The explosion of fire and lighting flung me hard against the trees.
My body crashed clean through a trunk and slammed against another one behind it, pushing all the air out of my lungs, then I fell like a log against gnarled roots and grass. I was hurt, but not in pain. Not all physical at least.
I raised my head and took all that destruction in: the bed I'd travelled with over the years, all my little knickknacks and even the explosives I'd so carefully stockpiled all went up in a grand spectacle of light.
All because I'd been too annoyed to think about how I should've proceeded with handling that unknown situation. It was an eye opening experience. Interface had a few minor alarms notifying of some few bruises and cuts, but nothing a solid night of cultivation wouldn't fix.
I got up without issue, though I was still pretty numb from having just bathed in metaphorical fire. My spirit power had taken a big hit and I was only at around forty or so left. I wiped the mud off my face, my hand crackling with electricity frying some of the wet earth dry.
I stopped and stared at the sparks dancing over my skin.
I pushed both hands away from my body and turned them over and under, unsure of what I'd seen and yet here I was covered in a layer of electricity somehow. I pulled my sleeves over my arms, and everywhere I looked my skin had writhing little snakes make their way back and forth. I pulled up my pant legs, looked down the opening of my robes, even checked down there, everywhere crackled. Everywhere. My spirit power wasn't going any lower, and the icon for Shock was now a brilliant blue.
Somehow or another, I'd ended up doing something.
But the thing was, I now only had two spirit rings floating about. I might've shit out all my guts just then as something cold gripped my heart. I just destroyed my spirit ring! And it was from overloading it with spirit power of all things.
That's when the numbness gave way to a grounding sensation, as if my entire body was vibrating—and thankfully there weren't any bad things going off in Interface. What changed, however, was now a faint outline of blue all around the indicator for my body. I touched my face, and for lack of a better word, made ripples move about my skin as I moved. A little part at the back of my head jumped for joy at the discovery, but a bigger part was freaking out from what had just transpired.
I just destroyed a spirit ring—and thankfully my cultivation was still intact at… thirty-nine. I actually just broke through the thirty-ninth rank just then, but at what cost? Was I going to need another spirit ring? Would I also need to try and get another lightning element based one to make up for the hole in my configuration?
I slapped my cheeks with both hands, and sparks flew from where they hit. I'd already chosen my curiosity over my possessions, and the pain now in my heart was my fault because of that. Or at least I hoped it wasn't literal. The damned ring did come from a moth whose scales, could after all, stop hearts from pumping.
I placed a hand over my chest and didn't feel anything out of the ordinary, just like my Interface said. Good. My priorities now were to get back whatever I could recover.
I expanded my Domain over the wreckage to check for anything to salvage, and save for the ores I'd been stockpiling for San as well as the Hidden Weapons he'd made for me, not much else survived. My vibrating body couldn't distract me enough from the sorrow of all that history lost.
My fingers went stiff—not from electricity but from the blood receding. My heart slowed in time as the ringing in my ears came to a crescendo.
I slapped myself again to focus on the now. As much as I wanted to cry over the memories associated with my stuff, that wasn't going to solve anything. All those years, and all that attachment to the things I'd come to call my own more than my home or the things I had, well, it wasn't easy.
But I'd grieve later on after I saw this shit storm through to the end.
I recalled all that into my ring without any problems. The earlier mishap of bringing everything out must've been due to how much spirit power was saturating my body. Summoning items from my ring took spirit power, albeit a negligible amount, and I guess reversing that process—that is, using more than needed—had the unintended effect of making all that spill out.
That was, annoying.
I retracted my Domain and tried to turn off my spirit power, but the blue coloring of Shock's icon wouldn't go away. Was that good? Probably not. But at least I wasn't bleeding spirit power. I retracted my Crown in the hopes of making it stop, but save for the icon in Interface greying out the crown indicator, I was still covered in electricity.
With hope, whatever I did wasn't permanent. Making a joke of myself for having a shocking personality would get old real fast, and if I really were covered in electricity, then getting frisky would be the least of my worries. At least there ought to be a way to control this somehow. I reinforced myself with spirit power and the electricity crackled louder. That was a good sign. I thinned my spirit power and had it all enter my Crown, and the vibrating feeling receded.
I had some rudimentary control. That was better than most of the shit I ended up pulling off every now and then. With that, I refilled myself with spirit power and made a mad—
—dash into the ground.
That, might not be good. I checked my body again for any issues with Interface, and again there was nothing out of the ordinary save for the blue glow. And if I were more savvy, I'd have said something stupid like my body was moving faster than my mind could process just like all the cliché electricity powers all them anime characters used.
