"Lady Yuehua?" The person called Erlong said. She didn't drop me though so my feet just dangled in the air. It was emancipating, but it wasn't wholly unpleasant. The fires covering her person entered me as a fierce and bright red, and since I still had on my Crown, I got an up close and personal examination of the person holding me up.
Erlong had her black hair done up in a high ponytail. She wore a soft green tunic that showed off the softness of her curves and subtle lines, and her cheeks were full and her nose sharp. The lady had no wrinkles, and her lips were lusciously filled among other things. That stern look and those deep black eyes just made me want to hear her say my name with a scowl. Her arms were slender and her fingertips a little rough, but the power behind them hinted she was likely a beast spirit master.
She was real damn pretty for someone who called herself old too. Not that she looked a day over twenty.
More and more of her spirit power was entering me, and the view coupled with the boost to my cultivation was rather welcome.
We were in the middle of the forest at night surrounded by destroyed lumber and burning wood and in a Mexican stand-off to boot with her hanging onto me and my grandpas ready to turn her into paste at any given moment. San and Wu were behind them, and auntie was poking her head out from between the Titled Douluo.
I was at her mercy, and in some corner of my mind I should've been more afraid, but given the discussions between me and auntie, the Liu Erlong she knew didn't seem to bear any hostilities with our sect specifically. That, and I also liked what she was doing with her academy, so I was rather in favor—not counting her good looks—of an amiable relationship with her in the future. Not that kind of relationship, but I wasn't closing that door off just yet.
Grandpa Shan shifted his grip on his spirit. "Please put the idiot down."
Grandpa Lin followed suit as his spirit power started to fill the air and his Hammer took on a faint blue glow.
Erlong had a presence that dared confront two Titled Douluos without batting an eyelash, but even she had to defer to absolute power. She was shaking just the tiniest fraction, and her pupils twitched every now and then, it was all so clear to the me wearing my Crown.
And yet despite that she still stared grandpa Shan down. "He destroyed my house, am I not right with seeking reparation, elder of the Clear Sky Sect?"
I had such a good impression of this person that I preferred to believe she was on our side ignoring the immediate danger I was technically in. This was probably a good lesson to take note of in the future.
"Uh pardon me," I said.
All eyes went to me.
Erlong raised a brow at the flames from her body licking against mine and supposedly burning me, then the inflow of spirit power—and the fire—stopped a moment later.
Grandpa Shan likewise retracted a little of his own aura.
"Yes?" Erlong said.
I raised my hands to somewhat placate her. "I believe we got off on the wrong foot here."
Erlong crinkled her adorable nose at me. "What's wrong with your foot?"
The pretty old lady looked at the group. "Why did he hit himself?"
Auntie shook her head and groaned. "I believe he meant to say this was all just a misunderstanding." The most level headed in our group nodded to the two old monsters. "Please, grandpas, Erlong means no harm to the idiot."
Erlong frowned. "If this child is so important then why do you call him that?"
"We call him what he is," auntie said.
"You wound me," I said.
Then Erlong raised me higher so we were face to face. "Were they hurting you?"
I couldn't help a smile, I craned my neck over to auntie. "I really like her." I looked back at the person still holding me up like a kitten—who was now just so so confused. It was irresistable. "You're a good person."
Erlong held me up with one hand and scratched her head with the other. "It is way too late into the night for this…"
Auntie walked up to us and looked me over for any injuries. Satisfied, she turned to Erlong and said, "He says a lot of weird things from time to time."
Erlong dropped my sorry ass and sighed. She looked at me and turned to the smoke a ways off into the distance, and now that the trees were gone, I could indeed see now where a small hut might've been. The supporting beam that was now in splinters was the biggest clue, since everything else was already destroyed.
Auntie bowed to her. "We apologize for what he did."
Erlong clenched her jaw. "He blew up my house."
"It's the first I've seen him do it," auntie said, "but I wouldn't count it as the last. We will be sure to rebuild it for you first thing in the morning."
The fire lady shook her head. "That's not what's important," she said, "I had a memento there… of my husband."
Something sank to the pits of my stomach.
Auntie and the rest looked just as shocked.
Strength and prowess faded over time, and money was only good for as long as one still had needs, but memories, those were the things that truly counted. What few recollections I had of the life I left behind were more precious to me than anything I could ever buy in this life.
"I am deeply sorry for my mistake," I said. "If there's some way I can make it up to you… please, I'll do so if it's within my capabilities."
Erlong gave a weak laugh. "The idiot dares to talk big?" She shook her head. "Let it be, perhaps this was for the best. That wedding dress was only giving me no end of grief."
Oh. Oh my. "I'm sorry for your loss."
She gave me a pat on the head. "Ah, forgive me if I gave that impression. He's not dead, although he might as well be after what had happened between us."
