Sadly, Shin Sumi had no way to really test the different abilities she imagined the Copper Bell would have. As of things were now, she was running alone on the floating island path.
Given the fact that she had been one of the first Honorary Disciples to reach the second stage of the trial and she had passed Tai Bu a few days ago, she was more serene than before.
She didn't go through another cross-roads platform, and she was certain the other light pillar that had illuminated the blood red sky before hers was too far away to correspond to a path close to hers.
Taking short breaks at a time, Shin Sumi didn't dare rest too much.
"I can't let the yellow disciple from before catch up with me. I'm sure he would use any opportunity he gets to take revenge on me. Plus, I didn't even tie him up or anything, I have no idea how long he was out for after I struck him and left."
Shin Sumi hesitated for only a split second. A flash of remorse showed up on her boy face before dissipating.
It wasn't without reason that she decided to let Tai Bu free of restraints. She had imagined what would have happened if she had left him tied up on a place like the cross-roads canyon. Surely the next disciple to pass through would take advantage of the situation.
Although Shin Sumi had killed before, it was never out of pleasure. But sadly she knew that it wasn't the case for everyone in the Dark Sky Starry Sect.
Leaving Tai Bu defenseless was akin to condemning him to die. Although his blood wouldn't stain her own hands, how could she allow something like that to happen voluntarily?!
"Besides, the whole point of this Rising Star Tournament is to raise the level of the future Liquid Realm Disciples by giving them opportunities and experience. When the war between the Dark Sky Starry Sect and the Sky Earth Sect comes, an asset like a yellow robe reaching the Liquid Realm is precious."
Only a handful of disciples knew the real purpose of the trial by fire, and Shin Sumi was part of them, due to Elder Zhu's explanations a month before the start of the Tournament.
Shin Sumi let out a long sigh before slipping a Confusion Pill into her mouth. She would do so every day approximately, when she would feel the power of the illusion hiding her identity decline.
"Who would have thought the Immortal World would be so... unholy" she said to herself as she resumed her running along the rocky platforms, "every legend and myth depicting Immortals praises their holy spirits and enlightenment of the world. But really we are all still humans..."
Humans they were, but there were still perks to being considered an Immortal.
In front of her, Shin Sumi could see the incredibly large and menacing landmass that was the central continent in this blood red world. In fact it was so big that from any point in this pocket of space it still occupied the focus point. For the first time since the beginning of the second stage of the tournament Shin Sumi realized that she indeed had been advancing closer to the landmass.
She had no idea how much longer it would take to reach the central point where, she imagined, all paths would converge, but she was certain it could be counted in months.
A greenish light pulsed slowly on her wrist before the little grey nut appeared, instantly moving to her open palm. Without stopping, Shin Sumi retrieved what the nut had just finished refining and put it in her bag of holding.
"Yellow robed disciples really are something else..." she murmured at the sight of the few hundreds of high grade spirit stones," his master must have showered him with resources for a good while. To bad it all ended up in my hand hahaha!"
Shin Sumi wasn't stupid. Although she didn't know his name or his ranking, it had been easy to reach the conclusion that Tai Bu had a master in the Elders rank.
The artifacts that she had stolen from him were anything but ordinary, especially that coiled leather whip. Ever since Tai Bu had deflected a full strength sword strike from the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword using the whip it could only be extraordinary.
The black leather seemed completely normal, as would a weapon held by a mortal, but somehow exuded a powerful aura.
By probing the weapon with her divine sense, Shin Sumi suffered a backlash of Shinsoo energy, forcing a mouthful of blood out of her lips.
It didn't take too long to recover but now her face was livid as she started to understand what was going on.
The Flaming Whip was an artifact that could almost be considered on par with the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword and although Tai Bu's master had given it to his disciple, the weapon wasn't made his.
From what she had gathered from her own experiences of bonding with a powerful weapon, there was no way the link between a measly Tai Bu and the Flaming Whip was this strong. In fact, Shin Sumi was certain that during her probing, it was Elder Peng's divine sense that had rebuted her.
"As of now, I can't bond with it and use it as my own. Unless its true master allows me to, the whip can't be mine until I'm strong enough to overcome the previous bonding" she thought while circulating her Shinsoo along her meridians to recover for the losses due to the backlash, "since its master isn't in this spatial dimension they shouldn't have been able my probe, but it would only bring trouble if I came out of this tournament with the whip in hand. I need to do something!"
Concentrating on the warm power of the Copper Bell gathered inside her dantian, Shin Sumi decided to test something.
Slowly directing the flow of energy along her arm into the Flaming Whip, she felt the weapon change inside her hand.
