At first nothing happened. But Han Lingyun could feel the volcano about to erupt.
He didn't waste time and hurriedly drank a cup of hibernating oil after another. Drinking those was gag-worthy but Han Lingyun knew it was the lesser evil. In fact, at this point, he was already not thinking straight anymore. His movements became sluggish and his thoughts slowed down.
'No! Another cup!'
Han Lingyun managed somehow to gobble up another mouthful of hibernating oil.
He was already crying, and snot fell down his body. He felt like a rusted robot with alarms ringing everywhere in his body simultaneously. A strong sense of disgust was emerging, as if his own body was inadequate. What a prison!
With trembling hands, Han Lingyun shoved a final glass of hibernating oil down his throat.
Not only would the hibernating oil alleviate the pain somewhat, it would also speed up his recovery and all around fluidify the process. That oil seemed to 'wake up' whenever in contact with anything related to the bone eating flower. The interactions were very subtle and quite remarkable.
Those were not Han Lingyun's thoughts at that moment though, if he still had any. Sweating profusely on the ground, blood intermittently oozing from his pores, muscles twitching uncontrollably. Han Lingyun would faint and wake up over and over because of the pain. It was unbearable to be conscious making him lose focus but the horrendous pain would jolt him back up to awareness every time.
Why couldn't it just be over?
'AAAAAARGH, I'll make it through!'
Han Lingyun couldn't even scream or speak; he was too lost for that. He remembered the helplessness of his last life when his body abandoned him due to the illness. He wasn't controlling anything again, a victim of his own body, a prisoner begging for freedom.
'I'm not helpless this time.'
The pain of the body was also a pain of the spirit. The constant battering had two possible issues: to break the aspiring blade or to forge a sword through the tempering.
In his mind, Han Lingyun was fighting like a rabid dog. He had already broken once in his last life, so he forbid himself to give up once again. He couldn't afford to.
Elder Wen, accompanied by his aid, a youth with a calm temperament, took good care of the sleeping boy.
He tilted the boy's head to make sure the kid didn't choke on his medicinal tea while the youth pressed towels of hot water and massaged the sleeping boy softly with precise hands.
At some point, the boy slowly opened his eyes but realized he couldn't move nor speak. He could only blink as he stared at the sealing that seemed rather hazy and vague at first.
Time passed by at snails' pace and the boy managed to slightly move his fingers after a couple of hours. Then he became able to make some groaning sounds. By nightfall, he could move his arms and speak in whispers.
"Did I do well, Elder Wen?"
"You passed it like a champ! I must say, I was hugely surprised by your willpower and willingness to maintain consciousness. It seems that a spark had lit up inside you or something. That massively sped up the process and probably increased the plant's effectiveness, you can be proud.
And most unexpectedly, your spirit has gained a faint substance, something I never witnessed for a practitioner before the qi condensation stage!"
Han Lingyun forced a smile through his difficult movements. This time he had won against himself. He was glad.
It took Han Lingyun another 3 days to completely adapt to his 'new' body, and it felt great. It was as if he had undergone bone strengthening a second time. More than that, he felt very comfortable. Like a pilot controlling the right plane, but being both the pilot and the plane, if that made sense.
His agility had increased and he could now contort himself in ways he wasn't able to before. On the other hand, he knew that his bones were now extremely tough.
Perhaps a mortal would have felt that way with an exoskeleton. This improvement benefitted him on multiple levels.
He had also crossed a mental barrier. Now that he had done it once, he would be able to do it again.
'Next, I just need to cultivate a bit further and I will reach the qi condensation realm.'
Han Lingyun remained very careful though. The easiest way to make a mistake was to try to rush in cultivation.
The 1st year's village seemed to have gone to sleep. The training grounds were deserted. Even classes didn't reach half attendance. An empty mood had swept the school. Many disciples had started to take on exterior missions while the others were using all their time to cultivate.
As such, much of the excitement and bustling activity from the beginning of the year had died down.
At the later stages of body strengthening, one could cultivate for multiple cycles, one more per stage in fact. If the cycles had shortened, the cultivation sessions had lengthened substantially and disciples went out less often.
It's in that environment that Han Lingyun sensed he was reaching the end of body strengthening stage. He consumed his final rainbow pill and briefly felt a heavenly experience. Each pill built on the previous one and by the last one, the effect was stacking up with every additional stages. Han Lingyun was confident that the combined effect of the pills was twice or three times more significative than the unique Fallen Rainbow Pill. The fact that taking a Fallen Rainbow Pill after the 5-rainbow pill from the body strengthening steps proved that it had an inferior effect.