There was a story behind that, and a sleazy bastard from this old romcom series back home might've seen so as a legendary chance, but I wasn't a horrible person. At least not horrible in that manner.
San and Wu relaxed enough to leave the shadows of my grandpas who had already retracted their spirits while she was giving me the rundown with her ex. Grandpa Shan walked over to me and knocked me on the head before giving me a quick hug, and grandpa Lin also knocked me on the head, but without the hug.
Erlong barked at the sky, loud enough to make my ears ring a little, then she stretched her arms and twisted in place. She only stopped after I heard a crack from her spine.
She let out another sigh and said, "This has got to be the weirdest night so far for this year."
"We live with him." Wu jerked at me with her thumb.
Erlong shook her head. "A pity then, and what proper person would just randomly call forth lightning in random at night in the forest?"
I had to bite back a smile. "Uh, someone training?"
Grandpa Shan groaned.
"We understand he can be infuriating at times," auntie said.
San cleared his throat.
"Most of the time," auntie corrected. "But deep down Jin is a…" She crossed her arms. "Hmm… I… wait, no, but he's…"
I gestured at auntie to cut it out. "Why do you have to make it sound weird?"
"It's not easy to compliment you, little Jin," San said.
Erlong crouched down to put me at eye level. "I'm curious though, how come it burned when I hit you, and my flames died down? You had your spirit out but you weren't making use of any abilities at the time."
Erlong was cute, and I sort of instinctively trusted that pretty face of her subconsciously, but even I wasn't that stupid. "I'm just that hot?"
Erlong gave me a quizzical look. "But you don't have a fever."
Fuck! Fuck all these goddamn metaphors not translating right!
Grandpa Lin gave me a good hit.
Auntie walked up to Erlong and faced our group.
"Everyone, " she said. "It was an unexpected first meeting, but this here is miss Liu Erlong, the dean of Blue Tyrant Academy."
It was already late like Erlong had said so the replies weren't as enthusiastic, granted the stand-off probably contributed to that.
"She is aware of our plight with Spirit Hall, and she is likewise sympathetic to our cause. Miss Erlong, you've also just now met two of our elders, Tang Shan and Tang Lin." Auntie gestured to them respectively. "And these three children are also with us, little Wu and little San," she gestured at the two, then jerked her chin at me. "And you've already met the little shit, I mean little Jin."
It would've been strange had this been back home, but to be making formal introductions after a tense face off like that just a minute ago and all buddy buddy now, this world was just that crazy.
I put on my best smile. "At least we're all friends now, right?"
Erlong shrugged. "I guess."
We agreed to discuss further matters the following day. Auntie insisted that Erlong stayed with her in the Moon Pavilion until things were sorted out about her cabin, which I was going to pay for, later on, but Erlong said she'd stay by the faculty dormitories of her academy instead.
I wanted to comment that she had no reason to be toughing it out in the woods when she had perfectly good housing somewhere closer to civilization, but I was a better person than to say that after destroying said house.
It just wouldn't do as a favor, even if it totally was.
Ah, and screw that ex-husband of hers too. Or not ex. I didn't know how marriage laws worked here.
As for the matter of how will her house be rebuilt, Erlong mentioned she knew a good family of architects and masons so she'd arrange a quick chat with them sometime including me and auntie to finalize the reconstruction. It was a genial conversation all in all, minus the fact of how we got there in the first place.
Erlong said her good nights and went back to wherever that dorm was for her, while our group went back to our little hideout.
On our way back through the forest, grandpa Lin said, "Yuehua, that Liu Erlong is what rank?"
"I believe she is nearing the eightieth rank bottleneck, so she'll likely need a spirit ring sometime soon." Auntie nodded. "You wish to do her a favor?"
The old man stroked his beard. "It's not every day we meet a strong spirit master who has no love for spirit hall, but is she connected to any of the great clans?"
"There were rumors of her being part of the Blue Lightning Tyrant Dragon Clan," she said.
Which really, no one could have noticed that with her academy's name. "But her element was fire," I said, "so she's likely a holder of a variant spirit."
It was a hit and miss with variants, some did amazing, like mine and hers, and some not so much, like auntie or uncle Xiaogang. Then again, some just needed a different way of doing things, so maybe there really was some truth to what uncle said, that there were no trash spirits. The second part after that wasn't really all that great since if the spirit master didn't know of any other method, then it wasn't exactly their fault. Not to some extent at least.
"I'll see around as well," auntie added. "If remember correctly, she had some ties to a famous group of spirit masters before, something about a triangle…"
Grandpa Lin gave his approval. "Good, let's see if we can bring her into the fold if those old dragons don't have their talons in her yet."
"Little Jin," grandpa Shan said, "we were interrupted earlier, but how are you feeling after exploding your rings?"
