The following morning, I woke up together with Tang San: him to do his daily morning thing, and me because it was a habit from my previous life I never got over.
From a corner of my vision, a silent four in the morning blinked into view, Interface showing me a small glimpse of home. I got up from bed and stored it safely away in Inventory, then got dressed in some loose clothes for some light exercise, filling my body with spirit power after getting out of the house.
A cool and crisp breeze greeted me, and I set about a light jog amidst the glinting grasses beneath my feet. Shoes here were made of straw soles with sturdy woven cotton for the upper, so running was a bit of a drag when it came to rocky terrain. Here though, in the forest, here was perfect.
I summoned my Crown as I took that next step, relishing the slight vertigo that came with the increase in perception. Trails of warmth raced down my legs as strength and confidence built up in my limbs. I breathed in the fresh air.
Thanks to that fight yesterday, I was able to breakthrough to the twenty-seventh rank.
Power, almost tangible, exploded as grass and dirt gave way behind me. I shot forward into the still dark morning, illuminated only by a wisp of gold. The trees became crisp flashes of brown against the singular glow, with me weaving in and out of their branches and over roots. Dishing out more spirit power, I remembered how Rongrong's light made me feel as if I could shake the world.
I jumped above the tops of the trees, landing with light steps on the tips of my toes on their branches. No amount of exercise from back home would ever let me do this, and to be able to do so now was a pleasure unlike any other.
As I accelerated more, I'd hook my hands onto branches to redirect momentum, sometimes flipping with cartwheels or somersaults to carry through longer gaps. Parkour was an art I could only dream of doing in my past life, but here, I was so much more.
My body was light, and the increase in rank came with a rush of sensations to get used to again. My Crown seemed more vibrant and clearer, and my Hammer that much heavier. I hadn't cultivated yet since arriving in Suotuo, so maybe I should when I got the chance. Using my spirit power right now, it felt… deeper somehow.
When the first drop of sweat trailed down my brows, I pushed another chunk of spirit power into my legs and shot into the hard-packed road, leaving the forest and running to a horse's pace against the highway. The city was just a few kilometers away, and around this time was just right for the earliest merchants to arrive or get ready for their day.
A good twenty minutes later, I found myself in the middle of a small but bustling city square. My face was caked with dust, and my brown clothes now had still drying patches of sweat. Totally not a little master at all. I took my sweet time walking around the streets, the academy a small but ever present thought at the back of my head. Fresh fruit from the countryside sat on shaded carts, while animal carcasses hung from strong steel hooks still fresh with blood. The sun hadn't come up yet over the distant mountains, but people were already talking here and there, haggling when they could; and those tell-tale rings and dings from the blacksmiths echoed every now and then.
I went for those peddling on animal pulled carts, the ones just looking to sell off a quick buck before resuming their way, and found an old man selling ores.
"Good morning uncle!" I greeted.
"Hello little one," he said. He was sitting at the front while his daughter, I think, sat in the back, handling the sacks of rocks.
"How much could I trouble you for some ores?" I said, pulling out a small writ I purchased off a wily merchant back in the capital. It was a counterfeit token of the merchant guild's trusted customers, and it was more than enough to use in these small towns for some street cred. The original I could get for myself after establishing a publicized trade partnership, but as someone in a sect-in-hiding and supposedly poor, doing so was out of the question.
The man smiled, and I walked away three kilos of tungsten and five of platinum heavier.
After that, the next peddler I found dealt me eight kilos of tungsten and twenty of iron, and some of the shops with actual stalls gave out a total of seven of tungsten, four of platinum, and forty-seven of iron. With my purse cleaned out, it was time to make a quick buck buying and selling some random goods: textiles from Henan, grain from Runing, spices from Ninxia, paper and ink from Jiading, seeds from Songjiang, to name a few.
I finished at around seven, with some of my losses recovered, but not all. Stockpiling more goods would need to wait a few more days before I really cashed out. I did another few rounds to take note of what was where, and I made my way back to the academy just in time to arrive for breakfast at just before eight.
"Little Jin!" said Mubai, wolfing down a bowl of porridge. "Come eat with us."
The school rented the houses in this quiet corner of Suotuo village, and hired some of the villagers to clean and cook.
Mubai sat across from Zhuqing who was looking away from him, while Rongrong sat next to her playing with her food. Oscar was nowhere to be seen, and the last student we hadn't met yet wasn't here yet either. Tang San and Xiao Wu apparently went to check the rest of the village just a few minutes ago.
"Why are you so dirty?" asked Rongrong, eyebrows in a knot. "And at so early too."
The only thing spirit power couldn't do was keep me from looking like a hobo. "I was out in the city," I said with a shrug.
She narrowed her eyes at that. "Suotuo city?"
