Halfway through Jiaolong, I managed to reach level-nine. Gathering and condensing Qi in my Dantian was just a natural reflex by that point. Only when my muscles, bones and organs reached the proper strength, would my level be able to increase properly.
According to Di, I had about a fifty-percent chance of failing my first attempt to break through to the Apprentice Stage. The good news was that even if I fucked up, it was unlikely that I would cripple myself or explode. Also, with my overpowered Innate Talent, I could get back to the peak in less than a week if I needed to.
On the seventh of Shenlong, the old man finally told me “Alright Kid, enough! Damn, I know I told ya ta hurry, but yer gonna have a stroke at this rate! Come on, ya gotta calm down… It ain’t good ta rush too much. Besides that, ya ain’t even gone outside since Fucanglong! The Qi down here is gettin stale… I’m too old ta keep doin this shit! Ugh, let’s go… I’ll take ya ta see an old friend uh mine. I didn’t wanna let her meet ya so soon, but… Well, she’s a fortune teller. By just tasting yer blood, she can tell exactly how old ya are, down ta the date and hour.”
I stopped curling the thirty-five pound dumbbells and gazed up at Di’s wrinkly face. Then put them down and yelled “Wait a second, you… Why didn’t you do this like four months ago?! I almost died because I was so fucking anxious about this!”
He smacked me in the mouth for the first time in a few weeks and shouted “This is why! Ya rude brat! I was afraid you’d start saying all kinds uh weird shit ta her! If she knew bout yer Innate Talent… Who the hell knows what’d happen?! The ugly old hag might try ta rape ya! Or maybe she’ll… ugh. I’ve gotten ta know ya a lot better since then, okay? Ya acted like you’d be willing ta screw anything that had a pussy when we first met! Since ya haven’t tried ta molest any uh my mares yet, I don’t think you’d actually do anything ta that bitch… Before we leave though, I need ta cut yer damn hair!”
Every month I needed to get a haircut, or it would get so long that it might have actually gotten stuck in the weight-training equipment. Well, it was also really annoying, so if Di didn’t do anything, I would just shave it off with a straight-razor.
After taking a shower, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and smirked. My face was still extremely feminine, though my wet hair was so short that it was all spiky. I used a towel to dry myself off and let out a long sigh, muttering “Xiaotong, what do you ‘desire’ more than anything else? What is it that keeps you in this world?”
“I don’t know… I wanna get stronger I guess? I feel so weak… powerless. What does Levi wanna do?” Even though I could see a crimson skull floating in the mirror behind my left shoulder, I knew that she wasn’t really there. From what the old man told me, it was impossible for a Spirit Companion to leave a Shaman’s body while they were still in the Novice Stage. At least not unless the ghost severed the connection and abandoned their host. Spirits were basically Qi parasites afterall.
“But is that all you want? I mean, sure, my immediate goal is to make it past this damn deadline, but there are other things that I desire. Like, I’m really getting tired of this fucking vegetarian diet… I miss sushi, sashimi, hell, I’d settle for some fried chicken! Di’s a great chef, but I feel like the reason it’s taking so long for me to get stronger might have to do with a lack of animal protein… Actually, I’d probably be better off eating a Rank-G Beast or two, right?”
The translucent skull whispered “I, I don’t know? Can I eat stuff too? What does eating feel like? Is it better than your cleansing ritual? Your Qi always seems so happy when you practice your secret technique…”
I sighed, staring into those empty sockets and murmuring “Xiaotong, don’t worry… When you get stronger, I’ll teach you how to train your Ero-Qi too.” Even though she was probably two-hundred years older than me, it still felt like I was taking advantage of a little kid for some strange reason.
“Okay~! I can’t wait! Hehehe~…” It was hard to tell if she was really naive and innocent, or trying to trick me into giving my super-virginity to her… I knew that she wasn’t as ‘childish’ as she pretended to be, but then again, her Element was Chaos. Generally, that meant that she was much more prone to psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other mental illnesses. Of course, it varied from person to person and she didn’t have a physical body, so I had no idea if the side-effects were better or worse because of that.
