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Chapter 23: Chapter 23

"Today," uncle said, "the basic training will stop." Xiao Wu started cheering together with Rongrong and Oscar, but Tang San and I knew better than to celebrate. Hongjun, Mubai, and Zhuqing kept vigil without reaction. "But you'll be earning the academy's keep in the meantime."

The three stopped their celebrating and shot puzzled looks about.

Uncle then continued, "These past few months we've been splurging on you students' food and training, and the fees that normally should've lasted you a year we already spent."

A hundred gold coins each put academy budget at eight hundred, which wasn't a lot by spirit master standards but was more than enough for normal people. Me though, I went through a few hundred myself depending on how well I could grab a haul somewhere, but these last few weeks hadn't been too kind on my finances. Even with Spirit Hall's hundred gold stipend—because who the hell pays attention to a genius out in the sticks—my income was still only limited to the few bargains I struck with helping uncle with the shopping.

"I'll be sending you off to the mountains you love so much," he said.

"To do what?" Rongrong asked with a scandalized expression.

"To mine out the mountain," uncle said. "I understand fatty is capable of digging, and I know for a fact that your spirit is able to detect the presence of treasures."

"It can?" I asked Rongrong. That would sort of explain a few things, almost like how my spirit power reacts to certain materials and goods.

She only stuck her tongue out with a playful smile.

"What you mine then will be sold by little Jin, and what you can use, fatty will help process. Little San and Mubai will be of good use with excavating ores, and Zhuqing and Xiao Wu will help cart out material, while Oscar will be in charge of food."

All in all, that sounded like a wonderful plan.

"But teacher," Hongjun said, "how would I settle my Evil Fire?"

Uncle nodded. "That, will be settled when Jin makes his trips. He will also be the one in charge of getting extra nutrients for you, as well as cooking."

Everyone groaned.

"According to the recipe I'll provide," uncle added.

They all cheered.

"This is so little San can outfit you with his weapons," uncle said. "The time frame for this training will be until he completes a set for each of you."

"Really?" I said, asking San.

"Yes," he said. "Rongrong has talked to me of purchasing my weapons for her clan, it's just that making it for eight people is within my power, while a few hundred is a bit much. For now, we settled on providing everyone with a set so she could have her father sample it when she gets the chance."

Rongrong nodded and said, "Our time in the nest made a great impression on me, and what's more is this explosive you made that battered that Man-faced Demon Spider like a doll. I was hoping to talk to you some time about it too but never found the chance."

"Or was it you couldn't try talk to him one on one?" Xiao Wu added.

"I wouldn't mind making a lot more of the stuff," I said. And when was more explosives ever a bad idea? "But I am finding it difficult to get the materials I need."

Tang San's eyes shone. "Did you mean the Dragon Tears and Boiling Blood poisons?"

"The what now?"

"Those two liquids you mix to create that white paste," he said.

"Sulfuric and nitric acids you mean?"

"It doesn't matter what you call them," he said. "But what is this explosive Rongrong mentioned?"

"Haven't I shown you that before?"

I heard Xiao Wu whisper loud enough to hear, "They always get like that, just ignore them and smile when they ask you about anything."

With that, our next phase of training was set for the next few months.

When we reached the mountain's peak, flashbacks of my Minecraft days played out, and I helped direct the layout of our would be home for the coming days.

Hongjun hollowed out a cubby hole larger than our dorm while I helped shape the broken rocks into some semblance of a landing area and floor. His spirit bone cut through dirt like butter and with difficulty through stone, and with my Domain providing the guides, I cut us out a fifty-square meter large room in the mountain side with my Hammer and Nail ability, and decorated the inside with some glow stones I purchased from the city.

At first, we did as instructed, with Tang San and Mubai helping with the digging, and Xiao Wu and Zhuqing doing the carting out of dirt and rocks, but the process proved too slow so I volunteered me and my ring instead. Under the all-seeing light of my Domain, I removed the debris efficiently, and it freed up Xiao Wu and Zhuqing to instead help with the digging.

Hongjun kept up his major excavation of the tunnels, keeping a uniform distance between side paths according to my direction, and the bigger rocks we'd take out of the tunnels first before breaking. Mubai and Tang San would then help shape some bricks which Hongjun would cook into place together with a mortar I mixed up to secure our tunnels using archway architecture. Doing this haphazardly would lead to problems in the future, and a secret lair sure sounded like a fun thing to do.