After taking the 5th rainbow pill, Han Lingyun could picture himself in a cultivation paradise above a waterfall and facing a rainbow. He had completed the pills series. By now his body was one level above all his companions at the same stage. With no techniques into consideration, he would always triumph.
But what was the point of this when he could crush them anyway once he reached qi condensation? Indeed, all this was still secondary for Han Lingyun. There was one important benefit though: everything was about building a foundation for his future progress. His own foundation was definitely rock solid, with his extravagant expenses to optimize the body, his resolute heart and firm mind.
Han Lingyun finished his cultivation session but he hadn't reached the qi condensation realm yet. He was slightly disappointed that he didn't immediately break through after taking the last rainbow pill but didn't take it to heart. He knew that being impatient wouldn't bring any benefits. Han Lingyun decided to go for a walk around the facilities of the 1st years and thought back to his experiences at the sect.
For a cultivator, there wasn't anything groundbreaking in Han Lingyun's experiences during the year but all the changes he went through trumped everything he had experienced in his previous 30 + 10 years. His slightly cowardly temperament had shifted somewhat, though he wouldn't start looking around for trouble. He still had the mentality that if could avoid taking risks and having to fight, he would use that route. Han Lingyun also thought back to his goals. Going forward he would continue to take these into consideration for his actions and inactions.
After mindlessly walking for an unknown amount of time, Han Lingyun reached the cave he had momentarily occupied with Shen Lin and Yang Haoyu as he was still lost in his thoughts.
Looking back, these eventful weeks weren't necessarily bad memories after all.
Han Lingyun had also learned that in the cultivation world, deaths were to be expected. Every now and then, some disciples wouldn't come back from missions. Even Huang Xiuying, one of the prominent disciples and a member of the 'sword maidens' had passed away in that fashion, to the woes and cries of her fellow sisters.
Everyone was pursuing an impossible goal and it wasn't anything dishonorable to die trying. Luck played an important part in one's final success. That day, Huang Xiuying and her group had met bandits under a qi condensation cultivator, which should have been impossible.
Such an event was improbable but who could guarantee never facing an unlucky circumstance on their long path to cultivate to the top? In the end, only a tiny fraction would even make it to the core formation realm.
Han Lingyun thoughts went back to Wei Muchen, Wang Yimo, Yu Tao, Liao Zhenzhen, Qin Tengfei, Li An, Qin Mei, Shen Lin, Yang Haoyu. Which one would make it to the Core formation realm? Will one of them make it? Or will an unknown disciple of the promotion be the only one to manage to reach the core formation realm?
It was still difficult for Han Lingyun to imagine the hurdles to overcome as the young disciples were all making progress at a rapid pace for now.
He didn't know what it would take, but the core formation realm would only be a stepping stone to his rise, that he was convinced.
Han Lingyun removed the bushes and trees the trio had transplanted to hide their caves. This could prove useful for new disciples someday.
As Han Lingyun finished his rearrangements, he suddenly had the urge to cultivate and sat down in a lotus position. A breeze lightly picked up and made his robes and hair sway to its rhythm. A very faint vortex of light with Han Lingyun at its center sublimated the scene, the center of his own galaxy.
Han Lingyun's hardened flesh vibrated to the qi dancing in the clearing. His enhanced lungs breathed the qi and his heart pumped it to every cell of his being. His muscles sponged up that power, his bones were reinforced down to the marrow that exulted life. He had completed the 5 steps of body strengthening.
In Han Lingyun's vision, qi rushed at him like never before in the darkness, enveloping him in a faint fog. Qi clouds formed in his dantian and in his mind, becoming denser and denser until a small, round particle gradually took shape.
The instant stretched to eternity as the drop fell. There was no sound but the drop made waves on his heart. A dam had suddenly opened and soon a gentle rain echoed in Han Lingyun's mind as the qi condensed in his dantian.
This shower didn't last long and Han Lingyun opened his eyes to reveal a piercing gaze that soon made way to a rush of excitement; he had reached the Qi condensation realm!
Back to the material world, rain was actually pouring down. Han Lingyun remained in his lotus position as he realized he had no idea how much time had just passed. Heavy and cold rain had drenched his robe already and cleaned the impurities his body should have forced out during his advancement.
Han Lingyun entered the cover of the cave and let his senses take in the spectacle. He didn't remember ever feeling so fulfilled.
The air had never felt so fresh. His skin delighted in the coolness; his pores drank the atmosphere. The smell of the forest and rain brought him melancholy for memories he didn't have. The downpour tempered his heart with its soothing tempo.
His eyes feasted on nature's spectacle.
And all of this was for him.