"I'm curious about that as well," Wu said.
The timer for Devour's icon had already run out earlier, and now it was glowing a faint green as another timer of sorts this time filled upwards. The progress was too slow for me to give a proper estimate right now, but it was easily more than an hour judging by its current pace like Shock took.
I cycled spirit power through my body to check for any changes, and besides the boost it gave to my cultivation, there wasn't much of anything else. "It doesn't really feel like anything, besides the effect of my electricity on my body, there was nothing. No feeling like I was stronger or in pain, at most there was that strange vibrating feel but that was most likely from the electricity."
"I see," grandpa Shan said, "and have you tried doing this ring explosion thing with your Hammer yet?"
I tilted my head at him. "Huh, now that you mention it. Not yet. I haven't tried that ring explosion yet with my Hammer."
"Good," grandpa Shan said. "Don't."
"Eh?" San, Wu, and I said together.
"If this method you did truly was the Great Sumeru Hammer, then trying it with your Hammer could very easily cripple you in case you fail."
There it was again, that threat of crippling oneself. Bah.
Grandpa Shan continued, "The Great Sumeru Hammer is no joke, and using it when you aren't ready yet would easily kill you from the backlash. It transforms spirit power into the purest strength, and with your body as it is right now, it could easily explode from the tyrannical force liberated. There is a reason this method is only passed on to the Clear Sky Douluo of every generation, and that is because only at the titled douluo realm do you have any chance of surviving."
Well, shit. "It would be good then if we could ask someone to confirm if what I was doing was indeed the Great Sumeru Hammer."
Grandpa Shan shook his head. "No one knows where Hao is, unfortunately."
San looked down and Wu gave him a pat on the back.
I couldn't tell if what grandpa said was a lie, but they didn't have much reason to hide this from me. But considering the matter with Qian Daoliu, was it worth pursuing this anymore than I already had then? It was a god level technique after all, so I was of the opinion that it was—given I was apparently in line to duke it out with the closest thing to a deity here. Eventually. Hopefully not even anytime close to soon or within the next few years.
And didn't we have so many Titled Douluo already? So even then we were still outgunned? Damn. It was apparently that bad.
Which meant it was high time we stopped reacting to things as they came. "Is there anything else we should be doing in the meantime?"
All of them looked at me.
"You three should be getting stronger," grandpa Lin said. "It is important that you all have the strength once the appointed time with Spirit Hall comes."
"Yes, I agree, but that's something far off into the future—hopefully. What we need now is to determine where best to go from here."
From the front, Grandpa Shan stopped walking and turned back to us—he gave Wu a quick glance and steeled his features before looking me in the eye. "You and San need to obtain spirit bones," grandpa said. "The fastest way you can do so is by winning the continental spirit master academy competition."
It was always a delicate matter having to discuss matters of growth with a spirit beast turned human around. Not that she was unwelcome, but it wasn't made easy given how close our family's ties were to the more tragic of the two species. Every time San and I had to grow stronger, we would have to kill one of her people—it didn't do my conscience any good, nor was it right, but it was the way of the world. "But the risk of getting identified by Spirit Hall is too high, it's not impossible that me or San would be forced to use our Hammers sometime, me perhaps I can somewhat cope given these latest discoveries of mine, but eventually there will come a time."
"Fine," grandpa Lin said, "and how do you suppose you can achieve getting spirit bones besides that?" He grunted. "We know of the risks, and that's also why we'll be close by in case anything goes wrong."
"But if you do intervene, then that would bring Spirit Hall's notice to the sect," San added. "Little Jin has a point with what he wants, and sure we might be able to better spread the name of Shrek as well as find out where we stand in strength compared to others our age, but again, the risks…"
Grandpa Lin took a deep breath. "There's always the alternative of killing enough spirit beasts in order to achieve this goal."
Wu looked away.
"Perhaps," I said, "but then we'd be no better than Spirit Hall."
"Honor will not protect your life," grandpa Lin said.
I crossed my arms. Maybe if I never found out that Wu was a spirit beast, nor that soul shock was a thinG, I might've had a different stance, but as it was, I couldn't ignore the facts as they were. "And neither will behaving like a barbarian would."
"Perhaps there is a way…" Xiao Wu said.
All attention went to her.
She placed a hand over her heart and smiled at me. There was strength behind those eyes. "It seems little Jin has a conscience regarding spirit beasts, then perhaps… I started being of help."
Grandpa Shan stomped his foot down. "No little Wu. Not like this."
Grandpa Lin huffed. "We need you three to get stronger. All of you. No more family will be sacrificed."
Auntie gave Wu a pat on the head. "I've heard so much about you two you might as well be my favorite niece and nephew, and what kind of aunt would I be if I let anything bad happen to my precious little girl?"
