We found ourselves in front of the Imperial Academy's board of directors: three old Spirit Douluos who could easily have passed for my own grandpas. The three of them stood as one and gave their greetings as the dean represented us to give ours.
"Seniors, I and my brothers give our greetings." Flender approached with his hands clasped in front of him. "It is an honor to be in your presence."
Senior Ming also joined the dean. "Teacher Qin also greets the honored board of education."
And just like my grandpas, those three old men smiled.
The tallest of them, the one in the middle, said, "Please please, teacher Qin, dean Flender, it is Heaven Dou academy's honor to have you grace our halls."
The pudgy man to his left nodded before saying, "We wouldn't dare hide the state of our own school, indeed it is our honor to have such young talents show up, unfortunately our bad students and the powers that back them usually end up scaring away any commoners with potential."
The one with the longest beard to the right sighed. "To say we are desperate would not he inaccurate. Even if our facilities are excellent, we truly only receive students who have no passion for strength nor the stomach to eat hardship."
Flender gave them face by saying, "Such is the hardship of any teacher, dear seniors." He bowed a bit. "Our school has had no shortage of problems ourselves."
And he wasn't lying. How else would such a proud person like him be forced to come here otherwise. Cheap to his bones, Flender was, but even he couldn't fight the reality of a wilting bank account.
Together they all shared a genial smile before the dean bowed. "Seniors, I am Flender, the dean of the former Shrek academy, owl spirit, and rank seventy-eight agility system Spirit Sage."
The younger would introduce themselves first before their seniors who would then introduce themselves afterward, it was basic courtesy, and the fact that the old guys had already exchanged words with the dean basically showed their good nature to us. They weren't contemptible old coots, that was an excellent start.
"Please please," the one in the middle said. "Let us three brothers introduce ourselves then."
As one the three changed their posture, now more befitting of the ceremonial robes they wore. It was the black robes that Spirit Hall gave out to distinguished Spirit Masters, at least the ones in their good graces—that is, the ones they weren't locked in a life or death struggle with, but not necessarily allied with. For these three then to be wearing these clothes and to be this nice meant they were even more daring to bare their full majesty and still level themselves with us.
The one with the longest beard went first, "And I am Zhi Lin, Sky Blue Vine spirit, and rank eighty-three control system Spirit Douluo.
Then came the pudgy old man, "I am Bai Baishan." He gave a hearty laugh. "Heaven Star Furnace spirit, and rank eighty-five defense system Spirit Douluo."
Last was the one in the middle who bowed once more before saying, "I am Meng Shen Ji, Black Goblin spirit, and rank eighty-six, power system Spirit Douluo."
"Together, us three old ones manage the higher decisions of the academy, but for certain larger matters, we still get the opinion of his majesty." Meng Shen Ji stroked his beard. "We are, after all, backed by the empire, and apart from our loyalty, you would find little else is asked for."
"Truly, such is a great benefit," Flender said. "We shall also introduce the rest of our group."
The teachers stepped forward together and from right to left they announced their names, ranks, and spirits in the same manner.
"Li Yu Song, Dragon Pattern Staff spirit, rank sixty-three power system Spirit Emperor."
"Lu Ji Bin, Star Luo Chessboard, rank sixty-six control system Spirit Emperor."
"Shao Xin, Sweat Pea, rank seventy-one food system Spirit Sage."
"Zhao Wuji, Vigorous Vajra Bear, rank seventy-six power system Spirit Sage."
And after each one the three old men applauded. It wasn't too obvious due to how few people we met, but the entire staff of our Shrek academy was impressive by regular standards. Calling back that tasteless experience with the Blue Sunshine academy before, they were led by a fifty something ranked guy with a non-ideal spirit ring configuration. The guy actually had a white ring for his first and a purple one for his fifth when yellow and black respectively were considered ideal.
And yet all our teachers without exception were all above level sixty and though not all of them had ideal configurations, at least none of them actually took a white ring for their first. That was just horrible foresight, and sure, maybe a lack of access as well, but if these guys were dirt poor before they became teachers and were still dirt poor after that, then their situations couldn't have been too different.
I personally hadn't had much of a chance with getting any first hand experience with the other teachers besides the dean and teacher Zhao and for good reason. My Clear Sky Hammer even before I'd undone my seals could already draw blood with an all out hit from me to teacher Zhao, a Spirit Sage beast spirit master who'd body was so much more resilient than a tool spirit master's like mine. And for me to actually be able to hit him with my all took guts from teacher Zhao every time. Sure, I'd suffer most of the backlash of all those times we exchanged pointers—but that didn't mean he wasn't taking damage at all.
