Hongjun just looked at me and Yiran scowled, while Mubai and Oscar both tried for a smile.
Zhuqing ground her teeth, the bags under her red eyes throbbing. "This is no laughing matter," she said.
I sighed. "My dear," I said, "that's exactly why we should be joking right now."
Rongrong tugged at my sleeve, and met my eyes with a steeled glare. She shook her head and said, "Now's not the time, Jin." That soft pink glow remained beneath the tense line her lips made.
I looked around and saw how pale Oscar was and the pockmarks and gashes along the floor where Mubai's claws gouged the stone. The girls were a lot better off, but their dirtied shoes and clothes helped drive the image home. Also, Hongjun kept away from them as much as possible and seemed to pant every now and then as well.
I sighed, scratching my head, and said, "Sorry." Right. Laughing about their problems wasn't for everyone, and neither was it for every time.
Mubai renewed his smile with more sincerity.
Oscar clapped me on the shoulder. "Me and Yiran woke up together and found fatty soon after," he said, nodding to the two. "We then met up with boss Dai and Zhuqing fighting ants, and helped them make a stand here in this chamber."
That wasn't very smart, but who the hell knew about dog-sized ant behavior anyway? Not me for sure.
"How'd you break your arm?" I asked.
"I woke up with it already hurt," Oscar said.
"Can I see?"
Oscar nodded, and showed me his arm. I washed my hands again before unwrapping the well-tied bandages, and saw his arm swollen. Good thing the bone didn't exit his skin. I poked the skin around it and Oscar winced, there were no overly horrible reactions, which meant this was most likely just a hairline fracture.
"It's broken, but it's nothing too bad," I said.
"Yiran said the same thing," he said, looking over to her.
"Thanks," I said.
She nodded, hands clutched tight at her serpent staff—then clenched her teeth towards the direction of the tunnel.
An ant pushed through my Domain and got in, and I threw my Hammer at it, crushing the bug under its tyrannical weight as a white ring floated up where it's carcass laid. I then recalled my spirit to my hands. "And I might've forgotten to mention I had twin spirits, but that's not important right now."
She opened and closed her mouth and I sicced Oscar on her. Better she found out now—even if it's a lie—than later after we meet up with her grandparents.
We needed to do all of three things right now: get out of here, find our comrades, and stay alive. At worst, maybe even need to get Hongjun laid lest he die. Which wasn't happening at all unless we either convinced one of the girls here, or we do get out and find him somewhere.
Going through my list of contingencies, there was: digging ourselves out, blowing a hole through the tunnel using that vial of nitroglycerin I had, or finding the exit all by ourselves. The first option was risky in that we could end up causing a cave-in. The second option… was just as bad since I never really got to try the stuff outside of a few drops at a time. And the last, was the safest but most tedious, and increased the risk of encountering trouble.
I slapped myself once to clear my head, then clapped to get everyone's attention. "Okay, I believe we have three ways out of here."
Mubai faced his back to us. "I'll watch the entrance."
Zhuqing looked at him longer than I'd seen her do before, and turned to where Hongjun, Yiran, Oscar, Rongrong, and I had our little strategy meeting.
I held up two fingers. "The first two are the safest: we can dig ourselves out, or try looking for the exit."
Rongrong nodded. "Jin's Crown is enough to provide light, and his two abilities had been effective at keeping most of the ants we encountered away."
"If we do so though," I said, "you all need to avoid fighting as much as possible."
Everyone gave me the evil eye, including Rongrong and Oscar.
"We can fend for ourselves," Zhuqing said. Lady was on a roll.
"It's not that," I said. "I can recover my spirit power as I fight through my abilities, but you guys aren't as versatile as me."
"It's true," Rongrong said. "He's been maintaining his two abilities since we woke up around two hours ago."
Yiran's eyes went wide at that, and blurted out, "You've been maintaining two thousand-year abilities for that long?"
"Eh," I said, "yeah, sure whatever. Just keep up with the program."
Rongrong shook her head and Zhuqing rolled her eyes but at least I got Hongjun to smile. A fucked-up situation didn't need to be made any heavier than it already was.
"I'm kidding," I told the scowling Yiran. "But yes, what monstrous consumption my Hammer takes up is offset by what my Crown replenishes. As long as I have something to feed on."
"What do you mean feed on?" Yiran said, somewhat unsure.
