Yao Jun may not have been able to perceive any surroundings while he engaged in his small experiments, but that didn't mean that his surroundings didn't exist. Time continued to pass without pause after Yao Jun and Ba-Shei were absorbed into the pulsating orb, but Sirius and Zhuan Yi did not allow their attention to waver for a single second.
One did so out of loyalty and the other because she had no choice but to rely on the origin of that pulsating orb to escape this place alive. And their attentiveness was rewarded in the end, a scene unlike any other playing out in front of their eyes.
The orb hovering in front of them stopped pulsating and rapidly contracted, a core of molten earth and stone replacing it. The two watched as a planet formed around the core, eight black fragments revolving around it like moons. Water and mushrooms appeared on the planet, the mushrooms withering as suddenly as they had appeared.
The planet cracked and trembled after only a short moment, but it didn't completely collapse. But then the planet, or rather the area around it, released a faint engulfing force that drew in a bit of the surrounding Qi. The energy merged into the space around the planet, the newborn celestial body collapsing in on itself and turning into dust so fine that Sirius could only barely see it.
But just as quickly as the first one, a new core grew in front of them. It split into two and became two new planets, but then the space once again absorbed some of the surrounding energy. It drew in two streams of energy this time, both planets collapsing and then getting remade into four new ones.
Sirius felt like he caught a glimmer of movement on one of the planets, but he felt everything go blurry when he tried to observe the planet. Sending out his senses to observe the planet also didn't work, it was as if the entire space around the four planets was covered by a supple wall that bounced his senses back.
He didn't want to try a more brute force approach, this space and the four planets were most likely tied to Yao Jun so he didn't want to risk anything. But even if he wanted to try anything else, what followed left him so flabbergasted and floored that he wouldn't have been able to muster the thought to act.
A loud thumping sound echoed out from the four planets and the surrounding space, the sound so thunderous that Sirius could feel his brain rattle. The thumping continued, the land around Sirius and Zhuan Yi trembling violently as it resonated with the sound. And then, a red light emerged around the four planets, a violently thumping heart forming out of thin air.
Veins stretched out from the heart and surrounded the entire space that was controlled by the four planets, bones and flesh swiftly following the veins. Zhuan Yi and Sirius could only look on in absolute shock as a human body quickly formed in front of them, Yao Jun's features engraving themselves onto the figure's face.
Zhuan Yi wasn't unfamiliar with bodies forming themselves, her race could adapt to just about anything, and their bodies changed to reflect that adaptation. She had seen bodies change in hundreds, if not thousands of different ways. But never anything like this, never had she seen a body form from out of thin air.
A complete Yao Jun had formed out of nowhere in front of them, the four planets residing within his chest. He didn't radiate the slightest aura of power, it was as if he wasn't a cultivator at all, but both Sirius and Zhuan Yi were convinced that this was Yao Jun. That was especially the case for Sirius, the very depths of his core told him exactly who the man in front of them was.
But while they recognized him, Yao Jun didn't seem to notice them. He simply fell to his knees and clutched his chest, tears pouring down his face without pause. Sirius had been with Yao Jun for quite a while already, and the number of times he had seen Yao Jun cry was so low that he had a hard time remembering them.
And that was especially the case for tears like these, which he could tell were tears of joy and relief, washing away what felt like a lifetime of pain and anxiety. But whether or not he decided to end them or simply ran out of tears, Yao Jun stopped crying before long and stood up again. The haziness in his eyes had vanished as his tears dried up, the pitch-black eyes once again filling up with the characteristic calm glimmer.
"Ba-Shei, what did he do?"
Yao Jun wasn't wearing anything right now, and not even he knew the full truth about his current state. But even so, his first question was about his companion, as if nothing else in the world actually mattered.
"...He wanted to be of use to you, he said that he needed to be of use to you. So he offered himself up to aid you and enhance the end result. I... Chose not to stop him, so please take out your anger on me rather than him."
Sirius was the one who answered Yao Jun's question, lowering his head apologetically. He knew how dearly Yao Jun held all his companions, each loss brought with it unprecedented fury and pain. But what he was met with wasn't any disappointment or anger, just the soft touch of Yao Jun's hand as it landed on his head.
"You don't need to apologize, I have always said that you are free to do as you please, I'll be happy as long as you follow your heart. As for this idiot... I haven't quite decided what to do with him yet."