I got up without a hitch, and put one foot in front of the other.
One step done. I took another. Then another. And it made me feel stupid to think all this was exactly how I might've expected a shounen protagonist to discover a new power-up.
I put power into my legs and stepped forward to run, but the next few steps after went haywire and I ended up kicking against the ground and sending myself upwards into the canopy of the sizeable forest within campus grounds.
I reached out to grab a branch but my hand shot out too fast and obliterated my handhold.
Before falling back down to the ground and flat on my face.
Near fortieth rank spirit power was pretty good, all things considered. The sturdiness of my body was a lot better now, enough at least to avoid any injuries from any stupid shenanigans like these, but that didn't solve my lack of a spirit ring nor did it do anything for the electricity riddling my body. Call it morbid then how I was now regretting what I'd been trying to do so hard over the past few days.
Or was that irony? Did it matter though if I fucked up pretty hard?
I pulled my face out of the ground for the third time in just the span of a few minutes.
Okay, so those stupid things just now were the very hallmarks of the cliché electricity based power ups making someone move faster than they could think. And no self-respecting geek would ever deny how cool that would be if it were actually true. I covered myself in my Domain to give myself as much of a boost to my perception as I could—and went forward again as hard as I had to.
Before blazing through the forest under the light of my Crown and to the beat of a very very very energized bunny. My feet were a blur beneath me and yet I knew I was seeing the image of my legs moving clear as day. The ground rushed like a dull greenish brown and yet each leaf and root and branch passed frame by frame in my eyes.
I took to the trees fast enough for gravity to almost have forgotten to make me go down, and in that span of time I'd already kicked off a few trees before landing back on the ground without taking any hits to my pace.
I concentrated the electricity riddling my body into my hand, and from there all that power writhing about my body concentrated into a chirping surging mass of light.
Did I really just find a goddamn super mode?
The way back to the dorms was a quick affair—though I made a spectacle of myself running through the treetops and cobblestones where applicable while leaving behind a trail of sparks. This entire thing was lasting pretty long, and now that I saw it, the blue highlight of Shock—but not Thunder Heart Strike—was slowly running out and was about two-thirds of the way now. Which meant it was a timer, most likely, and that this thing was gonna last for some nine minutes give or take.
This thing I had going on was likely non-permanent. But that didn't mean I automatically wouldn't need a new ring. Every now and then I'd need to remind myself with a slap not to panic. I'd been through worse before, and this was a whole lot more manageable than the grass incident.
I had my doubts on whether San or uncle Xiaogang would know about what just happened, but they were the next best things to an expert I had close by.
I arrived at our down and opened the door, my hand burning a few tracks against the heavy wood.
"Are you there, cousin?"
Instead I saw Hongjun with a bowl of noodles.
"Little Jin?" He squinted at me. "Why are you covered in electricity?"
"Not enough time, blew up my spirit ring, I need San or uncle Xiaogang."
He shook his head, not really sure of what to say.
"I need to know where they are."
He stared at me with wide eyes and mouth agape before getting back the sense to say, "Third brother is likely going around exploring with Xiao Wu, and I wouldn't know where to begin with Grandmaster?"
I clicked my tongue. "Thank you. I'll be right back."
"Wait for me!"—
I didn't bother with him since he'd only slow me down. If I did try to go for my grandpas, then this mode could already be over by then but then I'd end up a spectacle going through the streets, and if I took to the outskirts of the city and made my way around to the area of the Blue Tyrant Academy then it'd take too long and this all could run out and I might end up unable to move or something.
The next best thing then was to get a teacher—preferably one from Shrek and have them bring me to the Moon Pavilion. Or, shit. Whatever. I just needed to do something quick.
I ran straight for the house allotted to our teachers and passed student after student with the wind pelting my face strong enough to sweep my blond hair back and my robes to whistle in my wake.
Call it luck then how I came face to face with senior Ming and his students.
"Little Jin?" Senior Ming had a chiding look. "It's dangerous to be going around with your spirit ability in use like that."
I didn't bother with any formalities or anything. "No senior, I did something I didn't expect and now I'm missing a spirit ring. I need help. Please, it is of the utmost importance."
"Missing a spirit ring?" Dugu Yan said with a scrunched up face.
Senior Ming frowned. "I had never encountered such a situation before, but if junior feels it serious, then senior will help. What can I do?"
