Four hours later…
Once the news had spread that Shin was attempting to break through the first barrier of mortality, the entire Capital was engulfed in a wave of frenzy. Well, at least the members from High Society were. Anything related to the top geniuses was closely monitored by every single spy from every intelligence agency. News about Shin and Kanari particularly, if they were credible, could go for an exorbitant amount of gold. One was the youngest Spirit Spectre in the Himmel Empire while the other was a genius that was close to the Spirit Spectre realm even though he was barely twenty. And well… All that was about to change.
The first to arrive on Lady Seph’s mansion was the crew from Imperius Academy. Principal Erudito flew straight from his office, not even informing Vice-Principal Hirda or Madam Warulee about Shin’s historic attempt. Unfortunately, he had to come empty-handed. No matter how rich they were, Imperius Academy was still bound to their own students. They couldn’t just willy-nilly take out resources from their prized vault.
The next few to arrive was Elrin and her delegation from the Zedcris Conglomerate. Their arrival was the one that Lady Seph was anticipating the most. Once notified of the situation by Max, the entire company staff went into overdrive and procured as many water-elemental mana crystals as they could. Elrin’s father even took some materials from his own collection to supply Shin in his advancement. If not for his own administrative work, Terlus would have loved to personally witness the Rank 37 Spirit Adept breakthrough into the next realm.
Once present, Lady Seph barked out orders on how to reinforce Shin’s paltry chambers. She created a golden barrier that would protect all spiritual energies from escaping. Dozens of workers from the Conglomerate also helped in building the perfect closed environment for a Spirit Adept to ascend. They couldn’t move Shin to a better location, so they brought the better location to him.
Meijing Bingying and Kanari’s group were the final ones to enter the abode, right when the construction was about to be completed. Xunyu Huanyuan had carried over a ten-kilogram dense mana crystal on his back. The sealed box that was hiding its appearance pulsated vibrantly like it was sealing an ocean within. Kanari’s gift wasn’t too shabby either. A fossilised scale from a Tier 7 Rainbow Arapaima. It may not be a pure water-elemental mana crystal, but it was an item that could release vast amounts of spiritual energy once unsealed.
No one was comparing who brought the better gift. They all had one question in their minds.
“How could he trigger the process to enter into the Spirit Spectre realm this early?” Bingying was the first to fire out the question. Lady Seph had been preoccupied with building a containment area until now, so everyone kept their thoughts to themselves. Now that she’s finished, the congregation could finally pursue the truth.
Seated in the courtyard outside of Shin’s renovated room, all of the boy’s visitors looked at the blonde healer Shin called his master. No one knew of Shin’s condition better than Lady Seph.
“I… can’t be certain...” Her voice shaky, Lady Seph answered. “I have my suspicions… There have been some precedents where a Spirit User would skip ranks to breakthrough into the next realm, but each cultivator had their own unique circumstances.” She looked to Principal Erudito next. “Eru, am I right?”
Now holding the hot potato, the scholar took in a deep breath. “Yes, you are. The last recorded cultivator to skip ranks is Aloth Zorge, a cultivator that lived two thousand years ago. He was at Rank 38 and was preparing to breakthrough into the Spirit Spectre realm. Back then, he was under a significant amount of pressure to succeed quickly, and by some miracle, Aloth Zorge triggered the process to advance. Many speculated that it was sheer willpower that enabled him to do that. The records even state that his constitution was basically that of a Rank 39 Spirit Adept already, so there was no issue when it comes to backlash.”
“So nothing happened to him?” Kanari asked, her face full of unease.
“Yes. The records state that he lived to a ripe old age of two-hundred and four.” Principal Erudito quickly replied. “He never had the talent to advance past the second barrier of mortality, so he remained in the Spirit Emperor realm. Many didn’t think anything about it, and it was written down as a fluke or an oddity in human history.”
“That man bypassed Rank 39, only one rank…” Bingying frowned. “Shin is attempting to cross two ranks at once, bypassing Rank 38 and 39 entirely. Has that been done before?”
