Chapter 25 - The Long Night
The plain, yet calming sound of paper turning filled the dreary shack as Zheng Jin continued to indulge in his favorite hobby. Save for Zheng Jin's wooden table that was lit up by the flickering light of an old lamp, the surroundings were completely dark, with only the meager light of the beautiful, crescent moon illuminating dimly in the sky.
The silence broke, however, as Zheng Jin suddenly slammed a book on the table, before scratching his head with a scowl on his face.
"What a shit end," Zheng Jin thought as he got up and stretched to relieve the stiffness on his body.
After finally reaching the conclusion of the book, he could not help but knot his eyebrows. Despite being called a "classic piece of literature", his expectations were eventually destroyed as the brilliant book was eventually ended on a vague note, one that suggested an endless continuation of the story despite its already satisfying conclusion.
What's more is that, unlike most books that he had read before, there was no lesson to be learned, except that the tyrant's overwhelming power triumphs over all, even if the said person is as dumb as a rock that kills every person that dares to even stare at him the wrong way.
The ruthlessness of the tyrant was understandable in Zheng Jin's opinion, but how the tyrant survived the consequences of it blew his mind, as seemingly miraculous events descended from the heavens one after another, just to make sure the tyrant always won, completely destroying the chance of the tyrant learning and developing from a possible defeat.
If Zheng Jin did not know any better, he would suspect that the book is actually entirely fiction and not dedicated to the story of the real tyrant a long time ago.
In conclusion, Zheng Jin did not mind that the tyrant managed to have 20 beauties as wives in a span of one year, nor did he complain when there's no real threat that incited real conflict anywhere within the story.
The only thing that mattered to him is how inconclusive the ending was, which hinted at an exhaustively long narrative that Zheng Jin would actually not be surprised if it had 10 or so books as a continuation.
After venting in his thoughts for a while, Zheng Jin just gave up and picked another book from the pile that was placed on the table, intending to drown his displeasure with more reading.
One book titled the "Otherworld Hero" caught his attention, which he then picked up before sitting back on his chair.
Just as Zheng Jin was about to start reading, however, his lips suddenly curved to a smile as he turned his head to face the door.
"Hello, Little Sister Bai. You're awfully late today," he said as his voice echoed throughout the room.
Not hearing any response, Zheng Jin tried once again. "You can come in, you know. Personally, I don't like waiting outside in the cold, but that's just me."
After a moment of hesitation, a hooded figure finally opened the door and made her way inside. She then removed the cloak's hood and the veil on her face, revealing the Outer Sect's Princess, Bai Shuanyang.
She then looked at Zheng Jin, who was currently occupied with something else. "I needed to avoid detection before coming here. I hope you understand."
Right after Zheng Jin heard Bai Shuanyang's reply, he immediately closed the book.
Now looking straight at Bai Shuanyang, Zheng Jin spread out his hands and smiled. "Don't be so stiff, Little Sister Bai. I'm actually grateful that you came this time, just like you did these past few weeks—even though it probably bothered you a lot."
"I was just fulfilling my part of the deal," Bai Shuanyang said as she averted her eyes from Zheng Jin's, her gaze eventually settling on the floor below her.
Sensing Bai Shuanyang's unease, Zheng Jin tried to calm her down. "Nevertheless, it was an agreement that took advantage of our past relationship. For you to accept an unfair deal like that for me must be—"
"I didn't do it for you. Don't make anything of this, Zheng Jin," Bai Shuanyang replied, all while trying to hide her displeasure for saying such words.
"Alright. Whatever you say, Little Sister Bai."
This type of exchange between them had actually been going on for weeks now. Naturally for Zheng Jin, he had no trouble confirming that Bai Shuanyang's "cold" act was just a ruse; done to throw him off from whatever secret she's hiding.
Be that as it may, he could only rely on his patience for now, as Bai Shuanyang's desire to keep the truth about their past relationship was just too great.
This doesn't mean that he still hasn't made any progress though. Compared to before, Bai Shuanyang actually communicated better with him now, although just not on the level of being friendly. Who knows? Maybe with a bit more time, Zheng Jin could finally uncover this matter once and for all.
"Nevermind that, how did your training go?" Bai Shuanyang muttered in an attempt to change the topic.
