After picking up the robes from the tailors, we made our way over to the Imperial Academy first thing the following morning.
I didn't particularly feel the need to hide that little tirade I had, but I wasn't about to tell everyone either that I'd just killed a few more people. These things weren't really the sort to talk about over dinner, and I had more than enough finesse to not discuss it over breakfast either. Manslaughter had a tendency to make any food taste bad regardless of the context. And if anyone dared say otherwise—Hongjun probably—well, at least then I'd know who was the most likely to turn out to be a serial killer in ten years time.
Then again, we'd probably have much higher body counts in the future regardless of whether we enjoyed killing or not. This was just that kind of world—and to think I'd yet to reach thirteen and already I'd have been a major deviant compared to back home.
Rongrong and I lead the group through the capital's streets decked out in our fancy ass new robes. The whole shebang cost me a pretty penny, and they were worth every damned copper piece.
"Don't you think people are looking a bit much?" Oscar said.
A certain chicken on the other hand was really enjoying all the attention.
"Of course they would," Mubai added. "We look no different from royalty in these robes." He flexed his arms, showing off the goldwork and it's unique sheen against the sunlight.
"Such cheeky brats," teacher Zhao said. "You should be like the dean here and instead looking at everyone with contempt!" He was kind of a dick for ripping off the sleeves off his expensive rush order robes, but I had to concede it suited his overbearing nature in a wild and rob you along the highway kind of feel.
To say us men were a spectacle would've been an understatement compared to the looks the girls were getting. Not all of them were too polite, but it was clear in the people's eyes what they thought: that this group of people was not to be screwed with. Whether by choice or by simple lack of qualification didn't matter. They were dead if they tried anything untoward, more so if they even dared show the slightest of bad intentions.
Uncle was a bit less inconspicuous with his dark brown robes, but the goldwork made it stand out more due to how the colors contrasted. He looked more like the advisor than a guest. But not one to be outdone, I made sure Flender's robes were the most majestic with it's slivers of yellow cloth here and there to put a bigger emphasis on his status. We turned heads everywhere we passed, and wherever the teachers looked people cast their eyes down. Hopefully, not out of disgust. Hopefully.
"It's not just little bro who has cash but also sis-in-law who spends well," Xiao Wu added. She was eyeing the gold rings adorning her fingers that completed her look with the little gold tiara and the earrings.
Zhuqing naturally looked just as regal in her own jewelry, and Rongrong was nothing short of divine with hers.
My supposed fiance also had the wonderful forethought of buying everyone jewelry. I liked our teachers, but not that much. Good thing she had a critical eye for the right kind of every day wear designs, simple enough not enough to break the bank with, but just well worked enough to look fancy. It was surprising how heavy the things were compared to actual gold pieces. I doubt people here knew how to electroplate so it was possible all this bling we had on were near solid gold.
Even the gigantic teacher Zhao had on some gold bangles that wrapped around his exposed arms.
With this much, I was at least confident we wouldn't be turned away as beggars.
We reached the gate and continued for the rest of the long walk to the campus proper with an unhurried pace.
Remembering the etiquette lessons of my aunt was as easy as breathing after she'd drilled into me all the intricacies of high living. Nobles never ran. They were powerful enough—in a political sense—even without spirit power to command the servants of the land, and no matter how strong a spirit master or their sect was, at the end of the day, they still needed to eat. And what sort of strong willed spirit master would dare do a peasant's job of farming?
Beside our clan that is, almost no one else. The Clear Sky sect was not above producing its own food. That shit was hard as hell and actually helped build up good strength. Both outer and inner sect disciples between the ages of five and fifteen were tasked with maintaining the crops, I just got out of it lucky thanks to my having to focus on cultivating. But to work the land and get muddy was not the way of priests and high officials, and it was the reason why some noble spirit masters weren't as strong—because they focused purely on cultivation and nothing else.
It was a damn long walk.
"Little Jin." Tang San walked up to meet my pace. "How far has your training with the Absolutes come?"
I didn't spare him any details with the training I was doing to improve myself after he finished with those hidden weapons projects of his. Tang San was a reincarnator who came from a similar world to this, and if anyone had any sort of good insights to this world's workings outside of the norm, then my money was on him.
I sighed. "I'm unfortunately running into the problem of burning my energy channels when I push too much spirit power through them."
"Burning energy channels?" uncle said. "Little Jin? You actually end up hurting yourself when you use spirit power?"
I shrugged. "It must be another bad side effect of my cultivation." All these setbacks and still I was being hounded by them after all these years.