“It has,” the scholar said. “Let alone two ranks, some history books even claim that cultivators of old crossed five ranks at a time. Of course, many of them aren’t really credible since the records are so old, many of them hearsay, but there have been cases in more modern times where cultivators bypassed two or three ranks. Oddly enough, those situations most frequently arrive at the Spirit Adept or Spirit Emperor stage, when they attempt to cross the barrier of mortalities.”
“So Shin’s not in any danger?” Kanari’s eyes sparkled beautifully for the first time since coming here. Alas, nothing was perfect.
Principal Erudito shook his head. “Uncertain. Like Venerate Seraphim had said, all these situations are unique. Aloth Zorge managed to skip past one rank because he was under desperate circumstances, at least that was the theory. Other accounts claim that the environment plays a part. Some even claim that it’s the Immortals playing their hand. No one really knows why this phenomenon occurs. And worse of all...”
The scholar closed his mouth, shifting his eyes between all those present. Principal Erudito questioned whether he should divulge what he knew for a moment there but ultimately decided to tell the truth.
“If I were candid, there have been cases where cultivators cripple themselves for rushing their advancements. Some have even resulted in deaths.”
Silent gasps dominated the courtyard. Women brought their hands to their mouths, their eyes flickering with fright, while men bit down hard on their lips. What would happen if Shin passed away because of this attempt? What would they do?
“That’s why I can’t be certain.” The scholar continued. “Bypassing ranks is so rare that hardly anyone tries to keep accurate documentation. We can’t refer to past accounts because they simply aren’t there. Just like Shin’s current situation, a sudden jump happens without any warning, which means that we would most definitely not understand why he triggered the attempt to cross the first barrier of mortality.”
“So… What can we do now?” Weakly, Bingying asked.
Principal Erudito didn’t know how to reply to that question. They had already boosted all of the spiritual energy in the area, allowing Shin’s black hole of a Spirit Core to hungrily absorb as much mana as it could. They already had Lady Seph, a Divine Healer watching over Shin’s movements, ready to treat him should things go south. So honestly, there was only one thing left that they could do.
“Pray,” he cried. “Pray and believe in Shin’s own capabilities.”
Shin’s consciousness woke up in the most unlikely place. Both his palms were touching a wet surface. No, his entire back was wet from the ground. Shin sat up and pivoted his neck around. Oddly enough, the fatigue he felt had been thoroughly wiped clean, and his movements were no longer sluggish. Though, it didn’t take long for Shin to understand why.
“I’m inside of my Spiritual Body again...” Shin recognised this place.
Standing on top of the deep lake, Shin’s soft footsteps caused massive ripples to form on the tranquil surface. The Sovereign Koi swam about rapidly in bliss, as if happy that its master had returned back to his rightful castle after a long time in the material realm. Shin lifted the adorable little creature in his palms and chuckled. Over here, his heart was truly in peace.
See, the pristine lake didn’t have any of the bullshit that the outside world had. Shin could forget about Junius, he could forget about the Black Masks. There was no fighting, no politics, no pressure from outside eyes. No one had any expectations of him, and nothing would come to harm him. Over here, Shin could be rid of all troubles and was free to do whatever he wanted.
‘How good would it be to permanently move to this dazzling lake and live the rest of my life without any conflict?’
That thought flashed by. Shin sat on it for a moment, before laughing out loud.
“Yeah, right… As if that could happen.” Lamenting his folly, Shin turned his attention up into the skies, where the milky way galaxy was replaced with a tyrannical celestial scar. It was pulsating out an array of colours like a live heartbeat, visually marvelling any that laid their eyes on it. The last time Shin visited, he asked Bingying of the scar’s identity and why it had appeared within his spiritual body. And he got his answer.
“The Mark of the Celestial Dragon...” Shin gaped once again.
Shin didn’t know this, but when he condensed his Spirit Core, the Celestial Dragon made its appearance within the boy’s soul and left its mark on the astral sky. Due to this mark, Longyu Tian had almost kidnapped him back to Longyu Reef, and the Lantis Republic was willing to start a war for the youth to get to their country.
“It really is beautiful...” Shin thought out loud, slightly stunned by the majesty of the scar. His mind promptly snapped back, though. “If I’m here in my spiritual body… It must mean one thing.” Shin jumped up and looked around. Shin’s eyes shifted all around the vast lake and quickly found the objects that he was looking for.