Just as her own appearance changed when she consumed a Confusion Pill, the whip distorted in a bizarre manner.
The more Copper Bell power she poured into it, the more different the Flaming Whip was from its original state.
Wanting to test the limits of the change, Shin Sumi retracted all the Yang type power from her own body, redirecting all the Copper Bell's illusory Shinsoo to the weapon.
As the name suggested, the Flaming Whip was a strong Yang oriented weapon but now in the matter of seconds, its entire length had been covered in... ice?!
And that was not the end to the change! The whip shrank while emitting a furious whistling that could sting the soul.
In total, no more than four breaths of time had passed and the famed Flaming Whip had turned into something completely different.
Because the weapon wasn't hers, Shin Sumi was still unable to use it, and the Copper Bell had acted only on a superficial level. In appearance the Flaming Whip now resembled an ice spear, even giving off a strong Yin type energy pressure.
On top of it all, the Copper Bell restricted that pressure outside of Shin Sumi's own perception field, allowing the power of the weapon to be completely hidden to any outsider as long as they were probing her with a divine sense weaker than the Copper Bell's capacity.
Shin Sumi once again resumed her progression, happy to have discovered something new about the Copper Bell.
"I wonder who created that artifact. It must have been a really powerful Immortal. The bell's power can completely distort reality to such an extent that even an expert cannot read through its illusions."
All the while she recalled her features that were that of a young man. Checking her bag of holding with her divine sense, it was an easy feat to count the number of Confusion Pills that she possessed.
As soon as the number popped into her mind, Shin Sumi calculated.
"At this rate, I can easily keep up my disguise for at least three more months" she thought. "I should be one of the more advanced on the path to the central floating island, so the probability of running into someone else is low as long as there are no other crossways."
"Maybe I can save some Confusion Pills for the time being. After all no one can see me and - AIEEE!!"
Her stream of thoughts was dispelled instantly by a sharp pain from her arm.
"Little nut, what are you doing ?! That hurts you know!" she cursed out loud.
Ever since starting her cultivation, Shin Sumi's field of perception had been greatly enhanced by her growing capacity to handle Shinsoo. In fact the great number of Shinsoo openings she had unclogged through the use of countless resources had been the biggest factor in that.
Her divine sense was still a bit weak when it came to intensity, but when talking about the radius at which it could be used, Shin Sumi could be considered top grade.
Because of that, during her training in the back mountains of the sect's training grounds, Shin Sumi had felt the little grey nut bite her less and less. Now Shin Sumi would register any source of danger faster thanks to her divine sense than with the nut's warnings.
"There is nothing dangerous around here, no need to bite me like that!"
The circular red dotted line on her fair skin hadn't disappeared yet when another row of invisible teeth pricked her again.
Forcefully stopping, Shin Sumi's face instantly grew serious. Unknowingly, she raised a fist and her other hand came to rest on her bag of holding, ready to take out the Gold Tyrant Flying Sword at a moment's notice.
In the Grand Hall where the Elders of the Dark Sky Starry Sect were gathered, a few pairs of eyes were focused on the red robed boy that had overcame their expectations twice now.
"What is he doing" asked a mid level Elder to his neighbor in a low voice, "the boy is alone on his platform. That looks like a fighting stance... Could there be Spirit Creatures already?"
"No that's not it", answered the other Elder, "our Patriarch told me that Spirit Creatures would only play in the central continent, not that far away. I don't know what to answer you, brother Juwen."
As more and more Elder eyes looked at the square of the screen where Shin Sumi was displayed, she was actively trying to decipher the nut's warnings.
"Answer me this, little nut. Is there any danger?"
The nut remained silent. Or more accurately, it didn't bite, nor moved, glued to Shin Sumi's lower arm, hidden by the red robes' sleeves.
"Is there someone or something close to us?"
This time the nut rolled a little bit, seemingly hesitant. Shin Sumi was perplexed, but reassured in a way. Lowering her combat-ready arms, she started walking again, at a moderate pace. The nut didn't stop her from doing so.
"So it's not someone, it's not an animal, and I would have known it there was an obstacle in the terrain... What can it be?"
Suddenly an idea flashed across her mind. Shin Sumi had been talking about Confusion Pills when the nut first bit her.
"Is it about the Confusion Pill? Something has happened? Are they poisonous?"
This time the nut became frantic, rolling so much that Shin Sumi struggled to keep a straight face with all the tickling going on under her robes.
"Are you telling me that I should stop consuming them, little nut?"
Once again the nut stopped all movement. It was clear that it wanted to say exactly the opposite.
Shin Sumi was starting to get annoyed by now. It seemed evident that nothing of great importance was going on. If she wasn't in danger, then what could justify the nut's actions?
