"Okay." I slapped my thigh. "All this talk of godhood and divinity is really starting to throw me out for a loop."
All five of them looked at me liked I'd just swallowed a whole chicken, and the dim light stones in the room made their expressions look ghastly.
Grandpa Lin wrinkled his nose. "Why would you toss out a ring in the first place?"
I waved a hand in front of me. "Not important." I put my hands together and splayed my fingers out. "Look, we're starting to talk about things we don't even have the power to consider right now." I took a deep breath. "San and I are so far away from the ninety-ninth rank that this doesn't seem all that important to discuss at the moment."
Grandpa Shan frowned. "To know as much on your enemy should be your first concern, little Jin."
"Eventually," I said. "But knowing who Qian Daoliu is now would only serve as some far off goal too hard to reach, and to compare myself right who is just at the cusp of the fortieth rank versus someone at just a step before godhood—and this is a whole big mess to talk about later on, believe me—would only serve to down my and San's spirits."
I mean who the hell even expected gods to be involved in all this crap anyway. And what sort of shit had to go down for something that bad to happen that bastards that should already be above mortal matters would get involved?! And why the hell were there these sorts of people in the first place anyway? If these gods, as they said, were indeed part of the cultivation system themselves… then who the hell came up with this broken ass system in the first place?
And obviously Spirit Beasts adhered to a different set of rules for cultivation, but for them to have the possibility to evolve into a person clearly showed favor to people. And yet spirit beasts were vastly stronger than people in general, so what the hell? This was shit balancing through and through!
"This is part of the reason we didn't wish to tell you so early." Grandpa dragged his hand down from his forehead to his chin.
And such a matter made sense, to be honest. To suddenly find out you were being groomed to fight a god wasn't a very pleasant revelation, and neither did it do any good for the butterflies that just decided to dick around in my guts.
"But you surprised us too much with what you did." Grandpa Shan widened his eyes as he said so. "The appearance of the Great Sumeru Hammer is just that important. And if what you did earlier wasn't the clan's proudest method, then what was it then?"
San brought his hand up to his chin. "Little Jin, could you maybe show us again what you did?"
"I think so?" I waved my hand about parallel to the ground. "But what I'm more concerned with is whether I was damaging my spirit rings or not." Not only was there a possibility of my cultivation dropping down due to the decrease in rings, but it could also spell some sort of irreparable damage that would forever plague my spirits or me.
"If the first use didn't kill you," grandpa Lin said, "then you can rest assured what you did won't do so the second time."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Yeah, no, that's not how probabilities work."
"But didn't you say your cultivation rose by a rank after you did so?" San said. "I am curious myself how you were able to achieve so, a rank is nothing to scoff at our age and cultivation." He put on a lopsided smile and scratched his cheek, and I swear I heard Wu's heart drop. "I'm starting to feel my cultivation slow down myself."
I messaged my temples. "You guys are asking me to risk my life and cultivation for this."
Wu shook her head. "You've been risking your life and cultivation long before this happened, little Jin."
I facepalmed. "You're not wrong." I put a finger up. "But that's a different matter since those were under controlled conditions."
"And this is no different." Wu shrugged.
I rolled my eyes. Well, it was still worth a shot after all to see if I could replicate what I did. I started stockpiling spirit power into my whole body. "Fine. But this could get really loud."
"We can go outside to the forest," grandpa Lin said. "The cover of trees ought to obscure us from view and any sounds you make can easily be blamed on someone else training in the dead of night."
"It helps that that Blue Tyrant Academy is expanding their land," grandpa Shan added.
We all went out of our little fort in the woods and didn't bother much with sticking to any path. Auntie, like uncle Xiaogang, was finally able to cultivate her spirit after making use of my cultivation method and at least now had a spirit ring to her name compared to before so everyone in our group didn't meet too much trouble with the road not taken—since there was none to begind with.
Her spirit, the Crystal-Clear Bell, was similar to my Amber Crown in that it too possessed an innate Domain, but where before it was something she could only use to diffuse tense situations with, now it was more akin to the Seven Treasure Glazed Tile Pagoda in that it could also boost attributes plus a few other things. Her first ring, after so many years of being stuck at the ninth rank, now allowed her to give inspiration to others on top of granting them increased spirit force and vitality.
Compared to Rongrong's purely battle oriented buffs, auntie's was more of a utility that had no set intention. However, it did help a lot with growing our financial empire in the background.
We kept going until we reached a clearing. It was a nice and quiet spot filled with knee height grass which San cleaned up with a quick sweep of his Swords, and by the time we reached the place, I was already glowing and more than enough to illuminate our way.
Grandpa Shan scratched his chin. "Don't you usually need your Crown to light up?"
Grandpa Lin huffed. "In all our long lives, this too is the first we'd seen of this."
"How… are you doing this?" Auntie poked me with a finger.