Four floating crystal obelisks floated in the centre of the lake, each dyed in their own unique colour. The first one was cerulean, matching everything that the Sovereign Koi in his hand had. The aura it possessed was gentle and kind. Anyone who went near it would be tempted to sleep under its protection as their instincts knew that the obelisk would never hurt them.
The second one was doused in golden runes and emitted a potent holy power that matched that of Shin’s master’s. It had a thin heavenly string weaving about, adding more radiant energy to the majestic obelisk.
The third one was rather odd. Instead of the same gentleness that the other two had, this obelisk was emitting out tremendous amounts of bloodthirst and was menacing to anyone’s eyes. Coated in thick Sovereign Koi scales, the obelisk was akin to that of a war machine.
And then… Shin's eyes landed on the final obelisk. It was a diamond monolith that encased the familiar Shard of the Azure Dragon. Inside of the diamond, a never-ending tempest raged on, sending coils of white mana lightning flying about. If not for its coating, Shin was confident that the shard would collapse his entire spiritual body within seconds.
The sides of Shin’s lip crept up into a smile. Still in the air, the young man leapt across the serene lake like a flamingo dancing across the water surface. He landed right in front of the four obelisks and soon, the shining bead in the middle of the monoliths came to view. Beaming out a water-elemental radiance, Shin felt his body melt when he approached the spectacular pearl. Then, he noticed a single oddity in his Spirit Core.
“It really is cracking...” The boy furrowed his brows when he saw the chinks in the luminous pearl.
Shin knew that him entering his Spiritual Body meant that he was on the verge of breaking through into the Spirit Spectre realm. He had studied the first barrier of mortality extensively, after all. Why was advancing to the Spirit Spectre realm considered to be that challenging? It was due to the dangerous process that is required.
The Spirit Core that Shin had so masterfully condensed would be smashed into smithereens, and his Spiritual Body would be on the verge of collapse. To complete the process, Shin had to reforge the scattered energies into a Spectre Soul, basically creating another container for his Spiritual Body and everything that it contained. The four, going five, obelisks, the gigantic lake that was bound to increase in size until he was a peak Rank 79 Spirit Emperor, and everything else that remained.
Crossing the first barrier of mortality usually began when a cultivator had more mana in his Spirit Core than it could contain. That frequently occurs when the Spirit Adept was at the peak of Rank 39 when his mana reserves were at their peak. However, breaking a Spirit Core wasn’t easy. Some Spirit Adepts, even talented ones, might take a few tries to land a crack in their Spirit Core.
Shin had the opposite problem. His Spirit Core was already breaking as if the mana inside couldn’t wait to get out! Shin wasn’t fully prepared to create his Spectre Soul, and he couldn’t stop now since the process was already initiated. Once there was a fracture in the Spirit Core and mana was already pouring out, there was nothing that Shin could do to stop it.
The Sovereign Koi looked on in absolute glee. There was no concern in its big fishy eyes, and it wanted Shin to quickly get it over and done with. And oddly enough… Shin felt the same way.
Shin had been worrying about this moment ever since he entered the Spirit Adept realm. He read books, listened to the masters, studied everything that he needed extensively about the subject matter. But ultimately, it wasn’t those preparations that he relied on that gave him faith.
“I know what spiritual ability I want... I know what kind of cultivator I want to be... I know what Spirit Spectre I will be...”
Ktttt… Kttt… Kttt...
Shin took one step into the gap between the four pillars and slowly advanced to his Spirit Core. The single tear in its smooth surface became two. The next step that Shin took, the Spirit Core cracked even more. Until eventually, its entire surface had become broken glass, and just one gentle touch would be sufficient to blow it up entirely.
Shin smiled. He wasn’t afraid, neither was he worried. Everything moved according to his desires. And so, Shin reached out. His strong right index finger, toned from his daily spear-wielding was now a centimetre away from the Spirit Core. It was shaking. Not from fear, but excitement. Soon, he was going to take one more step to immortality.
That was all Shin heard, and then…
The world turned into light.