16 The End of the Beginning
Zhen Shi looked at the training courtyard, where he had basically spent the majority of his life... The familiar trees dancing in the blowing wind, the violets and daffodils growing amidst the wild grass, the weapon stands scattered about, the bench where his mother had passed over [Draconic Wind Steps], the ground where he had practiced his martial arts, and even the worn-out archery targets.
As he continued to watch, he could almost see familiar shadows shuffling back and forth, training, teaching, dueling, playing...
But suddenly a loud cough rang out causing Zhen Shi to break out from his nostalgia.
Turning around he could see an impatient and frowning Zhou Tong, speaking with crossed arms, \"Child, you should better make your choice soon... If I'm correct, your grandfather will complete his breakthrough in a few minutes. By then, it would be too late...\" while emphasizing the lack of time.
Zhen Shi smiled calmly and stared at the training courtyard for a few more seconds. But almost instantly, with a decisive turn around he spoke confidently, \"Alright. Let's go then!\"
Zhou Tong heaved a sigh of relief and spoke while grabbing on to Zhen Shi, \"Good. Hold on tight then. Your Zhen Clan has a pretty powerful formation set across the mountains, so this spatial transference might be a little disorienting.\"
Zhen Shi could feel space shiver as a dark whirlpool formed around their bodies. And as the whirlpool rotated with a mystical thrum of aether, their figures disappeared in an instant...
A few moments after the two had teleported away, a familiar figure dressed in a shimmering light green robe walked in with an excited face.
But noticing the strange absence of Grandmaster Zhou Tong and her son, Xie Li looked around a bit more in confusion. Having performed a fruitless search, her brow frowned in worry as she walked back to see if Xixi knew anything about this...
In a location roughly a few dozen thousand kilometers away, a crack appeared in space as two familiar figures appeared out, floating in the air. With Uncle Zhou Tong holding tightly onto him, Zhen Shi stared down in awe at the majestic sight that sprawled below him. Having flown before with his father, he wasn't particularly afraid...
What lay below him was a majestic cathedral of pure white, shining purely amidst the shadows as if it was the only spark of light in a world of darkness. But what caught Zhen Shi's attention was not this cathedral...
Instead, it was a series of exactly twelve gigantic statues surrounding the cathedral in two semi-circles, and much larger than the cathedral itself. Based on the people moving to and fro down below, it seemed that these statues were buildings of sorts...
And something about them was strangely familiar, like a vague sense of deja vu...
On one side were six statues; A bearded man with the aura of a ruler and surrounded by a sea of lightning, a second man wielding a trident and riding a horse-like creature amidst a turbulent ocean, a younger man surrounded by the divine halo of the celestial sun and riding a flaming chariot, a taller, stoic man surrounded by an aura of brutality and killing intent while wielding weapons as if he would attack at a moments notice, and the fifth statue, strangely blurry, but of a man wielding a staff with two coiling serpents and wearing shimmering shoes with wings. However, the sixth statue seemed strangely out of place, since the man was a far cry from the handsome appearance of the previous ones... A deformed, burly giant with a huge hammer while he was surrounded by various mechanical marvels.
Directly opposite to the first set of statues were six more, but of women; a woman with a kind, generous and motherly aura but also giving out a sense of grave danger, a second woman with a wise, worldly aura, but with her eyes focusing on a thick book within her hands as if nothing was as important as continuing to read, another woman surrounded by writhing plants and crops laden with fruits and flowers while giving out a deep aura of life, a younger woman who, unlike the other statues was, dressed in armor and wielding a bow while surrounded by the divine halo of a celestial moon, the fifth statue was a homely lady with a strong sense of solidness and a flaming hearth surrounding her, and finally a half-naked woman with her curvaceous chest bare, and a seductive aura that immediately grabbed the attention of all onlookers.
Since Zhen Shi was entranced by these statues, he barely recognized that the two of them were suddenly surrounded by dozens of floating soldiers dressed in golden tunics and visored helmets.
But Zhen Shi did finally break out of his trance, as he heard Zhou Tong speaking out, \"Just because the damned formation in the mountains was too strong, I had to waste three years... But it's finally over! That troublesome fellow should be satisfied now!\"
Hearing his Uncle's strange words, Zhen Shi grew confused as slowly asked, \"Uncle Zhou Tong, who are these people? Where are we? What are you talking about?\"
While looking at the confused Zhen Shi, Zhou Tong smiled calmly. But unlike before, his smile caused Zhen Shi to shiver in fear. He no longer sensed any warmth from his uncle and instead, only a merciless cold...
Raising his index finger, Zhou Tong spoke coldly, \"Shh! Shh! No need to ask any questions. All you have to do is remain silent... Kid, I don't have anything against you personally, but I guess you're just too unlucky to have been born with such a physique!\" and laughed eerily.