Thanks to the change in roles, our digging went even faster, and with Rongrong's direction and Tang San able to identify the veins, we found pockets of ores left and right. Gold, silver, copper, iron, niter, coal, sulfur were our main points, with a few rare sides of alum and mineral salts. The first three for their value, the iron for Tang San, and the last three for my selling, the others we just kept in sacks to sell off as well. We also found some geodes at times, and these I saved for selling to the nobles. Given the composition of the rocks we were digging through, it was obvious this place was formed from tectonic shifts and that part of the mountain used to be below sea-level.

After emptying out a vein, the digging group would proceed to make more tunnels while Rongrong, me, and Oscar would segregate the ores better. I would break the rocks further into gravel sized bits and Oscar would pick them apart with his lances. The filtered stuff then goes into Tang San's spirit tool into a jade pocket of their own.

When we filled the first jade full of iron, Tang San stopped his mining and set up his mobile forge away from the mine. There, Hongjun would heat the ores and melt them and Tang San would skim off the unnecessary parts with his large earthen basins, which I totally didn't know he even had. Once done, he and I would then beat the impurities out of the raw chunks of metal with our Clear Sky Hammers.

During the times Hongjun wasn't with the digging team, no one would go underground since only he had any capability of getting anyone out should a cave-in happen. To make up for lost time, the others would come down with me to help restock on goods, as well as to serve as my extra eyes and ears while I worked the markets for Flender, and uncle and teacher Zhao would then move in to do the actual purchasing under the dean's name. This was to keep people from recognizing any of us for the next phase of training he had in store.

What he had planned, I had no idea.

Each time our mining would fill a jade, Tang San, me, and Hongjun would do the refining again, while the others would go down to the city ahead of me. Iron and copper were the easiest to fill up, but the few pockets of gold and silver didn't amount to much. The sulfur, niter, and charcoal were also just as abundant, and them I split in parts: half the sulfur and niter for making the acids, and half the coal for selling. The other halves were for making gunpowder which I was planning on having the teachers sell.

We cleared out the mountain peak's area in the span of a month, and after that we started digging straight down. We were all spirit masters, and hard to manage layouts were the least of our concerns. Oscar's spider lances were crucial here to keep Rongrong with the digging group, and as long as Hongjun and I were there, we basically had no fear of any collapses. Digging down also reduced the possibility of a cave-in because weaknesses in the rock formations would be pressing down the walls, instead of bearing down on the tunnel structures.

Thanks to the shift in style, we found more of the same stuff and happened upon some geodes of amethyst and rubies, and whatever jade we found Tang San hoarded all for himself. They were for the future development of his Hidden Weapons according to him, so nobody really bothered.

When we finally filled the niter and sulfur jades of Tang San, he got to work on the acids, and our digging had to stop again since he needed Hongjun to heat the lead basins. Tang San mixed the sulfur and niter in said basin with enough water to have everything soaked, then he had another lead basin on top which was kept cool with my spirit power. The condensed vapors then I was surprised to find was the sulfuric acid, then half that he put into another lead basin with more niter, and with more heating, out condensed nitric acid.

All in all, Tang San needed about twenty kilograms of high quality grey iron to complete the set of weapons for everyone, and the entire process took us another three months, after which the academies finances were already more than saved thanks to the gunpowder. By the end of it all, selling the gunpowder for ten gold for half a kilogram, or a jin, yielded a total of five thousand and four hundred gold for the academy, and they were naturally way more than happy for it. What made me a bit wary however was that most of it was bought by the Balak kingdom… well, I'll just cross the bridge when I get there.

All seven of us were then equipped with Tang San's full suite: two Silent Sleeve Darts for each arm with twenty-four spare darts, a Tense Back Flower Adornment Crossbow with three arrows, a Godly Zhuge Crossbow with one hundred and forty-four arrows in total, as well as what he called a Flying God Claw.

"This Flying God Claw is a specialized hidden weapon with multiple uses," Tang San explained. "It is able to shoot out the claw and automatically grasp whatever it hit." He flexed his hand open and a flash of silver light embedded itself into a branch. "When tugged," Tang San continued, "it is able to retract, and depending on the weight, you are either pulled or what you grasp is pulled to you." He planted his feet firmly at the ground and a quick flash for his yellow spirit ring bound his feet, he then pulled hard on the God Claw, and that tree actually bent.

"What?"

"Anything wrong little Jin?" he said.

Whatever. "Nah, carry on."

He then showed us all how to operate all his goods as well as the proper maintenance procedures and how to reload. After the lecture, he also made sure to supervise us on how to use the goods, and well… I felt like fucking Spiderman swinging to and fro the forest around the mountain.

We all retired to a nice dinner after that, and it was my turn to distribute gifts.