The blue icon was running out, and I didn't know if that was a good or bad thing. "I need help with finding Grandmaster, and I unfortunately don't know where he is."
Tianheng went close to me with one hand out. "This… this is not one of your spirit abilities…"
I met his eyes. "No. No it is not."
Senior Ming put a hand up to his chin. "Senior Meng Shen Ji took the new teachers out to meet the other affiliated groups connected to our academy, so I also don't know where your uncle might be specifically, but perhaps if we took you to the board of directors then they might know of something?"
Shit. But, it's not like I had anything to hide from those old men, and all my impressions of them so far were great. "That could help, yes."
Tianheng kneeled close to me. "Whatever it is you're doing is so remarkably close to when members of our clan first awaken the spirit of the Blue Lightning Tyrant Dragon."
I face palmed. "Are you implying I'm related to—you know what, we can talk about this later." I turned to senior Ming. "Junior will not be polite for now since he is not sure if his life is in danger. Could you please take junior to the board of directors first?"
Tianheng summoned his spirit, three spirit rings floated up behind him and his right hand turned into a large dragon arm easily as large as him. As for how he kept his balance was a miracle in and of itself. "I can carry you there," he said. "Our clans members usually end up unintentionally discharging electricity like you are now, and it would hurt others if they touched you."
I gave him a proper bow. "Thank you for your offer, but I believe it is faster if I run together with you, I just need you to lead the way."
Dugu Yan scowled before stepping up to Tianheng's side. "Such an impertinent brat, you dare make demands and now even refuse our good will while you are asking for help?"
Senior Ming raised his arm to stop her from going further.
I reinforced my body with spirit power and made the constant crackling into a ferocious hiss. "You can try and defeat me later if you really feel the need to teach me a lesson, but for now, the less of a burden I am the faster I might find a solution to my predicament." I gave her a bow as well. "Believe me I really am sorry about the way I'm acting now, but time is of the essence."
Senior Ming cleared his throat. "The board of education resides in a small house nearest to the Treasure System Mimicry Environment since it is a quiet and rarely disturbed place. Unless there is some special function today, which I have not heard of, then they will surely be there."
I wiped my hand down my face—the electricity arcing where skin touched skin. The sparks they made didn't hurt me, thankfully, but the sound was starting to get annoying.
Senior Ming was puzzled. "Little Jin?"
"No, don't mind it, I know the way to there." I looked up at him. "Do you know where specifically?"
"Err, you should be able to find a paved path somewhere behind the hill."
I gave them all another bow. "I'll pay this debt back later, but I believe it is faster if I make my way there alone for now."
Osler and Yu Feng, the background characters that they were showed indignity at my words, and likewise did Dugu Yan. At least senior Ming was gracious enough to not take it as an insult.
"Fine then," Dugu Yan said, "see if us seniors of yours can't keep up."
I didn't have time for this. "Alright."
I pushed spirit power into my legs and the electricity started arcing for the ground, and this made the blue timer run out faster—leaving me now with an approximate five or so minutes. Then I covered myself in my Domain and ran back to where I just came from.
I chanced a look back and saw Osler and Yu Feng easily keeping pace with me—but the others long left behind.
"Weren't you supposed to be a power attack system tool master?" Osler was smirking.
But Yu Feng was just downright confused. "And what did you do with your ring anyway?"
I pointed at the two floating purple rings. "Blew one up, now I'm spewing electricity everywhere."
Something flashed through Osler's expression. "Blow… up?"
I mimed something exploding with my hands.
"Is this a normal everyday thing for you?" Yu Feng said with a grimace.
The three of us arrived at the destroyed clearing, and just like senior Ming said, just a few steps away from there and we found the stone path. And lo and behold there was Bai Baishan looking in wonder at the destroyed clearing and a little upset by the terse line his mouth made.
"This was also you?" Osler's gaze was fixed on the mess that used to be my bedding and the small wooden hut I'd often used for camping out with my grandpas on the road.
"You?" Bai Baishan looked at me with a dumb expression.
"Oops?" Yu Feng cringed.
"Yes," I said. "I was doing an experiment with my spirit power and ended up doing this." I gestured at what happened. "And now I'm covered in electricity and missing a spirit ring."
Bai Baishan shook his head and looked at my like I just grew a second head. "Missing a spirit ring? Electricity?"
Osler nudged me with his elbow then yelped when the electricity arced against his skin. He rubbed the part that got zapped.
Bai Baishan put on a chiding look. "It's dangerous to run around while using you spirit abilities."
I rolled my eyes, then willed my two spirit rings in front of me.