Had any of the other tool spirit teachers taken one of my hits though, maybe things wouldn't have come out as cleanly as with teacher Zhao. What us budding students needed the most were targets we could give our all against without fear of deadly retribution. A lot of spirit masters love to argue against training, saying that only true trials of life and death could allow one to breakthrough, but uncle Xiaogang had the right idea in the sense of learning how to move was just as important, if not more so, as actually moving. Most schools simply had their students fight amongst each other or other students from different schools to continuously grind and hone their skills against each other, but to really get any effects, one had to experience the whole spectrum. Fighting people from the weakest tier to those ranks far above you was the real way to get a proper feel for where one stood—it was just my luck I got paired with a lot of monsters hence my skewed sense of scale.
"Such a power truly this Shrek academy," Bai Baishan said with reverence.
"To have all of you above level sixty, surely you must've been well known in your kingdom?" Zhi Lin was incredulous.
"If only," Flender said, "perhaps we'd have been able to keep up our academy running much longer, unfortunately not too many could pass our rigorous tests."
Then again, since Flender already accepted exceptional talents only, of course he'd have a good crop of students—what was a bigger thing was to be able to make a masterpiece out of mundane materials. Although I wasn't really one to talk either for having been born with such powerful spirits. But was this world really like that? One's strength was fixed at birth based on the quality of their spirit? If so then it was a horribly flawed system—which really calls to mind just what sort of malicious intelligence designed this.
I refused to believe such a system with its defined rules and observable limits could have arisen from nature on its own. Hence, the idea that there could only be some higher power running the show. It was too much of a coincidence that a hundred ranks could be divided over a base of ten and for spirit rings to be needed specifically by humans for them to grow in power.
Hell, now that I was considering it, it was much too disadvantageous to spirit beasts as a whole to actually need ten thousand years to be anywhere close to being a powerful enough creature. After all, if a bunch of kids could defeat a spirit beast with a thousand or so years of cultivation, then what exactly did that say about the world?
That humans were essentially being brought up to become stronger, and that this entire thing was actually some mystical eugenics project to breed an ultimate warrior or race of warriors—if our clan was anything to go by.
And why the hell would a spirit beast in all its power want to be a human anyway either? I'd probably need to talk to Xiao Wu some more about this—and it'd be really nice to be able to talk to her brothers as well. Hell, her and her brothers are all essentially living history books. Assuming they actually remembered anything that far back at least.
Boss Dai and the others began introducing themselves starting with him as the eldest—in terms of declared ages at least.
"Dai Mubai, Evil Eyes White Tiger spirit, rank thirty-nine power system Spirit Expert."
"Oscar, Sausage spirit, rank thirty-four food system Spirit Expert."
"Tang San, Blue Silver Grass spirit, rank thirty-eight control system Spirit Expert."
"Ma Hongjun, Evil Fire Phoenix, rank thirty-three power system Spirit Expert."
"Xiao Wu, Soft Boned Rabbit spirit, rank thirty-six agility system Spirit Expert."
"Ning Rongrong, Seven Treasure Glazed Tile Pagoda spirit, rank thirty-three auxiliary system Spirit Expert."
"Zhu Zhuqing, Hell Civet spirit, rank thirty-three agility system Spirit Expert."
"Little Jin?" Uncle had tapped my shoulder. "Why are you so pale?"
"Is there anything the matter?" Meng Shen Ji asked.
Everyone was staring at me.
"Err, sorry, I was just lost in thought," I said with a quick bow.
"You mean to say this child is also one of your students?" Li Zhin blurted out.
"For the record, we're all still children."
Bai Baishan started laughing at that.
Li Zhin lightly smacked his forehead as a smile lingered on his lips. "With sharp wits as well, how old were you again?"
I bowed as well with my hands clasped in front. "Tang Jin is eleven now."
"Eleven?" Li Zhin sat back in his chair. "And your spirit?"
"Ah, well, right. Amber Crown spirit, rank thirty-seven control system Spirit Expert."
"Thirty-seven?!" Bai Baishan stood up from his chair. "A-are you sure this is no joke?"
Senior Ming had on a wry smile.
"Yes, seniors. Junior would have no reason to lie."
Meng Shen Ji shared a look with the dean, who then said, "Little Jin, maybe you can show to seniors here the proof?"
It was all part of the show. "Of course, dean." I summoned my Crown and arrayed my rings behind me.
"So it really was true," Li Zhin said. "I'd heard there was an exceptional monster, but I never considered it real."
I shrugged. "Reality can indeed be stranger than fiction sometimes."
We were to start with our lessons the following day after settling into our dorms. Just as the dean initially included in his requests to senior Ming, our lessons would indeed be handled completely by our own teachers. All of them were hired without exceptions, and too bad we weren't there any more for the discussion about their salaries. Uncle Xiaogang was offered an advisory position as he requested so that he was free to pursue his own ideals with theory and whatnot, but I wouldn't be surprised if the academy itself wasn't eventually convinced with applying his Ten Core Spirit Principles just like our clan.