"Jin can absorb everything, spirit ring or carcass together," Rongrong said. "I never knew how much of a monster he was before this."
"Are you regretting having my aunt pair you up with me now?" I told her with a wry smile.
She let out a huff instead, her usual pretty girl aura falling back to that crass nymph flipping everyone the bird. "No," she said, "but I'm sure grandpa Sword and father will be even more onboard this idea later."
Oscar blinked hard at that, and said, "You two were engaged?"
At the word, Zhuqing seemed to fidget somewhat, and Mubai slipped when he beat back the last ant that got through so I had to throw my Hammer over again.
"No," I said.
"Yes," Rongrong said.
"And here I thought little Jin was a comrade," Hongjun said with a pout.
"I'm kidding," Rongrong said, sticking her tongue out. "How could a princess like me save face with getting engaged to someone younger by two years?"
"To be fair," I said, "I'm a prince too, coming by your standards, and I even have a Crown to prove it."
Zhuqing cleared her throat, and said, "Please get back on topic."
Silence. Then Zhuqing glared at me.
"Right, so I can recover spirit power as we move," I said. "And you all will have to conserve yours in case we encounter something really big or an ant with a thousand years or more of cultivation. You know, the usual killer shit you might encounter in a spirit beast forest. Except multiplied by ten since we're in their damned nest."
Oscar shook his head. "I'm sensing a lot of tension here," he said with a smile.
Then Yiran glared at him, and he raised his hands in defeat.
"And digging?" Hongjun said.
"It's a bad idea since we don't know how deep we are," I said. He and Oscar shrugged. "And it could cause the tunnels to collapse."
"Ah," Hongjun said.
"And the third?" Yiran said.
"The third is, I have explosives," I said.
Zhuqing's expression went from annoyed to surprise then shock in a flash, then shook her head and returned to her scowl.
"That's a bad idea," Mubai said while beating back another ant.
"I vote for finding the exit," Rongrong said, pursing her lips.
"I vote for digging," Yiran said.
"Why do you even have explosives?" Mubai said over the sound of crying ants.
"What are explosives?" Oscar asked.
"Those are weapons of war," said Zhuqing, looking at me as if I just stepped on a cat's tail and laughed after. "Able to kill spirit masters below rank twenty should it explode near them."
"Well," I said, to think explosives were that weak here… not that I had any plans of using it on people. Still, rank twenty wasn't much. "I was hoping to use it for mining, and this seems as likely a use."
"Why would you use something that costs ten gold spirit coins a jin for digging holes?!" said Mubai.
I am so making a fortune in the future. "Because I don't enjoy killing people?"
"Fine," Zhuqing said, "but I don't think shooting a hole at the tunnel's roof will work unless we know how deep we are."
"I don't need to shoot anything," I said. "I just need to a dig a hole and set it up. But I don't have a lot of it, just a jar's worth."
"A jar?" said Zhuqing. "Why would you have a jar? That won't do anything."
Wait, what? "Are we talking about the same explosive here?" I took my vial of nitroglycerin out, making sure to enclose it in spirit power to avoid any accidents, and held it out to them.
"What is that?" said Rongrong, tilting her head.
"This is the explosive I was talking about."
"I don't recognize that at all," said Zhuqing. Which is understandable since I haven't been able to package it in an inert and easy to use form yet.
"This is what it looks like if you haven't turned them into sticks yet," I said, and put it back into my ring.
"Sticks?" Rongrong said. "Don't you mean barrels?"
I looked at Zhuqing who nodded as well.
"I don't understand anything," Hongjun said.
I narrowed my eyes at Zhuqing, then summoned the glass jar of gunpowder I'd mixed way back. "Did you mean this by any chance?"
She nodded. "You mean that white stuff you showed me turns black?"
Okay. So, I guess the idea of high explosives still hadn't occurred to them. "No," I said, "this is different. Much stronger."
"As a last resort, maybe," Rongrong said.
We then agreed to have me lead our party of six while Mubai took up the rear. This was to take advantage of my ability to stretch out my Domain to check for any paths further in, and to have me decide where to go. Sadly, even doing this, up and down was still unclear because tunnels that lead up would later lead down and lead to chambers that would have passages in three or four directions. Trying to map out the place with Interface's memory was also hard since depth was something abstract for me in a place where everything looked the same.
