortal, as a person in power, I hope you understand how big of a deal this offer is. I am a servant to an heir of the Silverspire family and a prominent member of a branch family in my own right. For the two of us to offer ourselves to you with an oath of absolute loyalty means we place the Ashfallen Sect above our own family. If you were to go to war with my brothers and sisters, I would be at your side with a blade drawn pointed at my own kin."

Sebastian placed a hand on Ryker's head, and for once, the little rascal didn't raise a fuss, "Despite Ryker being from the main branch, he is the 7th in line, and his mother holds less power than the Grand Elder's other wives. Even if he received the Silver Core, his position in the family would not be elevated by much."

"I understand now. You see more potential for Ryker's future under the banner of Ashfallen. Is that correct?"

"That I do," Sebastian nodded, "It's why I hope you will forgive me for sharing that information with his mother. It took an understandable amount of persuasion for her to agree to let her son swear an oath of loyalty to an unknown sect, knowing that she could one day face Ryker down on a battlefield."

"I believe in the importance of family," Ashlock replied, "There will always be a spot open for Ryker's mother here at Ashfallen, and I will do everything to ensure the scenario you just presented does not occur."This chapter is updat𝓮d by nov(e)(l)

"That I appreciate more than you know," Sebastian ran a hand through his silver hair.

"Despite your conviction, I cannot welcome you into the inner circle."

Sebastian's hand paused.

"If you swear an oath of loyalty, I will give you and Ryker access to all the resources you seek. Both of your cultivations will skyrocket, and you will be under my protection. Don't misunderstand. I am generous, and I fully understand the sacrifice that you are making for such a leap," Ashlock paused. "But joining the inner circle for now is impossible."

"Why not?" Sebastian stood up and petitioned to the ceiling, "We share a common enemy. You will have the loyalty of an heir to the main branch of the Silverspire family. One of the most powerful in all of the wilderness!"

Ashlock knew all that, but it didn't change the fact that he didn't want anyone new joining the 'inner circle' because it was nothing like Sebastian was expecting. Everyone was lazy. They didn't have many secret plans like they alluded to, and Ashlock didn't feel like he could be himself with a new person around, especially someone as uptight as Sebastian. Some may call him introverted, but it was the truth. He was happy with his tight-knit group and was adverse to bringing in new people.

Luckily, he had a scapegoat.

"Anyone Stella disapproves of is not allowed in the inner circle," Ashlock said simply as if it were a fact. "I may control things from the shadows, but she is in charge while I cultivate. You betrayed her trust, and she drew her sword on you."

"But I had to"

"There is, unfortunately, nothing I can do. If you earn Stella's approval in the future, perhaps you may be welcomed into the inner circle. But for now, we are happy to take you on as a vassal of the same rank as the Redclaws. You will receive all the same benefits. The only difference is you will live here on White Stone Peak."

Sebastian sat back down and eyed Stella across the table.

Stella was seething with rage.

"Tree, did Nox's attack knock out your brain? How are you sprouting even more nonsense than the Grand Elder was earlier?" Stella shouted at him through telepathy as she ground her teeth, "This is the most ridiculous meeting I have ever been in. I am never agreeing to one of these again!"

"Stella, do you want Sebastian snooping around our peak? Sitting on the bench beside you? Telling you off for lazing around? What about having Ryker constantly asking to be your Disciple or wanting to train with Jasmine? Does that not sound horrifying?"

"You're right... that does sound horrifying."

"The Redclaw Grand Elder and the Silverspires might start asking why Jasmine was let into our inner circle, but they aren't. By making you the gatekeeper, your Disciple's inclusion is obvious, and if you find anyone else you would like on our peak, you can wave them in."

"You know what, I quite like the sound of this." Stella calmed down and resumed her haunty pose as she tapped her chin.

Seeing that his scapegoat was open to the idea, Ashlock went for the finishing blow, "This also gives you a position of absolute authority in the sect. Nobody will want to get on your bad side as it denies them the possibility of reaching the inner circle."

Stella's lips curled up into a smirk, "You heard the immortal. Your actions that put Ashfallen at risk displease me, but your value is notable. Join the sect and work hard, and I may forgive this transgression someday."

Ashlock chuckled as he saw Sebastian's respectful bow, "She plays the part of a haughty princess so well it even tricks seasoned cultivators!"

"Then... we will take you up on this offer." Sebastian sighed, "An oath of loyalty for power. Turning our backs on family, we pledge ourselves to Ashfallen. I hope, in time, you will recognize our worth and sacrifice, Mistress Stella."

