As Lino came to, the first thing he realized was almost unbearable stench that assailed his nostrils. He immediately hunched over and puked everything he didn’t shit out in the past week. His eyes teared up as the stench seemed to have materialized into something tangible. It took nearly ten minutes before he could somewhat endure it and look around. As he predicted when he suddenly felt his consciousness being pulled elsewhere, he found himself in the mysterious place where he first chose the four Primal Spirits. Except, unlike the first time around, what welcomed him was just one world – that of blood. It is also then that he realized that the blood itself was the source of the vomit-inducing stench. Looking far and wide, there was only blood; whether it was the ocean, the crimson sky, the bloodied mountains, or countless, warped lifeforms and plants inhabiting it – everywhere he looked, there was only blood. For a moment, his entire body stiffened in primal fear, but as he realized that there was the thinning barrier between him and the world, he relaxed somewhat as he took in his surroundings.
As the initial shock slowly began to wane, he looked for the Primal Spirits like the last time, but he couldn’t find anything. There wasn’t even a mark of the world like the prior four. Eh? What is happening? Did the skill bug out or something?!! He panicked for a moment, but calmed himself down by constantly repeating that it’ll be okay. It was only on the fifteenth minute after his arrival that he felt a difference – his mind jolted for a moment before a massive headache invaded his brain, causing him to scream out in pain and fall onto the floor. Following the headache, a mass of information suddenly appeared inside his brain, followed by an ancient, flat and almost dead-like voice.
[Bearer of Writ… analyzing…]
[First Gate – Opened]
[Acquired: Empyrean Will, Primal Spirit of Blood…]
[… Requirements for the next evolution: Level 40, slaying of a Soul Realm Cultivator…]
[Proceeding with rewards…]
As the voice slowly faded from his mind, the pain waned just enough for him to regain some resemblance of sanity. What assailed him afterwards was utter confusion and befuddlement. However, that confusion didn’t last long as he quickly realized that there was additional info when he scoured through his knowledge of the Empyrean Writ.
[Empyrean Writ – refining body as a weapon. Bearer is required to undergo baptism of endless battles, refining not only body but will itself to the absolute peak. Small portion of slain enemy’s Qi will be absorbed into the Bearer at the initial stages of cultivation.
Requirements: No Bloodline, mustn’t’ve learned any other cultivation method prior to learning Empyrean Writ, must be at age 15 or under, must have not been exposed to any form of Qi prior to learning Empyrean Writ. All requirements fulfilled. Bearer has unlocked Empyrean Writ’s base function and acquired Primal Spirits of Four Base Elements.
Evolution: Underwent First Evolution with Good evaluation.
First Gate – Bearer has unlocked the first layer of Writ; Empyrean Writ’s base regeneration of body increased by 100%; it is possible to refine blood of others for quicker healing; body is able to resist natural environments to a basic degree; the higher Level of the enemy slain grants the greater Qi absorption. Gained access to Empyrean Will.
Empyrean Will [High-Mystic Grade] – Bearer has acquired first Martial Art through evaluation. When activated, Bearer can resist the pressure of anyone below Level 300. In addition, Bearer gains ability to hide his cultivation if so desired. It is possible for the Art to evolve to Supreme-Mystic Grade.
Primal Spirit of Blood: Bearer has acquired chance to gain Low-Mystic Grade Primal Spirit of Blood. Bearer is yet to make a choice.
Requirements for Second Evolution: Bearer must reach Level 40; Bearer must slay Soul Realm cultivator before reaching Level 40.]
However, even as he gained the answers he sought, he remained as confused as ever. What the hell is this?!! Although he wanted to scream that out loud, he was too scared one of those weird-looking things in the ocean of blood would pop out and bite him for disturbing them. When he first learned <Empyrean Writ>, the only thing he could read was the very intro about how the method revolved around refining body and such, and the requirement of unlocking base function and receiving the Primal Spirits. Even when he reached Core Realm stage, not much has changed outside of the requirement being ‘reach the strength of a bear’. But where the hell is that bear?!! What do you mean Evolution?!! WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN BY KILLING SOUL REALM CULTIVATOR BEFORE REACHING LEVEL 40?!!
No, before that, isn’t this just a cultivation method?! Why does it seem like it has sentience?! Alas, Lino merely took a deep breath and discarded all stray thoughts. In the first place, he didn’t even want to be a cultivator! He just wanted to become a legendary blacksmith! Why did Ella teach me this crap… I’ll have to beat her up when I get back… Of course, deep down he knew that he stood no chance against her, but courage increases when the target of anger is far enough away. As he moved his eyes around, familiar sight welcomed him. However, unlike before, there were only three Primal Spirts that he could choose from – one was a droplet of blood that kept wiggling strangely; another was blood-colored eye that kept bleeding blood out of someplace; and last was a strange, pin-sized circlet that kept emitting crimson sheen.