Wu gently closed her eyes. "Thank you, everyone, but no, I did not mean that."
"Sacrifice?" San looked at Wu. "What did they mean about sacrifice?"
Wu faced San, her little shoulders dropping as she did. She looked to grandpa Shan, then grandpa Lin, and finally me. She extended a hand out for mine, and I took it.
Wu was shaking too faint to see, and her palm was cold.
"Ge," she said.
Wu tightened her grip on my fingers. Damn she was strong as fuck.
She continued, "Your little sister has something to confess."
"Xiao Wu?" San's brows drew a line and he pressed his lips together. "Is there anything wrong?"
Grandpa San and Lin bowed their heads, and auntie placed a hand on her shoulder. Also, I think something cracked in my hand just now.
"Ge, please don't be mad?" She stuck her tongue out with a playful gesture, but the way her voice softened said otherwise.
San steeled himself. "No matter what, you will always be my little sister."
He walked over and Wu held onto his hand.
She closed her eyes hard before opening them and staring straight into his soul.
"Ge, Wu is a spirit beast."
"I see," San said. He pulled Xiao Wu into his arms softly. She didn't resist. "It must have been difficult to keep this secret for so long."
Wu wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his robes. "It was," she said. "It was very difficult indeed."
San tightened his hug and stroked her hair. "It's alright," he said. "Ge will always be your big brother, and ge's promise will always stand. No one will ever hurt my little sister, they'd have to step over my dead body first."
I looked away then, and found I wasn't the only one. Auntie shot me a knowing look, and grandpa Shan was smiling and all satisfied with himself, even the always stern grandpa Lin knew better than to continue with his lecturing.
We lost steam after that with the things we were supposed to be doing, and in a way, it was a timely reminder of just what it was we were doing all this for. This fight with Spirit Hall wasn't just a grudge, but a fight for freedom and a fight for family. We were being hunted down like animals all because of a feud Spirit Hall started by denying my aunt Yin the life she could've had with uncle Hao and cousin San simply for being a spirit beast. It was, our sect's fault that we weren't strong enough to enforce her right to live, and given the situation with San and Wu, it was about time we atoned for that mistake.
Grandpa Lin put it down best, we weren't going to lose any more family. Not to this, and not to anything else.
However, it still didn't solve the fact I had to sacrifice others, but in the face of my family, my blood, being threatened, then so be it. They started all this. And it was we who would end it once and for all. One way or another.
San didn't sleep in his bed that night, and the following morning we found him in a flower bed asleep next to Wu with a comb in his hand. Boss Dai wanted to tease them awake, and I as the dutiful cousin, beat his and Hongjun's asses away from the two. Turns out getting punched by someone covered in electricity had the chance to paralyze someone from the spasms. I carried them away myself, and it took until lunch time before they got full feeling back into their legs.
Rongrong and Zhuqing fawned over the two lovebirds and Oscar, kinda went all over the place confessing his love to every girl he saw. And since boss Dai and Hongjun were still dealing with the effects of too much electricity to the balls, it fell to me to clean up after his mess. I must've ended up in a fight with at least three other people and another seven who surrendered before anything could start. The smallest spirit power gap was about eleven, and not a single one lasted longer than two punches once things got personal.
What's good though is at least I was able to practice those new techniques of mine. Overcharge had the possibility to increase the potency of my domain abilities by super charging them and concentrating the effect to a small point, and the other one I took to calling Embodiment since it spread onto my body the effect of my Domain. But the latter was overkill on these regular scrubs.
I used an Overcharged Devour against this one guy with a staff spirit. His first ability that launched a thrust I clashed with using the Overcharged Devour and the gold sphere it produced just ate up the spirit power from his ability to the point of deactivating it. After that I punched him in the face and hit him again with the Overcharged Devour at point blank after which the guy dried up like a sponge out of water. He didn't die though, so that was something good.
The next fight was with this beast spirit master with a gorilla spirit that got done in with one Overcharged Shock punch to the nuts, and the less said about his state after—spoiler, he didn't die—the better. He was too tall for me to reach properly so I attacked what I could reach, and the Overcharged Shock produced a large spark of electricity, enough to blind or electrocute with outright.
And last was an Overcharged Corrode which I had the good sense not to use on a person but instead demonstrated on a tree to scare off some weaklings. It disintegrated a chunk from the trunk as it exploded, and to use that on a person, well, at least it'd make clean up faster in the future.
By lunch time, rumors of an evil little kid bullying others had already made rounds and reached Rongrong who was socializing like a normal person with the other students in the school. I was praised by Flender and chastised by uncle for doing so, and after the food I asked for permission for me, San, and Wu to go visit Erlong with auntie later to iron out some details.
"Liu… Erlong?" Uncle clutched at his heart, before shoving Flender saying, "You knew about this, didn't you?"
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