Rongrong sighed, and splayed her fair and smooth arms out in stark contrast over the dark table. "This place is really too bland, at least take me with you next time."
Zhuqing was looking at us, silently eating her food, and Mubai was the one to follow-up. "Are you two together?" he asked, all serious and sincere.
Rongrong and I just stared back at him, and she said, "He's younger than me."
"He is?" said Mubai, eyes wide.
Zhuqing remained deadpan next to him.
"I am," I said, and sat down across Rongrong. A bowl of porridge then found its way to my spot. "Thank you," I told the kind lady.
"By how much?" Zhuqing asked, she had a raspy voice on the edge of puberty, and judging from her well-developed curves, she'd be done with the phase earlier than others might.
"Two years," I said.
"And how long have you two known each other?" asked Mubai, leaning in close.
I looked over at Rongrong, who said, "Was it five years now?"
"Just about to turn six in a few months," I added. "Big sister Rongrong was really mean when I first saw her."
Rongrong's ears went pink a bit, and her indignant smile turned into a visible frown on her doll-like face. She then crossed her arms and scoffed, saying, "And junior here was so rude, offering some dirty gem to a princess."
I rested my elbows against the table, and smiled at her. "And yet you wear a pair of ruby earrings."
Her pinkish tone deepened into a warmer shade, but something else took everyone's attention.
"Such a vulgar chicken!" said Xiao Wu, cheeks puffed and somewhat red in the face.
She was walking barefoot with Tang San placating her towards the simple cottage us four were eating in. They reached our long table, and the two took their seats by the end: Xiao Wu next to Rongrong, and Tang San next to me.
"To think he'd go after that girl in broad daylight!" Xiao Wu said. The bowl of porridge she got sat untouched in front of her.
"What's got Xiao Wu in a fit?" asked Rongrong, leaning over to me.
"How would I know," I whispered back after meeting her half-way. She nudged me with her shoulder before sitting back down.
But Mubai beat us to the punch. "What's this about a chicken?" he said.
Xiao Wu's frown directed its fury at Mubai, and Tang San seemed relieved at finally leaving her ire. "Some vulgar bag of hot air dared act so inappropriately so early in the morning, and to chase skirts so blatantly after breaking up, that fatty sure had some nerve."
I looked at Tang San who nodded back, Xiao Wu was telling the truth. "I guess you met the third student then?"
Xiao Wu narrowed her eyes at that. "I guess we did," she said, her voice a bone chilling cold.
Mubai shook his head before saying, "Little Jin was right, I think. If you were talking about some fatty calling himself a phoenix but looks like a free-range chicken and chasing after women, then that could only be Ma Hongjun."
Tang San nodded again at that, and said, "He was thrown around by Xiao Wu, though he should be alright."
Mubai shook his head harder and groaned. "Did he make a move on her?" he asked.
Tang San shook his head furiously.
"He can try," said Xiao Wu, cracking her knuckles with a murderous shine in her eyes.
A bell then sounded a few ways away, and we new students all turned towards the direction of the sound.
"That should be the first class," said Mubai, "we should go."
He ushered us all to the main clearing, Rongrong walking next to me while Tang San and Xiao Wu walked as a pair. Every now and then Mubai would look back to Zhuqing at the very back of the line, and every now and then I'd hear her tsk with each glance.
We arrived to find Oscar already standing on attention, his full beard already shaved clean.
"Who's that?" asked Rongrong.
"Err, that's that big sausage uncle from yesterday," I said.
"Oh," she said.
Oscar waved over to us, and he looked rather girlish with his soft looking eyes and clear, pale complexion. He definitely had a higher spirit power rank than normal, and judging by his height, he was almost as tall as Mubai, and taller than Tang San. Spirit masters matured faster than normal people, and it was also this reason why Zhuqing already had the figure she had.
We all fell in line, at mostly the same order: Mubai at the furthest right, then Oscar, Tang San, Xiao Wu, Me, Rongrong, and Zhuqing. After that, and like Mubai described, came a rather pudgy boy no older than Tang San jogging through the grass. Xiao Wu's eyes trained on him, and the devious glint in them made me fear for the guy's life. Vengeance was something the girl enjoyed, and her growing together with the mild-mannered Tang San said more about him than it did her. And adding my knowledge of him and those hidden weapons, then all it boiled down to was don't fuck with him, or Xiao Wu.
"Good to see you're here, fatty," said Mubai.
"Boss Dai, why didn't you say we had such pretty new students?" said Ma Hongjun, looking Zhuqing and Rongrong over with a pair of familiar eyes.
I stepped in front of Rongrong and Zhuqing, not really minding the guy's clear displeasure. Guy's doing that here was something I'd never get used to.
"This junior thinks himself proud, eh?" said Ma Hongjun, staring me down. "Why don't I, your father, show you a few pointers?"
