11 Say that again!
It was a beautiful morning, the birds were singing melodic tunes while dancing amidst the trees and the morning sun had just begun to rise lighting up the world.
Zhen Shi was surprised to find that he was no longer within that training courtyard. Instead, he was in front of a two-storied house with intricate architecture and stunning jade walls, This house was placed on a hill that overlooked myriads of houses and buildings in the valley below.
But what truly caught his attention was the amazing view beyond the Zhen Clan Mountain Range. Seeing this view, for the first time, Zhen Shi could truly believe that the Zhen Clan was separated from the rest of the world.
Amidst the magical mist that was partially obscuring the view, one could see the vast world that stretched out as far as the eye could see. There were occasional glimpses of kingdoms built around majestic castles, beautiful bodies of water, luscious forests and even some towering demonic beasts that walked unchallenged for the most part. And at two opposing corners he could even vaguely glimpse a land of pure white and land of pure yellow...
Shifting his attention from this mind-numbing view to the populated community below, Zhen Shi could see that it truly was the beginning of a new day. There were hundreds of people bustling about among the myriads of houses below, busy with their daily work.
The valley seemed to be divided in a rather organized manner. There was a market area selling general wares and services, along with a higher-tier market area consisting of a variety of majestic market pavilions, and even an official clan area that only allowed access for Clan members. But amidst every corner of every street, there were pairs of familiar Zhen Clan soldiers positioned to ensure security and enforce the law.
While Zhen Shi was observing the various comings and goings in the valley with great interest, the door of the two-storied building nearby suddenly opened up. Zhen Shi turned around to see two familiar figures, his father dressed in his official Zhen Clan robe with the battling Serpent and Turtle, and his sister dressed in another set of her fiery orange robes.
Seeing that his brother was nearby, Zhen Xixi immediately dashed forwards with a smile intending to tackle him as she had done before.
But this time, Zhen Shi had reached the Elementary Qi Stage Completion. Even if he couldn't beat a Foundation Establishment Stage cultivator yet, he wasn't as powerless as he had been before. As such, with a calm grin, Zhen Shi side-stepped her easily.
Not expecting her brother to dodge so agilely, Zhen Xixi was caught off guard and fell down onto the ground in a cloud of dust.
Zhen Xixi felt extremely annoyed at this turn of events. As such she got up and was just about to retaliate with her full power, but what she saw the moment she raised her head caught her off guard.
It was Zhen Shi's finger bent in a strangely familiar arc.
Before she could react, Zhen Shi had flicked her forehead!
And at the same time, a stern voice rang out, \"That's enough. We have much to do today. Move on to the training courtyard.\"
Both Zhen Shi and Zhen Xixi replied obediently, not daring to do anything else, \"Yes, Father.\"
Nevertheless, Zhen Xixi stuck out her tongue at Zhen Shi while brushing off the dust on her clothes and immediately dashed in the direction of the training courtyard.
Zhen Shi shook his head with a grin and immediately chased after his sister as well.
As expected, Zhen Shi was now within the familiar training courtyard.
But at the moment his father was talking to a very excited Zhen Xixi, \"Xixi'er, the sword that I've prepared for you has arrived.\"
Instantly he stretched out his hand causing a sword with a fiery red hilt sheathed in a dark black scabbard to appear within. Zhen Xixi hurriedly grabbed the sword from her father's hands and immediately unsheathed it resulting in a sudden increase in the surrounding temperature.
The sword was a little less than a meter in length, the blade was fiery orange with the engravings of blazing flames that seemed to crackle and burn mystically, and there was even a bright red jewel with an actual lit flame placed perfectly at the center of the hilt.
Zhen Shi stared with widened eyes. This was the most powerful weapon that he had ever seen! But the fact that made him feel most unhappy was the fact that it was given by his father himself. As such, he couldn't help but feel slightly unhappy about the fact that his sister was worthy and he wasn't...
Nevertheless, he understood that he wasn't as strong as his sister yet. Thus he could only determine himself to work harder and make himself worthy in the eyes of his father.
Zhen Wei spoke out to Zhen Xixi with a smile, \"That is the Blazing Inferno Sword, and it is a Soul Tier Grade 5 Weapon. It is very much above your current cultivation, but training with such a sword from a young age will be nothing but advantageous. Go on and get familiar with it, while your brother continues his training,\" and gestured towards one side of the training courtyard.