Sirius raised his head when he heard Yao Jun's voice, but before he could ask what he meant with his final statement, his eyes opened wide. A tiny black serpent slithered out from Yao Jun's flesh, it simply rose up from his wrist and nestled on the back of his hand. Its black eyes were sweeping the surroundings, but it was clearly filled with joy, its rear-end wriggling repeatedly.
One look was all it took for Sirius to notice that this was Ba-Shei, just much smaller than before. But while he was overjoyed that Ba-Shei had gotten his desire fulfilled and was reborn alongside his lord, he couldn't help but be shocked by the aura Ba-Shei radiated. It wasn't one of overwhelming power, it was one of suppressive pressure. It was as if he was looking at a predator of a higher standing, a being that could prey upon even Divine Beasts with abandon.
"It's not just him, it turns out that my luck hasn't completely abandoned me yet."
Yao Jun saw Sirius' shocked expression, and now that he had calmed down he was already starting to form some guesses and thoughts about his current situation. But compared to Yama's resurgence, those thoughts didn't matter in the slightest.
Sirius raised his gaze slightly in response to Yao Jun's words, just in time to see a small leaf-like strand of grass rise from his shoulder, red veins covering the entire leaf. Sirius once again instantly realized who he was looking at, he too had grown smaller, but it was undoubtedly Yama. But just like with Ba-Shei, he was radiating an aura he definitely hadn't been earlier, one he shouldn't be capable of unleashing.
"They... Are they..."
The one who stuttered out in a somewhat broken voice wasn't Sirius but Zhuan Yi, she too was a Demonic beast so she could sense the same aura that Sirius could. She wasn't a Divine Beast, but she had interacted with enough Divine Beasts to know that this wasn't an aura that Divine Beasts had. Yao Jun turned his head slightly, nodding his head at Zhuan Yi, whose eyes had opened so wide they almost resembled saucers.
"I'm not sure if they're complete Origin Beasts, but they're probably something quite close to it at the very least."
This was the conclusion Yao Jun had come to after allowing his thoughts to move for a bit after he finished crying. The God Gate was originally a piece of his universe's Origin Heart, which was the core of the entire universe. Now he had cracked a bit of that open and created something new, and the first thing that was born was multiple planets. And going by the nagging feeling at the back of his mind, he felt like he would be able to increase that number of planets by a great deal if he had enough energy.
Whether or not it was a complete infant universe he had formed or just something similar, he didn't know. But whatever it was, it was at the very least very close to being like a universe, one he had somehow become the ruler of. It was likely due to him merging his flesh and soul with the fragment as it cracked open, or possibly due to his ties with the God Gate.
And born alongside this infant universe was Ba-Shei and Yama, the first lifeforms to appear as the universe was created. As such, there was only one classification that could be used for them, Origin Beast, the seemingly unreachable realm beyond a Divine Beast.
At the very least, these were Yao Jun's guesses at the moment. He didn't have anyone he could turn to for answers, at least no one that he felt confident would actually respond to his questions. But whatever questions he had, he could slowly discover the answers as time passed. He was certain of one thing, he had reached a new stage, he had ascended to a new realm, maybe not in strength but in existence.
"Alright you two, back inside for now, things are probably going to get dangerous here. Sorry, could you give me back my ring? I'd like to avoid being naked for too long."
Yao Jun tapped Ba-Shei on the head with a finger, tapping Yama's leaf as well as he spoke to them. They both sank back into his body and he could feel them both appear on one of the four planets in his chest. It was much like it was with his God Gate in the past, but unlike then when he had to either open an entrance or bring them out from the gate itself, he felt that he could now bring them out from every part of his body whenever he wanted.
He could feel the four planets with perfect clarity even after creating this body for himself, they had already become an intrinsic part of him. Or perhaps it was better to say that they were him, rather than just being a part of him. It was an extremely strange sensation, Yao Jun really had no idea what he should call it or describe it as.
Sirius handed over the interspatial ring the moment Yao Jun asked, allowing him to slide on the ring Guo Luo had made for him and the bracelet his daughter had bought for him. He then put on a pair of blue robes he found in one of the interspatial rings he had taken from someone he had killed, he didn't feel that it was safe to wear the clothing Guo Luo had gotten for him during what was about to come.
The ring and bracelet were extremely sturdy so he could at least wear them, looking at them warmed his chest, the quiet thumping of his heart resonating with determination.
"Say, how long was I out?"
