ONE OF THEIR OWN
Lino didn’t encounter any obstacles on his way back to the cave where Vyeala and the old man were patiently waiting, meditating in a cross-legged position. As he stepped in, the two of them opened their eyes and looked at his self-satisfied expression with a strange gleam. Coughing lightly, Lino ignored their gazes and sat back down before taking out the [Spring Bloom] and [Crevice Stone] before putting them down. [Crevice Stone] appeared almost like an ordinary piece of ore, yet purple-lustered veins circling faintly through its surface spoke otherwise. With a little bit of grinding down, this almost ordinary piece of ore would turn into a flat, purple stone.
“Do you guys have any [Homespring Water]?” Lino cut to the chase immediately and asked the duo who first looked at the two items on the ground before looking at Lino with some confusion in their eyes.
“Why do you need it?” Vyeala asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Why else but to craft a celestial weapon, of course!” Lino puffed his chest out proudly.
“Ha ha,” Vyeala suddenly laughed coldly. “Craft with what? Your head? To be honest I’d be really glad to see you trying to break that stone apart with your head. With how thick your skin is, your head is probably ten times thicker. Who knows? You may even be able to break the stone with it!”
“Heh,” Lino sneered as he chuckled. “Do you want to bet, little demon?” a strange glint flashed through the old man’s eyes while Vyeala’s face reddened for a moment. However, before she had a chance to retort, the old man interrupted her and took out a clear vial and presented them to Lino.
“Will this be enough?” the old man asked.
“Oh, enough, enough! Fantastic!” Lino took the vial with strange gleam as he licked his lips. “Alright, I’ll start crafting now. Even if a naked celestial beauty suddenly shows up, don’t interrupt me.”
The duo rolled their eyes but said nothing as they observed Lino’s actions. The latter set aside the flower and the water as he flipped his palm downward and placed it atop the stone. A moment later, he began snapping his palm left and right, using it as a grinding stone to shave away impurities within the [Crevice Stone]. Old man’s eyes bulged slightly as Vyeala looked at the scene curiously. After a few minutes, the dim luster of the ore was replaced with faintly flat surface which emitted light, purple glow. After shaving away topside, Lino went and shaved away the rest of the ore before a palm-sized stone weighing nearly 100kg remained within his hand. Veins pulsated throughout its surface in purple luster, causing the stone to appear rather strange.
Setting aside the stone for the moment, he picked up the flower and examined it deeply before picking up the vial. Opening the lid, he poured its contents entirely directly at the center of the flower which sucked them in immediately, fluttering even though there was no wind. The emerald-green flower grew even more saturated as it turned slightly transparent. Satisfied, he took the small piece of [Crevice Stone] in one hand and brought the [Spring Bloom] directly over it. A moment later, triple-colored flames bloomed from within his fingers, directly setting the entire flower ablaze.
The old man’s heart suddenly jolted because he recognized the flame: Great Boundary Flame, Tri-Spirit Flame! The only reason the old man recognized it was because he saw its sketch in one of the clan’s ancient records. The flame itself hasn’t been seen in Umbra Kingdom since its inception! Now, seeing it within the hands of this youth, the old man didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He could truly craft something simple this way!
As the flower slowly turned to ash, it fell directly atop the stone before Lino ground it with his palms, forcing the stone itself to directly absorb the ashes. He then brought both palms against the stone as they began blazing in three colors of fire. He would occasionally shake his palms, bring them up and then down, wound them around, sometimes opening them and prickling with his fingers the melted surface, and other times even blowing directly at the stone.
Lino’s expression was that of extreme concentration; however lax he may seem ordinarily, when it comes to blacksmithing itself, he never once slacked. What was most important in process of crafting was a stable, concentrated mind. Sensing minute changes, fixing mistakes that prop up on the spot without allowing them to linger into the final creation, modifying the creation itself midway through if necessary… none of these things can be accomplished without fully dedicating yourself to the process.
In such way, he forced flames to burn for nearly two hours. His energy depleted heavily and sweat poured down his forehead and his back. Alas, with a loud clasp of two palms, he condensed the melted stone into a paper-thin plate. The plate was two-palms-size, rectangular in its shape, and appeared rather ordinary on the surface. However, after close examination, one would spot a few crevices along its surface as well as vein-shaped lines which connected these crevices.
He finally breathed in relief as he leaned back against the wall of the cave, panting heavily. Without proper tools, crafting even this seemingly ordinary plate had taken a great toll on him. Just having to keep Tri-Spirit Flame active for two hours was something that he wouldn’t dare do under normal circumstances. Still, it was over now. His exhausted gaze quickly grew illuminated as he looked at the plate, grinning from ear to ear.