I didn't swat her touch away. "Long story short, I'm concentrating spirit power within my body."
"Jin showed us this a few days ago," Wu said. She raised her fist and it too slowly started glowing, although not to the same degree as the light I was giving out.
San gave his approval. "Little Jin, you've really come a long way from just a few days ago."
I shrugged. "If you count feeling as if you're immersed in the fires of hell, sure."
"Fire?" San tilted his head. "You mean to say the burning feeling you mentioned before is still there?"
I nodded. "Even now I feel like every inch of me is on fire." I examined my glowing hand, and if the light really was coming from within then I supposed I would've seen my blood vessels or something, or even my bones. But as it was, it was a uniform glow from my skin. So, maybe it was just my skin glowing?
San frowned and stepped up to me with his hands out. His dignified spirit energy permeated into my body in places, but where before it could seep in without issue, now there was some resistance. "Interesting," he said.
"Is he doing something bad?" Grandpa Shan stepped up to me and extended a hand, also sending out spirit power into me.
My current state likewise prevented too much from entering, and if the other times I felt it as a sort of large and moving presence, now it was like holding onto a sandwich tightly packed in plastic. I expected it to be less intrusive, but now there was a sort of springy kind of resistance.
"My spirit energy is not entering as I expect," grandpa Shan said. "Is it some sort of barrier?"
San had his hand to his chin. "I know of Big Dipper Qi, but this is not how it manifests…"
That was too specific of a term to ignore. "And this Big Dipper Qi is supposed to be used like a shield of sorts?"
"It is," he said. "But it does not produce a glow like you are doing. And before when it was just your hand, it didn't behave as it did now." He hummed. "What changed since then?"
"Maybe it's because I'm glowing everywhere?"
Grandpa Lin furrowed his brows. "Everywhere?"
I met his eyes and slowly said, "Everywhere."
It took Wu a second to process. "So… even down there?"
I gave her a nod.
"Although I'm sure there will be some who find that enticing," auntie said while shaking her head.
"The world is truly vast," grandpa Shan added.
Turns out fetishes were one of the universal hallmarks of human culture. "Besides that wonderful aside which no one needed to have to think of for any reason other than to confirm a curiosity that could've been left alone, are we doing this or what?"
I summoned my Crown and raised my hand high. Then with a great push, shoved everything of me and my entire glowing manifestation into my fist.
It lit up with the fury of the sun—well, not really, but bright enough to blind even me in this darkness—and the constant burn turned into a white hot pulse as I held the mass of power and light in my hand.
Earlier I pushed all that spirit power into my second ring directly, I wonder then what would happen if I pushed it all into a different ring. A different effect, most likely, though hopefully minus the explosion? Assuming of course it even worked.
They all stepped back.
"Go ahead," grandpa Lin said.
San, Wu, and auntie all got behind the two Titled Douluos.
Then from my fist to my first ring, I bridged the gap between my body and spirit ring and forced all that power through.
"That's not how the Great Sumeru Hammer is performed," grandpa Shan said.
My purple ring started growing larger and whiter by the moment in front of me as I awaited my strength from leaving, just like before. A moment passed and my knees buckled, but this time I was prepared and caught myself from the expenditure, then from Interface, my spirit power dropped to sixty percent compared to the forty with my second ring.
Wu shook her head, eyes wide and unblinking. "To push so much spirit power into an ability like that…"
"I never thought it possible myself," auntie added.
My now white ring cracked at the seams and burst forth with brilliant golden light—
—but the explosion never came. "Wait, what?"
I frowned, but then noticed the glowing blue outline on Devour's icon and the slowly trickling timer denoting the mode's remaining duration.
"Little Jin?" Grandpa Shan walked over to me with a puzzled look. "Didn't you say you were covered in lightning before?"
"About that." I ducked into my shoulders. "I already did it earlier with my second ring, so I figured to use it with another in the meantime?"
He rolled his eyes. "Weren't you the one complaining earlier about this possibly endangering your cultivation?"
I looked to the side. "Well, I figured abusing a spirit ring twice in one day would be bad?"
"Well?" Grandpa Lin approached with the others. "Your spirit ring exploded, but what happened?"
"At least we know it comes back," Wu added.
"I used my first ring," I said, "the one with Devour and the Wasp Bullet?" I summoned my Hammer and tried to activate my first ability, and like I expected before, my spirit ring's use was locked into the mode: which meant there was an effect right now I wasn't aware of currently occurring.
"Quick, tell me if there's anything strange about me?"
Wu sighed. "If you really insist, there's the fact you hadn't changed your bedding in years—"
"No, not like that!" I gestured to my entire person. "I meant with my body, like was I glowing or something?"
They all examined me and I turned in place to show off any possible tells of what was happening. I raised my hands, showed a bit more skin, even flipped my hair back and forth a few times just for kicks.