Hongjun kept turning redder and redder as time went on.
An hour or so into things, someone finally spoke up.
"The last time we encountered an ant was back in that last chamber with the eggs," said Mubai from behind. "How come we still haven't found any?"
That was beginning to grate at me too. "I don't know," I said. "But I really just don't detect any anywhere."
We'd been going up and down and back tracking to the last chamber whenever we encountered a dead-end, and still no exit in sight.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Yiran said.
And Hongjun was starting to look redder than earlier.
"Fatty, are you alright?" Oscar said.
"I'll be fine," he said.
Rongrong stuck close to me, hand clutched at my arm, while my other held my Hammer.
"We'll get out of here soon enough," I said. "Perhaps Oscar's detoxifying sausages might help?"
"It's worth a try," Hongjun said. Oscar passed him a sausage and he ate it, the bright red abating somewhat a moment later. "It helps but not by much."
"What about if I try taking it from you?" I said.
"I'm not so sure," Hongjun said.
"It's still worth a shot," I said. When he nodded, I activated Devour on him, and red hot energy flowed into me, though not the same hue as life force. Instead, it was a more… unbridled and ferocious color.
"It only hurts," said Hongjun, and neither did I detect anything strange from what I took from him.
"Then keep eating my sausages for now," Oscar said, passing him a few more.
We continued our way through the chambers and tunnels, and still no ants. We couldn't tell which way was right and we also found ourselves back-tracking more often, but when we found an extra-large chamber almost the size of a basketball court, we at least saw the cause of our earlier confusion.
"Fuck," Mubai said. "Is that the same spider we fought earlier?"
There by the further end of the space was a Man-faced Demon Spider fighting an ant larger than the two-meter tall insect. Where the spider jumped, and slashed with its legs, this ant would stand its ground and shoot out blasts of yellow liquid, making the spider's body smoke.
Lots of other dead ants surrounded the two, and when the spider got hit, it would snatch up a corpse, ring and all, and eat it, before coming back to the fight.
"That spider reminds me a lot of you," Oscar said with a weak smile.
I shuddered at the comparison. "I can't tell the cultivation on that ant, but it should be much higher than the spider's." Assuming it could survive god knows how long while fighting it.
"I think the exit should be near," said Zhuqing, sniffing at the air. "I can smell foliage from this chamber. And the wounds on that spider's eyes are the same I gave the other before."
"I think we should avoid fighting for now," I said.
Killing those two now seems to be the best option here, but there was also going back. From what Zhuqing said though, this could be our ticket out, and given how hell-bent that spider was from passing through—or at least just killing the ant in front of it—that might be a possibility sure as hell looked hell-bent on getting to that chamber, and so too did the ant look just as resolved with keeping it here. Going back would also mean risking getting lost some more, and time was something not all of us had.
Granted, there was a way to solve this issue of time, but it wasn't a decision I was willing to make, or an act I was willing to condone should it come to that. To kill was a sin I could bear myself, but that… that was something I should never do.
"Can we take them down?" said Hongjun, snacking on a Saveloy, his reddish tone earlier was a lot more pronounced now.
"Even if we do," I said, "absorbing those rings could take me and Oscar a day or two, assuming we can even kill them, and I don't think we have that much time."
"I have my ways," Hongjun said with a thumbs-up, firm. "Getting you and Oscar stronger would instead increase our chances should you need to keep going after this."
Mubai walked up to Hongjun and clapped him on the shoulder. "Sit this one out, fatty. We should keep you from exhausting your spirit power."
Hongjun shook his head. "My Evil Fire is at its hottest, and any help I can give you now is more points to my pride later."
Killing pests was one such skill I could say with confidence I had experience with, and an ant and a spider, were in the end still insects—even if these two were god knows how old and could use freakin' magic like abilities.
So, coming back to that vial of nitroglycerin…
"Tell me," I said, "what do you have in those spirit tools of yours, everyone?"
Besides the usual clothes, rations, and money, Yiran had a satchel of medicinal leaves which were of no use to anyone right now, while Rongrong had a flare for calling her clansmen with. It was good for an unexpected find, because the colors and intense burn—at least I'm assuming it's enough to disorient—should distract the two insects long enough. Other than those though, no one else had anything else useful.
Me though, I had quite a few.