"I've never had a problem with my energy channels, I believe?" teacher Zhao added.
Tang San raised his brows. "When you say burning, you feel your channels get hurt?"
"Yes, and my skin also gets hotter as well and it starts to look inflamed as well."
"This reminds me about that incident before," uncle said. "But then that would mean…"
"That he is able to generate more spirit energy than his body can take," Tang San finished.
Rongrong met my eyes. "Strange."
"He's always been strange," Xiao Wu added.
"Would you care to show us little Jin?" Tang San had that sparkle in his eyes again. I wasn't liking where this was going.
"Not with my Hammer at least." I was confident, but I wasn't about to expose myself just to show off.
I raised a fist in front of me and started pumping it full of spirit power.
"Oh?" uncle said. He extended a hand over mine and I felt his own spirit power wash over with its gentle sensation. "It seems you've improved your control a lot. You are able to contain this much spirit power and hold onto it without letting it dissipate."
Flender eyed my fist up close that was now starting to glow a faint gold. His face was distorting somewhat from the spirit power fluctuations emanating from it. "Little monsters, why don't you all try doing what Jin is doing as well." He nodded. "I believe this is a variant of one of your clan's techniques?"
"Nah, not even close. Our secret techniques can only be used with the Clear Sky hammer, and what I'm doing now is a simple spirit power exercise." It was the basics of the basics for starting the Absolutes, that is, to hold spirit power in one location without letting it dissipate. I doubt letting this little obvious bit out wouldn't harm anyone. And it wasn't even that hard anyway, one just needed to hold the sensation of a shell of spirit power as the bounds of the energy.
Hongjun, Oscar, boss Dai, Zhuqing, and Xiao Wu tried their hands at the exercise, and only the demon rabbit was able to make her hand glow close to even a tenth of the light from mine. Hongjun's hand released heat, Oscar's—for some magical reason—started smelling like grilled meat, boss Dai glowed white, and Zhuqing seemed to summon shadows. Xiao Wu shared that colorless glow as my hand. And Tang San, naturally, could do it immediately as well. His hand was like a solid creamy white—almost as if jade grew like frost over his skin.
"Interesting," boss Dai said. "But what purpose is this for?"
Anyone with at least two brain cells to rub together should've at least figured this out or tried such an exercise beforehand, but seeing these strange responses was a little off putting.
"Before that, boss Dai," I said, "you aren't too familiar with spirit energy manipulation?" Wasn't that something that should be the first of the first skills that one ought to learn while treading the path of a spirit master?
He shook his head. "As long as I am able to use my spirit abilities, then why would I need to move my spirit energy any more than I need to?"
He had a point there. "I guess that makes sense."
"No little Jin," uncle said, "share what you think with us."
I scratched my head. "Well, wouldn't it make sense to be able to manipulate spirit power to do other things?" I crossed my arms. "I mean, I at least know to cycle spirit energy in my body to help subdue poisons as well as to recover my physical strength, and I'm sure everyone here shares that knowledge, yes?"
Everyone and I looked at Tang San who smiled as if he had nothing to do with that forced lesson.
My hand was still glowing, and it was starting to get hotter and hurt now. "I've always been curious as to how spirit abilities work exactly, in the sense that wasn't it the spirit ring that was doing the processing of spirit power to make the effects real?"
Uncle nodded to my words, and Tang San looked just as piqued. Xiao Wu though, to my surprise, was listening to my rambling for once.
Actually, now that I thought about it, did Xiao Wu also have to kill other spirit beasts for her rings? Since she already has a hundred thousand years under her belt, that would naturally make her a source for a red spirit ring—it left a bad taste in my mouth to say that. And given her spirit was a rabbit, then naturally she ought to have been a rabbit as well. Soft bones, teleportation, charming, in some stretch of the concept, I could indeed see their connecting to a rabbit, though the charming part I had difficulty with swallowing. Wouldn't that mean her spirit rings were likely to be her abilities as a rabbit before? And what sort of ungodly monster was a rabbit that could teleport anyway?
"I believe that's why our spirit rings shine when they use our abilities." I raised my hand up. "Because they are receiving spirit power to fuel the ability, and not because we are using the ability—though semantics wise that is still the idea of it."
"See-mahn-tihcs?" Hongjun said with a puzzled look.
"Interesting theory," uncle said. "You are saying that people can fathom the intricacies of the spirit abilities?"
"Not exactly, instead I'm saying that there's still so much we don't understand about spirits, but I assume that's not impossible."