Auntie was the one to break the news. "Sorry, little Jin, but we didn't see much of anything."
The blue outline was still counting down, there was something we were missing.
San put a hand on my shoulder. "Worry not—"
He hopped away and shook his hand about, but a smile played on his lips. "You were extremely hot to the touch."
"Why thank you, cousin, but I don't think incest is a widely accepted thing and neither do I—"
Wu groaned and moved to kick me but San stopped her.
"I too want to hit him at times," San said, "but now is not one of them."
"Little San, you mentioned Jin was burning somehow?" Grandpa Shan laid a hand on my head.
And in came a surge of spirit power from where his hand touched. It was vast. So vast that I didn't know where best to put it or risk discovering the possibilities of making myself glow with another person's spirit power, and ended up cycling it through my chakras and into my Crown just like I did when I cultivated while moving by making use of my spirit power pool.
"Impressive," grandpa Shan said. "Little Jin is taking a voracious amount of spirit power from me, the likes I'd never felt from him before."
My cultivation bar had jumped when I activated it before on my second ring which brought me over the thirty-ninth rank, while this next activation brought me to the halfway point towards the fortieth, and even now it was inching closer and closer to the fortieth rank at such an amazing pace. This was a lot like a concentrated Devour activated on skin contact instead of via my Domain, so if it was anything to go by as a trend, then it meant I was applying to my body the effects of my Crown's abilities?
Which would probably mean getting covered in acid with my third ring… was it a good idea? Most likely not. Would it help my cultivation though? Definitely.
Grandpa Lin raised a brow but said nothing, choosing instead to lay a hand on my back—and another flow of surging power entered me. Without any second thoughts, I put all that spirit power into my cultivation, greedily sucking up everything I could from my grandpas while diverting portions of it to replenish my consumed spirit power pool. Spirit power was, after all, something the two of them could spare in droves where I'd dry up in a matter of seconds. I couldn't sense how much they had in them, but it was leagues upon leagues upon leagues greater than what anything I could ever output right now.
"You haven't taken this much spirit power from me this fast since I woke up your spirit," grandpa Lin said with a smile. "However, you mustn't make use of this haphazardly." He removed his hand from me and the torrential downpour lessened into a great flood. "It seems this ability you discovered compresses the effects of your domain."
"Indeed," grandpa Shan added, "it's not enough to make us old fools suffer, but anyone at around the same cultivation rank as you would find it difficult to resist this."
"Always a surprise," San said while shaking his head. "You always did learn rather fast."
"It's a perk of my Crown," I said. "Helps me think."
Grandpa Lin gave grandpa Shan a look and he too removed his hand. I wasn't gonna say no to already being two thirds of the way to rank forty, but I wasn't gonna push my luck either. It took time to properly assimilate spirit energy, and that was doubly true for spirit power taken instead of earned. Not that I cared much for however it was obtained, spirit power was still spirit power at the end of the day.
But if this improved my cultivation in the Treasure System Mimicry Environment…
"And yet it doesn't help your personality," Wu added with a sigh.
Auntie gave her a knowing nod. "I can't imagine what you go through spending so much time with him, little Wu."
The blue countdown had already gone through a third of the way. And judging from the time it took, this mode was maybe around eight or so minutes total compared to the ten of my second one.
"Grandpas, I also want to see about something. "I expanded my Domain to them. "Could you feel any drain from there?"
The two shook their heads. "No little Jin," grandpa Shan said.
So the mode didn't pass off the effects into my Domain.
I activated Shock.
"This is a touch more unpleasant now compared to before," grandpa Lin said. Electricity crackled within my light, but none of the sparks touched a single hair on their bodies. "I don't do well with a singed beard, little Jin, I hope you don't mind us grandpas resisting properly this time around."
I deactivated my ability. "So using this only prevents my use of the ring for anything else, but I could still use the others."
"How were you even able to do this?" Wu tilted her head, then summoned her spirit herself. Her one purple ring glowed and she shifted positions three meters away from where she stood. "I tried to put spirit power into my ring as well, but the moment I did then my teleportation activated."
The monster of a rabbit complained about getting nerfed from turning human. Which, really didn't make a lot of sense.
San summoned his spirit too, and one of his purple rings glowed. A moment later a White Sword grew out of the grass he'd released on his hand. "It seems I find it difficult myself."
I looked over at my grandpas.
"No little Jin, us Titled Douluos accidentally triggering our abilities here would only spell trouble for us all," grandpa Lin said.
"That's fair," I said.
Auntie shrugged and summoned a teensy little glass-like bell, her one ring floating behind her. "Might as well," she said.
Silver light poured out from her and when it touched me I felt my spirit power spike upwards together with my spirits. It was refreshing, to bathe in her light before, but now with her added ability, it was invigorating as well.