"I will make a note of it," Stella nodded, "The oaths will be written up in heavenly ink and delivered to you in the near future. If that is all, I have much to do so"

"Just a minute, Mistress, I have another topic to quickly discuss with you and the immortal." The Grand Elder said. "Remember how we planned to take on cultivators from Darklight City and have them live here in the White Stone Pavilions?"

"Yes?" Stella raised a brow, "What about it?"

"I was going to propose a tournament is held to decide who should be allowed in as spaces are limited, and it will give us prestige if it becomes known that we have high entry requirements. The tournament could either be held down in the arena by the Academy, or perhaps we could turn the giant market square up here into a makeshift arena?"

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Ashlock had actually been thinking recently about how he wanted to rapidly expand the number of cultivators under the banner of Ashfallen while managing secrecy and the sect's resources. He didn't have infinite resources to give out, nor did he want to.

"Once I ascend to the Nascent Soul Realm and don't have Qi to carelessly waste, every fruit I grow will set me back from advancing toward the Monarch Realm. But I also need a lot of cultivators to help me face off against the beast tide in the coming years, so there had to be a balance between investment and reward." Ashlock mused, "What I need is talented cultivators with a hunger to learn and improve while also being able to work in a team environment."

That gave Ashlock an idea.

"Let's have a tournament near the Academy where cultivators are randomly assigned groups. They will then work together to defeat one of my Ents or perhaps an instructor," Ashlock replied to only the Grand Elder and Stella, leaving Sebastian out of the discussion, "Then, smaller-scale duels are held in the White Stone Pavilion market square to decide who gets given the best resources through a leaderboard. This will spur competition among those under our banner and mean the hardest working progress the fastest. I might even allow the top few on the leaderboard to enter the Mystic Realm."

"I like that idea," The Grand Elder sagely nodded toward the ceiling, "When would be a good time to hold it? Everything is ready to go; all we have to do is notify the cultivators in attendance at Darklight City's Academy and give them a few days at most to prepare."

Stella placed a hand on Jasmine's head, "Could we delay it till next month? I would like Jasmine to participate in the tournament."

"Master?!" Jasmine's eyes went wide, "What tournament? I have never fought anything before."

"Don't worry, you will find out the details later," Stella grinned as she ruffled her Disciple's head, "And there is no way my dear Disciple could lose."

"Master, that's so cruel." Jasmine's shoulders sagged as she sunk into the sofa in defeat.

"It might be possible to get her in fighting shape if the tournament is held after a round in the Mystic Realm," Ashlock said, "Yeah, that works. Have it held in around a month."

"As the immortal commands," The Grand Elder stood, "Then, if that is all, this meeting is adjourned."

Ashlock withdrew his presence from the room. He had some other things he needed to do today.

"I need to make an ethereal root link between Nox and me so Jasmine has a quick way to get back home. I must also link the citadel to Geb so the Mudcloaks can freely move between those two areas." Ashlock sighed, "Perhaps I should ask Douglas to build a transportation hub."


In the White Stone Palace courtyard, Stella was about to hop on her floating sword when she paused. I almost forgot the entire reason I came here before getting dragged into that stupid meeting.

"Grand Elder," Stella turned to face the man, seeing them off with a smile. She pulled off a cheap golden spatial ring and placed it in his palm. "This spatial ring contains a hundred Spirit Root Improvement truffles, alongside a few heart demon purging ones and a load of other fruits such as Mind Fortress, Lightning Qi Barrier, Enlightenment, and more. Feel free to give the majority of them to your family, and any you don't use, give to Kane Azurecrest to be turned into pills."

"I thank the immortal for his immense generosity. The Grand Elder gratefully took the ring as if it were a treasure, "Have a safe journey home, Princess."

Stella smiled. She liked that title, "We are in Ashlock's territory; what could go wrong? Come on, Jasmine, let's go."

Once her Disciple was aboard, Stella pushed Qi into the blade and soared up into the sky. Tilting the sword, she began heading east toward the many human villages.

"Where are we going, Master?" Jasmine asked as they shot down the mountain.

"To find someone I lied to a long time ago," Stella's eyes darted between the tiny dots of brown that were villages, trying to discern which looked the most familiar.

"You lie to people?"

"Did I really lie if I make what I lied about into a reality?"

Jasmine scrunched up her face in confusion, "I... think so?"

Stella laughed as she brought out two white wooden masks. Slipping on one, she turned to hand the other to Jasmine.

"What is this for?"