"Pretty great," replied Zheng Jin as he grinned. "Guess who just became a 9th Level Mortal."
Hearing Zheng Jin's revelation, Bai Shuanyang's eyes widened. "No way...that fast?"
Then, much to Zheng Jin's surprise, her beautiful face actually beamed with glee, a sight that he had never seen before.
"That's great! You actually—"
Suddenly, Bai Shuanyang caught herself and stopped. She reprimanded herself for losing control of her emotions for just that moment, and now, she saw that Zheng Jin was now staring at her expectantly.
After a few moments, the joy in Bai Shuanyang's face vanished, replaced by a controlled, yet visible expression of excitement. "How long ago?"
"Last time I checked your cultivation, you were still at the 6th Level. Is it true that you only trained in the training hall?" Bai Shuanyang explained further as she asked another question once again.
Still thinking about Bai Shuanyang's reaction earlier, Zheng Jin's grin grew wider. "It's nice to finally see you like this, Little Sister Bai. You look much better with a smile on your face."
Completely surprised by Zheng Jin's remark, Bai Shuanyang avoided Zheng Jin's gaze once again, visibly flustered. "I-is that so?"
After seeing that Bai Shuanyang's cold demeanor had finally taken some damage, Zheng Jin rejoiced inwardly as he finally decided to answer her questions.
"I have been at this level for over a week now, and yes, I only trained at the training hall. I do not have much cultivation pills besides the ones from the Weekly Pill Distribution anyway," he replied.
"Oh. If it's this fast, then it might just be your body readjusting to your former strength. After all, you already broke through this realm a long time ago..."
After recovering her wits, Bai Shuanyang's words trailed as she wondered for an answer.
Seeing an opportunity to coax Bai Shuanyang for information, Zheng Jin decided to strike while the iron is hot. "Just out of curiosity, what exact level of cultivation did I reach back then, Little Sister Bai?"
"You actually reached the middle stages of the Spirit Enforcer Realm back then...maybe that's why—" Bai Shuanyang replied absentmindedly.
"Wait, what?!" Zheng Jin exclaimed as he almost fell out of his chair.
This surprised Bai Shuanyang, who realized that she had just given away a part of her intended secret.
Zheng Jin could not believe what he just heard. After all, that speed of cultivation is just unbelievable, considering that he was in such a sub-par sect like this one. What's more is that, if he remembered correctly, the sect master of the Golden Dragon Sect was just a 5th Level Spirit Enforcer.
"The previous me...really was a monster." Zheng Jin thought.
"How did I manage to do that?!"
"Wait, do you know my family? Or maybe just acquaintances will do..."
"Zheng Jin, that's not-"
"Hmm, or maybe you can tell me how I lost all my talent? For all that cultivation to go up in smoke is just—"
"Zheng Jin, please!"
After being bombarded by questions, Bai Shuanyang raised her voice as she pleaded for Zheng Jin not to ask anymore.
"You must understand. The less you know about all of this, the better off you are in your current path as a cultivator." Bai Shuanyang explained as she looked straight at Zheng Jin.
"As much as I appreciate you for worrying about my future, you are denying me my past. You realize that, right?" Zheng Jin replied as his curious look from before was suddenly replaced by a steely gaze.
"I...I really am sorry, Zheng Jin. This is for your own good." Bai Shuanyang said as she avoided Zheng Jin's piercing gaze.
As soon as she said this, however, she immediately questioned herself. Was it really?
A few seconds passed awkwardly, as neither one of them spoke at all. Zheng Jin's gaze remained at Bai Shuanyang, all while deep in thought about something.
Finally, a long sigh broke the silence as Zheng Jin rose from his seat. "Fine. You win, Little Sister Bai."
Looking at Bia Shuanyang's gloomy expression, Zheng Jin put on a wry smile and walked closer towards her. "Let's just forget it and move on to more... pressing matters."
As soon as Zheng Jin said this, a hand went up inside his sleeve as he seemingly fished out something from it. What came out was a small, black book which Bai Shuanyang immediately recognized.
After failing to extract more information from Bai Shuanyang, Zheng Jin decided that it will be better if he asked Bai Shuanyang to help him with his ascension now, rather than wasting more time.