“Hmm… Primal Spirit Trog,” Lino muttered as he looked at the first one. “Increases regenerative capabilities, can instantly heal surface wounds…” he quickly skipped it as he already had ridiculous regeneration due to <Empyrean Writ>, and that was even before the ‘First Evolution’ – whatever that was. “Primal Spirit Glog,” he looked at the eye-shaped one. “You can… eh, what?!! You can see the stats of others as long as they’re not 100 Levels higher than you?!! What the fuck do you mean by this?!! Doesn’t this break the world?!” Lino didn’t even bother looking at the third as he quickly gobbled up the poor eye as though it was the best-tasting meat in the world.
[Primal Spirit of Blood – Glog [Low-Mystic Grade] – Gain ability to see the stats of everyone as long as they don’t surpass you by 100 Levels. The amount of stats revealed is related to the Level difference; it is possible to evolve Glog into a Supreme-Divine Grade Primal Spirit where all restrictions will disappear.]
Lino remained dumbfounded for about few minutes before recovering just enough sanity for his only thought not to be ‘this is broken!’. Just as he regained that slimmer of sanity, he was mercilessly ejected from the world of blood and thrown back into the murky room and stifling bed. He groaned as headache assaulted him yet again but, luckily, didn’t last long. Sitting up, he went over everything that he had learned, yet still couldn’t really process.
What he did know, though, was that <Empyrean Writ> is much more than meets the eye. Just from the fact that he could hide his cultivation and appear completely ordinary to being able to read everyone’s stats – while being barely Level 30 – proved him that, to say nothing of the ridiculous requirement to slay a Soul Realm cultivator before reaching Level 40. Luckily, it said nothing about being disallowed to use external help – is what Lino thought deep down. Still, regardless of the benefits, he considered it pain in the ass nonetheless. Even if he wanted to stop leveling, he couldn’t! Even if he did nothing but sleep all day long for the rest of his life, he’d probably reach at least Eggor’s level!
However, the true way to level by using <Empyrean Writ>, he learned, is to basically start slaughtering everyone and everything. The stronger a cultivator he slays, the more of their Qi will he absorb, meaning the stronger he himself will become. Aii, I don’t want to become slaughterer, he thought, dejectedly. I want people who use my celestial weapons to become slaughterers!
What surprised him the most, though, was the fact that he’ll be able to see the stats of others. Of course, just how much he could see depended on the level difference, but even if he could just see the actual Level, it was more than anyone else could. That was because he already asked Ella before and she said that no such ability exists in the cultivation world from her knowledge.
Stats refer to everything that encompasses a being, waged into a numerical value. There are perhaps millions of stats to define every characteristic, but even when Lino views his own stats, he condenses them into the smallest possible units. While it’s not a proper evaluation, nobody has time to go over millions of irrelevant numbers to understand something perfectly. He closed his eyes for a moment and went over his stats once more, where a small surprise awaited him.
[Lyonel Qa’yi – Human – Level 30]
Titles: Bearer of Writ (???)
Occupations: Beggar (Level 10), Blacksmith (Level 23)
Martial Arts: <Empyrean Will> (Level 1)
Primal Spirits: Ra, Ye, Gu, Li, Glog
Named Creations: Celestial Rod (Unique), Celestial Plate (Unique)
Before he started cultivating, he only had three stats: his nickname – Lino – the fact that he was human, and his level. He couldn’t even see his damage or defense, let alone anything else. However, as he went over the occupations, his eyebrows twitched lightly and his lips curled up into an evil grin.
“… what do you mean ‘Beggar’, you bastard? Who’s a beggar?! Your mom’s a beggar, dammit!!” however, he truly did end up begging for bread through most of his childhood. What was even more insulting that it was just Level 10 after all that suffering!
However, what surprised him the most were the numerical values of Damage and Defense; these two stats are condensed versions of hundreds of thousands of branches, and while they aren’t pinpoint perfect, they’re the closest one can get to it. Being Level 30, he expected his damage to be around 150 at most because average of cultivators at Level 30 is around 180. Defense was even bigger headache as average was merely 40, yet he had double that. As he had thought, <Empyrean Writ> truly isn’t simple; just with his body alone, he was sturdier than a knight clad in full plate armor.
Still, he put it all to the back of his mind because, in the end, he didn’t want to be world-toppling cultivator, but a legendary blacksmith! As the night came along again, he left the small house and headed back into the same pub, with his entourage closely behind. Sitting in the same corner, he ordered a bottle of mead and waited for Aeala to arrive. She popped out from within the massive crowd roughly an hour after midnight and casually walked over to him, smiling seductively in the process.