“Alright,” Lino said as he kept the plate near his breast. “I’ll rest for a few hours and then we’ll depart.”
“Eh? What did you craft?! Show us!” Vyeala said with both curious and pleading gaze, while even the old man himself seemed somewhat taken by the scene.
“No rush, no rush,” Lino replied casually, smiling mysteriously in the process. “You’ll know soon enough.”
Despite the fact that Vyeala pleaded for some time, Lino remained exceedingly mysterious about his creation. After realizing that she won’t be seeing the strange plate’s stats any time soon, she finally gave up and allowed Lino to rest in silence. In reality, even Lino himself wasn’t too certain over the success of his idea. While it was tangible, and definitely viable, the resources were scarce. In his original idea, the plate itself should have been like a normal, vanguard shield. However, for their purposes, he imagined it should be enough.
After roughly four hours, Lino snapped his eyes open as they no longer exuded the air exhaustion, but rather a gleam of strange profundity. Chuckling weirdly, he startled the duo awake as well. Getting up, Lino dusted himself off and took in a deep breath before looking outside the cave; night had all but fallen, which was perfect for them.
“Alright, let’s go.” Lino said as he headed toward the exit.
“Go?” the old man asked, knitting his brows. “Does that item of yours provide some concealment during the night?”
“Nope.” Lino shrugged his shoulders casually as he replied. “Aii, don’t give me that look! Do you know how many times I get a chance to act mysterious and cool? Zero! Zilch! Nothing! Let me have this moment, please?”
“…” the duo stared at his honest expression nearly vomiting blood. At least try to hide your true motives!!
“Ha ha, don’t be afraid,” Lino said, his expression exuding confidence unseen before. “While I can’t claim we won’t be found for certain, I can claim that we probably won’t be found until the very edge of your Clan’s influence.”
“What do you mean?” the old man asked as he cautiously brought Vyeala with him, following Lino as he departed from the cave and landed on the main road.
“This is the road which leads directly towards the Second Mountain?” Lino asked the old man as he pointed at the nearby pavement.
“Yes.” the old man nodded.
“Let’s go then.” and thusly so, Lino began walking casually. Not through the thick trees, or bushes, or some other points where he could hide himself. No, he walked directly through the main road, for all the mothers and fathers to see him.
“What are you doing?!!” the old man cried out in alarm as he raced and grabbed one of Lino’s arms, pulling him to a stop. “If you want to kill yourself, just do it! Don’t drag us down with you!!”
“Eh? Why would I want to kill myself?” Lino said. “I’m young, handsome, talented, brilliant in intellect… I have entire future to leave my mark as a scar across the world! Why would I deny the world of my greatness?”
“Aah, fine,” Lino said, shrugging his shoulders as he took out the plate and handed it over to the old man. “I know you won’t depart with me no matter what unless you see the source of my confidence. Go ahead. I’ve unlocked its stats.” Vyeala and the old man looked dubiously at the plate before reading through its stats, not knowing whether to laugh, cry, roll their eyes backwards, or grind their teeth to ash.
[Celestial Plate – Unique – Level 20]
Special effect: Obscures vision of others, masquerading the wearer and those nearby within the wearer’s desires. Unless the other party is much stronger than the wearer, it is almost impossible to see through the illusions.
Special effect: Item's effects are tripled at night.
Note: Second in the series of Celestial items by a newcomer. Looks promising.
“I get it! I get it!” the old man cried out – not in joy or shock… just pure despondence. “[Spring Bloom], [Crevice Stone], [Homespring Water]… first one induces the hallucinations on small scale; even if supported by [Homespring Water], hallucinations wouldn’t be much stronger. However, with [Crevice Stone] acting as a conduit between the two… it’s not the hallucinations that the others will be experiencing, but illusions! The plate probably releases specific particles into air within certain range, and whoever is affected will see what you want them to see!”
“Good old man!” Lino said, giving the old man thumbs up upon which latter actually shed a tear. Not of joy, not of shock… but of pure despondence. “It’s exactly as you said. Still, we better hurry up.”
“Indeed,” the old man said. “However, how strong does one need to be in order to see through this plate?”
“I have no idea.” Lino said, spreading his arms out.
“What do you mean ‘eh’?” Lino said as the trio finally started walking. “That restriction wasn’t within my original designs, it’s material-based and level-based one. It could be as little as 5 levels or it could be as much as 10,000. Who knows? However, since I crafted it, and it’s a Celestial Item, it’s at least 100,000 Levels. Lino guaranteed!”