"Of course, I won't lose to big bro San," I said, and brought out two simple things: a flare waterproofed with candle wax, and a stick of dynamite I cooked up with charcoal as the filler. "Both were made from those things we mined out."

"I see you can also make flares," Rongrong said, pointing at the bamboo tube. I didn't need to make a fuse for it since spirit power was enough to ignite guncotton pretty well.

"That's correct," I said, and made a show of generating spirit power in my hand to light the bottom of it and a dull blue flame shot out, colored with the few copper oxides we found while digging. "Spirit power is all you need, and make sure the end marked with red is pointed away from you."

I gave them all three sticks each.

"And last of course, is what I used against that Man-faced Demon Spider." I buried the stick and stuck a nitrated cotton string into it. Then I made them all stand back about fifteen meters away as I lit the fuse and made a mad dash to where they all were.

Bang! The ground shook with the explosion and all faces there went to me with wide eyes.

"That wasn't an explosive," Tang San said.

"I think we can all agree little Jin is just as abnormal as little San," Mubai said, shaking his head.

For these, I gave them all two meters of nitrated string and three sticks.

"Remember to never ignite these in your hands because I'm not even sure how strong you need to be to withstand a blast from one stick, and I'm not even willing to have any of our teachers find out." Though maybe getting grandpa Shan to try it out would help. "You also have to be wary of the loud sound it would make on detonation, because this too can injure you."

I then made a show of lighting up another stick, this one just on the ground.

BANG!

My ears were still ringing when I explained to them the way the reaction happens with pushing the shockwave of sound outwards, and the two-fold way with which to use it. Me and Tang San got to a few discussions after that, and the possibility of a small fire-arm was somehow mentioned, and knowing the guy, a revolver probably wouldn't be out of the question for him to make.

#

We all then made our way down from the mountain to a feast the teachers prepared for us as thanks for the income.

Everyone ate and drank as much as they could and made merry, and near the end, uncle stood up to say, "With this, your strength training is complete, and we can proceed with the third phase of my plan."

Then the following day, we all made our way back to Suotuo city from the academy, and again found ourselves in front of Suotuo Great Spirit Arena.

"Here is where the last bout of your first training program shall happen," he said. "You will all stay in nearest hotel, and every night must fight as a team, as well as fight another time from there. Except for Rongrong and little Ao, all are expected to participate in the one-on-one fights, and they will need to participate together with someone else. However, since Zhuqing and Rongrong's ranks are still at the Spirit Grandmaster level, their combination is already set."

Tang San then spoke up, "I and Xiao Wu already have a combination."

Uncle Xiaogang nodded. "Did you use your real names?" We all nodded. "Change it. From now on, everyone must be sure to hide their names and identities. This is to prevent any people who might keep grudges from acting against you in the future." He then took out a pouch and passed us all a mask each, large enough to cover most of our features except for the eyes, nose, and mouth. "For team battles, you will also wear a uniform I provide you, and it would be best if you use those same clothes as well for your individual and pair battles."

We all nodded again.

"The end goal for this phase is for you all to earn your Silver Fighter badges, and if possible, allow Zhuqing and Rongrong to breakthrough." He nodded to himself. "And during this, we will also train the possibility of that spirit fusion between Mubai and Zhuqing."

He looked at the two who nodded with resolution, though there was a bit of awkwardness when they looked at each other. Clearly, these two were a bigger deal than they'd ever dare to admit.

"Little Jin and Rongrong as well should try, but you'll only be able to do so outside of battle." We both shrugged. "For your spirit bones, do not use them unless absolutely cornered. And for little Jin, you are still not allowed to use your Hammer at all costs. The roots of Spirit Hall run deep everywhere, and not even this neutral ground may be able to protect you. If it ever comes that you need to use the Hammer, surrender instead."

I nodded. "Understood, teacher."

"The remaining four should then discuss your teams. When you finish, we will all register together."

We decided to have Mubai and Oscar pair up while I did with Hongjun. As the one with the highest spirit power and was most suitable to Oscar's third spirit ability, he was the best choice, while my and Hongjun's capability to fight at mid-range both allowed us a great deal of potential with harassing. However, just relying on my Crown and Hongjun's Fire Wire and Burst Fire I felt wasn't enough, and the only path left was to also use what little martial arts I knew and hone them as best as possible.

I knew a bit of the most popular styles, how to perform punches and low kicks with karate, the quick snaps and power kicks from taekwondo, the strong elbows and knees of muay thai, the stable assault of boxing, and the unexpectedness of pro-fucking-wrestling.

"With this," uncle said, "your new names will be: White Tiger for Mubai, Sausage Monopoly for Oscar, Seven Treasure Princess for Rongrong, Hell Civet for Zhuqing, Soft-bones Rabbit for Xiao Wu, Evil Phoenix for Hongjun, Amber King for little Jin, and Thousand Hands for little San."