As Zhen Xixi walked away excitedly while hugging her sword tightly, she turned around momentarily to wave goodbye to Zhen Shi.
As Zhen Shi reciprocated her gesture with a forced smile, Zhen Wei spoke out with an understanding grin, \"Shi'er, if you wish to earn a weapon on par with your sister's, you will have to work hard. She didn't earn that for simply reaching the Foundation Establishment Stage 2, but for having already condensed a sliver of sword intent!
That is by no means an easy task, and yet she accomplished it at such a young age. But of course, your cultivation talent is much greater than her...
However, if you too reach a level on par with her accomplishment, Father will definitely reward you. Understood?\"
Zhen Shi nodded obediently with a strong determination to work harder and make his father acknowledge him.
Zhen Wei continued with satisfied eyes, \"Moving on to the matter at hand, you have already reached the Elementary Qi Stage Completion, and while most cultivators begin practicing martial arts only after reaching the Foundation Establishment Stage, it still might be better for you to train early on.\"
Saying so, Zhen Wei flicked his hand causing a series of books to appear on the ground.
He continued speaking, \"As such, today you'll select a martial art from these and try to comprehend it. Remember, it is fine even if you can't understand it immediately. After all, you've only been training for a little over a week now and you're still very young.\"
Zhen Shi nodded and began to read through the various techniques with great interest. There were exactly a dozen techniques here with all sorts of formidable names ranging from Sky Splitting Slash to Malicious Devil's eye. However, reading through them Zhen Shi found that he wasn't particularly interested in most of them.
The only martial art which truly caught his attention was one with a rather unassuming name, Unarmed Water Style. While the name was rather unusual, Zhen Shi found that he couldn't help but agree with its descriptions.
The Unarmed Water Style was a style of martial art that didn't specify any particular type of style or strike as the most powerful. Instead, it went on to mention that every style and every type of strike had its own advantages and disadvantages.
As such, the Unarmed Water Style was based on mastering a bit of everything, to produce a style that was as adaptive and fluid as water itself, but still as explosive as a raging wave...
Now that a fair amount of time had passed, Zhen Wei spoke out, \"So, what do you choose?\"
Zhen Shi immediately lifted the book of Unarmed Water Style and replied, \"This.\"
Zhen Wei's eyes widened in surprise for a moment. Nevertheless, he continued calmly, \"Alright. However, I hope that you are aware that while all the other martial arts have reached the Soul Tier, that one alone is at Mortal Grade 8.\"
Zhen Shi frowned thoughtfully for a moment but replied decisively, \"It's fine. I like this one better.\"
Zhen Wei's lips curled into an amused grin. Even so, he replied, \"Fine then. I'll give you two hours... try to comprehend and practice it.\"
Exactly two hours later, Zhen Shi's brow was furrowed in contemplation as he tried in vain to understand the essence of the technique. While he could easily exert the moves mentioned, he was unable to gain more than a 5% increase in power, when the technique mentioned more than a two-fold increase at the initiate level of understanding alone!
To Zhen Shi who had gotten used to cultivating with extreme ease, this failure was similar to an unsurpassable mountain. As such, he turned to Zhen Wei with a dismayed and helpless expression.
Zhen Wei smiled and spoke calmly, \"The Unarmed Water Style happens to be created by a friend of mine. It is overwhelmingly powerful in his hands, but very few people besides him have been able to master it. To reach the pinnacle of this skill one needs a rather high comprehension of the element of water.
But, of course, it can be a powerful art even without deep understanding. However, due to the small increase in power that it grants to the general majority of practitioners, it has been graded at the Mortal Stage.\"
Zhen Shi spoke derisively, \"Then... should I give up and choose another one?\"
Zhen Wei smiled once more and replied calmly, \"That's your choice. But... didn't you pick up that Martial Art for a reason? Even when I told you that it had a lower grade than the others, you still chose it decisively.
I believe that there were some concepts in that martial art, that you innately agreed with. If so, follow your heart! Besides, you've only been practicing for a meager two hours. Don't give up so easily!\"
Barely understanding the truth in his father's words, Zhen Shi nodded resolutely.
Zhen Wei smiled once more and gestured at Zhen Shi to stand up, \"Come on then. Let your father give you some personal pointers.\"
Zhen Shi immediately stood up with great excitement. In his mind, his father was a peerless expert. As such, seeing him in action was a great source of interest and a valuable learning experience.