"I agree with this," Tang San added. "I indeed have noticed my spirit power would be changed in an instant once I consciously make use of an ability. And if I am correct, you are saying that it should be possible to use abilities without using the spirit rings?"
"I actually hadn't thought that far, but sure, that seems like a logical direction to take," I said. "I was moving instead that since spirit rings are able to make use of spirit power after being fueled, then it made sense that spirit power could be used to do other things besides an ability from a ring, and given enough complexity—it would be equivalent to another spirit ability."
What went unsaid though was how come such information was made available to use after absorbing a spirit ring. We all just intuitively knew how to use our abilities after receiving it, and information more or less followed the laws of conservation of mass. Information could not simply arise from nothing, and must instead be built up. This essentially implied that there was intelligence, or at least information, contained in spirit rings.
Was it possible then that all spirit rings had such intelligence? It followed that these were the souls of spirit beasts so it wasn't too impossible. And Xiao Wu's consciousness should also have started from one point or another. Was it only by the hundred thousand year mark then? Surely not, how else would a spirit beast even understand to cultivate? Although even instinct could probably account for such a complex set of actions.
Uncle hummed. "Indeed, that is the essence of self-created abilities like you've said you are studying with your clan. But?" He was smiling now.
"But those techniques are specific to our spirit which is something not everyone has, however, there is indeed something that everyone shares."
"Spirit power?" Xiao Wu's eyes were narrowed at me. "You are saying that with enough knowledge, it is possible to teach self-created abilities not unique to a spirit?"
Tang San chuckled. "Truly a little genius as well, this cousin of mine."
Which probably meant Tang San really did have such a created ability—one that didn't need the specifics of a spirit. My hand was really hurting now and started showing up red in Interface indicating the beginnings of damage. A peculiar thing I'd discovered over the last few days though was that a percentage was showing up on my hand that had all that spirit power contained, but when I did this same thing to my Hammer, it didn't show. My hand was currently displaying eighty-seven percent, which most likely meant my spirit power capacity for holding in that body part.
Unfortunately, even if I released this mass of power, it wasn't just going to explode into a wave of force. I was hoping to just punch out and have this all turn into a whirlwind of sorts, but I guess we all had our flaws.
I summoned my Crown and expanded my domain to my hand to reabsorb the spirit power in it.
This was another peculiar thing. My cultivation method made use of my chakras to take in the energy, and I incorporated parts of Tang San's own method as well to maybe gain some of its benefits, and whenever I used Devour, the spirit energy basically directly entered my Crown and for some magical reason, it just ends up as a part of my spirit power pool. That implied that my Crown was connected to my spirit power pool, but as to where my spirit power pool was, I always thought it came from the dantian, or the sacral chakra, but perhaps it wasn't actually from there?
Tang San took my hand in both of his, and spirit power permeated from his skin to mine. His energy always brought me back to that dreadful night, except his was more dignified than tormented and spiteful.
"Third brother!" Rongrong said. "Not satisfied with just Xiao Wu and you'd also take little Jin!"
"Was that jealousy I heard?" Hongjun snickered.
"Hmm," Tang San said. He kept kneading spirit power into my hand and I felt it trace lines up and down my energy channels, his dignified energy soothing the strained paths. "I don't believe you were damaging yourself, little Jin."
He raised a brow.
I started pushing and holding spirit power again into my hand and watched as the percentage on my right hand trickle up: ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and by then it started slowing down.
"Indeed so fast," he said. "You can keep going?"
Welp, he knew what he was doing. I pushed on despite the pain, climbing up to sixty, seventy…
He had his hand waving back and forth over my hand. "Let me know if it starts to be unbearable."
I was already at eighty and pushing for ninety—my hand was starting to get hotter, and the pain was as if my hand was on fire.
"Very interesting indeed," Tang San said. "From what I can feel, your energy channels are doing just fine, and you can easily handle this much."
I'd never let my hand reach a hundred before, and it was now starting to hum as it glowed—and the pain was bearable but intense. It was nothing as horrible as actually getting burned, but it when I say it burned, the damn thing really burned. "It really hurts though," I said.
"You'll get used to it in time," he said.
"That doesn't sound like sound advice."
Tang San chuckled. "Little bro has cash but little bro lacks faith?"
"Bah." I reabsorbed the spirit power back into me—or my crown. Was there even a distinction? "And where does spirit power reside exactly? Is it stored in the body? Maybe in the spirit?" The spirit of course made sense since that's where it went for me, but maybe others did it differently?
"The spirit," uncle said.
Everyone nodded in agreement, but Tang San didn't react—I'm guessing he was thinking something else. And that could be a pretty big point if any of this speculation could yield fruit.