It was only now that Yao Jun recalled that he didn't actually know how much time had passed. Both Zhuan Yi and Sirius were powerful cultivators and Demonic beasts, the passage of time would not easily leave marks on their body so it wasn't a reliable way of telling the passage of time. He had expected some time to pass, but the answer Sirius gave him was still a bit out of his expectations.
"It's been about eight months since we entered here, I believe we're approaching the ninth month. As for the people outside the array, we can't detect the outside so we have no way of knowing if they're still there."
Yao Jun's eyebrows furrowed slightly, it was quite a bit longer than he had expected. If that much time had passed then the second stage of the competition would have already started, now people would definitely be far more bloodthirsty since they could start gathering points. He wasn't certain if there were still people outside, but considering the information he had spread to lure people here, he felt safe in guessing that the number of people outside had only grown.
With that being the case, he could only bet once more, this time on the thing that the Thousand Arms Master had left behind. But before he worked on that, there were two other things he wanted to figure out first.
"Say, do the both of you hear anything strange? Garbled whispering?"
He originally thought that it might have something to do with the small universe, but he could still hear the subdued whispering now after creating a body for himself. It still felt so dear and gentle, so heartfelt and sorrowful, but he had no idea where it came from.
But Sirius and Zhuan Yi both shook their heads, looking somewhat confused, so it seemed like the whispering was something nagging only him right now. That was one of his questions answered at least, now he was certain that it was tied to the newborn universe he had become a part of, or become, he wasn't quite sure which one was correct yet.
Since his first question was answered, he moved on to the second thing he wanted to figure out, raising his right hand. He touched upon the four planets and the space around them, tapping into the energy he could feel reside within them. The energy didn't course through his body like he was used to his Qi doing, it simply appeared directly at his fingertips the moment he touched it.
The air above his fingers flickered faintly as the energy left his fingers, the energy lingering there harmlessly. The energy was far from powerful, it felt similar to the Qi that someone at the very earliest stage of Qu cultivation had, basically useless. But it felt strange, because it didn't feel like Qi, nor did it feel like Monarch Essence or Anima Essence.
Yao Jun's brows furrowed slightly, a thought flashing through his mind. And just as soon as the thought flashed through his mind, the energy lingering above his fingers turned lighter, diffusing throughout the air in a nearly misty manner. Yao Jun's eyes narrowed at the result, another thought flashing through his mind. And just as he was expecting, the energy turned incredibly heavy the moment the thought flashed through his mind.
"...That's gonna take some getting used to..."
Yao Jun couldn't help but mutter to himself, allowing several thoughts to flash through his mind as he did so. With each thought, the energy lingering above his finger would change between one of the three states it had shown so far.
He hadn't been wrong, the energy didn't feel like Qi or any of the other energy types he was used to. And the reason was simple, it was because it was all three types at once, it just needed a thought from him to change its properties. It was a bit different from the past where he had to separately touch upon and control the different energies, it was faster but it would take a bit of getting used to since he was accustomed to the more standard way.
"Alright, it should be about time we leave here. Spending the entire competition here is not an option, I'm still looking to get one of the higher ranks after all."
Yao Jun pulled back the energy, which instantly appeared back in the space containing the four planets. Not only was it an unfamiliar sensation to switch the properties with just a thought, the speed at which it reacted was also something he had to get used to. There was only a fine difference between instant and nearly-instant like it was in the past, but it wasn't one that could be neglected.
"You've thought of a way to get out? If you're planning on relying on the domain created by the armguard then I'm afraid that it'll be risky, if there is anyone outside then they'll definitely stick close to the array so they're likely to be in range."
Zhuan Yi wanted to make sure to warn Yao Jun before they left, the domain had a minimum range, and anyone in the domain would be able to see them. Should anyone be right by the array, or rush over the moment it opened, then they would be spotted and killed instantly. But Yao Jun nodded his head, that was a fact he had already accounted for when he made his bet, he just hoped that the Thousand Arms Master was as careful with his words as he was.
"A way, I guess it can be called that. We'll be fighting our way out. We'll just have to hope that the Thousand Arms Master wasn't lying about what he said would come at the end. But keep the domain ready just in case, we'll be focusing on fleeing so we can use it to hide the moment we get the chance. And Sirius, I'll leave it to you to contact Little Gray and the Thousand Arms Master, gotta report that the deal is complete so that he'll let Little Gray go."