Mubai rolled his eyes and said, "If you really have the balls to challenge the Clear Sky sect's next master and the Seven Treasure clan's princess, then be my guest."
I waved at Ma Hongjun with dainty fingers, and smiled, but Rongrong couldn't keep up the act and sneered his way. That… was an expression I didn't dislike on her. He kept mum after that, and a moment later, in came Flender walking on short legs, his sharp glasses shining against the morning sun. His tattered robes swayed against the ground when he stopped.
"Good morning, students," he said.
We all bowed and said our greetings as one.
"In a moment, we'll collect your tuition of one hundred gold coins, and you seniors should explain to your juniors the rules. Oscar and Rongrong, you stay behind, everyone else can go rest. We'll have your lessons later tonight."
As someone indirectly responsible for Rongrong's well-being—and mine—I was morally obliged to stay and listen. Tang San and Xiao Wu stayed as well, but Mubai, Hongjun, and Zhuqing all left as soon as they could. Flender looked us three still here a glance but didn't say any more.
He cleared his throat and said, "You two are auxiliary spirit masters, one is empowerment, and the other is food system. On the battlefield, your true worth is behind your allies, supporting them; and on your own, you still cannot defend yourselves, thus your biggest limitation."
The two nodded, with Tang San paying close attention.
"But even alone," Flender said, "there is a skill you must always polish, and never forget." He looked at the two. "Can you tell me what that is?" He turned to Rongrong.
"A good eye for the tide of battle," she said, "and a cautious eye ready for trouble." She looked over at me before looking back at Flender.
"Good," he said, then turned to Oscar. "And you?"
"Understanding one's limits," said Oscar. "We can only help our allies by as much as we can help ourselves, and the less effort they spend protecting us, the more effort they can spend on attacking."
Images of that examination with Zhao Wuji flashed past in my head, Rongrong's light adding depth to my own.
"Both good answers," he said.
Then I raised my hand.
"Does the Clear Sky boy have something to say?" he said, somewhat amused from the sound of it.
As someone who has tried sparring with Titled Douluos before, there was only one real thing to do when faced with an attack from them. "I'd say running away is the best skill to have for any system."
Flender laughed and said, "That's rich coming from the sect's heir." But the light in his eyes said otherwise. "Well said," he said with a smile.
"I've had my fair share of troubles," I added. Hitting grandpa Shan in the nuts accidentally counted on that. "And the only true way to avoid damage from an attack is to not get hit at all."
Oscar and Rongrong both nodded.
"Little Jin here is correct," said Flender, "though it makes me curious what sort of lesson did you need to learn for you to remember." He then waved a hand dismissively in front of him. "It doesn't matter," he said. "But what does is whether you two auxiliary masters can survive long enough to support someone." He clapped his hands then said. "You two then go run twenty laps around the grounds, feel free to use your spirits to support you. If you cannot finish by lunch time, then you two need not eat any until you finish your lesson."
Rongrong put on a determined expression, and Oscar seemed to smile a bit.
"Well then, get to it now," said Flender. "Lunch time is ticking."
The two then started running, and as someone who relishes said joy, I figured I might as well join—to make sure this older guy didn't do anything bad.
Before we left, I heard Flender tell Tang San to come with him. Suspicious, but the only real connection we had to Flender was uncle Xiaogang, so perhaps it was related to that.
When we cleared the academy grounds, Oscar spoke up. "This teacher Flender was only too cruel, sending us to this impossible task."
Rongrong kept up her running, breathing even and not a step out of pace while I jogged together with them. Jog, because this was nowhere near my full speed, and having the nourishment of two thousand level spirit rings—though weaker than I could've been—I was still a lot stronger than most with just hundred-year spirit rings.
"How much longer is the track?" asked Rongrong.
"Teacher meant the entire grounds including the farmlands," said Oscar with a sad smile, "all in all, this distance covered should be around two kilometers."
And twenty laps in total was forty kilometers. All under three hours. Yeah, even for me that was impossible.
Rongrong knit her brows. "Then what's the point of doing this then? If we have no way of avoiding the punishment."
"And what if the punishment was the lesson?" I said.
"Then the sooner we fail," said Rongrong, "the sooner we can learn."
Oscar frowned. "But we can only fail by sundown."
"You're both kinda screwed with that," I said.
Later that night, and after Rongrong soldiered through eating Oscar's spirit sausages, the two finally finished twenty laps, both covered in sweat with knees trembling. I was alright somehow, though my legs also ached, but with one of Oscar's sausages, the strain was put under control. I helped the two back to the clearing where Flender was with the rest of our fellow students.
"Finished running?" Flender said.
"Yes, teacher," answered Oscar through ragged breaths for him and her.
I was supporting Rongrong on one side and him on the other, and she was breathing hard but not wheezing, just exhausted.