In the end, the old man and Vyeala refused to talk to Lino for a brief period of time. Still, regardless of the plate’s effect, the old man remained vigilant as they walked along the road, ready to bolt away at moment’s notice if they were to be seen through. However, soon enough, they passed by the first black-clad figure, and nothing happened… and then second… soon enough it was tenth… then fiftieth… by the time they passed by a hundredth person, half of which Lino actively greeted, and even talked some with them while gaining information, the old man and Vyeala grew numb to the whole thing, just following behind like a pair of puppets.
While they had heard of many strange, queer items, and even read about some in the ancient texts and scriptures, to see one crafted so easily before their very eyes was entirely different experience. It’s not as though Endo Clan was void of master-level blacksmiths; rather, it was one of the most respected professions in the clan, and master-level blacksmith were treated no worse than cultivation experts in the clan. After all, weapons, defensive talismans, armors and such are a necessity for people who battle often.
Still, when the old man asked himself how many of those master-level blacksmiths would even think up something like this, let alone craft it within two meager hours without any tools whatsoever, he felt like crying. Indeed, once one examined the plate and saw through its surface mysteries, it was truly beyond easy to craft it. However, with the idea of blacksmithing and crafting items already having been stuck in a pattern, there were very, very few blacksmiths who deviated from the original school of thoughts, especially so when it comes to combining random resources they find and trying to plaster them together into something that has an actual function.
By the time dawn arose, they were already within a completely different cave, nearly halfway back to their Clan. Despite the fact that the plate worked during the day as well, the trio decided to use its triple effect during the night instead. While within the cave, Lino remained silent, his eyes closed, as he seemingly pondered over something deeply.
What he pondered over was the cultivation method – <Empyrean Writ>. Ever since he entered Core Realm and obtained four Primal Spirits, Lino began researching it more fervently, yet, the more he understood, the more ambiguous and vague the entire thing seemed. It’s strange… requirement for obtaining the next upgrade is to possess a strength of a bear… but, technically, I already do possess a strength of a bear, Lino thought deeply. Does it perhaps refer to some other variant of a bear that I’m unaware of? Anyway, accumulating physical strength after entering Core Realm really is easier. I didn’t even notice, but it seems the core of my body was refined entirely… ah, of course, Core Realm. Ella never explained these freaking realms, barely even naming any! Ugh…
What confused him the most about the <Empyrean Writ> was that it seemed both exceedingly simple yet profoundly complex at the same time. Exceedingly simple in the sense that there was only one requirement for the method to work: make your muscles stronger. Unlike what he believed were other cultivation methods, there was no pondering over profound meanings behind strange concepts, or continuous communication with Worldly Energy in hopes of gaining something. As long as he improved his body, <Empyrean Writ> would do the rest for him.
Yet, complexity of it all arose exactly because of that. He couldn’t gleam past it, couldn’t see how the entire network which constituted the method worked. Even if he was doing absolutely nothing, his body was getting stronger by simply getting in touch with Worldly Energy. While it wasn’t by much, it also wasn’t negligible. From what Lino knew, there was no such other cultivation method; all others required one to consciously draw Worldly Energy within themselves and, even then, refine it to be used. All of that, though, was done by his body alone, without Lino ever truly paying attention to it.
In the end, though, he simply lacked knowledge; he didn’t know what other cultivation methods were like, or even just how different his was. From talking with the old man and Vyeala, he understood only one major difference: the reason Vyeala was able to make the swords float on their own was due to the Worldly Energy – or how others call it, Qi – being externalized out of her body through her martial arts and cultivation method. Lino knew he can’t do that – he even knew, somehow, that he will never be able to externalize the Qi outside of his body. At best, he would be able to use a weapon as a conduit – for instance, wrapping his sword in his Tri-Spirit Flame. However, energy consumption would be such that he’d at best be able to sustain it for a few breaths before fainting.
As he rummaged through new discoveries and began piecing together some uncertainties, night arrived yet again and the trio departed from the cave under the cover of the stars. Still walking leisurely on the main road, they encountered many black-clad figures who seemed even more panicked than yesterday. After conversing for a moment with one of the black-clad figures, Lino realized that Vyeala’s and the old man’s Clan actually got the wind of Dying Roses’ activities and had sent out their own experts to both clash against the latter was well as search for Vyeala and the old man.
While the duo rejoiced, Lino creased his brows. If their plans were spoiled… why did they remain here? And not just in small numbers at that. Even if they, in the end, managed to kill Vyeala and the old man, there was probably a reason why they instigated the whole thing so covertly. Were it matter of just killing them, the duo wouldn’t have been able to even reach Lino’s location, let alone escape with him afterwards. Could they be trying to lure us out or make us drop our guard? Ah, everything is possible. Anyway, it’s not like they don’t know where we’re heading, and it’s not like we can head elsewhere… let’s just see how it goes…
Almost before the dawn would break, the trio reached an open field upon which Lino immediately frowned. In the distance, he sensed several relatively powerful auras. He was almost certain that, even within night, they would be seen through if the bearers of the powerful auras paid a bit more attention to them.