As it happened, the nut was also starting to get annoyed, in its own way. Communication wasn't their forte after all. Rolling up to Shin Sumi's neck, its teeth quickly sunk in her flesh, staying like that for a long time, comparable to a leech.
Shin Sumi let out a low cry from the pain, but didn't remove the nut. This was different.
"This warm wave..." she thought absent-mindedly.
A memory of when she first entered the Dark Sky Starry Sect came flooding in back. The nut had kept her going along the never ending stairs, sending warm waves through her body, replenishing her stamina and her willpower in order to continue her ascent.
It was something the grey nut didn't do often, probably because it was hard for it to do or it was really taxing.
For a split second, Shin Sumi felt as if she and the nut had fused, had become one as a single thought entered her mind.
The nut retracted its teeth as soon as it was done, and disappeared through the leaf imprint of Shin Sumi's wrist, entering a slumbering state for the time being.
But that was enough.
"They are watching."
Shin Sumi had understood that single feeling. It hadn't been transmitted through words or images, nothing of the sort. But she had felt it thanks to the nut, and understood it perfectly.
"This is the Rising Star Tournament. We are in a different pocket dimension but the leaders of the sect are monitoring everything."
"I must keep in mind that all of it is their doing" she said, thinking about all the things she would have to do carefully.
She also understood why the nut had always stayed hidden inside her sleeves and the folds of her dress, and why it was so adamant about her continuing the use of the Confusion Pills.
Thankfully this part of the trial by fire was pretty uneventful. As she had suspected, Shin Sumi was far away from all the other disciples, having gained quite a lead thanks to her prowess from the first stage of the tournament and her great speed.
Close to three months had passed since the beginning of the stage when Shin Sumi approached the main landmass of the dimension, the central continent.
On her way she had gone through another crossway platform or two, but nobody was waiting there for her.
From afar the big floating island seemed simply huge, but she only realized the scale of it fully when she reached the last platform. In front of her laid an insurmountable wall on which stone steps seemed to have been carved by giants.
Those unending steps climbed from the bottom of the island to the flat surface on top. From there she could see thousands upon thousands of kilometers up to the blurry light pillars forming a perfect circle at the edge of space.
The platforms on the path she had taken now looked like single steps. Just thinking about the fact that she sometimes had taken a few days just to cross one made Shin Sumi gasp for breath at the scale of the universe laying before her.
A strange feeling of exhaustion cultivators tended to forget about rose up inside her the more she climbed the rocky path. For every new stone step it was like passing through a curtain of spiritual pressure.
"So... dense..." she muttered in a heavy breath, "such a stifling pressure from the Shinsoo in this place!"
The red sky and the greyish rocks were all she had seen for a long time, which only blew her surprise up to another level altogether when she took the last step towards the top.
The first thing to hit her senses was the fragrance coming from the innumerable specimen of rare and exotic plants with exquisite design.
Wherever her eyes darted, heavenly looking scenery caught her sight. A stream of white pure water flowed from between rocks under the roots of trees so high she couldn't see the top.
Fish as big as buildings occasionally jumped out of the water, teasing the many rainbow colored birds on the high branches and composing a sweet melody of splashes mixed with the chirps and whistles.
If she hadn't been that intoxicated with the celestial paradise in front of her, Shin Sumi would have remembered the first time she had flown above the Dark Sky Starry Sect's lower valley with Fen Wudao. To a mortal, such a sight was already something they wouldn't see even if they had three lives.
But if she had been standing where she was now at that point in time, she would have died on the spot, with a smile on her lips and stars in her pupils.
Even more so than the scenery, aroma and melodious sounds making her believe in the Heavens above, the pressure would have instantly taken her life.
It was no surprise the Honorary Disciples who knew about the place from the Liquid Realm disciples were more than excited for the Tournament to take place here. Even for the Liquid Realm cultivators, training here was tens of times better than in the sect and was valued immensely.
A ranking like that of the Quests Pavilion was renewed every three months in the upper valley, allowing a restricted number of disciples to train here for a short while.
Shin Sumi felt her dantian fill up with Shinsoo to the point that it was almost overbearing. Sweat poured out of her like a fountain, her robes drenched and her teeths tightly clenched painfully. She sat down to meditate and regulate her body and mind until she was acclimated to the ambient pressure.
Almost a day later, the initially barbaric pressure has mostly disappeared and she could finally dispel the crushing feeling on her stomach, lungs and shoulders.
Moving around was hard enough, especially while keeping her internal Shinsoo flow and dantian to an acceptable pace.
The progress of her cultivation in this place would surely advance by leaps and bounds but it also required a complete control over herself in order to no over-exhaust dangerously.
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