Two sacks of flour I could use to create a dust explosion with, eight sacks of iron ore amounting to around three hundred or so kilograms I can drop freely in and out of my domain, Tang San's Godly Zhuge crossbow, my vial of nitroglycerin and jar of gunpowder, the tent I could use as another distraction, and even my bed I could use as a last resort. I also had some skins of alcohol I intended for cleaning wounds, but could also set fire to even if they wouldn't be as useful.
"Why do you even have so much?" Rongrong said with her eyebrows in a knot, holding up the sack of flour.
"You never know when they'll be useful," I said, passing the crossbow to Oscar. "Pull the trigger, and make sure that square shaped end is pointed at the spider, only pull the trigger after I say so."
"You can pull the trigger twice, and it'll shoot sixteen bolts each," I said. "Boss Dai, I'll need you to make a hole in that ant's armor large enough for me to get into."
"Did I hear that right?" Mubai said.
"And me?" Hongjun said.
"I'd really rather you sit this one out," I said. "Bug remains are really flammable, and they also stick to your skin long after you've killed them."
"I'm afraid to ask why you would know that," Yiran said.
"Yiran and Hongjun, I need you two to keep Rongrong safe. Zhuqing, you're in charge of keeping Oscar alive in that scramble. Rongrong, you need to boost me and Oscar with speed, and save your strength boost for boss Dai. I'm not so sure I can keep myself from killing that spider in case I get buffed. After that I'll need to crack open its head and have Oscar shoot its brain with the crossbow, and with hope boss Dai will already have opened a hole anywhere on that ant and I can take it from there."
They all nodded, and good lord I wish I could fly right now.
"We need to make sure Oscar has killed the spider first before I go for the ant. We'll open up the attack with my explosive, and start from there, are we clear?"
Another round of nods.
Dearest god I hope this works.
Both the ant and spider were already bloody, but neither backed down and both looked just as deadly as ever. Now that I had a good luck at things, the injuries on the spider were mostly from getting body checked into the surrounding rocks, while the ant's legs and thorax had deep gouge marks on them, some leaking blood. Its armor was thick to have resisted this long, and thinking about it now, did we even have the firepower to deal with them right now? The spider was a sure bit, but the ant?
Doing this with Tang San was a lot easier, and just now I realized how much I relied on him to keep me safe.
Then it hit me.
"Hongjun, what rank are you right now?"
"Eh? I just recently broke through the twenty-ninth rank after what happened to all of us."
Rongrong raised an eyebrow at me, and everyone else seemed to come to the same conclusion.
"Yeah," I said. "You'll die anyway if we can't do something about that Evil Fire of yours, right?"
Hongjun swallowed hard. "Little brother, you can't be serious."
"If you can convince the ladies here," I said. "Then you'll be just fine."
At that, the girls all looked at both him and me with disgust, and Oscar spoke up, "That's low, Jin."
"I know," I said. "But can any of you really make that decision here?" I looked at all of them, and how seemingly close to bursting Hongjun was. "At least this way, if you fail, you still get to go out in a blaze of glory, right?"
"But those two should both be at least two thousand years of cultivation, right?" Mubai said. "These two trying to absorb those rings could only end up causing them to die."
"I'll take responsibility," I said. I watched grandpas Shan and Lin perform the Refining Method before, and even if I couldn't do it, then there was still Devour. I just don't know how much I can take.
Mubai closed his eyes. "You're asking Hongjun and Oscar to entrust you with their lives," he said through clenched teeth.
"And does anyone else have a better plan?"
No one said anything.
"I'll take responsibility," I said again, and flared both rings in full. "Change of plans, Mubai, you and Zhuqing need to fight the spider together, Hongjun, you join them. I'll take the ant on alone. You guys kill that spider as fast as possible and help me after. Yiran, I'll owe you a major favor later as the future master of the Clear Sky sect, so please protect Rongrong in my stead."
Rongrong blushed a bit. "I've been training to make myself useful in battle," she said. "I can take care of myself, instead, perhaps big sister Yiran should join the fight instead?"
Yiran looked all of us in the eyes. "I'm not really part of your group, but this little time we've been together we'd already risked life and limb for each other, how can I as a senior remain aloof?" She breathed out and shook her head, it was a start. "Thanks to that serpent you provided me," she continued, "my third spirit skill is able to endow you with an empowering venom that will increase attack and spirit power for ten percent for five minutes with no ill effects."