We finished registration shortly after that, and had our badges remade—at least the ones who already had them.

My and Hongjun's combination was called the Fire Lord combination, while Mubai and Oscar's was called Hungry Tiger, then Tang San and Xiao Wu's Three-Five, and last was Rongrong and Zhuqing's Treasure Cat. Uncle Xiaogang's naming sense wasn't bad, but I wouldn't be caught dead calling myself these things back home.

He then discussed with the receptionist how we wanted to keep our fights away from each other, so that allied people wouldn't need to fight one another and got our request granted—meanwhile, the dean would use our money to keep betting on our fights in our favor.

Hence, I found myself back in the ring right after registration, dressed in a gaudy bright yellow shirt and black pants under the scrutiny and laughter of the audience with my just as yellow mask.

But at least the Bruce Lee homage was strong.

"A new challenger appears!" the announcer said, and the crowd didn't even bother reacting. That was my cue to start walking to the ring, and it was an all too familiar sight. "He calls himself the Amber King" —oh god, no I don't— "and he's a thirty-fourth ranked control system spirit master, here to face our current fighter Hao Long!"

Some cheers came from the crowd, as the man taller than me by another head stepped in.

"Our Hao Long is a thirty-fifth rank battle spirit master, and he's ready and pumped to teach the new blood a valuable lesson!"

More cheers came, but not enough to save face. Points for effort at least, the crowd was just too tough. The bell rang when the announcer left, and the next bell signaled us to reveal our spirits. From the guy, three yellow rings popped out together with a big brown club in his right hand, and he tilted his head at me.

"That can't be right," he said.

I wore my Crown and struck a pose, "Watta!" Damn, I always wanted to do that.

He started laughing then, and swung his club around as he charged for me. "Don't come crying to me after I beat you," he said.

"We'll see whether your kung-fu measures up to mine!" I said with a fierce falsetto. This first fight was to test whether I could even hurt the guy without my abilities.

"What the fuck are you talking about?!" he said, and swung down, one yellow ring shining.

I watched that Club crash down with a casual pace, perception reinforced by my Crown, and side-stepped completely to sock him good in the rib. After I got my third ring, the quality of my spirit power improved again, and with it, the strength I could display when reinforced. Though I was still nowhere at Tang San or Mubai's level when it came to pure physical strength, though the spirit power quality more than made up for it.

When my knuckles hit him, I felt flesh and bone resist—and the guy was knocked off his feet with the force. He fell onto his side at the ground as some light cheers came on.

"Stupid brat," he said, and stood up again to charge, this time, two yellow rings shone as he suddenly shifted direction mid-swing into a sweep and that club of his became larger.

I crouched down low into his guard and gave him a quick uppercut to the chin, and his feet lifted, but another yellow ring shone and that club of his crashed downwards as he fell back.

I twirled away from his attack by bringing both hands close to my body and spinning away to his off-hand's side—then when that club of his cleared, I extended my arm out to catch him by the neck, and hit him full force with a lariat. He crashed against the ground hard and his head bounced back—but he still swung at my legs.

I jumped up and crashed into him with an elbow drop and quickly rolled away.

By then, people were already laughing, and the guy was so darn red in the face. The beginnings of a bruise on his chin moved about when he said, "Damned slippery shit!" as he tried to get up, then I ran towards him while he was standing and stepped on his knee to kick him square in the face with the other foot.

The crowd laughed some more, but some started booing. I then waited for the guy to get up, who charged again without abandon and just as that yellow ring shone—I spun into a back kick and hit him square in the chest, again taking him off his feet. He got up again after that, and by then it was already useless to keep beating him—maybe against non-battle spirit masters my techniques would work—or at least while using Mantle or with Rongrong's strength boost.

Hao Long roared as he charged, and I wrapped him up in Devour, Shock, and Corrode together and he fell not too long after that, with me still at an acceptable eight-seven percent spirit power.

There was a lull in the crowd when Hao Long's face hit the floor—and no thunderous applause.

"Tough crowd," I couldn't help but say.

The announcer tried hyping up the result but the result was still an unenthusiastic response, and I took my earnings from the desk and retired to the dressing room to quickly get changed. I then found uncle Xiaogang and the rest sitting by arena fifteen, just next to mine, while waiting for Tang San's individual fight. Before I could sit, dean Flender called me up.

"It's dishonorable to attack downed opponents," he said with a deep frown.

Ah. That's why. "Understood, dean.'

I then took my seat next to Rongrong.


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