“It’s prepared.” she said softly as she sat down and took the bottle of mead and drank some of it.
“Eh? That was quick.” Lino said casually.
“I’m a quick worker, after all.” Aeala said.
“Hmm… if it’s ready, it’s best if I immediately go to the smithy.”
“I can’t be certain when they’ll make a move,” Lino said. “It’s best to be prepared.”
“Eeh… and here I thought we’d first have some fun.”
“Ah, whatever,” Aeala said, stretching as she got up. “Follow me. Time to lose your dogs.”
“Oh, I can’t wait.”
She led him through the same passage as yesterday, but instead of staying in the room, they took the back exit through which they arrived at the nearby alley, roughly half a mile away from the pub. Using the cover of the night, the two slithered through the similar alleys in-between the buildings as they went deeper into the valley, toward the other side. The abandoned smithy was right next to a steep cliff and a waterfall, and it turned out to be a two-story building with a rather spacious backyard.
“I’ve already put all the items inside,” she explained. “There’s some ore, some herbs, and I got you some wolf hide as well.”
“Oh, nice!” Lino exclaimed as they entered the house under the guise of night. “Aren’t you leaving?”
“Eh? What? You won’t touch, nor allow me to watch?” Aeala said, smiling lightly.
“…” Lino said nothing and merely sighed as they went deeper into the house, soon arriving at the backside.
The room they entered was relatively small and cramped, but it truly was a smithy; Lino found the furnace, anvil and grindstone, as well as various tools hanging off the wall. While it wasn’t as good as Eggor’s, he calculated it would be enough for his needs.
The materials Aeala prepared were sitting in the corner; going over them, he was rather surprised as she managed to find Level 25 type ore, [Veined Ore], hide of a Level 23 wolf beast, as well as various herbs, all above Level 15. While he was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any types of metals, he figured it would be enough.
Quickly taking off his top, he moved to the furnace and threw in some firewood before lighting it up with Tri-Spirit Flames. While he let the flames seethe, he moved over and placed all the herbs he had onto the anvil and slowly ground some into powder, mixing them carefully before condensing them into a pseudo-pill, whose coating would last only an hour or two at most. As he had no leatherworking materials, he was forced to work with wolf hide crudely, but since he planned it as inner-coating of the shield, it would be enough.
Meanwhile, Aeala sat in the corner and carefully observed him. While she was initially surprised seeing his muscular body, after seeing how meticulous he was and realizing that he was truly a blacksmith, it made more sense. After melting ores, Lino realized that the shield he was going to make was a bit too large, causing him to have to form its shape midair through the usage of Qi. Picking up the hammer from his necklace, he began banging at the sides; the crude shape of the shield revealed basic, rectangular vanguard shield, as tall as half a person and half as wide. It was the perfect type to hide from arrow bombardment, but, in his case, it would be spell bombardment which is why he alloyed it twice over with the remaining ore before cutting open various holes in a specific pattern across the shield’s surface. He placed the pseudo-pill at the centermost part before taking the remaining herbs and slowly drawing over lines through Qi that all connected the centermost part and the open holes, as though he was drawing a diagram.
He was actually attempting to formulate a basic array called [Reflection]. While he lacked practical experience with arrays, he didn’t falter and concentrated twice as much as ever before to complete it. Slowly but surely, the red-heated shield began to cool while the lines he cut across its surface with Qi lit up gently for a moment before dimming down. He then took the reworked wolf hide and alloyed the inner parts of the shield to counter the eventual recoil as much as possible. After the shield took shape, he quickly made a simple-looking handle and nodded in satisfaction.
It was a rather crude-looking shield with several jagged corners. It lacked perfect symmetry and appeared rather inconspicuous, which was a bonus Lino wasn’t working towards. After he finished and placed the shield down, he was overcome with the sudden feeling of exhaustion, causing him to immediately plummet onto the floor and exhale as though he ran ten miles without stop. Sweat had covered every inch of his body, and as he looked out the window he realized that it was almost dawn; he had been working on the shield for over four hours. Glancing back, he saw Aeala sleeping on the chair. Due to her leaning position, one side of her robe fell from her shoulder, revealing her chest. The sight caused Lino’s eyes to light up, but he quickly shook his head as he realized that now wasn’t the time. After recovering for a few minutes, he got up again and inspected the shield.
[Celestial Vanguard Shield – Rare]
Special Effect: Infuse Qi to reflect incoming attack (Level disparity must not be larger than 40). 5 Durability is consumed for each reflected attack.
Special Effect: Expand shield to four times its size. The shield gains +200 Defense for the duration of 10 seconds, and it cannot be destroyed. Requires natural charge-up period of 2 days after usage.