Oscar frowned a bit.
"Wasn't I going to get you a much stronger ring?" I said.
Oscar sighed. "Why would you go to such lengths for me?" he said. "All I ever did for you was make sausages, I don't think it merits you risking yourself so much for the both of us." He gestured to both himself and Hongjun.
"Don't you think you're taking too much onto yourself," Hongjun said with a sad smile.
Mubai kept clenching his teeth, then he punched the ground. "Fuck this," he said. "Yiran, why don't you just sleep with Hongjun already?!"
All three girls looked at him the same they did me earlier.
"Why don't you sleep with him then," Zhuqing said.
"I'm not a girl!" Mubai said.
"Then why not offer him your butt if you're so willing," Rongrong said. And yes, that did confirm that anal was a thing here. All hail progress.
"This is no laughing matter, Jin," Zhuqing snapped.
"My bad," I said. "And have you ever tried masturbating to get rid of the Evil Fire?"
Everyone seemed to blush under my golden light, and the sounds of the spider and ant fighting filled the air for a long moment.
Hongjun shook his head. "It doesn't work that way," he said.
"Then if we can't quell the fire," I said, "why not consume it instead? Have you ever tried that?"
"I have," he said, grave.
"Have you ever tried consuming your own life force to breathe out your flames?"
"You would dare me to risk my life?"
"You're gonna die anyway, right? What do you have left to lose?"
Hongjun bit his lips hard, drawing blood. "Fuck me," he said. "Fine, I leave my life in your hands." He then turned to Oscar. "You don't have to risk trying this ring, there's also such a thing as living on to try again."
Oscar's eyes went red, then he smiled. "Stupid fatty," he said. "How can I let my brother walk this valley alone?"
Oscar started passing out his recovery and detoxification sausages, and I assembled my make-shift bomb, submerging the nitroglycerin vial in the wine skin, and I strung in a bandage soaked in it. I had half a liter's worth in that vial, and it better do some damage.
When we were all ready, I set fire to the Molotov cocktail and threw it at the two fighting insects.
"After the bang," I said, "rush in!"
Everyone nodded, and both our prey turned at the same time, as the bag exploded with a large bang with barely any fire that threw the spider hard against the ceiling and pushed the ant back two meters from where it stood.
Fuck, that was tough.
We all ran towards our targets, and as we did, Mubai spoke up, "What the fuck was that?!"
Zhuqing behind him was still covering her ears.
"An explosive," I said.
"That was no explosive!" he said.
"That's not important right now," I said, and jumped towards him.
Mubai's purple ring shone, and as his body expanded, he stretched out his arm as I landed on it, and he swung hard.
I flew through the air and summoned my Hammer, filling it with spirit power as I extended Devour and Shock to both those insects.
The first to react was the spider who lunged for my flying figure but got pushed back by a beam of light tinged with red. My own purple ring shone, filling my Hammer with crackling electricity.
From the cloud of dust, the ant's jaws appeared—and I summoned a sack of iron ore from Inventory into its mouth.
It closed its jaws and broke the stones, but it was too late for it to block.
I hit its dog-sized head dead center and smashed it to the ground, and I landed on its thorax. I then summoned a sack of flour and scattered it into the air. With my Domain, I didn't need to see. I then created a black Nail and smashed it down hard onto its body, as a metallic sound echoed.
The ant shook me off, then a leg lashed out and hit me in the stomach, but I locked my Hammer onto it and grabbed hold. The whiplash dizzied me but I created another Nail and smashed it hard against the joint, drawing blood.
The ant rolled over and I had to roll away myself. When the dust cleared, there was Mubai smashing the spider's head down as Zhuqing had all her claws sunk into its eyes. It had a large crack on the underside of its abdomen, having received the full brunt of the bomb, maybe.
A pair of jaws just right to crush my torso appeared and met another sack of ore, and I lashed out with the first swing of Disorder Splitting Wind, deflecting the ant's charge again to the ground. It then swung its body at me, and I flew into the wall—my entire body riddled with pain.
The spider was completely on fire now, and Hongjun's purplish flames were deep and vibrant, looking every bit as evil as he described. It kept screaming as Mubai finally tore off one of its legs and used that to stab into its abdomen. To the side was Yiran nursing a bleeding leg and Rongrong helping her move away from the fight.