"Interacting with mortals is bothersomesomething you should know since you used to be one," Stella tapped the wooden mask on her face, "This helps hide our identity from them."

"Didn't you wear this same mask when you saved me?" Jasmine asked as she looked down at hers. "Did you find me bothersome?"

Stella hummed, "Possibly." She wasn't paying attention to her Disciple as she scanned the land below.

That looks like the village nearest to where I found that kid huddled under a rock from that insect monster. Stella tilted the sword toward it. The location was near the great wall that separated the eastern fields from the rolling meadows of the wilderness. With Tree's presence and Larry's hunting sessions, there have been no incidents with monsters around these parts as of late.

Stella let off the faintest hint of her presence as she arrived above the village and began to descend. All of the doors of the village banged open nearly simultaneously, and middle-aged men and women armed with rusty shovels and rakes ran outside.

"Someone sound the bell to alert the Redclaws!" One of the men shouted as they all glanced around with their knuckles going white from holding the shafts of their tools so tightly. "I sensed a monster."

Is my presence really so frightening? Stella wondered. And why do none of them think to look up?

"Calm down mortals," Stella called out. If they ran the bell, it would cause an unnecessary panic.

All the villagers squinted and covered their eyes from the sun with their arms as they looked up.

"Is this the village with the mortal named..." Stella trailed off and realized she couldn't remember their names or face. Was it something beginning with an A? No, that doesn't seem right; a W, perhaps?

A kid with sandy blonde hair dashed between his father's legs, scrambling to get out of his wooden hut, "Miss cultivator! Is that you!"

Stella squinted at the kid behind her mask. I have no idea who that is.

"What is your name, mortal?" Stella crossed her arms as she floated a few meters overhead with the sun to her back.

"Sam!" The body energetically replied, "You told me I could be a cultivator one day if I reached the top of that mountain, and you would tell me the secret to cultivation!"

That name does sound familiar... Sam. I remember him being a half-dead kid who was nothing but skin and bones, but here he is, bustling with energy and life. Is this really the same mortal I lied to? Yet the story checks out; that is what I told the kid, so this must be him.

Stella lowered her sword and hopped off. Leaving it floating there, she strode over to Sam with Jasmine in tow.

"Are you really Sam?" Stella said as she paused before the boy and looked down at him, "You look more full of life than I remember."

Sam scratched the back of his head, "Well, I had been running from that monster for a few days when you found me. But since you left, I have been eating well and training every day because the village has put their faith in me. Even if I still can't cycle any Qi, if I train myself enough, I should be able to climb that mountain to meet you."

Now I feel bad for lying, though I suppose it's motivated him to train. Yes... let's focus on the positives here. At least I get to look generous in front of my Disciple.

Stella's spatial ring flashed. A truffle, a bottle of pills, and a parchment that detailed the most basic breathing technique appeared in her hands. "This is for you... because of all your hard work."

"You have been watching?" Sam took the gifts with wide eyes.


I feel like I messed up this conversation somehow. Stella frowned behind her mask and quickly changed the topic. "Eat the truffle and the pills, and follow that parchment, and you should find it easier to cycle Qi. If you want to try your hands at some combat practice, a tournament will be held in a month at Darklight City. Those with the most potential will be welcomed into the Ashfallen Sect and be allowed to live atop White Stone Mountain."

"A month away..." Sam's excitement faded. "That's too soon."

"There will be more tournaments in the future, so don't worry," Stella reassured the boy, "Oh, and my disciple here will be participating, and as of now, she is not far above you in cultivation level."

"Really?" Sam eyed Jasmine, who was a head shorter than him.

"Yeah, if you beat her in a round, maybe I will even let you replace her as my Disciple"

"Master?!" Jasmine shouted in horror.

"Only joking," Stella ruffled her hair. It was fun seeing her react like this.

Sam clenched his fists, and there was the fire of determination in his eyes, "A month... I can do this."

He does know I was joking, right? I would never trade this random mortal for my adorable Disciple. Stella wondered but decided it didn't matter.

"Thank you for blessing my son with such gifts," The man behind Sam, who was likely his father, said with a grin, "The name's Barry, by the way. Feel free to come round whenever you need fresh vegetables or a hearty soup."

"It was nothing really. I was simply passing by," Stella waved the man off and hopped back on her sword. "Thank you for the offer, though. You should check out Ashfallen City, which is near the old mine. It's far closer than Darklight City and would be a good place to sell food."

With that, Stella took to the skies, leaving the villagers behind. There were still a few hours before Jasmine had to go home to her mom, and Stella planned to have her eat every truffle and fruit imaginable.

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