Zhen Wei raised his right hand and formed a fist. Instantly he punched out, but for some strange reason, it seemed to be extremely slow.
But before Zhen Shi could even comprehend what was happening, that slow punch had caused a powerful gale that spread throughout the entire courtyard.
And with extremely fluid movement reminiscent of flowing water, that punch smoothly shifted into an elbow strike that caused another powerful gust of wind.
While Zhen Shi stared in awe, Zhen Wei began to speak, \"As you can see, the essence of the Unarmed Water Style is adaptability. Its power lies in gathering the strength of the initial strike and combining it with the next strike... and so on. The greater the strikes you can manage, the greater the power of the final one. Even if you don't have any understanding about the element of water, you can still emulate the flow of water you see in day to day life--\"
And as such, several hours passed with Zhen Shi making rapid progress in the Unarmed Water Style under Zhen Wei's skillful guidance.
As the evening sun was setting, dying the sky in crimson red, Zhen Shi calmly mimicked his father's movements...
And launched a punch that shifted into an elbow strike, which caused a small explosion in the air.
Zhen Shi analyzed his progress with great satisfaction. While he was nowhere close to his father's level of power, he had definitely made some solid progress. And considering the unorthodox nature of the Unarmed Water Style, he should be capable of catching most people off-guard.
Realizing that none of this would've been possible without his father's advice, Zhen Shi felt extremely thankful.
But almost immediately, the familiar fiery orange figure of Zhen Xixi came dashing in with her similarly fiery sword hung on her back.
She excitedly spoke to both Zhen Wei and Zhen Shi, \"We've been training all day. And I'm tired... Can we play now? Maybe Spirit Hunters again?\"
Zhen Wei smiled and nodded in response, \"Sure. Have fun.\"
However, Zhen Xixi smiled cutely and spoke up, \"No, no. Father has also been training us all day as well. Today you have to play with us too!\"
Zhen Wei frowned and shook his head, \"Me? No, No. The two of you can have fun...\"
Zhen Xixi and Zhen Shi nodded at each other with a total understanding of the other's thoughts and grabbed at Zhen Wei's hands simultaneously.
While both of them pulled at him resolutely, Zhen Xixi spoke up cutely, \"No! Father has to play with us today!\"
Even Zhen Shi smirked and spoke up, \"Besides we've only been trying for a few seconds. And considering father's teachings earlier today, how can we give up so easily?\"
Zhen Wei stared flabbergasted at his son's choice of words. But ultimately he gave in under their unceasing request.
And on that evening, the courtyard was filled with the sounds of whimpering spirit ghosts and the laughter of children...
In the next moment, Zhen Shi realized that for this memory, he was in the familiar training courtyard once more. But this time, it was only him and his father.
The bountiful weather that had persisted so far seemed to have receded, as the morning sun was now hidden amidst a dark and grey sky that had brought out a dreary atmosphere. Even the birds seemed to have retreated into their nests...
Zhen Wei smiled at Zhen Shi and spoke calmly, \"Shi'er, it is now time for you to attempt to reach the Foundation Establishment Stage. But let me explain some things first.
Exactly as it has been named, this stage refers to building a foundation for the entirety of your future cultivation.
As the saying goes, the loftier the building to be constructed, the stronger and deeper the foundation required. Thus, this stage is extremely important. Not only will it determine how far you can reach, but any problems that arise during this stage will also be much more dangerous than usual...
Moving on, as I've said before, Aether or Qi is simply energy. But when its quantity increases, it tends to manifest in different states.
The Foundation Establishment Stage requires such a change of state. The qi strand of the Elementary Qi stage contains energy in a gaseous state. To reach the next stage, the energy in the qi strand must be compressed to form a drop of liquid qi. And through the bridge of connection formed with the dantian, this drop will automatically be dragged inside.
This is only the first step and to truly reach the next stage, one has to form even more liquid qi until it is sufficient to form a qi lake within the dantian. This qi lake will be the foundation!
The foundation establishment stage is considered to be a turning point of cultivation, and this is because this is also the point that you can determine your class talent and begin training accordingly. But that is a different matter entirely...