I pushed myself off the rocks and saw the ant charging straight at me, and I summoned the tent to just in front. The insect got a face full of hard linen but a burst of smoking yellow fluid tore the textile to shreds as I lashed out with a Thunder Heart Strike at a wounded leg.
Bang! It hit with a satisfying crunch and the ant lost balance for a moment. I recovered into a second swing and filled my Hammer with spirit power, letting it get as heavy as I could in that moment and hit the joint of another leg—but couldn't crack it.
The ant rolled over again, and I couldn't avoid it in time. Shit tons of weight steam rolled me with ant blood, vomit, and dust, and my insides were thrown into disarray as my eyes seemed to pop from their sockets.
When it cleared me, I shot the flare at its face and jumped away, shuffling towards the opposite direction. It scrambled and kicked out at random, never really hitting anything.
Everything burned as that yellow goo clung to me, and it was only thanks to Devour that I got it off in time, though my skin was now pink and raw. Red alarms filled Interface, and the spider was now three legs short but still kicking. Oscar had a bloody and purplish arm, and was eating a sausage while Hongjun grabbed hold of the spider and just kept barfing flames all over it and into its wounds. Then in came Mubai covered in green goo and flames and flipped the damned thing.
When the ant started rushing for them, I summoned a Nail and shot it at its eye.
"Come and get me you piece of shit!"
The ant renewed its charge, this time at me, jaws at the ready.
I started gathering momentum with my Hammer and completed two swings before the ant arrived.
As its jaw was about to enclose, I met it with my Hammer and another Thunder Strike.
We clashed, and one of the ant's jaws was flung off but its other stabbed into my right as more yellow goo sprayed me. Fuck. Burning pain immediately spread. Shit.
I drew more spirit power, and smashed my Hammer again at its head with Thunder Strike and cracked the armor, as more and more of that yellow goo started covering me, faster than Devour could degrade it.
Then the ant charged into me, further burying its jaw.
I vomited blood and swung to the left of its face and cracked its head some more with another Thunder Strike as my skin started showing red at places.
It threw me away and my consciousness was starting to fade, but I screamed hard as I retracted my Domain and covered the ant completely with it, Devour and Shock on full, as I pushed my face off the dirt.
I stood up anyway despite the pain, and the ant seemed to back away. Whatever I could spare, I poured into my wounds, hoping against hope Mubai and the others would finish their fight before mine did. The ant wasn't charging, and my gold light didn't leave it. I had less than half spirit power remaining, but it felt much less than that.
The ant was turning, as if to leave, and I summoned my last sack of flour and threw it at the beast.
A white cloud burst out, and I shot a Nail at it, igniting the entire thing in a big plume of flames.
"What the fuck was that?!" said Mubai, rushing past me, together with Hongjun and Zhuqing.
Red light then filled my limbs, and a dirty sausage founds it way in my hands.
"Eat," said the goddess, and Rongrong shoved that meat stick down my throat. Holy shit I could kiss this lady right now!
Right behind her was Oscar limping towards us, and Yiran who hit me with her staff, her purple ring behind her aglow.
Electricity filled my veins, and my dwindling spirit power rose back up. The pain was already starting to fade from my side, and that shot just now filled my head with clarity. I felt like a million bucks.
"I'll be right back," I said.
I rushed back into the fight swinging my Hammer in wide circles as Mubai stabbed his claws into the sides of the ant's head and pried its mouth apart, then Zhuqing stabbed its eyes and all the other wounds it had and Hongjun covered the entire thing in flames.
When I reached it, I swung my Hammer up to flip the thing.
"Rank?!" I said.
The ant turned over to its side and Mubai finished the flip.
"Still at the twenty-ninth," Hongjun said.
"Keep hitting it!"
Mubai kept his hold, arms stretched taut and all his veins bulging. I then proceeded to pound away at the damned thing's legs, taking them off one by one as Zhuqing ensured everything was surgically fucked. Rongrong's light was too good, and we made short work of the limbs. When Hongjun started vomiting blood himself, his entire body started burning purple, and the ant wailed into the air as the foul smoke filled my lungs.
"It's done!" Hongjun said finally.
I then jumped up to pin the thing's head down, and Hongjun then gave that damned thing a French kiss of hellfire.
The ant stopped twitching after that.
But there was no rest for the wicked.
"Do it!" I said, the blood already wetting my pants.