Since the adults were ironing out the rest of their dealings, us kids were allowed to roam and explore as we saw fit. It was easy enough to make our way around the school with the tallest tower—the Heaven Dou library—as our landmark.
Xiao Wu and Tang San broke away to do their own thing, while the three stooges boss Dai, Oscar, and Hongjun all struck out to look for trouble. I wasn't too sure this was a good idea, and I really wanted to go with them to keep the peace but, eh. They were old enough to make their own decisions. Given Zhuqing was engaged to boss Dai, he probably at least had some noble blood in him, hopefully that's enough for his head to not go up his ass too far.
And that's basically how it happened that I had two pretty girls accompany me to the library. We walked along the cobblestone lined road, me with a flower in each hand.
"Little brother," Zhuqing said. I had to do a double-take just to be sure it really was her talking. "This idea of yours about self-created abilities, how far along do you believe you are?"
Rongrong was also staring at her.
"Ah, well." I cleared my throat. "Consider how spirit abilities stemmed from our spirit rings, and consider as well that spirit beasts were capable of making use of their spirit power to produce various effects." Really, a rabbit that could teleport. It didn't get crazier than that. "It stands to reason that most of the feats spirit beasts are able to do are likely because of their spirit power." Even if it threw biology and physics and chemistry up for a loop. "This then means that the sharpness of a Jeweled Daffodil Mantis's forearms are likely a consequence of spirit power, or the lightning from a Thunder Heart Moth, and even the acid of the Acid Snare Ant."
"And what of their natures?" Zhuqing said. "Is it not simply their nature to have lightning or these blades on their arms?"
Well, to be fair she actually had a point. Electric eels were a thing, and so too did mantises really have some sort of cutting edge to their carapaces. Probably. "Perhaps, but for now I'm supposing that my idea is correct."
"Why would you believe yourself correct?" Rongrong said with a frown. "It's not as if you actually know whether this is true."
"That's correct, but if in case I find some way to verify I am correct, then I will be able to confirm my first belief."
She hummed. "And what if you're wrong?"
"Then I think about something else to verify after being incorrect and rebuild my belief. Then I try to verify that again, and keep repeating this process until I am sure of what I'd found out."
"I see," Zhuqing said. "So it's not about being right, but finding what is right?"
"Yes!" I waved my hands about. "Right, so spirit beasts perform all their feats with spirit energy. If this is true, then how do spirit beasts learn to make use of spirit energy? And how is it that they learn how to cultivate as well?"
"But you are thinking that spirit beasts actually cultivate instead of simply live?" Rongrong pursed her lips.
"That, hmm…" She had another point there. "We're getting side tracked, I'll think about that one at a later date."
Rongrong rolled her eyes and gestured for me to go on.
"Okay, so spirit beasts for some reason learn spirit abilities, and for example let's consider the Man-faced Demon Spider, how many spirit abilities can we maybe say it has?"
Zhuqing spoke up, "I can only think of its eight legs, since Oscar received some sort of ability that had a relation to the number eight, and I believe its strength? Since Oscar is also able to give us a boost to our spirit power?"
Rongrong poked her cheek. "There's also the poison in Oscar's spider lances."
Actually, shouldn't the spider's poison be affecting Oscar's Sausage? Uncle did say that the Man-faced Demon Spider had a ferocious poison, well whatever. "That's three so far, the spider-legs, the strength, and the poison. However, we can keep stretching this idea, and I'll add in some things as well from what uncle knows. The spider is also capable of shooting out a web to catch its prey with, and then it is also well known for being a ferocious predator that would eat anything weaker than it." And now that I considered it, that spider could have been a good match with me, and maybe even gave me that spirit bone thing Oscar got.
That kinda sucked.
"So around six abilities?" Zhuqing said.
"Yeah, but how many did Oscar get?"
Rongrong raised an eyebrow. "One." She rubbed her chin. "This does interest me." The girl smiled. "I believe this is relevant, but my uncle Sword once told me the legend surrounding hundred thousand year spirit beasts."
I choked on air.
"Little brother?" Zhuqing rubbed my back.
Rongrong looked at me weird but continued, "My uncle Sword said before that hundred thousand year spirit rings would give two abilities, not just one. So your theory has merit, I believe."
"Assuming hundred thousand year rings really did give two abilities, then yeah. And both of those abilities should be a trait of the spirit beast before they became a spirit ring." Or a person. What sort of bullshit ability was teleportation anyway?! Xiao Wu was a freakin' rabbit. Wait… if I got a spirit beast that could teleport, I think it'd be pretty cool if I could teleport to anywhere within my domain or something, but it'll likely be an agility type ability just like how Xiao Wu was an agility type spirit master.
"So spirit beasts have multiple spirit abilities, what then?" Rongrong tilted her head.