However, I did manage to learn how to ‘safely’ enter that strange state where I could look inside of my Dantian. Working out didn’t require too much thought, so I had plenty of time to focus on other things. Anyway, what I discovered was that there was a powerful synergy between Xiaotong and I.
My Innate Talent was way ahead of hers, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I breathed or ate and drank anything, it would all get turned into Nature Qi within my Dantian. It was essentially a swirling orb of green gas. Within that viridescent tempest was a relatively small crimson skull, which was being carried all over the place by the currents.
One of Di’s fun facts that he loved to ramble on about, was opposing Elements and their synergistic effects. Obviously he was never very eloquent in his teachings, but at least he spoke English. Or maybe he didn’t? Whatever, that doesn’t really matter.
The point is that Natural Qi was at least twice as effective for Chaotic beings to cultivate with. Once Xiaotong was totally filled-up, she would spew out a dark-red electric fog. Compared to the green storm, those tiny crimson clouds seemed insignificant, yet they were extremely dense. Another weird thing was that there didn’t seem to be any gravity influencing it, so the scarlet gaseous core formed within the very center of that viridescent orb.
In case you were wondering, yes, that is a good thing. All those levels, Stages and Ranks in the Mortal Realm came from condensing Qi. That basically meant that the denser it became, the stronger a Human, Spirit or Beast would be.
Anyway, once I was done brushing my teeth, I opened the door and went to find some clean clothes: A white button-up short-sleeved shirt, black boxers and some dark-blue jean-shorts. Honestly, I still had no idea what the manufacturing technology was like at the time. The old man barely wore anything, but the styles were always so random that it didn’t make any sense to me. Sometimes he used a karate gi, he also had plaid shorts and sunglasses occasionally, I even saw him wear a toga before.
As I came out of my room, I asked “What the actual fuck are you wearing?” Di was shirtless, with nine huge glowing green prayer beads around his neck. There was a giant deer skull covering his face and head. Those antlers had purple perennials growing all over it and the vines were constantly moving very slowly. Seven white translucent serpents were dangling from the back of the helmet and I could still see his long braided beard hanging from the front. His bright-orange irises were illuminating the eye sockets of that creepy skull.
The old man held a gnarled wooden staff in his right hand and both his wrists were covered with onyx-bead bracelets. Instead of pants or shorts, he was wearing a kilt that was made entirely out of small, reflective golden feathers. He even wore shoes for once, though they looked more like the paws of a grizzly bear.
He sighed, complaining “This ain’t a fuckin vacation! If that crazy bitch decides ta try some shit… Well, she’s a peak-level Master, so Long Bai would save ya, but I wouldn’t be so lucky! She’s that ‘frenemy’ I told ya about… I was hoping that ya wouldn’t meet her till after I was already dead. Hmmm, here, put on some sandals at least, cause it’s gonna be a long walk.”
Two flip-flops appeared out of nowhere and fell down in front of my feet, so I immediately tried them on. They didn’t seem particularly magical or anything, just leather, though they were surprisingly comfortable.
It was pretty early in the morning, so it was actually still dark outside. Before we left, the Di had to feed all of his cats, dogs and other miscellaneous semi-domesticated animals. After walking through the southern wilderness for an hour or so, I wondered “Wait a second, you’ve got like ten horses, so why the fuck aren’t we riding any of them?”
The old man used his left hand to smack me in the back of the head, then yelled “Stop cursing, ya little bastard! My horses ain’t for riding! Besides, it’s only a few dozen miles, we’ll be there in a couple days!”
“Don’t you have some kind of flying swords or maybe a magical Ghost Ship we can use?” After hearing my question, he started laughing hysterically and patted me on the back. That night was the first time that I ever went camping…