Pausing for a moment he continued, \"However, I do have basic manners, so as a good host, let me welcome you to the Divine Church!\"
And even before he finished his words he slowly moved to grab Zhen Shi.
But, having heard those fearsome words and almost on instinct, Zhen Shi used a mass of wind aether to dodge away from Zhou Tong's grasp and stepped into the air disregarding the fact that there was a fall of a few thousand meters below him. Even if he used the wind to slow his fall, he would be grievously injured. Especially since he couldn't use the Wind to fly just yet...
Seeing his actions, Zhou Tong growled out in anger, \"Stupid! Won't you fall down now?\"
But unexpectedly the shadow of two familiar crystals manifested around Zhen Shi and called out supportingly. One was fiery red and the other a wispy green. And before he could begin to fall down under the effect of gravity, the wispy green crystal shone on Zhen Shi causing him to remain floating in the air.
At the same time, the fiery red crystal shadow blazed in a flaming heat and exploded out burning all the soldiers in golden tunics into crisps.
Before the fire even began to clear out, Zhen Shi immediately dashed out while using the wind aether of the green crystal. Even if he was greatly troubled by Uncle Zhou Tong's betrayal, he hadn't spent his childhood sleeping. He could easily analyze the current situation and decide the best action... run away!
But the moment he took his first step, an eerie cackle rang out, \"The Spiritual Roots are actually out! And even before the procedure! I'm sure they won't mind that this falls into my hands. How lucky!\"
Instantly, Zhen Shi felt a terrifying spiritual pressure as his body freeze, as if he was stuck in once place.
And while he lay frozen, helpless and fearful, from amidst the blazing fire, Zhou Tong walked out with a grim smile and not a single burn on him...
Lookin at Zhen Shi like a merciless predator Zhou Tong spoke with a calm smile, \"Even if they are Spiritual Roots, they are currently attacking by their own volition. Without a strong warrior to wield them, even the most powerful weapon is useless!\"
Saying so he slowly reached out to grab the helpless Zhen Shi. But instantly the two crystals dashed forth unaffected by Zhou Tong's spiritual pressure and formed a defensive dome combining wind and fire, which blocked him easily!
Quickly growing infuriated, Zhou Tong rained down devastating attack upon attack over the defensive globe. However, despite his efforts, the dome of the spiritual roots held strong.
Just when Zhen Shi was growing relieved that he would be safe for a while, eleven figures dressed in similar white robes and engraved golden wreaths appeared surrounding him.
One of the robed men spoke out with a pleased laugh, \"Hehe. Idiot Randall, This is what you get for trying to steal without sharing!\" causing 'Zhou Tong' or Randall to scowl in displeasure...
But the man at the very center, wearing a tall hat-like garb spoke roughly, \"Silence! Grab the child. The Apostle is growing impatient.\" Instantly, the remaining eleven obediently fell silent and focused on Zhen Shi.
Sensing their combined aurae, he immediately grew apprehensive. This was because all twelve of them were Sovereigns!
Without sharing a single word more, the dozen sovereigns grabbed out with twelve golden claws, in complete unison.
And the moment the claws struck the wind-fire defensive globe, it shattered apart under the combined might of twelve Sovereigns. Before Zhen Shi could do anything else, everything went completely dark, as if all his senses were sealed...
To Zhen Shi who had reincarnated and lived through the primordial darkness upon his first 'shameful' death, having his senses sealed was nothing much. But for the former Zhen Shi who was simply a fourteen-year-old child, this was a huge source of fear. Especially after the sudden betrayal by a person he had trusted unconditionally, and the emotional turmoil that came with it...
As time passed in the darkness sensing nothing, Zhen Shi would occasionally fall into restless sleep. But upon waking up, what he met was the same darkness... as if he had never woken up. Unable to discern between times of sleeping and staying awake, unable to communicate or entertain himself, unable to do anything at all, Zhen Shi almost went insane.
But fortunately, after a few weeks of darkness, Zhen Shi would occasionally gain control of his senses. Sometimes glimpsing at emotionless faces looking down on him from within a cold, dark room, the rotten smell of garbage and waste, the sound of secretive whispers and the clanking of tools.
But before he could see or sense much more he would faint soon after, under terrifying, hellish pain that made it feel as if his body was being ripped apart from the inside.
In a situation where he literally had nothing, and the only thing he had to look forward to was pain, a lesser man would have fallen into insanity and hopelessness. But a strange, familiar part of him held on with tenacious grit...
And as even more time passed, hatred towards this church was festered deep within his heart.