Zhuqing widened her eyes. "Where did they get those abilities then?"
I shot her with a pair of finger guns.
"What?" Rongrong said.
I hung my head. "But yes, where did they get those abilities. Going back to Zhuqing saying it was part of their natures, fine, let's say that was true. So spirit beasts by their very nature are able to learn abilities on their own."
The two nodded.
"So what about our spirits?" I was gonna ignore for now the implication that there existed sentient hammers and living mini buildings with seven floors. "Isn't it that spirit beasts, could also be a person's beast spirit?"
Zhuqing frowned. "People's spirits have their own abilities? But then what's the point of getting spirit rings? And how is it that our spirit powers cannot advanced without a spirit ring?"
Probably some malicious intelligence did that to punish spirit beasts in general? No one needed to hear that crazy ass theory just yet. "Not necessarily, but I think it is possible people can learn the original abilities that their spirits possess without having to have spirit rings."
"And what about us with tool spirits?" Rongrong puffed a cheek.
"That's the problem with my theory." I scratched my head. "I don't think I've ever seen a living hammer or living seven treasure glazed tile pagoda."
"And that's why you wish to head to the library?" Zhuqing said.
"Exactly!" Actually I was also planning to look up anything I can on any legends about spirit beasts or maybe any mythology or legends, anything really that could shed light on all this strangeness. How was it that people even discovered they needed to absorb the souls of other creatures anyway? What sort of caveman would figure out how to perform cultivation and get the bright idea to kill a spirit beast and meditate to get the spirit ring? It was all too smart and designed of a system for it to be anything natural.
Had it been natural, I was expecting some sort of automatic resonance between spirits and a sort of devouring sort of manner of absorbing strength instead. I'd already done something like that before after all, absorbing the energy of a few ten year spirit rings and feeding them into me.
But that wasn't how things were happening.
We eventually reached the library with the sun still high above us. There was a place nearby and removed from the main building that served food so me and the girls got a few things to go. While we ate I kept up that exercise of filling up my hand to capacity and making it glow, after which I'd reabsorb the spirit energy then make use of my Crown's second ability to try and siphon spirit power from it and charge my hand up with lightning.
Heh, that'd be a nasty surprise I bet.
Rongrong was eating her meat bun in peace and Zhuqing was just as graceful with admanipulating her chopsticks to bring the rice up to her delicate lips. We had a few dishes to share like some stir fried beef and roasted chicken and some veggies. I also had a bowl of noodles for me with a pork based broth.
I then shaped my Domain into a small ball and I grasped at the non-solid volume with my hand before saturating it with electricity. Perhaps if I couldn't pull the spirit power directly from my spirit ring, then maybe I could pull it from the Domain.
Electricity crackled in my palm—but it wasn't my hand containing it, and neither was I able to remove the electricity from my Domain either. I sighed.
"Jin?" Rongrong said. "You're still trying to get spirit power from your ring?"
"Yeah, it's just so weird that I can't." However, a thought did occur. "Maybe if I pushed enough spirit power into my ring then it'd leak electricity that I can control?"
Zhuqing narrowed her eyes. "This is possible?"
I shrugged. "Only one way to find out."
A smarter person probably would've only tried this with adult supervision. But the thing was this was uncharted territory for everyone so it would've helped to have someone observing, but not by much. And besides, I'd already been able to absorb spirit power from a spirit ring anyway.
I retracted my Domain first to perform a quick test. I used my second ability without letting it seep into my Domain—then turned on Devour and directed it onto my second ring. And the spirit power trickled back into me without issue. It actually brought up more questions about the nature of my abilities, but for now it'll have to do.
Zhuqing and Rongrong had both stopped their eating after I willed my second ring to stay in front of me.
I activated my second ability, and the ring started glowing. However, this time I didn't expand my Domain at all and instead pumped as much spirit power as I could into my second ability. The ring grew brighter without Interface displaying any major consumption.
It was strange to feel so much of my spirit power invested in my ring yet to not have it leak out. There were no signs of anything happening anytime soon and I was not experiencing anything negative either, so I kept pumping in more and more spirit power.
Then the usually purple glowing icon of Shock on Interface turned into a luminescent pink.
I stopped pushing spirit power into my second ability. I felt for any leaks or anomalies, and found none. That was probably a good sign. The pink glow stayed, and I could feel the spirit ring was heavier somehow, like its presence actually took up some part of my mind instead of just running in the background out of sight.
Another interesting point was how brightly my spirit ring was glowing now compared to normal. Enough for the two with me to squint their eyes, though the light from it didn't blind me.
"That's never happened before," I said.
Rongrong swallowed the food she was chewing and said, "It's the same for me."
"Me as well." Zhuqing resumed attacking her food.
I opened my Domain to a small circle above my hand and allowed my supercharged ring to color it.
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