"Please teach me well," he said as he bowed towards Bai Shuanyang, all while he clutched the small book in his hand.
"Are you ready?" Bai Shuanyang asked as she sat down in front of Zheng Jin.
An hour already passed after Bai Shuanyang taught Zheng Jin the basics of gathering spirit energy inside his dantian, which is essential to finally break through and ascend in his cultivation.
By also using her knowledge about how Zheng Jin cultivated before, she managed to explain how to cultivate his spirit art: Eternal Darkness, to convert raw, worldly spirit energy into his.
"Of course," Zheng Jin responded with a confident smile.
After spending time with Bai Shuanyang, Zheng Jin was surprised at just how much she knew about the contents of the spirit manual. So much so, that she didn't even need to look inside to tell that the spirit art he intended to cultivate needed a dark environment to work properly, and surprisingly, she also knew and taught him the correct way to utter the chant within it.
Actually, he already had already finished reading about how the ascension process works, including the entirety of the spirit manual during the past few weeks.
The only reason why he decided to take out such a precious item like his spirit manual was just to test just how much Bai Shuanyang knew about him. And as it turns out, the outcome did not disappoint him at all.
"For you to know such things...You really make me curious, princess." Zheng Jin lamented inwardly as the mystery just grew even larger as soon as he discovered something.
To be honest, he actually preferred to be reincarnated as a baby, just to avoid all of this mess.
"Wait. Before you start..." Bai Shuanyang muttered as she took something from her interspatial ring.
"What is it?" Zheng Jin asked as Bai Shuanyang's words interrupted his thoughts.
Then, suddenly, Zheng Jin remembered something important. He then took out a bright, orange pill from his own ring.
Finally, Bai Shuanyang got the item from her ring and offered it to Zheng Jin with an open palm. "Here, this is a—wait, what is that?"
"It's a Meridian Widening Pill." Zheng Jin answered as he looked at what Bai Shuanyang was holding instead. "What about that pill?"
Bai Shuanyang, however, did not respond. Instead, she studied the pill on Zheng Jin's hands carefully. "The coloration and shape—that is not just a simple Tier Two Meridian Widening Pill..."
Suddenly, Bai Shuanyang's eyes widened as she finally came to a conclusion.
"That Meridian Widening Pill was formed without any flaws—the quality of a Third Formation Pill!" Bai Shuanyang stated.
Zheng Jin then looked alternately between Bai Shuanyang and the pill in his hands. "I don't really know since I only searched for it in a book, but is a Meridian Widening Pill really that rare?"
"No. The Pill itself isn't that rare," Bai Shuanyang said as she shifted in her seat. "But considering that it's not just at the First Formation, nor the Second...it is an exception."
After hearing what Bai Shuanyang had to say, Zheng Jin remembered how Ying Yue just gave it away like dirt. This made him question just how much he still doesn't know about the battle-freak shop owner.
"Where did you get such a thing?" Bai Shuanyang asked.
"It was a prize. I won it from someone." Zheng Jin answered. To who it was from exactly, he refrained to say.
"Won? That's a strange prize to give away. Who was it?" Bai Shuanyang eyed Zheng Jin carefully.
"Oh right, what are you holding there, Little Sister Bai?" Zheng Jin asked, intending to change the flow of the conversation.
"Ah this—it's...it's nothing."
Bai Shuanyang pursed her lips, before finally taking her hand back.
"Nothing? It's a Meridian Opening Pill isn't it?" Zheng Jin smiled and thrust out an open hand. "For me, I assume?"
"It's not—" Bai Shuanyang stopped before finally, she relented with a sigh and gave the pill to Zheng Jin.
Zheng Jin looked at the pill from Bai Shuanyang. It was indeed a Meridian Widening Pill—though, it is a little dull and crude. A Second Formation pill, he guessed.
As Zheng Jin examined her pill, Bai Shuanyang could not help but feel strange. In truth, she had been saving up spirit crystals for this pill during the past few weeks by hunting demon beasts.
She then intended to give it to Zheng Jin to increase his chances for ascension in cultivation when the time comes. Who knew that he would actually find a better one?
