Huang Ying felt his mind spin as he heard the declaration of the four elders, a sickening nausea assaulting him and nearly causing him to collapse to the floor. No dantian? Unable to cultivate? He had pictured a thousand different results for this day, but not once had he ever thought that he would be forbidden from having what every other person had. He had already been denied having parents, denied having family close to him, and now he was denied even this, his last sliver of hope to improve? While Huang Ying's entire world was being turned upside down, the low voice of one of the elders reached his ears.
"I'm sorry, Child, but you have to leave the podium, there are other children that still need to be awakened and you are in the way."
The voice was like cold water that shocked Huang Ying back to reality. He hadn't minded the stares and such in the past, but right now each pair of eyes looking at him felt like searing hot needles stabbing into him, a constant reminder of what he was denied. He didn't know why, but the sentence of the elder also stung his chest, there was something about the way he said that Huang Ying was in the way. It felt so cold and inhumane, as if he wasn't talking to a human but rather a rock lying in his path.
Huang Ying chewed on his lips, even more blood filling his mouth as he removed his hands from the crystal and walked away, his steps unsteady. Huang Ying didn't look at the sea of people, but he could feel their gazes sting his skin, he didn't even have to look to know that there were quite a few of them looking at him with scorn. Humans loved to be above others, they would feel comfortable knowing that there was someone below them that they could rule and lord over. And right now, Huang Ying was lower than even a normal child his age, at least they could cultivate and grow stronger, the best Huang Ying could do was train his muscles.
Huang Ying staggered away from the village center as quickly as he could, keeping his head lowered to avoid looking at the crowd of people around him, chewing on his lips all the while. He swiftly made his way through the sea of people and escaped from their gazes, escaping out of the village through the eastern exit. He walked across the two rolling hills that separated the village from the edge of the continent, sitting down atop the cliffs and gazing out across the vast ocean. He sat in silence for a short few seconds before suddenly bursting out into laughter, blood running down from his lips and mouth, staining his robes.
"Hahaha, really, what a fucking joke. Hahaha, it really is fucking shit, isn't it?"
In a situation like this, what could he do but laugh? At least he could drive off the despair by laughing, laughing would prevent him from going mad due to the realization that there was nothing he could do, he was beyond powerless. When Huang Ying's laughter started to quiet down a few minutes later, the voice of Li Jun echoed out within his mind.
"I told you, lower expectations mean lower disappointment."
Huang Ying's laughter instantly stopped, his mouth clamping shut and causing several drops of blood to splash out. Huang Ying's gaze lowered slightly, observing the spot where the waves crashed into the bottom of the cliff. He spoke up again after a few seconds in silence, his voice so low it was barely more than a whisper.
"You knew, didn't you? Since when?"
Huang Ying didn't have any proof, but he felt that he was correct, there was something about the way Li Jun had said it. And just like guessed, Li Jun's voice echoed out in his head and proved him correct.
"I knew from the start, but I decided that it was better to not tell you so that you could experience it for yourself, you probably wouldn't have believed me even if I did tell you."
Li Jun's voice sounded somewhat hesitant, as if he was searching for the correct way to word his sentence. Huang Ying's mouth opened again after he heard Li Jun's explanation, a low chuckle escaping his throat. He wasn't exactly wrong, he probably wouldn't have believed Li Jun if he were to tell him that Huang Ying lacked something that every other person had. Huang Ying's chuckle slowly ended, his gaze sweeping across the horizon as he spoke.
"Grampa Jun, tell me about cultivation, at least let me know what I'm missing."
Li Jun had never told Huang Ying about cultivation before, and now Huang Ying finally understood why. After all, what was the point in knowing about cultivation if you would never be able to do it? Li Jun didn't respond immediately, clearly not willing to talk about something pointless, but in the end, he relented with a sigh and gave a short summary.
"You start with the Nine Steps of Mortality, where you focus on getting your body accustomed to storing and unleashing Qi. In the final step, you transform your body and enter the Nine Stairs of Ascension. The next step is the Nine Mountains of Immortality, and finally, the realm that I reached while alive, the Nine Realms of Godhood. There might be more realms above this, the gods I met while alive were at least stronger than me. And other than the Nine Steps of Mortality, all other cultivation steps are divided into three realms which are then divided into three sub-realms."
Li Jun didn't give a more detailed explanation about the various realms, and Huang Ying didn't bother asking about them, for now it was enough to at least know a little about them. Huang Ying continued to silently gaze over the ocean as the hours passed, only standing up and dusting off his bottom when the sun started to set, a sigh escaping his lips.
"Your responsibilities don't care how shit your day is, they still demand that you complete them. Really, how shit."
