Yao Jun's consciousness faded as his all was pulled into the cracked-open fragment, whether or not it would ever return was not something he knew at that point. He was taking a risk, something he felt like he was doing increasingly often lately. But for some reason, no matter what risks he took, he always felt that things would turn out fine, he would make it out alive and see the future.
Was it arrogance? Confidence in his own strength and his companions? Or was it all just a trick of his mind, a self-made delusion to ease any worries so that he could move forward unceasingly. He didn't know, he simply made the bet and took the step forward, not even lowering his eyes to check if he was stepping on a solid path or into an empty void.
It had worked out so far, and this time it worked out once more. He didn't know how much time had passed or exactly what had happened, but at some point, Yao Jun's consciousness slowly returned. But his current situation, or what he could grasp at least, was quite strange.
He couldn't see anything, it was as if he was still engulfed by the timeless white light that had swallowed his consciousness. But he could hear and feel things, or at least it seemed like it. There was a constant buzzing in his ears, as if someone was trying to whisper to him but was obstructed by a thick curtain that obscured their voice and words. He couldn't make out any words from the buzzing, but the sound seemed to sting at his heart, it was somewhat reminiscent of what he would feel when he saw his mother cry because of something he had done.
That alone was peculiar enough, but it only became even more bizarre when the sensation his body was feeling was added to it. It felt as if he was submerged in sticky water, surrounded by a warm embrace that tried to lull him back to sleep. And that wasn't even the strangest sensation, because he could feel himself slowly grow.
Or rather than calling it growing, it felt like he was being pieced back together. Like bricks getting stacked up and mortared together, bit by bit he was being put together into his final shape. He couldn't detect the concept of time, it was as if it didn't even exist in his mind, but something slowly started to form within the whiteness that seemed to envelop him.
First came eight black fragments, each one exceedingly familiar to Yao Jun, they were the remaining pieces of his shattered God Gate. A small orb that seemed to be made of molten stone and metal formed amidst the shattered fragment, the various pieces positioning themselves around the orb and revolving around it like moons.
A layer of solid stone and earth started to form around the molten core, the stone and earth closest to it melting and becoming part of it, forming a small gap between the core and the remaining stone. The outer layer grew a bit larger before a thick layer of earth covered the stone, forming a bumpy surface covered in what seemed to be mountains and empty oceans.
But the oceans didn't stay empty for long, water materializing out of nowhere and filling both oceans and some smaller lakes. Finally, mushroom-like growths started to cover the earthen layer, massive forests with sparse amounts of grass quickly forming. But while this newborn planet had the eight fragments orbiting around it, there was no sun.
The lack of light quickly impacted the planet, the mushrooms slowly withering, the grass turning brown and faded. When the mushrooms had turned wrinkly and shrunk, and the grass had turned brown and faded, only then did the growth of the planet seemingly halt. And Yao Jun had been looking at the planet and its growth throughout the entire process.
But rather than say that he was looking at it, saying that he sensed it was perhaps more correct. he couldn't feel his body, much less his eyes, so he wasn't even sure if he was capable of sight. But this planet and the eight fragments around it, he could see every inch of them with perfect clarity. And it truly was every inch, even the parts that should be turned away from him were perfectly displayed in his mind.
When the grass withered and faded it was inevitable that it moved slightly, and he was completely aware of each move made by every single strand of grass as it withered. It was an unprecedented sensation of control, as if the entire planet was nestled snuggly in the palm of his hand. His mind moved almost instinctively in response to this sensation of control, replicating the sensation of him squeezing his hand.
And as if responding to his thoughts, the planet trembled in response, large cracks instantly spreading out to cover the entirety of it. He quickly halted the instinctual thought, the planet turning quiet again as he marvelled at the experience. A small sensation, or perhaps desire, tugged at the back of Yao Jun's mind, mixing with the buzzing whisper he felt in his ears. Small, it told him, so constrained, it screamed at him.
He decided to act on it, replicating the sensation of taking a breath. And just like earlier, the effects of that act were immediate. He felt a stream of energy flow into the pure white space, he thought it would merge with the planet but it just merged with the white space itself. And the moment that stream of energy finished merging with the white space, the cracked planet fell apart completely.
It collapsed in on itself, turning into a powder so fine that it was almost impossible to see. But strangely enough, Yao Jun could sense and detect every single grain of the powder, every single piece appearing in his mind at once. And just as quickly as the planet had fallen apart, it started to grow again.
The molten core re-appeared amidst the powder, slightly larger this time around. A strange sensation also filled the white space at the same time, it was as if a queer type of energy had suddenly appeared as the core reformed itself. But the queer energy, or sensation, didn't last long enough for Yao Jun to get a good grasp of it.
The liquid core split in half when it finished growing, the two halves forming separate orbs. And just like last time, a layer of stone and earth formed around the cores, two planets quickly taking shape. There still wasn't a sun present, so while neither of the two planets were identical to the previous one, almost all the vegetation growing on them ended up being dead.
The slight nagging sensation still prodded at the back of Yao Jun's mind so he repeated his earlier action, mimicking the sensation of taking a breath. Another stream of energy entered the white space and merged into it, but this time there was no change to the twin planets. Yao Jun waited for the energy to finish merging into the space and then repeated the process, drawing in another stream of energy.
And this time there was a change, both planets collapsing in on themselves and disintegrating into nearly invisible powder. The queer energy appeared once more as a new liquid core started to form, but it once again only lasted for a tiny instant before it vanished.
The new molten core grew in magnitude and then split up, turning into four this time. And once again, planets grew around the four molten cores, the eight black fragments revolving around the quartet of planets. The nagging sensation still screamed at the back of his mind, but this time he decided to ignore it.