"Weren't you at the thirty-eighth rank?" He scratched his head. "And shouldn't you have three purple rings?"
"I blew it up."
His eyes turned to slits, his mouth likewise now a line. "You… what?"
"I put in too much spirit power into my spirit ring and then it exploded and now I'm covered in electricity." I placed both hands palms facing each other and electricity arced between the two surfaces.
My shoulders dropped. None of these people were getting what had happened and it was a bad move on my part to even hope I was gonna get anything from them. I didn't blame them that bad for their not knowing, but it was still disappointing to not have anyone to talk to about this predicament. And the next best thing I could think of now was to go to my grandpas—but I needed to be able to show my grandpas what had happened to me before recounting these harrowing after effects. Was I gonna make it there without this electricity thing running out?
I wasn't sure.
I shook my head. And to ask these people for help with bringing me to the Moon Pavilion was just as bad. I may trust them somewhat, but I'd have to deal with the consequences of making this tidbit known about me, and with Tianheng and his team finding out about this later on, it wasn't gonna take a genius to put two and two together that Tang Yuehua was an actual Tang of the Clear Sky Sect. I couldn't put my auntie in that situation and neither could I raise that risk to the sect. The roots of spirit hall ran deep, and to open the possibility of a confrontation anytime soon was to spell our doom.
Senior Ming arrived just then. He gave Bai Baishan a respectful bow and said, "Greetings senior." He turned to me. "Little Jin, I've sent the others to try and look for Grandmaster or Tang San.
"Teacher Qin," Bai Baishan said, "I am terribly confused by all that is happening right now, might you be able to explain more?"
There was also the option of using one of my flares—which got destroyed in that explosion just now. I face palmed. Fuck. And the blue counter was now down to just a third of the way. At least I didn't feel anything horrible, and neither did I feel a roiling rage of spirit power coursing through my body and destroying it from the inside. Those were good things, but having a second opinion was still something.
But without anyone else to rely on right now, I only had me.
I slapped some sense back into my cheeks. Now wasn't the time to panic, and all I could do was to resolve myself for the consequences that came with this. It was my fault in the first place, and to drag these clueless people in any further was only going to frustrate me more and more.
I gave all of them there a bow. "Seniors, this much help is already more than enough, if any of you are indeed able to find Tang San or Grandmaster, please tell them I will be waiting by our dorms. I will do what I can to deal with my situation."
Bai Baishan shook his head. "What face would this senior have if he couldn't help his junior in his time of need. Let me know how I can help, and if it is within my power, I shall do so. We can discuss the details of this matter later."
I dropped my shoulders. I was… resigned to the fate I unknowingly wrought upon myself and resolved now to face what consequences they bore. "I don't know either, unless you've heard before of someone making their spirit ring explode, then there's nothing else I can think of."
Senior Ming stepped up to me. "You are… afraid?"
I looked up to him and sighed. "Well, yes. It is a rather harrowing experience to see that."
"But that speed of yours just now was nowhere near close to what a tool spirit master should be able to do!" Senior Ming's eyes sparkled. "I believe there is nothing to fear, otherwise, this benefit was most likely a blessing instead."
I shook my head. "I've been in this sort of unexpected situation before, and not all of the outcomes were good."
Bai Baishan widened his eyes. "I-I've never even heard of such a matter before," he said with a smile. "A genius who forges his own path, truly, a junior worthy of respect."
Praise wasn't going to reassure me of my fears. "Then a quiet place where I can stay in while waiting for Tang San or Grandmaster would be for the best." I gave them another bow. The vibration of my limbs reminded me of that night so long ago where my own spirit energy almost killed me.
"Little Jin!" uncle Xiaogang burst in through the large door of the cave I was in while riding San Pao. "Are you alright?"
Every inch of the cave was covered in my Domain, and all this while I'd been cultivating while wholly focused on my condition. The icon for Shock had returned to its usual dull pink when not in use, and over time my purple ring slowly reformed, thinner at first both in thickness and color, but the more I cultivated the more its color regained its vibrant purple and the thickness of it matched up with my other rings.
"I'm alright, uncle." I still had my eyes closed so I could focus on regaining the spirit power I'd lost earlier, and the inflow was so great here in this cave that part of the energy I was taking in I could even spare to put into my cultivation.
He got off San Pao and retracted his spirit. I didn't need to see to know, him being in my light was enough for me to perceive. "You… are cultivating?"