Not only had the Divine Church put his father in a coma putting his entire family into trouble, but they had also ripped apart the trust he had placed in Uncle Zhou Tong. And finally, they had captured him and begun torturing him! He would probably be unable to keep his promise to Xixi as well...
Even if he was barely a teen, being forced through this traumatic experience that spanned through years, Zhen Shi barely kept his sanity through his hatred and desire for vengeance. And of course, the mysterious tenacity within him helped greatly...
'If I ever survive this, I will grow strong enough to bring down this false church! I will find those responsible and fuck them all to death!'
And with this thought, he continued to hold on...
Finally, after four more years of silent, arduous pain, filled with partial memories, Zhen Shi woke up.
The first thing that he noticed was the pleasurable lack of pain. It remained around him like a comforting blanket, granting him a relief that he could only have dreamed of in the last four years. And the next was the refreshing feeling of a cool breeze upon his wounded body...
But before he could recognize anything else, he felt himself falling down. A familiar wave of pain, that was much like what he had experienced frequently, rang throughout his body as his injuries grew even more severe due to the collision.
But he was too weak to move or shout out. And as such, he lay alone on the ground within a small pool of his own blood... Under the pain and injury, despite his tenacity, Zhen Shi could feel himself falling into a deep abyss.
But as he grew weaker and weaker, he suddenly felt a familiar presence awakening within his body. A presence that felt so familiar... as if they had been by his side since the day he was born! This was the same presence that had granted him unwavering tenacity and had helped him during the last four years of torture...
And as he felt his consciousness dying out, he called out fondly to this presence, \"You... whoever you are... if you can make it through this, can you look after my family?\"
A strangely familiar and prideful voice rang out within his mind, \"Sure! Why not? I've lain dormant within you as you lived through your life and only woke up recently... It's honestly a pretty strange after-life...
Besides, if I'm to inherit your life, how can I not? They are basically my family as well! So no worries. You can rest in peace, bro.\"
Zhen Shi felt a huge surge of relief wash over him as he heard these words. Nevertheless, he called out once more, \"I won't ask you to take vengeance on my part, but can you try to help my father?\"
The prideful voice rang out again, \"Of course, I'll help our father! That isn't even a question!
And why won't I take vengeance? I felt that shit as well and it was damn painful! If I ever meet any religious crooks of the Divine Church I'll slaughter them all!\"
Hearing these words, Zhen Shi felt another surge of relief wash over him. But with a forced effort, he called out once more, \"I don't want to leave just yet. But, thank you for giving me this relief. Maybe, I'm going crazy, and you don't even exist... But, who exactly are you?\"
The prideful voice spoke once more, \"Pish posh. If you're crazy, that means I'm crazy as well. But since that is impossible, this is as real as anything else!
As Zhen Shi felt the abyss beckoning him over, he heard the voice speak out thoughtfully, \"I believe we have similar names, but, you can remember me as this handsome and scholarly self!\"
As his consciousness dissipated, Zhen Shi whispered one last time, \"Alright. A strange name, but thank you.\"
As Zhen Shi carried on with his unwilling departure, the prideful voice stayed silent respectfully for a few more moments.
But almost immediately, the voice spoke out in excitement, \"Awesome! Something is healing this body!\"
But the excited voice shifted to a worried one as a golden, warm light came over, \"Wait... why is it coming? And what strong pressure! I might even lose my memory if this continues...\"
As the pressure intensified, \"Wait. Does that mean that I'll have to go through the, 'I reincarnated in another body' scenario all over again? No! This is unfa--\"
And silence reigned in Zhen Shi's mind...
Coming out of the depths of his memories, Zhen Shi stayed silent for a few moments.
\"So that's how the story of I ended up in this body? Damn! So I had lived inside this other Zhen Shi and couldn't wake up until he was grievously injured? So, basically, the Divine Church woke me up by killing the other Zhen Shi?
Hehe! They'll regret digging their own grave! And that golden light... it seems rather similar to the light that saved me at the very beginning. Could it be related to the System...?\"
Moving on from this matter Zhen Shi continued, \"While my story is pretty weird... Looking back, the former Zhen Shi's backstory is pretty cliche. I mean I'll fight against the Divine Church in a heartbeat, but still...
And the Zhou Tong fellow! He was actually a part of the Divine Church! I guess it was a plot twist?
But I wonder why he taught me--no, the former Zhen Shi. His lessons were pretty helpful and accurate... Perhaps Grandfather Zhen Wudi was listening in and he had to teach properly to keep up appearances? Could Grandfather have actually been suspicious of Zhou Tong's intentions from the beginning itself?
Wait... then that Verdant Storm Bow was gifted to trick me and grasp my trust? So this fellow somehow found out about Zhen Wei's promise to give me a weapon and gifted one himself... How cunning!