Note: Created with absolute defense in mind. Third item in the Celestial Series of the up-and-coming blacksmith.
He sighed in relief as he noticed that the array was successfully engraved. Although it was the most basic one, with rather simple functionality, it was more than enough. Even though the description made it sound as though he’d be able to reflect anything as long as the shield has durability and as long as he doesn’t breach Level disparity, Lino knew that was far from truth. For instance, attacks with pierce-option could easily break through shield’s defense, let alone be reflected. In addition, any weapon with at least 150 Damage could completely ignore the shield’s defense unless he activates the second special effect. The latter, though, is a life-saving card, much like the shield on his necklace, which he didn’t dare use lightly; it was also one of the reasons why he didn’t activate the necklace shield when the old man punched him almost to death.
After resting for a few more minutes and placing the shield into his necklace, he walked over to Aeala, his cheeks beet red, as he pulled her robe over her shoulder slowly before shaking her to wake her up. After a few shakes, she jolted up, nearly kicking him in the groin in the process.
“Oh, sorry, sorry,” she said, smiling apologetically. “I’m usually alone in bed by the time I wake up, so you caught me by surprise…”
“… dammit woman, forget that, why do you even wear anything?!” Lino complained, seeing that her breasts were out again. “It’s not like it’s covering anything!”
“Oh, look at you all red, he he,” Aeala smiled, not bothering to pull her robe up. “What? You can keep looking as much as you want, I don’t mind.”
“… really?” Lino mumbled.
“Of course, go ahead. It’s not like they serve any other purpose.” Aeala said, sitting back down and yawning. “Oh, right, did you finish it?”
“Hm? Ah, yes,” Lino said as he took out the shield and absentmindedly handed it over, never taking his eyes off from the pair of rather large and round peaks. “I’ve already unlocked the stats.”
“…” Aeala was slightly shocked as she saw the sheer size of the shield, and even more shocked when she realized she couldn’t even move it, let alone lift it due to its weight. After looking over the stats, she was even more shocked; she’d seen many shields in her life, but this was the first time she’d seen a shield with special options. In addition, most shields she’d seen had less than 100 durability. Well, considering the size, it’s not like this shield can be used by a single person… “Eh, not bad. So, you’ve seen enough?” Aeala smiled as she pulled her robe up, jolting Lino from his daze.
“…” he blushed for a moment before taking the shield and storing it into the necklace, coughing awkwardly.
“He he, don’t be so nervous,” she said, slowly getting up and hugging him from behind. “If you can bring me out of this clan, I’ll show you much… much… more~~”
“… khm, it’s almost dawn,” Lino coughed, wriggling out of her grasp. “We best go back. They’re probably freaked out over losing me already. They might move their plans up.”
“Why go back?” Aeala asked, tilting her head in confusion. “It’s not like you’ll try making friends with them, right? So, seeing as you’ve already escaped their sight, you may as well hole up here and wait until they make a move before making a move yourself.”
“…” Lino looked at her with wide, round eyes.
“… isn’t it that you’re just stupid?”
“… that hurt.” Lino mumbled, sitting down. “But, you’re right. I’m not that experienced, so while it may seem like the obvious thing to do to you, to me it’s a novelty.”
“Oh my. You’re surprisingly straightforward.” Aeala said as she brought her chair next to his and sat down. “How confident are you in escaping?” she asked.
“Hmm… I’m pretty confident now,” Lino said, stroking the necklace lightly. “As long as nothing unexpected happens, we should be fine.”
“… unexpected? Why do I feel your words just triggered some weird cosmic calculator?” Aeala asked, smiling bitterly.
“Bleh, if I had that kind of strength I wouldn’t be sneaking through the alleys like some rat.”
“Are you saying I’m a rat, then?”
“… no, you’re a mouse.”
“What’s the difference?” Aeala asked.
“Mice are cuter than rats.” Lino replied, smiling widely as he glanced at her.
“Oh my. A natural charmer, huh?”
Lino suddenly stopped talking as his gaze narrowed; he quickly pulled Aeala in his embrace and jumped backwards. A mere moment later, the front part of the house exploded into smithereens, causing a massive hole to appear. Lino faintly infused Qi into his eyes as he looked through the dust and rubble; in front of the house, nearly twenty people were gathered, surrounding it completely.
“Tche,” he clicked his tongue as he landed, still carrying shocked Aeala with ease. “Looks like we’ve been found out.”
“Eh?! Shit, isn’t this bad?!” Aeala exclaimed.
“Nah, they didn’t bring anyone strong enough,” Lino said as he grinned for a moment. “Looks like the bastards have finally started moving.”
“… what now?”
“Now?” Lino said as he glanced backwards, looking through the window; there were ten more people behind. “Now we have some fun...”