Now, I believe you have gone through the contents of the cultivation technique and learned much more from the books we gave you last night. Go ahead and give it a try.\"
Zhen Wei paused thoughtfully and spoke with a smile, \"Considering your actions before, while this is a rather difficult obstacle for most individuals, you might be able to cultivate very easily...\"
His smile died down as he continued sternly, \"However don't be complacent. It is the geniuses that fall the hardest. Be thoughtful and never overconfident!\"
Zhen Shi nodded resolutely and closed his eyes after moving into a meditative position. Driving the qi in his qi paths in accordance with the cultivation technique, he began to condense the qi strand into a single drop. But that destabilized tear upon it remained hidden within...
To Zhen Shi's surprise, he found that the task of condensing the qi strand was extremely easy and completely unlike the records which mentioned that it would be difficult. As such, he easily formed a drop of qi which was immediately absorbed into his dantian through the bridge of connection.
But unseen by Zhen Shi the drop of qi shivered as if something within it was growing unstable...
Ignorantly, Zhen Shi was just about to continue when the primordial chaos suddenly began to absorb torrents of energy. Excited at the repetition of the situation that had given him rich rewards on previous occasions, Zhen Shi excitedly began to compress this qi into more and more drops rapidly forming a small pond of qi within his dantian.
In his mind, it was only a matter of time before he reached the next stage!
And just as expected with a few moments of hard work, the small pond formed a large pond, and finally a small lake. At that moment, Zhen Shi realized that he had truly reached the foundation establishment stage!
But... that was also the moment everything went wrong.
That shivering unstable drop of qi suddenly shattered apart causing a chain reaction throughout the entire qi lake causing a large scale internal explosion!
Even the primordial chaos base that had been invincible, savage and caused many miracles so far, was jarred by that explosion as well. Almost as if its own foundation had been weakened...
Unable to handle the destruction taking place within his dantian, Zhen Shi coughed up a mouthful of blood as he collapsed onto the ground in pain. Zhen Shi grew fearful as he realized that he could no longer move... or see... And the only thing that reduced his fear was the reassuring presence of his father nearby.
Zhen Wei had been expecting his son to gain another miraculous rise in cultivation. But seeing this unexpected turn of events instead, he dashed forwards in worry. Analyzing Zhen Shi's condition his face contorted in a series of emotions.
Zhen Wei could sense the presence of the Chaotic Dantian that had been jarred loose as if it was a ripening fruit that would soon be ready to be harvested by someone... Realizing that the cultivation technique had definitely been tampered with in order to prepare Zhen Shi's Chaotic Dantian for extraction and that his former suspicions were completely true, fiery rage arose in him.
But what had caused the sudden change before the Chaotic Dantian was truly ready to be harvested? Has there been some mistake in the cultivation technique?
Analyzing further... Zhen Wei noticed strangely destabilized drops of qi causing him to frown in contemplation. But what could cause such a powerful destabilization?
Thinking further he concluded that this had probably occurred due to the Duel of Justice where Zhen Shi had over-exerted the power of his cultivation. While that wouldn't have been a reason to destabilize the qi strand under normal conditions, since Zhen Shi's cultivation technique was inherently focused on weakening the Chaotic Dantian, this wasn't impossible...
Guilt struck him deeply as he realized that he himself had played a part in forcing this result on to his son. But at the same time, Zhen Wei was relieved that he had been able to find out about this matter before it was truly too late.
Directing powerful energy into Zhen Shi's dantian to maintain a stable condition, Zhen Wei brought out an aquamarine talisman with 18 different weapons engraved around its rim.
Staring at it he whispered, \"Old Friend, you said that I should only contact shatter this in a matter of life and death. And it is indeed so now. Wherever you are, I hope you get this message. I'll have to leave the majority of matters in your hands...\" and decisively crushed it into smithereens.
While the talisman shards scattered down while releasing a vague aura, he turned back to Zhen Shi who was in a semi-coma state and heaved a heavy sigh.
Even with the immense power of the Zhen Clan, Zhen Wei could only think of one method that he could try within the short time remaining. And this method just so happened to be one that could be particularly executed by him...
But at the same time, he knew the price it required... He didn't want to leave his son and his family alone to fend the storm that they'd undoubtedly have to face...
Nevertheless, he decisively brought out a piece of paper and lightly tapped on it. Instantly the paper glowed in a fiery red light as several words were burned on to it. Bringing out an Ivory White talisman as well, he calmly placed the two items in his son's pocket.
With a slight smile, he whispered into Zhen Shi's ears, \"Shi'er, I've done everything I can. As long as you live following your heart without giving up in the face of adversity, your father will be proud of you. Take good care of your mother and sister...\"
Despite the horrible pain that his body was suffering from, Zhen Shi couldn't help but become worried upon hearing his father's words. But he couldn't get himself to move.