Huang Ying turned around and headed back to the village, chuckling to himself as he walked. He entered the village again, doing his best to ignore the glances and stares he received as he made his way through the streets and arrived at the southern end of the village. He stopped in front of a small four-room house that was painted a light shade of blue, pushing open the door and entering it.
"Good evening, gramps, I've come to make some food."
Huang Ying stepped into a small living room that was sparsely decorated, only containing a single bookshelf, a round table surrounded by four chairs, and a few potted flowers that were showing signs of wilting. There were three more doors in the room, one on each side of the room, all three closed. The moment he stepped into the room and announced his presence, there was a loud shout from beyond the door that was located to Huang Ying's right.
"Who is it?! Who goes there?! Little Tang, someone's intruding again! Little Tang, you have to chase them away!"
Huang Ying sighed lightly when he heard the shout, but he had already gotten used to it so he turned towards the left and opened the door there, entering a small kitchen consisting of a fireplace, a workbench, and a large closet filled with supplies. He walked over to the fireplace and lit it up using some flint hanging on the wall a few steps away, a small flame quickly heating up the room.
He placed a pot on a hook hanging above the fireplace and picked up the bucket that he had filled with water this morning, pouring half of it into the pot. He added some rice and vegetables, as well as some herbs he had picked and dried to serve as spices, a simple congee quickly forming. Once the congee was finished, he went to the closet and brought out two wooden bowls and two spoons, pouring some congee into both bowls before removing the pot from the fireplace and placing a lid over the fire to choke it.
He left the kitchen and closed the door behind him, walking over to the room where the shouting had come from earlier. He pushed open the door and entered another small room that was sparsely decorated, this one only containing a bed, a closet for clothing, a small nightstand, and a square window. Laying on the linen cloth that covered the bed was an old man with black eyes and gray hair that was falling out in various places, a patched up and off-colored green robe covering his body. The man started to weakly flail his arm when Huang Ying entered the room, his eyes somewhat unfocused and dim.
"Who are you!? Get out! Get out! I warn you, I have a terrifyingly strong grandchild! Get out! Leave me!"
Huang Ying once again let out a sigh, shaking his head slightly. This was the man that his parents had left him with, San Jongyu. The years had not been kind to his mind, and it only got worse when Xing Tang, the person he considered his last remaining family, left him to go study. Now, dementia had already grabbed a hold of his mind and eaten away at it, he couldn't even remember Huang Ying any longer. Huang Ying put on a thin smile, walking over to the nightstand and speaking up in a very high-pitched voice.
"Don't worry, just delivering some food for you, Sister Tang sends her regards. Don't worry, I'll leave right away."
San Jongyu calmed down the moment he heard the high-pitched noise, his arms falling down at his side as his body visibly relaxed. He turned his head in the direction of the voice, a relieved smile appearing on his face as he reached out for the bowl of congee that Huang Ying had placed on the nightstand.
"Ah, so it's Little Xongyue, why didn't you just say so from the start. You have to thank Little Tang when you return to her, I really owe her quite a lot for taking care of me."
Song Xongyue, there was no one in the village by that name, it was the name of a person that San Jongyu's affected mind had made up, nothing but a phantasm that didn't actually exist. It was only by using the voice of this illusion that Huang Ying could pacify San Jongyu for a short amount of time, but he knew that San Jongyu would start flailing madly again if he stayed here for longer than a minute or two.
Huang Ying made sure that San Jongyu picked up the bowl of congee and then left the room, closing the door behind him and then leaving the house. San Jongyu was strangely perceptive to the presence of strangers, he would start howling the moment someone he didn't recognize entered his house. Even if Huang Ying made no sound, just being present within the house would cause San Jongyu to howl and scream, thrashing around until he hurt himself.
Huang Ying brought the bowl of congee with him and once again left the village, entering the forest stretching out beyond the southern part of the village. There was a small wooden hut located within the outskirts of the forest, it was just a couple of logs tied together with vines, only large enough to house a single bedroll and a small log table. Huang Ying couldn't afford a home within the village, so he had no choice but to build himself this small hut if he wanted a roof over his head.
Huang Ying was very mature for his age, and while Li Jun's influence was part of the reason, the main reason was that he was forced to grow up far faster than other children, otherwise he would not be able to survive. Huang Ying placed his bowl of food on top of the small table, stirring lightly in it while chuckling to himself.
"Heh, gotta look at the bright side, at least shit can't get much worse from here on out."
No home, no family, no friends, no future prospects, Huang Ying had nothing, it really couldn't get much worse from this point on. He even chuckled lightly at the thought that not even death was much worse than his current situation, a morbid joke to keep his spirits lifted as he prepared to face the world again tomorrow.