It wasn't that he didn't want to see what would appear once the nagging sensation was pleased, it was just that he had so many other things he wanted to check out that he simply didn't have the time to focus on just one of them. One of the things he wanted to check out were multiple strands of golden or black light that entered and sank into the white space.
Most of the threads came from what was likely outside the white space, but several came from the eight black fragments revolving around the newborn planets. And two of the strands even came from one of the planets that quietly rotated within the white space.
These gentle strands of light weren't unfamiliar to Yao Jun, he had already started seeing them in the past when he first reached the Earthen Deity realm. And it was because he knew what they signified that he felt a sensation similar to his heart throbbing. Faith. It had never helped him in the past, he was at too low of a level for it to have any great effect on him. But it was a sign of belief, a mark of the trust his companions and others had in him. And it was exactly one such thread of fate that had told him that Little Thunder was likely still alive within his Demon Crystal, or at least a bit of his soul remained in it.
Every inch of the four planets was perfectly apparent in his mind so tracing the two closest threads of faith was an easy task for him. He felt like his consciousness focused sharply on the planet, zooming towards it until it was practically crawling along the surface of the planet.
His consciousness raced across the planet until it reached the origin of the first thread of golden light. he had seen it earlier since he saw every inch of the planet, but actually seeing it in this focused manner still assured him of its existence.
"You... what foolish thing did you do this time?"
Yao Jun felt like he muttered the words to himself, but the small black snake in front of him jumped up as he did so it seemed like he may have said the words aloud. Lying on the ground in front of him was a small black snake, barely the length of a finger. It had deep crimson eyes and an oh-so-familiar slit on its mouth that split its lower jaw into two different sections. It opened its three-pronged mouth and licked the air with its tongue, seemingly looking for the source of the voice.
But even though Yao Jun felt like he was right in front of this snake, which carried the exact same aura as Ba-Shei, it didn't seem like it could see him. He didn't know why Ba-Shei was here, but he didn't need anyone to tell him that Ba-Shei had likely done something while Yao Jun made his bet.
The hopeful eyes of the serpent eventually grew somewhat dim as it failed to find what it was looking for, its eyes closing as it looked to be going back to sleep. Yao Jun moved his mind a bit, much like earlier when he caused the first planet to tremble and crack. And as he expected, the small Ba-Shei was pulled into the air, squirming in confusion.
His consciousness raced forward again, dragging Ba-Shei with him as he headed for the origin of the second strand of faith. He almost instantly arrived at an inconspicuous spot beneath one of the larger shrivelled mushrooms. Just like everywhere else, the grass here was withered and faded, it looked like a simple touch would be all it took to render it as no more than dust.
But hidden away within this brown and lifeless grass was a single strand of grass that looked more like a leaf, its colour such a verdant green that it stood out tremendously. But it clearly wasn't a normal leaf, fine red veins covered the entire leaf, an exuberant lifeforce gently pulsating within it.
Ba-Shei landed on the ground in front of the leaf, his tiny head whizzing around as he looked for whoever had picked him up and dragged him around like that. The small leaf also reacted to his presence, fluttering softly in his direction, sprinkling out some of the lifeforce that was stored in it.
Looking at this leaf, Yao Jun could feel his throat clogging up, or at least a sensation similar to it, he didn't seem to have a throat right now. He had grown much smaller, basically being no more than an infant right now. But he could feel the unmistakable aura of Yama from this small leaf.
He had been inside Yao Jun's God Gate when it shattered, and just like the others who had been in his God Gate, whether or not he was alive or dead was unknown. But now Yao Jun had pried open the smallest fragment, and while he had grown markedly younger, Yama was still there, still alive.
He'd been pushing forward without pause, not even daring for a second to think about what he would do if it should turn out that nothing remained within the fragments of his God Gate. But now he had gotten an answer, there was still life in them, those who trusted and believed in him still resided within the fragments.
This was why Yao Jun felt something similar to his throat clogging up, he hadn't lost everything. They were still waiting for him, it was just that they were currently in a place he couldn't reach. He was relieved, far more relieved than he had ever been before in his life, he hadn't let down Guo Luo and gotten their daughter killed the moment they split up.
He felt like crying, but he didn't have eyes so how could his tears possibly flow? But while it was a strange problem, it was also one that was easily solved. If he didn't have eyes to cry, why didn't he just make a body that could cry?
Just like he did earlier as he interacted with the planets and the white space, his thoughts moved, his desire was unleashed. He desired, and the world moved to accommodate him. A loud thump rang out within the white space, another one following shortly after.
A red light emerged within the white space, rapidly condensing into a thumping heart. Veins extended out from the heart, gathering around the four planets and the eight fragments as they formed an image similar to a chest. More and more veins grew out, what started out as an image similar to a chest forming a complete human-shape.
The entire white space shrank down until it fit inside the veins that formed the chest, bones quickly appearing alongside the veins. The skeleton of a human quickly appeared, flesh growing on the bones and surrounding the veins. Organs also quickly followed and took up their proper positions along with the heart, a faint gurgling sound coming from them as they roared to life.
Skin and external features also appeared eventually, Yao Jun's facial features engraving themselves on the head as black hair grew out from his scalp. He felt that he could change the colour if he wished, but right now he didn't bother giving that sensation much thought.
He felt the sensation of soft earth beneath his feet, and the buzzing whispering in his ears was supplemented by what appeared to be more voices. He had regained a body so he of course regained his other senses, but right now that didn't matter to him at all. His eyes opened to reveal his black pupils, but the tears that filled his eyes made everything hazy.
He didn't care about who might be around him or who might see, dropping to his knees and clutching his new chest. And for what felt like the first time in ages, he cried freely, giving form to all the relief and joy he was feeling.