Xinyi spent the rest of the evening and night reflecting on and reading up about the use of spiritual power, cultivation practices, and martial arts.
What she found was that with enough skill, one would be able to cultivate all the time. However, the optimal state for cultivating was still by meditating.
There was nothing about spiritual power that she did not already know. It was, however, noteworthy to her that there was a caution to not be restricted in their thinking, because not all spiritual power uses were documented. Family secret arts existed and it was possible for people to create new uses everyday.
Suddenly, a memory about a story she had read when she was still alive got refreshed in her mind. That story had spiritual people but also spiritual beasts and spiritual plants.
/How did I forget about this?/
Xinyi closed the book and rushed back to her courtyard.
She then dug out 6 small pots from the tool shed and planted nourishing herbs.
/If I manifest my spiritual power into the soil to enhance it, would it raise the nutritional value of the herbs? What about manifesting my power directly into the plant while it is growing? Would there be a difference?/
Her mind reeled with possibilities.
Her thoughts ran so fast that BaoBao's eyes became swirls when he tried to keep up with her thoughts.
[Is this what happens whenever she gets an inspiration?] He complained after cutting off the connection between their thoughts for a break.
Xinyi re-planned her day's schedule to fit in time for experimentation.
She prioritised increasing her competency in cultivating in hopes to reach the state of constant cultivation. If she accomplished that, she would no longer feel like she was wasting time doing things like sleeping, eating, and cooking.
In contrast, martial arts dropped to the last on her priority list.
Another month passed by just like that.
Nothing stood out, except ZiYao's sudden friendliness towards her in the past week. ZiYao had been coming by for lunch no matter how sickly Xinyi acted. She would help Xinyi up, feed her, and support her to walk to the stone table in the courtyard if the day was nice. She faithfully kept up small talk. When she found out that Xinyi had stopped being tutored since she became bedridden at 13, ZiYao even generously taught Xinyi the different forms of art. Lunch was always sumptuous, which Xinyi felt no qualms about finishing. /Since it's given, I might as well just take it. Otherwise, it'd be a waste when they throw it away./
She was not afraid of being poisoned because she believed in her newfound knowledge of poisons and antidotes. She could even use her knowledge to kill people if she wanted to. She only continued to cook for herself because she was keeping up the diet tailored for her body's state and constitution.
Throughout the entire time, Xinyi steeled her heart against ZiYao's advances. She was not about to let herself be bought over, especially when ZiYao's arrival accompanied BaoBao's new tip. [Prevent becoming a cripple.]
Even though she still had no idea how ZiYao's arrival could eventually lead to her becoming crippled, it did not pay to play safe.
After a week of bonding, ZiYao finally broached the topic that Xinyi has long been waiting for her to broach. She lamented about how evil and haughty HuiShan was and how she was made a victim of HuiShan's bullying.
ZiYao played the perfect white lotus image, lightly dabbing the corners of her doe-like eyes with her pale pink silk handkerchief.
When she saw the blank look on Xinyi's face, she was instantly displeased about not getting the reaction that she had expected, but she was careful about not being too obvious.
"Don't you feel aggrieved?" Zi Yao probed.
"Mm... For you, I guess." Xinyi pretended to admit softly.
"If only something could be done about it..." ZiYao sighed helplessly.
ZiYao waited for Xinyi to jump at the chance to help her get even. However, there was only silence again.
"Do you have any ideas?"
"I don't know. I can't do anything. I'm just another lowly concubine's daughter."
"Well, then, if I think of anything, can I rely on my dear Er Jie to help me?" Zi Yao looked at her with puppy dog eyes.
"I may be your Er Jie, but you're the main wife's daughter. I don't think there is anything I can do that you can't do." Xinyi continued speaking softly.
ZiYao gritted her teeth and took a deep breath before continuing gently, "After all that I've done for you... And taught you... There must be something you can do for me. It doesn't have to be something I can't do."
Xinyi decided to play dumb all the way through. "Why would you need someone to do something that you can do?"
/My god, is there only water in her brain?/
"Because working together is always better than working alone. There are plans that take more than one person to work."
"Then won't it be better finding someone else more qualified to do the job? I'm pretty sure I'd just mess it all up."
"I believe in you Er Jie..."
"Sorry, but I don't believe in myself. I'd really hate to mess anything up after all that you've done for me..." Xinyi cleverly made use of her "good willed" actions against her. Now, it was because she treated her so well that Xinyi refused to pull her down. "I'm really unqualified... You should not place such high hopes on me..."
"I guess I wasted all my effort teaching you then?" ZiYao said with a tight smile.
"Please pardon your worthless Er Jie."
ZiYao did not say a word more and left the courtyard. The dishes got cleared up by her maids, who then chased after their young miss. Xinyi relaxed her stiff long stiff shoulders and closed her eyes. She finally regained her peace and quiet. BaoBao appeared on the chair beside her. He looked the same, except that he was now the size of a four year old boy, thanks to Xinyi's improved spiritual energy.
He laid the side of his face on the table and looked up at Xinyi with sad eyes. "The way you talked so bad about yourself... Don't you feel pathetic? Instead of putting yourself down like that, why not just dominate over everyone?"
Xinyi opened her eyes only slightly. "If you want that approach of clearing missions and worlds, then you've found the wrong host to bind yourself with."
BaoBao sulked even more. "Even though I do prefer that, I still don't think I chose wrongly. I still want you as my host."
Xinyi's eyes widened slightly in surprise.