Hongjun nodded and started absorbing the still forming ring, and I kept Devour trained on him and the ant. Deep brown entered me and I brought Core out to its fullest, filtering as much as I could to help repair the damage. All this time, Oscar would keep passing his recovery sausages to everyone, and Hongjun would also spit blood out every now and then.
When I recovered enough, to not fall over, I jumped over to Hongjun and filtered spirit power through my Hammer, urging it to cycle in him, making sure to avoid anything too delicate.
"Rongrong," I said, both hands on Hongjun, "please pour water all over me." I summoned some water skins in front of her. "This ant vomit is still burning."
She did and it alleviated the burning some more, and Devour took care of the rest. Hongjun spat out some more blood, and I pushed in more of the Clear Sky aura around him. All it seemed to do was keep his body together, and where that deep brown would lash out, I would then absorb and push back.
When Rongrong emptied out all the water, I then summoned some cuts of cloth over my wound, and held it with one hand. "Boss Dai, please wrap me up."
My fingers were starting to get cold, but the inflow of spirit power kept my consciousness up, and more red light strengthened my awareness. I smiled Rongrong's way, and the deep brown bent to the will of my aura. Hongjun spat out some more blood, but lesser this time, and it relieved me somewhat.
Eight hours pass with me continuously Devouring at that purple ring, and Mubai finally finished dragging over the spider's corpse—ring and all to our area. Good thing there weren't any ants yet, and Hongjun's red tone was instead now a pink tinge, his spirit power getting consumed together with keeping his new ring at bay.
It was a stroke of genius when I filtered everything through Pranus Core and my chakras that it occurred to me to use that energy then to reinsert to Hongjun, and it helped keep his spirit power up. Given this, I now had a way to allow others some access to my external spirit power recovery, though it still needed some refining.
I stopped supporting Hongjun when stopped spitting blood.
"Your turn," I told Oscar.
He slapped himself and sat in front of the spider, then got to work.
The first thing that happened was he vomited blood, and he quickly turned purple. Thank god I already had some practice. I immediately inserted the Clear Sky aura into him, making sure to keep that sinister purple at bay, while taking its outbursts and filtered it before giving it back to him. The process was no less intensive than Hongjun's, where his energy was deep and profound, this one was sharp and ferocious. It then occurred to me that I might have made a mistake with giving them the rings, but it was already too late.
If I made a mistake, then it was on my head.
The bleeding had already stopped for my gut, and though the wound was still there, the alarm in Interface was already out of the red. I stayed awake through the entire process, never leaving Oscar or Hongjun without Devour's light to help keep the sinister energies away from them.
Another seven hours later, the two awoke together, Hongjun with a resplendent and deep purple aura, and Oscar with a ferocious and bright red. That didn't make sense to me one bit when the other absorbed a spirit beast of the other's color.
"Congratulations," I said, "you both are now officially monsters." I fell back into Rongrong's arms already waiting for me.
"You did it," she said, smiling. This wasn't so bad—despite feeling as if I just ran a marathon with my brain or something.
"You really did," Mubai said, touching his palm to his forehead. "This… this is a miracle."
Zhuqing smiled—actually smiled, for once, though her hands were clenched bone white. "Thank you," she said.
Hongjun sat down next to me, tears streaming down his face. "Little brother is too good," he said. "You allowed me to absorb a three-thousand-year ring," he said, squeezing my hand in his. A purple ring floated behind him, and his skin was back to its healthy color without a tinge of pink.
Oscar too sat down, though less dramatic. He scratched his head and said, "Little brother is really too good." He spoke slow and clear, eyes clear like ice. Hongjun nodded beside him. "You didn't just give me a two-thousand-year ring, but you also gave me an external spirit bone."
Eight crystal blue legs sprouted out of his back, tearing his tunic apart. Then Oscar hugged me, making sure his spider legs—oh dear god—didn't touch me, and so did Hongjun. Rongrong fidgeted from the combined weight—and also maybe because I could feel her chest pressed onto me. It was… not unpleasant.
Yiran just looked on without a word.
The two then broke off and Hongjun clapped my shoulder hard. "And worry not, brothers, everyone," he said. "Jin here truly is too good." His left arm took on a deep brown glow marked with purple hints. "I too obtained a spirit bone, and its ability could also be used for digging through earth."
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