"I couldn't make it work the same way you did, little Jin," she said.
I raised a finger. "I think the first step to doing this is to be aware that spirit power must first enter the spirit ring before it can make use of our spirit power."
"Isn't that what we normally do anyway?" Auntie rested a palm against her cheek.
"Not exactly," I said.
"Little Jin said it was a series of events instead of a singular activation," San added. "And I believe this is a vastly different way of thinking compared to how we use abilities in the first place."
"Might be faster to show you," I said. The blue counter for this absorbing mode was still going strong—but I didn't notice a flow of energy inwards from the universe like with normal cultivation, maybe because I wasn't focusing on it? Perhaps.
I willed my second ring in front of me. "Right now, I'm not using my Domain. So if I put spirit power into my second ability…" The purple ring lit up. "Then the power has nowhere to go."
"Have you tried using this with your Hammer?" San asked. "It might be better to try it from there."
I was about to get to that some other time, but today was as good as any. "Sure, but please stand back again since I'll be using the Thunder Heart Strike."
I summoned my Hammer, and so far, there were no strange interactions between the current state of my first ring and this one. Spirit power already saturated my second ring, but not to the same point where I made it explode electricity like what happened with Zhuqing and Rongrong.
My Hammer appeared, but it did not get charged with electricity like a normal activation.
"How?" Wu was looking at my glowing purple ring.
"It's clear to me, I guess, that things cannot happen unless they are one after the other." There are after all some quantum states where things happened at the same time due to some underlying physics stuff outside of classical mechanics, but I wasn't going down that rabbit hole. "Cause and effect."
San hummed. "You are saying this is a form of karma?"
"I'm sorry, what?"
He pursed his lips. "You said that things happen because of previous things. So, karma. The effect of one's previous actions on their current one, yes?"
I scratched my head. That just went a way deeper level than I initially wanted it to but, "Yeah, sure. Karma."
I then touched my Hammer's face to the ground. And still nothing happened. And only then did I release my hold on my spirit ring as electricity surged outwards and the ground exploded with overturned earth and singed grass.
"I try to practice control not just over how I can use my abilities, but also in how my abilities work."
"So you are able to separate activating your abilities from using them…" Grandpa Lin stroked his beard. "I can at least see the merit of it somewhat."
"Actually," I said, "there was one more use of spirit rings I sort of discovered?"
"Oh," grandpa Shan said. "Our little genius had more?"
"Didn't I already mention it though?"
San crossed his arms. "I believe this is the one related to what happened with Rongrong?"
Auntie shook her head and Wu sighed.
"It is," I said. "I was able to take this charging step and improve upon it to the point of increasing the power of my abilities."
They all nodded.
"And I'm able to do so by giving my spirit ring more spirit power than it needs to activate my ability."
Auntie paused for a bit and blinked. "And how is this different from how you exploding your spirit ring earlier?"
"For one it doesn't explode the spirit ring."
"Ah," she said. "Please then."
Curious to find out that charging beforehand worked with my Hammer, the next logical step was to overcharge my ring and try it. The first step was to charge up my ring, and the same unmistakable glow of purple lit up the clearing.
Next came the supercharging part.
I pushed in more and more spirit power, and the main difference with the activation of that mode style of using my spirit ability was it made use of a whole lot more spirit power than an ability did. My ring started from a brilliant purple glow to a now blinding pink light.
When I couldn't push any more in is when I stopped and raised my Hammer high. "I don't know what'll happen after this."
The three got behind our grandpas.
"Ready when you are," grandpa Shan said.
"And at least swing it away from us over here," grandpa Lin added.
"Ah, right." I faced my back to the five of them.
After unlocking the seals on my spirit rings, the consumption of the abilities had increased in efficiency but not in terms of cost. Activating them still cost an arm and a leg, but at least now I was getting a whole lot more bang for my buck—as to how much bang though was a question up in the air. "Here goes nothing!"
I unleashed the supercharge the moment my Hammer hit the ground.
As a mass of crackling lightning roared out like a wave in front of me and burned and upturned trees where they passed with the force of the explosion.
It kept going for a few meters before dying out and exploding some more.
I couldn't help but laugh out loud. "I didn't expect that!"
Then a fist came out of nowhere and hit me in the noggin, driving me into the ground. "What sort of idiot makes a racket in the dead of night and blows up an old lady's house, huh?!"
I looked up and the solid steel hit had come from a woman covered in fire and sporting a very sour expression. She grabbed me by the lapels of my robe and lifted me off the ground and shook my ass silly. "What the fuck, you're just a shitty kid?!"
My grandpas brought out their Hammers—but the lady didn't even flinch, she gave them a stare that would've turned milk into two parts yogurt and one part cheese.
That's when auntie poked her head out and gasped. "Oh my," she said, "I didn't know you lived close by miss Erlong!"
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