The more time they spent together, the more she felt like she understood him. In her eyes, he was just like an innocent baby with the factual knowledge of an adult. She also noticed how he progressed from being avoidant to initiating an interaction with her. After all, she was careful about not spooking him again with talk about emotions.
She smiled gently and rubbed his head. "You silly. What's so bad anyway? It's all just an act. I don't think that lowly of myself."
BaoBao's eyes rounded as wide as saucers as he stared at her gentle expression. A pleasant warm feeling slowly unfurled within him and engulfed his entire being.
This was the first time he experienced such a strong sensation that he worried that there might be something wrong with him. Even so, he found himself not wanting to leave this situation.
[Is this… Am I feeling something? ... ... Ah… I'm starting to understand why Administrator Hal pounded into me that emotions are dangerous… I may be dying but I don't want to leave even if it may save myself… I'm sorry for realising too late Administrator Hal…]
Two days later, Zhang Yong arrived at the entrance of her courtyard again. Like before, he came here after meeting HuiShan. His repeated visit shocked many people, including Xinyi and BaoBao.
/This is going to bring me some unwanted attention again... Is the plot trying to fix itself?/ Xinyi wondered to herself.
"How's practice coming along?" Zhang Yong put on an amiable smile while he assumed a defensive stance.
Xinyi quickly inferred that they would be fighting using their fists this time, then wasted no time in commencing her attack.
With some battle experience from before, coupled with her studying, she learnt to be less straightforward in her attacks and used more feints. She tested the water a few times before going for a real attack.
Now that she was less predictable, Zhang Yong was forced to raise his guard against her and he turned serious. Once he did, it did not take him long before he would strike out at her weak spots, then stop at the last moment.
They did not need to exchange any words for Xinyi to understand that those were times when she would have died or be fatally injured.
ZhangYong would then retrieve his hand and restart the match properly.
Overtime, Xinyi got a little annoyed and frustrated that she could not even last a few exchanges before he struck a deadly blow. However, she accepted being thrashed like that, because the sense of crisis it gave her may act as the catalyst she needed for her growth. So, she did her best to learn all her weak spots, to modify and correct her moves or prepare the next move in anticipation of having her weakness discovered.
After half an hour of sparring, he returned to a relaxed state. "I'll see you again."
Xinyi could only blink and helplessly shake her head, while she watched him leave just like that.
/Coming and going as he wants. Not even a full grown man and already acting so high-handedly…/
Having been at peak focus for the entire sparring match, she did not bother moving somewhere else to rest. Instead, she sat down cross-legged where she stood at, then cultivated by meditation.
As soon as BaoBao saw Xinyi open her eyes, he knew that she was done cultivating for now, so he immediately appeared on her lap, jumping up and down. His eyes sparkled more than usual and there was a wide grin plastered on his face. "He said that he's coming again! He said that he's coming again! He's definitely interested. It's really looking promising! And you didn't have to do anything to hook him! How great things are going for us!"
However, he soon picked up that Xinyi was nowhere near as excited or impressed as him, so his excitement cooled. Recalling what she said the last time, he corrected himself, "Is his attention a sign that something bad would happen…?"
Xinyi's face brightened up a little at his correction. "You're learning. I don't deny that his actions can definitely be easily construed as interest in me. Even if it is, I'll bet that it's platonic. Nonetheless, even this platonic interest could bring me trouble…"
Hearing Xinyi discuss it properly with him this time, and praise him for learning and correcting himself, made him feel floaty and warm. However, it soon got doused in cold water by Xinyi's following words.
"But BaoBao, seeing as how you're always so excited regarding ZhangYong, I want to warn you first before you start building your hopes high up only to have it all come crashing down. No matter how many times he comes here, no matter how interested in me he may seem to be, nothing can or will happen between us."
BaoBao looked so dejected that Xinyi patted his head with a wry smile, then squished his face. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news all the time."
BaoBao shook his head, then asked through his still-squished cheeks, "But… Why? Why are you so sure?"
Xinyi calmly explained. "Some things can't be changed. I already have my hands full with changing the fate of the body I inhabited. I have even less power to change the fate of another. Didn't you see how strong my love for and bond with my sister was? Yet it could not stop her from carrying out her role as some villainess. Let's say ZhangYong and I share the same depth of love and bond, it won't be able to overcome the feelings I bet that he has for HuiShan and his fate as the couple's silent protector."
BaoBao looked pensive.
"If you still don't believe me, you can always wait and see. Something will happen in time to come."
BaoBao felt like something about the way Xinyi talked about all these seemed off. Her eyes did not shine even when she spoke of her sister or when she smiled. Instead, they looked almost lifeless. [I don't want to see her like this. Somehow, someday, I'll help you recover that spark in your eyes.]
Yet another new sensation started to spread within him. It felt hot, energising, and empowering. He itched to get started on something. [I'll start learning about this thing called emotions and understand it!]
He felt that this was the first step he would need to take before he could help Xinyi.
He didn't realise that the seed planted within him due to his nurtured bond with Xinyi was sprouting, and will make him develop unlike other systems. Whether this was a good or bad thing, could only be known in the far future.
Meanwhile on ZhangYong's end, he had decided to make some time every month to come by Xinyi's courtyard and train her.
He was immensely impressed with the improvement she made in just one month when she was supposed to be a waste. There was now a greater depth to her spiritual power, her control over it was much more precise, and her stamina was good. In fact, she was now comparable to some of his weaker soldiers in his troop.
Her weird condition and circumstance really piqued his curiosity.