As we ate, Di constantly yammered on about ‘Herbs’. Apparently, pretty much any kind of plant, fungus and even cultures of bacteria can be considered Herbs. Just like Beasts and Spirits, they have an alphabetical ranking system. However, the main difference is that ‘Mortal’ Herbs don’t have the ability to gain sentience on their own, no matter how powerful they become. It’s possible for Spirits to possess them under certain circumstances, but for the most part, they just require a lot of time.
Any random mushroom or tree could be considered an Unranked Herb. It isn’t really anything special. For it to evolve the first time, it has to be able to live for at least ten years. Similar to the runes on a Human’s left hand, it isn’t possible to accelerate the process. There are a lot of ways to keep the plant, fungi, or whatever alive though.
An apple-tree probably wouldn’t have much trouble staying alive for ten years, but the difficulty would be in keeping the fruit intact and attached to the branches for that long. Once an Herb reaches Rank-G, it’s useful to Cultivators in the Novice Stage, but worthless to Apprentices. Rank-F takes around fifty years, Rank-E needs a century, Rank-D takes five-hundred years and the list goes on in pattern like that for a while.
Basically, even the worst Herbs are expensive as fuck and hard as hell to cultivate! I’m guessing that whoever or whatever created the rules that everyone needs to follow, decided that people, Spirits and Beasts shouldn’t rely on drugs to get stronger. Typically, only Clans and Sects had the power to mass-produce Herbs for their descendants. Even a Legend wouldn’t be able to live long enough to grow a crop that was useful to an Expert.
As I was eating the hot and sour soup, I noticed that the taste was incredible. The potent Nature mana within the broth made me feel like my Dantian was going to burst, yet the pain quickly died down. When red sparks jumped off of my hands I immediately asked “Hey, is this supposed to happen? It kinda seems like…”
“Yeah, that’s one uh the perks uh being a Shaman! Normal Cultivators need to pick a single Element and focus on it for a long time. If their Cultivation Method takes more than one at a time, their progress is usually a lot slower than the simpler ones. Shamans though… We can concentrate on whatever Element we like best, while our Spirits fill in the gaps. I’ve never bothered with anything but pure Nature and Leo used Light, there were others too… The point is that we’re just plain better than regular people! Hahaha~!”
I noticed that the whole time we were eating dinner, Di seemed overly happy for some reason. It was then that I noticed the symbol on the back of my right hand appeared again, but it quickly changed into something different. When I held it up and showed the old man, he told me “Congrats, Brat! Ya just made it ta level-seven!”
Hearing that, I sighed dramatically, complaining “You’ve been teaching me about all sorts of random shit, but I still can’t read or write yet! Since my progress seems to be going faster than expected, maybe you should show me how the numbers work at least?”
He frowned, grumbling “Hell no! Waste yer time learning that kinda shit later! Even though it seems like ya might make it to Apprentice within a few months, ya still need ta focus on gettin stronger more than anything else! Now hurry up and finish eatin! We gotta get ta work!”
I smiled wryly and nodded in consent, since I still had no idea when my birthday actually was. The worst possible scenario was that I was about to break through and turned ten before I got the chance. Although, maybe the more severe situation would be dying, but I’ve already done that at least once before.
Once our meal was done with, I followed the old man downstairs. I thought he was going to make me do breathing exercises, but instead he pointed towards all of the random equipment in the room and said “It’s finally time ta start weight-training! When I was a kid, my father made me use heavy rocks ta do all kinds uh stupid shit! I don’t even remember how many times I got hurt and lost precious training time… Hell, I might’ve become a freakin Master if I didn’t break my legs after falling off a cliff!”
“Oh sweet, yeah, I’ve been to a gym before, so I already know how to use all this stuff… Do you have anything specific that you think I should work on? Or do you want me to just do everything?” There were a few weird devices that I hadn’t seen before, but most of it was pretty basic. Plenty of benches with barbells, there was a whole wall of differently sized and weighted dumbbells, even gymnastics equipment was all over the place.
Di brought me over to the easternmost wall, which had a bunch of black robes hanging from it. He tied them individually around each of my wrists, upper arms, ankles, and thighs, then my waist and the top of my head. Once it was all set up, I had to try and run away from the wall, while those stretchy ropes were pulling me back.
After an hour of that, he brought me over to the wall of dumbbells and told me “In order to reach the peak of the Novice Stage, ya basically need ta be as strong as a full-grown adult. On average, ya need ta be able ta curl about forty pounds with each arm, bench-press two-hundred at least once and deadlift about three-hundred. I’ll be making sure that yer muscles are all as balanced as possible, but those are the three tests that’ll tell ya how powerful yer body is gettin.”
I let out a sigh of relief when I heard that. Then I snickered, muttering “I totally thought I was gonna need to be able to punch holes in steel plates or some crazy shit like that…”
The old man smirked, “Don’t worry Kid, the most important thing is not hurtin yourself again. Little Xiaotong and them herbs gave ya a pretty big boost, but it’s better not ta take those kinds uh risks! Now let’s start with the twenty-pounders!”
As it turns out, even though my body felt a lot stronger than before, I was still just a nine-year old brat. My leverage was terrible, since I only weighed about eighty pounds. However, I had an advantage that practically made me superhuman: Qi! Stamina was always my weakest point in my last life, but in the new one, I could workout for hours without getting tired.
I did eventually get hungry and need to eat. While Di was sleeping upstairs, I was in the basement, using every exercise machine in the whole damn basement! I still had to piss out that disgusting black gunk every forty minutes and I needed to keep myself hydrated with gallons of iced ginseng tea, but I didn’t take any breaks.
Hell, I didn’t even stop to masturbate, because I was literally addicted to working out. Not only that, but I also felt an instinctive urge that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. My hardcore grinding powers were kicking in! Whether it was back when I learned how to play guitar, when I first wanted to be a bodybuilder, that MMORPG I used to play, or well, any video game, I always felt that way. There was a switch in my brain that had turned from extreme laziness, to dangerously severe obsessive compulsive disorder!
I had a goal and my only desire was to achieve it as quickly as possible. Three whole days passed before I finally needed to sleep. The old man didn’t seem to think my almost delirious state was unhealthy at all. In fact, he encouraged me to keep going for as long as I could. Apparently, some of the Herbs in that soup were designed to cause muscles to regenerate much more quickly than normal.
For an entire month, I would do nothing but stay in the basement and use all sorts of exercise equipment. On the first day of Jiaolong, I reached level-eight of the Novice Stage. I could already curl thirty pounds, bench one-fifty and deadlift two-hundred. It wasn’t fast enough though, because I couldn’t make myself grow taller.
If it was in my old world, I probably would have gotten bored or given up around that time. However, the biggest difference was that I wasn’t competing with anyone and I wasn’t just trying to get in shape… I was racing against a ticking clock, which was counting down faster each day.
The more time passed, the more frantically I trained my body. I had no way of knowing when that fucking symbol on my left hand would change into a cross! It was easy to tell that Di was nervous too, because he stopped talking about random shit. He only urged me to push myself harder, even using various techniques to make sure that I could keep building up my muscles, bones and ligaments constantly. Every Rank-G Herb he had in his possession went towards making me stronger.
Xiaotong was terrified the entire time, crying “Levi, I’m scared! Go faster! Don’t stop! You’re running out of time!” Even though Spirits lose their memories from their past life, there are certain things that can’t be forgotten: Hatred, fear, agony, love, especially emotions and desires related to their death. That little girl died while cultivating, because she was struggling to escape a much worse fate. Obviously that sense of dread that comes along with trying to meet a deadline was deeply embedded into her soul.