“Our Clan’s grounds are just beyond that forest,” Vyeala said excitedly. “We’ve really made it back!!”
“It’s too early to relax,” the old man also seemed to have realized that the earlier news of their Clan having got the wind of the situation was probably a ruse, which deflated his spirits somewhat. “While this is the last stretch, it’s also the most difficult. What do you think, Lino? Will plate cover us before those four?”
“Nope,” Lino said honestly, shaking his head lightly. “At best, it can buy us a few seconds of time. As you can see, the entire field is clear of people. Even if they first spot us as their own, there are probably orders that no one was to approach this plain. Aii, they’re really clever…”
“… do you have a plan?” the old man asked, somewhat nervous.
“Plan? We can just hide nearby and wait until your Clan gets suspicious and actually sends someone out to look for you,” Lino said. “We probably won’t be discovered until then. However, how long do you think will your Clan need to send experts out? And I mean considering those initial scouts that will be silenced by the Dying Roses.”
“… in earliest calculations, we were supposed to stay almost half a year within the Mountain Range,” the old man said, frowning deeply. “We’ve yet to be here for two months.”
“Even if your Clan notices that something is odd, they’ll probably be very conservative in their actions lest they alert others of your activities.”
“Indeed…” the old man confirmed.
“Then, pardon me, but I have no intention of hiding away in some dry cave for at least a few more months. Life is too short for that crap.” Lino said, smiling faintly.
“Neither do we. So, what’s the plan?”
“Besides that,” Lino said, his expression somewhat solemn. “We can only bulldoze right through.”
“Can you sprint over the entire plain with us in tow before they spot you?” Vyeala suddenly asked.
“Sure,” Lino said, smiling somewhat oddly. “I can do that.”
“Great!! Let’s do it!”
“… so to say,” the old man, though, wasn’t as naïve. “You can sprint all the way over there, but not any further?”
“I’d enter a major state of weakness for a while,” Lino said honestly. “And while I like you two very much, it’s not to the point I’d give my poor life for the two of you. Sorry.”
“… so, what then?” Vyeala asked, furrowing her thin brows slightly.
“Let’s go and see.” Lino shrugged his shoulders before taking a step forward. After a few moments, the old man gritted his teeth and suddenly picked Vyeala into his arms before following after Lino.
Carefully observing the open filed and any changes, Lino remained alert as he walked. He knew that the plate won’t be able to conceal them from the four enemies; the question was, how long would it take for them to spring into action? Although the forest itself was Endo Clan’s ground, their headquarters were situated rather deeply within it. Even their patrols never came out to the very outskirts of the forest, and were stationed at a midway point. Even at his maximum speed, Lino would need at least five minutes to reach that part of the forest, and that’s disregarding the fact that the forest had plenty of obstacles that would slow down his speed.
Bit by bit, the trio neared the halfway point. The four auras suddenly locked onto them, causing Lino’s pupils to strain; I misjudged!! Fuck!! He thought that all four auras were actually of relatively equal prowess, at Late Core Realm. However, one of the auras seemed to have broken through some barrier the moment it locked onto Lino. The latter knew that wasn’t actually the case, just that the person held back initially. The fluctuations that person gave off were far, far more terrifying than what the remaining three had. Lino felt suffocated by merely getting in touch with it, and it was no better for the old man who immediately realized what was wrong; the only time he felt such fluctuations was from the Patriarch of Endo Clan: Soul Realm cultivator!!
“Fuck!!” Lino exclaimed as the same thought dawned on him. The aura itself burst forth as a shadow of the person emerged from the trees in the distance. Lino spun backwards and hurriedly picked the old man and Vyeala in each of his arms. The little girl actually fainted directly under the pressure. Gritting his teeth, Lino’s arm muscles bulged as he roared lowly, contracting his arms backwards before hurling them forward like cannonballs.
Two bodies blasted through the air, causing winds to stir and grass beneath to sway. Just as the two left his arms, the person arrived above him, palm descending towards his head. Biting his lip to forcibly shake off pressure, Lino drew out his sword in one swift action and threw it upwards before drawing another one in an attempt to block the strike.
“Motherfu—“before he had a chance to finish his mumble, a pressure akin to ten thousand mountains descended as it broke apart both of the swords before landing directly on his chest. Grunting, he saw stars spin around his eyes as he was blown backwards, flying faster than even the old man and Vyeala. Spitting out several mouthfuls of blood midair, he landed nearly a mile away from where he was hit, blasting away several dozen trees before managing to stabilize himself. What shitty luck!