"Yes, and this treasure system mimicry environment is doing wonders for my Crown." The very moment I stepped into here and my Crown trembled in anticipation, it was like meeting an old friend. It was possibly a quirk of absorbing the queen ant's ring, or maybe my Crown really was a treasure system. And how the hell did a mimicry environment work anyway? Just because there was a lot of something in an area didn't necessarily have to mean that it would be, like, I don't know, more conceptually reinforced? If that was even a thing? Or was it that mimicry environments filled the area with a specific kind of spirit energy? Which wasn't a bad assumption, but then it'd mean that even inanimate objects could transform spirit energy in the air?
Again, more questions than answers and I hadn't even finished answering the ones I already imposed upon myself.
He put a hand to his head. "How are you speaking?"
"Your attention should be fully focused on your cultivation."
It was kind of annoying how my perception with my Domain still wasn't enough to feel someone's facial expressions out, but that was a strange statement to make. "I mean, okay, I haven't been able to do this before either, but why wouldn't it be something impossible?"
Uncle shook his head. "Right," he said. "And what was this about exploding spirit rings?"
I recounted to him the events that led up to my ending up here, sparing no detail down to my losing of my treasures. The story was cathartic, and allowed me to better appreciate my loss from a more detached manner. My attachment to my bed in particular was a difficult one to process, and the burnt and broken remains of it still haunted my thoughts even after a few hours had already passed.
"Little Jin, I believe this obsession of yours with your bed and its removal was for the best."
"No uncle, you don't understand, I'd had that bed for so long already."
"And how many years has it been since you last changed the sheets on those?"
Nobody needed to know.
"So I was able to push in spirit power that exceeded the capacity of my spirit ring."
"You haven't answered the question."
"I was also successful with an earlier experiment, but this one only caused my spirit ring to change to a brighter color, but the application was somewhat the same."
Uncle sighed. "Fine, fine. You said you were able to add more spirit power than normal, and how was it that you were even able to say what was normal? Wouldn't your use of spirit power be automatic the moment you use your ability?"
"What I did was to activate my ability without using it. And from there put in more and more spirit power like I do with my body."
Slowly, my cultivation rose towards the fortieth rank.
"You activate your ability… without using it?" He put a hand to his chin. "Can you describe how that works?"
That… was an interesting question. "I will my spirit power to power my ability, but do not allow it to come to execution? If that makes sense? It's the same idea as holding one's breath, except with spirit power and a spirit ring."
"You can control that?"
"Interesting. A spirit ability is simply that which one is able to do, as for whether one could prevent it from activating or not was always a matter of how much spirit power one had left."
The resonance of this place with my spirit was uncanny, to the point that I felt… one here, like I belonged. It was jarring. "And I'd always seen it as something strange since a spirit ring would just magically change spirit power from one manner to another, and one that is completely unlike but conceptually similar to something related to one's spirit."
Uncle hummed. "So you see it as?"
"I'd always seen everything as a byproduct of cause and effect, and that was always what bothered me. I never understood the underlying cause of what allowed spirit rings to do what they did, and even so simple as how did spirit rings even contain the information and transformational instructions to perform what they did."
"I'm not sure now where you are trying to take this, little Jin."
"I've been thinking," I said. "If spirit beasts' souls really do get dispersed after they are killed."
"We've never had to deal with this matter before," he said, "but seeing how you are likely going to be taking a ten thousand year ring as your next one, I feel it is appropriate to inform you earlier."
"What, that black spirit rings can fight back?"
"Actually," he said with a chuckle, "yes. They can. It's called Soul Shock, and it arises from the resentment of a spirit beast who was slain, and this they do is their last act of spite for the one that slayed them."
And it makes sense that anything alive would indeed resent getting killed. I couldn't even begin to imagine being treated as an object purely for the benefit of another, and to be so commodified even as to be a stepping stone for someone else… wasn't it simply too cruel of a fate for spirit beasts? "So they fight back, and they are aware that someone would indeed try to take their ring—soul from them?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
Uncle shrugged. "It's how it's always been."
I opened my eyes and saw the three spirit rings floating around me. Was I also going to be just another slave to the system? And it made it more ominous now how I was actually living together with someone who used to be a spirit beast—and even had to contribute to the death of some of her kin. Well, not literally, but still. It wouldn't sit well with me if I had to witness someone butcher another human being, but as I am now, what other choice did I have? And I couldn't exactly just make people stop taking spirit rings altogether, perhaps it was simply a dog eat dog kind of world? Which didn't make it any better, but…
This… I didn't want to know about this.
"Little Jin… are you crying?"
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