Why was it then that Tang San didn't share his own techniques?
It was obvious he had them. No one could make up all that crap he could without prior knowledge even as a genius, and the experimentation it would need to hone into a useable state in battle implied generations of knowledge. It wasn't the kind of thing that could be accomplished in a lifetime unless Tang San really was indeed a total freak of a genius—which I believe he can't be. Or at least think he shouldn't be. It was too irregular of a coincidence otherwise.
"Are we there yet?" Oscar said. He was dragging his feet so early in the morning.
"You've trained your bodies hard," Flender said. "You don't have a right to complain with this little exertion."
"Perhaps a quick exchange of pointers later will remind you of that?" teacher Zhao said.
"Please teacher," Oscar said. "Did I seem tired? I was actually excited to do even more walking!" He started jogging in place to show his enthusiasm, and it was a little sad to be honest.
Hongjun laughed at his expense but was silenced by the sinister look of our dean.
"Are you perhaps taking after the title of our Grandmaster?" the dean said in teasing, he elbowed uncle.
"Jin isn't one to call anyone master," uncle said. "Teacher perhaps, but never master." He hummed. "But of course, little San is still my direct disciple."
"Oh," the dean said, "and what am I?"
I rubbed my chin. "A valued business partner?"
The miser nodded deeply to that. "I can accept that."
"Jin does seem to have an obsession with money as well," Oscar said.
"And he also likes to work the markets a lot," Hongjun added.
"He even wakes up early just to check if there're any differences in prices everyday," Xiao Wu said with a sigh.
"Jin gives me good quality metals reliably," Tang San said, "I owe most of the weapons I've made to his efforts in procuring materials."
"He's been like that since we were kids," Rongrong said, "we almost fought over a nice little treasure of a space stone."
"Wait, that's what that was?"
"You two have known each other for that long?" Boss Dai was skeptical.
"These two know each other longer than we have known each other," Tang San said with a sly smile.
"Are you really sure you two aren't engaged yet?" Boss Dai crossed his arms.
"Does that really matter by this point?" Xiao Wu stuck her tongue out.
"We're not old enough for that yet."
Xiao Wu locked my head into her thin but strong as fuck arms. "Did my cute little brother just say something rude?"
"Already"—she squeezed—"calling me your in-law, eh?" I sounded like a person getting strangled by a nigh immortal demon.
Xiao Wu blushed and cleared her throat, letting me go in the process.
Then Oscar broke away from the group and ran up to a large archway done in masonry and brasswork.
"Finally!" Oscar knelt by the gates and hugged the cold stone. "It's been so long!"
The dean walked past him together with the rest of us.
"Get up," Flender said, "you would dare ruin such expensive clothes with these antics of yours?"
"Wait, no, priorities dean!"
He looked at me funny. "I may not have paid for these, but I will not be paying for their cleaning either."
We were received by senior Ming shortly after we entered the grounds. Turns out we were expected as guests, and thankfully nothing strange happened. The people we saw all gave us a wide berth when we passed and none dared stand in our way.
"I've never had such a grand welcome before," I said.
"For one," senior Ming said, "rumors of a certain blond monster with three one thousand year spirit rings is enough to deter a lot of small fry."
"And two," the dean said, "these are all small fish! They know nothing of the bigger world outside, and to see us all in these regal clothes and walking together with a record holder of one of Spirit Hall's youngest, why, I believe it was in my good judgement that I listened to you about our clothes."
"And last," uncle said, "any one would indeed be intimidated if they saw a group of people walking around with their fists glowing with the brilliance of spirit power."
Following Tang San's advice that I would eventually get used to it, I kept pushing through the pain of saturating my body with spirit power, and the others also followed. Xiao Wu took to the exercise with great skill, since it was most likely something that had a parallel for her as a spirit beast. Hongjun, Oscar, boss Dai, and Zhuqing all had the images of their spirit power's colors covering theirs, while Rongrong was doing it a step higher by only focusing spirit power at the tips of her fingers.
She had two out of the five splayed out glowing.
I almost forgot just how excellent of a group I was with from always having Tang San as my measuring stick. Spirit power control wasn't difficult per se, but it was the rate at which one could push around spirit power that made all the difference. The others had only started on the exercise, and it took them a few minutes to reach the intense glows their hands were now displaying, as opposed to doing it in a few seconds.
"For all intents and purposes though, it really isn't much." I summoned my Crown again to reabsorb the power, my three purple rings displaying for but a few seconds only.