Zhen Wei breathed deeply and raised two fingers. An amused grin crept on to his face as he whispered almost to himself, \"To think that it would actually be this technique that saves my son...\" Almost immediately an abstruse energy that seemed to slash apart space itself manifested around his fingers.
Slash! Slash! Slash!
In a single curving movement, Zhen Wei brought down the two fingers, deeply stabbing his own two shoulders and stomach instantly. As blood seeped out from his heavily wounded shoulders, the two fingers remained stabbed deep into his stomach.
Next, Zhen Wei calmly placed his free hand on Zhen Shi's stomach. Instantly an awe-inspiring golden law that seemed to arise from nature itself, manifested around the pair of father and the son.
As the golden energy of the law swiveled around the duo, Zhen Wei's face grew pale and his figure weakened greatly. At the same time, he calmly took out the two fingers stabbed in his stomach causing even more blood to seep out.
But out of this wound, two majestic shining crystals floated out... A fiery orange crystal with the faint imprint of a flaming volcano and a greenish-white crystal with the faint imprint of a tornado.
However, the two crystals remained floating and whimpering almost as if they were unsatisfied with having to leave their original holder.
Zhen Wei smiled lightly, \"You two have followed me since the day I was born... And I could never have reached my current level without your support. Today I only have one selfish request, please save my son!\"
The moment he finished his words, Zhen Wei finally lost all energy. Unable to persevere under the terrifying pain and loss of spiritual roots, he had given in and finally closed his eyes. But his mouth was curved in a satisfied smile.
The two crystals seemed to give in to his request. But they bent down, almost in respect and goodbye. The two crystals floated towards Zhen Shi and disappeared into his stomach leaving only a slight ripple in space...
As the two spiritual root crystals established themselves within his dantian, Zhen Shi who had been suffering unspeakable pain, felt a sudden explosion of spiritual energy that alleviated his pain and slowly healed his wounds.
At the same time, he could feel that the energy was even gradually strengthening his loosened primordial chaos base and re-establishing his destroyed qi lake.
While the energy continued to heal him, he hurriedly woke up from his unconscious state. As long as he rested for a few days, he would be able to make a full recovery. Excited at the fact that there were no drawbacks to that unexpected accident and that he had even reached the foundation establishment stage, Zhen Shi excitedly surveyed the training courtyard looking for his father to share the good news with.
Instead, what he met with was the sight of his father's terribly weakened body riddled with three horrifying stab wounds.
It was only then that Zhen Shi truly understood the sacrifice his father had made. Tears began to stream down his face unceasingly, as he stared at the familiar powerful figure that had been by his side since his birth. But now, Zhen Wei's figure remained deathly still, with his eyes closed and a gentle smile on his face. Even in such an instance, his father had remained in a seated position, refusing to allow himself to collapse down to the ground out of sheer pride.
Stifling the sobs that were rising in his throat, Zhen Shi dashed forwards towards his father's body. Staring at his father's pale face he couldn't help but feel indignant.
Unable to stop himself, Zhen Shi spouted out while shaking Zhen Wei's weakened body, \"Father, you're just sleeping right? You'll wake up soon, right? You'll be able to play with us like yesterday right?
H-How can I tell mother? And Elder Sister...? She'll be devastated! Dad... you have to wake up!\"
Even so, Zhen Shi refused to give up and accept his father's death jut like that. As such, he placed his finger near his father's nose. Zhen Shi immediately grew ecstatic as he sensed faint breathing; extremely weak, but breathing nonetheless.
A light smile crept on to his lips as he whispered, \"Dad, you better wake up soon. I'm going to reach the level of weapon intent, and you'll definitely owe me a weapon!\"
Immediately, Zhen Shi stood up excitedly and began to shout out for help...
The series of memories ended at this point.
But with those recent memories still fresh in Zhen Shi's mind, Xue Yuehai's latest words echoed in his mind, \"Your pathetic father would've died a thousand times over!\"
Murderous rage arose in Zhen Shi as he stared at Xue Yuehai with killing intent seeping out from every pore.
As both Xue Yuehai and Zou Rou reflexively retreated back in fear, Zhen Shi dashed forwards with horrifying balls of Hel-Fire in each hand while roaring, \"SAY THAT AGAIN!\"