"Impressive," he said, "and I see our little master here also attended?"
"I enjoy running," I said. "It's a very liberating experience." Doing parkour through a forest while reinforced with spirit power gave a high higher than anything.
"Then I suppose you'd like to join us as well for the next lesson?" his eyes were narrowed, something fierce.
"Of course," I said. "I am wholly responsible for what I did. But if possible, would you let me help these two back to their cottage first?"
Flender raised an eyebrow at that. "No," he said. "I want them to remember the difficulty of doing so on their own."
It wasn't as if he had bad intentions, and angering him wasn't going to do anyone any good. "Understood, teacher," I said, and gently let off the two to stand on their own. "Please be careful on the way back, Rongrong."
The two started limping away, and I looked back at Flender to see him nod. "Very good," he said, "You two get some well-deserved rest. And Rongrong" —she looked back— "never forget how formidable the effects of Oscar's spirit are."
Every time she'd nearly fall from exhaustion, a bite off Oscar's spirit saved her from collapsing. She nodded gravely to that and made her way back to the cottages together with Oscar.
When they disappeared from view, Flender then got our attentions. "We have somewhere we need to be," he said, "keep up now."
With a light step, he blurred and appeared at the very edge of the clearing, as everyone burst out into a quick run with our spirits out.
Flender kept up his steady lead, always at a near fixed distance from the first among us.
Dai Mubai powered through the brush, while Zhuqing's graceful form matched my own flowing pace. Just behind us three were Tang San and Xiao Wu, the former moving with that strange footwork of his and Xiao Wu doing something like I did but less daring. With his spirit power, I knew Tang San could erupt faster than what he did, but he wouldn't dare leave Xiao Wu behind. At the rear was Ma Hongjun, but moving fast enough to not get left behind.
We ran back a familiar way but took the straight route through the forest. Mubai kept his lead as we passed through the heart of the wood where the number of trees were thickest, and Zhuqing somewhat fell behind to around Tang San and Xiao Wu with Ma Hongjun firmly in the rear. I however, took to the tops of the trees, relying on my Crown's light and increased perception to avoid tripping.
A few more minutes of this and we eventually reached the edge of Suotuo city's limits—and found their walled city bright despite the night. We entered and found the bustling night life, and these lights were the effects of one of the few spirit tools the Heaven Dou artisans could craft called the Warm Glowstones. They were made using the extracts from the bodies of Warm Glow Worms applied to a core of iron and encased with glass, and their effect was to store sunlight and release them after a small trigger of spirit power.
Xiao Wu looked absolutely enchanted with the sight, but Tang San's unperturbable nature kept him calm. I'd already known of these tendencies of more liberal cities to stay active well into the night, so it wasn't too big a surprise. Zhuqing didn't seem to care much, and Mubai also kept a somewhat aloof demeanor but Ma Hongjun kept looking left and right after every lady we passed.
Flender then led us to a large building lit up as if it were under the light of day. To use so much glowstone was something beyond extravagance, and from the few trips I'd had outside the capital and Nuoding, this was the first I'd seen of this kind of building, though I already knew what sort of establishment it was. The capital had one such place, and grandpa Shan once snuck me in.
Flender ruffled his plump body up, filling his chest with pride and saying, "This here will be your classroom, Suotuo Great Spirit Arena."
He then went on to explain the mechanics. This Great Spirit Arena was an unaffiliated organization that ran fights between spirit masters for entertainment. It was a system made to allow the spirit masters the different kingdoms cultivated a place to vent, as well as let people prove themselves. Here, glory from battle was possible, and more so was their fair and secure system that didn't allow for the clan politics that usually colored the outside world. As long as you fought under the Great Spirit Arena's influence, then you were guaranteed asylum as long as you stayed within the rules.
"In our Shrek Academy," Mubai said, "the only real rules are to not kill and to not make any untoward gestures to the people—like what fatty does."
"Hey," said Ma Hongjun.
"Betting and exchanging pointers are all allowed," said Flender. "And the only true experience you need is combat, and to experience pressure unknown to a sterile environment like an academy. One of your requirements before graduation is to reach for a Silver Spirit badge, and the other is to reach above fortieth rank, and the best way to obtain both is to continue forging your wills against constant combat."
"But don't think that this will be easy," said Mubai. "I entered this arena starting when I was at rank twenty-ninth, and have continued to forge myself here until I reached my rank thirty-seventh now, truly, the effects are just as great as the risks."
More Privileged Chapters
Download the app and become a privileged reader today! Come take a sneak peek at our author's stockpiled chapters!Download
Please switch to the pop-up to complete the payment.
Complete daily missions to get rewards.Learn more about the rules
This's an experimental test for reading assistance in case.
We highly recommend you to enjoy the beauty of the original words.