Sensing that Bai Shuanyang's mood had been dampened, Zheng Jin said "Don't worry, Little Sister Bai. I can use it instead if you—"
"Don't you dare! The Third Formation pill already guarantees your ascension completely. I won't forgive you if you tried a lesser one instead!"
While Zheng Jin intended to say that as a joke, Bai Shuanyang's rejection surprised him. As much as she tries to hide it, her concern for him really shows.
Zheng Jin smiled wryly. "Alright then. Let's start."
Unfortunately, he could not use both of the pills as they only work once, and only on Mortals. Zheng Jin loved free things as much as everyone though, so he took Bai Shuanyang's gift regardless.
Bai Shuanyang rose from her seat and nodded, then waited for Zheng Jin to start. Breathing deeply, Zheng Jin got up from his chair. He then closed his eyes and focused.
"The spirit energy inside your body is more than enough. Feel your dantian and draw the spirit energy around you."
Seconds passed as Zheng Jin tried to find his dantian, where all of his spirit energy was stored. Try as he might, he could not do so for a long time. After all, he didn't even know of its existence until recently.
Suddenly, however, his agitated expression changed to that of amusement, then relief. It was faint, but he could feel a force flowing through his body, which converged to the area right at the center of his chest.
"I've got it," Zheng Jin said as he stood completely still.
Feeling such a phenomenon was surreal for Zheng Jin, as he hadn't even heard of anything like this in his old world.
"Good. Now use your meridians as pathways for the spirit energy around you. Your dantian will do all the work and absorb them immediately." Bai Shuanyang reminded.
Zheng Jin traced numerous branch-like pathways from his dantian, which he guessed are what this world called meridians. Again, a term he was unfamiliar with.
Following Bai Shuanyang's words, Zheng Jin willed his dantian to absorb the spirit energy around him, which to his surprise, did happen instantly. He immediately felt the spirit energy go through his meridians, then straight towards his dantian.
After staring at Zheng Jin silently for a while, Bai Shuanyang touched his shoulder and sensed the movement of spirit energy within his body. "You're doing it. Quickly, swallow the Meridian Widening Pill and recite the chant."
Zheng Jin followed and popped the pill in his mouth, before finally swallowing it in a short gulp. Archaic words flowed out of Zheng Jin's mouth as he recited the chant which was included in the Eternal Darkness Spirit Manual.
This chant holds a huge significance to Zheng Jin's cultivation, as once the introductory chant of a spirit art was uttered during an ascension towards the Awakened Mortal Realm, there was no changing the spirit art in the future.
A short while later, however, Zheng Jin did not feel anything at all. This was strange, considering that he took countless Spirit Energy Stimulation Pills before and felt their effects immediately after using them.
"I...I don't feel any different. Have I done something—"
Zheng Jin's words came to a halt as an extremely painful sensation wracked his entire body, followed by an abnormal amount of spirit energy surging through his continuously widening meridians.
Bai Shuanyang immediately sensed this change, but her eyebrows knotted as she figured out that something went wrong. The absorption of the spirit energy was just too fast...it was almost as if Zheng Jin's meridians had indeed widened—but by too much.
Suddenly, a thought flashed in Bai Shuanyang's mind. She cursed herself for not having thought of it sooner. With a worried look on her face, she remembered that this wasn't Zheng Jin's first time in breaking through from Mortal to an Awakened Mortal.
This meant that there was a possibility of his meridians being already that of an Awakened Mortal. So not only that the effects of the pill he just took might not help him at all, it could even lead to a disastrous accident for all she knew.
Not even a second after, her fears came true as Zheng Jin suddenly fell on the ground kneeling, before finally letting out a loud scream, as he finally failed to hold it back. He felt that his body would tear apart right then and there, just by the amount of spirit energy that wreaked havoc within his body.
"Zheng Jin, stop absorbing spirit energy!" Bai Shuanyang yelled as she crouched down and held Zheng Jin's shoulders. "Please, don't—"
What Bai Shuanyang just said and what followed, however, Zheng Jin did not hear at all.
It was because he was no longer there.
An explosion of black-colored aura from Zheng Jin sent Bai Shuanyang flying back a distance away. This was followed by a long, guttural howl from Zheng Jin as his eyes turned as dark as the primordial void—empty, yet terrifying.