"And I believe your confirming the rumors every few seconds also most likely adds to that," Tang San said with a sigh.
"Nobles are annoying, cousin," I said.
"Jin is too right," Rongrong added. "If anyone here learned of my identity, and I believe a few of them already do, then I'm already fortunate enough to not have the lot of them walk up to me asking for my name."
"Such is the fate of a princess." Teacher Zhao had a laugh at that.
"But this exercise of yours," senior Ming said. "I do not understand the point of it, although I do see the merit of being able to attack with a mass of spirit power."
I lost control of the spirit power in my hand for a bit, and the fluctuations sort of kind of bled away and distorted the air. That was energy I wouldn't be able to recycle, but it wasn't that hard either to recover it in a few minutes.
"I can use this as an attack?"
"Wasn't that the intention?" Senior Ming gave me a puzzled look.
Boss Dai frowned. "You mean to say you didn't think this could be used as an attack?"
"I tried punching trees and stone with this," I said. "And nothing happened." My breaking the things was more a consequence of my strength than the saturation of spirit power.
"Well of course that wouldn't work," uncle said. He shook his head. "To saturate yourself with spirit force is not an attack that damages on a physical level, but is spiritual in nature instead."
I face palmed. "So you're telling me." I made my hand glow in the span of a breath. "I can seriously hurt someone if I punched them with my glowy fist?" I shook the mass of spirit power about.
"I would first question your naming sense," Xiao Wu said. "But yes, why would you think otherwise?"
"Because I was expecting it to dust rocks or make trees explode?"
They all looked at me like I was high.
"No," Tang San said. "Although, perhaps if you saturated your hand with the spirit power from your Hammer instead, maybe it would work."
I looked at my hand. Then I looked back at Tang San. "I've been doing a lot of things wrong."
"You've been doing things differently," uncle corrected. "Had you followed the well travelled path, perhaps you wouldn't have come to ask these questions, no?"
"You're not wrong." And coming back to what Tang San said about the nature of his spirit power changing with his spirit ring's ability instantaneously… then did that mean I could somehow use the spirit power conversion of my abilties as well to do these things?
"Senior Ming," Oscar said, his hand also glowing as that sumptuous meaty smell wafted about. "Pardon my rudeness, but are we there yet?"
"We will need to pass through two more mimicry environment facilities first before we reach the main hall of the advisors," he said. "The gardens and the beast pens to be specific."
I summoned my Crown and used Shock without expanding my Domain.
"Little Jin?" Flender was staring at my glowing purple ring. "What are you doing?"
I felt for the change where my spirit power was being used by my spirit ring and found the energy was not—for lack of a better word—moving. I extended my Domain to just above my outstretched hand and pushed spirit power through my Crown and through my Domain towards a concentration.
"I'm not really sure either," I said. I could feel the mass moving through my spirit and that little spot of yellow just above my hand was now starting to crackle with my electricity. I pushed more into it, and the sparks grew in intensity. There was no percentage appearing on my hand, and my spirit power was only getting consumed.
"You must have some insight?" Uncle rubbed his chin.
"Cousin San said that spirit power immediately changes in nature after going through the spirit ring after using an ability, my guess was that if I could recycle that spirit power after passing through my ability, then I could wield the converted spirit power like I would my own before the change."
"But you are not seeing any differences?" Tang San said. He kept a respectable distance between him and crackling electricity in my hands. He also made sure to place Xiao Wu further away from me and shielding her with his body in the way.
"I'm seeing that I'm only consuming my spirit power as normal when I use my ability, but I can at least make my electricity flare with more spirit power—although I already knew that." I hummed. "Am I able to lift spirit power from my spirit ring instead?"
Uncle met my eyes. "It's not something I've considered before, and I'm not sure how you would do so either."
I retracted my Domain but kept my second ability up, and the consumption stopped. "Like this," I said pointing to my spirit ring. "My spirit ring is using its ability, but it's not consuming my spirit power, so I believe it is currently saturated with spirit power, and only after it makes use of this would the ring convert more normal spirit power into electricity based spirit power."
I willed the ring over my hand and tried willing spirit power from it into my hand. Nothing happened. I then willed the ring to touch my hand before willing the power again to move. Still, nothing happened.
"There ought to be a way," I said. "I'm just still not sure how."
"A fine pursuit," senior Ming said. "And I believe everyone here would be curious as well about the fruits of your study." He walked ahead of us and stepped up the stairs leading to a large and ornate building.
"For now," he said, "Qin Ming of Heaven Dou Imperial academy welcomes our esteemed guests."
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