And that part where he forgot about [Undying Water Style], his own technique, and mentioning some incorrect details about it... Maybe it wasn't intentional as I thought...? It was pretty strange that he had such high achievements in the element of Wind as well… And that other fellow did call him Randall...
Damn it! Whatever name he goes by, he is a cunning shameless asshole! He'll be the first to be fucked to death!\"
But, at that very moment, the System Notifications continued causing Zhen Shi to become silent.
For defeating a pseudo-Nascent Soul Cultivator that utilized a divine blessing, while the user was barely at the Foundation Establishment Stage, the user gains a whopping total of 80,000 exp!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 2!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 3!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 5!
At that point, Zhen Shi who focused on his dantian could sense his qi lake growing wider and wider under a rapid influx of liquid qi. And his qi lake finally grew into a wide qi sea!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 6!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 7!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage 8!
Congratulations to the user for reaching Foundation Establishment Stage-Completion!
The qi sea continued to expand miraculously as it finally grew into a boundless ocean! It was divided into four seas; a sea covered in blazing flames with a hint of fearsome black Hel-fire, a sea covered in typhoons, tornadoes and wind storms, a sea composed of a pile of thick mud, huge boulders, and steady mountains, and finally a pure blue sea with shimmering water as pure as the moonlight.
Congratulations to the user for reaching the Core Formation Stage 1!
As the notification rang out, Zhen Shi felt his body automatically practicing a deep cultivation method similar to the [Martial Cultivation Technique], but much more complex! He could just barely observe the method of practice and try to memorize it, but not too successfully...
And along with this, the ocean of qi began to separate into the four seas. The four elemental seas floated away towards the corresponding spiritual root; the fire sea around the fiery spiritual root, the stormy sea around the aerial spiritual root and so on...
At the same time, each of these seas was infused into the spiritual root crystals, nourishing them, like water for a parched plant.
Instantly, with the nourishment of the elemental seas, the spiritual root crystals rumbled and shook as if they were under an earthquake. As they rumbled, the cracks on the spirit crystals widened and the root-like tendrils grew closer and closer towards the primordial chaos base.
The spiritual root crystals grew close until they were basically touching the chaotic energy.
And at that moment, the primordial chaos base finally acted out. While the spiritual roots melted and mixed together forming a brown sludge like matter, the primordial chaos began to expand rapidly until it completely filled the entire dantian.
Even though the primordial chaos expanded, it remained the same... as if it had simply changed size, while the quantity was the same.
In the end, Zhen Shi's dantian contained a ball of unsightly mud floating within pitch-black chaotic darkness...
But before he could complain, the brown sludge glowed in four distinct colors; a fiery red, an aqua blue, a wispy green, and an earthen brown. Those colors floated out and formed into terrifying maelstroms of aether as they wreaked havoc all over the surface of the globe of brown goop.
While the brown matter was utterly eviscerated by the aether maelstroms, there was a strange beauty hidden within...
As brown speck after brown speck was destroyed, a minute but strange energy replaced it. And with the emergence of this energy, miraculous changes occurred!
From within the earthen globe, a terrifying fiery energy composed of leave and magma rose out. This fire energy formed into a magma core at the very center of the globe creating a force similar to gravity.
At the same time, a powerful wind-storm blew through the surface of the globe removing any remnant specks of dust while randomly shaping the Earthen surface into valleys, ridges, mountains, plateaus and etc.
With the end of the wind-storm, pure white clouds began to form until they finally covered the entire surface of the earthen globe. These clouds soon grew heavy and dark and within a few moments rained down like a heavy downpour!
After a while, the rain stopped. But the clouds and the water remained to form lakes and even a wide sea. At this moment, approximately three-quarters of this earthen globe was exposed to land, while the remaining quarter was filled with water!
As such, the planet could be divided into four regions as well... There was one region of searing flames, covered in smoking volcanos and pools of flaming lava. The second region was completely flat land, filled with raging tornadoes, typhoons, and thunderstorms. The third region was a vast desert land with jagged mountain ranges scattered about everywhere. And the final region was the vast lake of shimmering water...
Zhen Shi who had been in denial for a moment had to finally conclude the obvious. His dantian now contained the skeleton of a planet! A mini-earth of sorts!
At the same time, the notifications continued under the addition of his experience.
Congratulations to the user for reaching the Core Formation Stage-2!
Congratulations to the user for reaching the Core Formation Stage-4!
But Zhen Shi ignored the remaining notifications, as his attention was completely focused on the planet that was gradually growing even stronger and more stabilized with each new notification.
And as if in a trance, he continued to observe this miraculous event, while trying to make some sense of it...