Yao Jun's eyes narrowed sharply as he stared at the guard, who felt a terrible chill run down his spine as Yao Jun's black pupils pierced through him. It was as if his throat was already resting comfortably in the maw of the tiger, only waiting for its jaws to clamp shut. But that sensation faded as Yao Jun's gaze returned to normal, his eyes sweeping over the guard as the light of realization dawned in his pupils.
"So that's why you looked familiar... Tell me, is this the territory of the Final Fire clan? Forgive me, we've been travelling for a while so we aren't quite certain exactly where we are. And I can't say that I've heard about Titan's Gate or the Nine Heavens Demon God before, so if you could advise me on them as well then I would greatly appreciate it."
The two names that the guard had just uttered were things Yao Jun had not expected to hear again for a long time, but hearing them allowed him to understand why the special features of the people he saw here seemed so familiar. The other guard, the one that had used the crystals to inspect them, opened his mouth and looked like he wanted to urge Yao Jun's group to head on through, there were quite a few people behind them after all. But the guard holding the spear waved his hand and stopped him, his back still dripping with a bit of sweat.
"No need to be so formal about it, we're the guards of the checkpoint so part of our job is to enlighten the travellers that decide to visit our city. This galaxy does indeed belong to the Final Fire clan, we're one of their direct subordinates even, which is why Titan's Gate will occasionally target some of the cities here."
The shiver that had run down his spine had vanished, and he couldn't sense a shred of aura from Yao Jun, but the guard was fully convinced that this was not the time to be abrasive. Yao Jun's pupils flickered slightly as the guard spoke, but that flickering quickly turned sharp as the guard continued talking.
"As for Titan's Gate, its the sect founded by the Seven Fiendlords. The city lord said that they're a fairly young sect, but they've allied themselves with the World Tree clan so they cannot be underestimated. They also count the Nine Heavens Demon God and the Dread Dreamer among their ranks so they are not a force you want to underestimate. And if you don't know who the Nine Heavens Demon God is, then you'll probably be more familiar with his other title, The Reaper of Godpiercer."
The more the guard spoke, the more the pieces fell into place, and the clearer the picture became. One or two similarities could just be a coincidence, this multiverse was incredibly vast after all. But this was far too many similarities, which meant that there was only one place he could be right now, his own home universe.
Connecting the dots with the voice from earlier, it was likely that the whispering voice had been an integral part of his home universe, it might even be the consciousness of that universe, assuming that a universe could birth a consciousness. It probably sensed him breaking open and merging with the fragment of his God Gate, an act that seemed to forever separate it from the Origin Heart it was originally a part of. It had dragged him back in hopes of repairing the broken piece, but it seemed to judge that as an impossible act, so it had abandoned him.
This was the conclusion that Yao Jun had come to after taking into account everything he had seen and heard. He couldn't be completely certain that it was the correct conclusion, but it was the most reasonable one he could reach. And with that first conclusion reached, there was one other thing he had to get an answer to.
"The Reaper of Godpiercer, that's certainly a title I'm more familiar with... What was his name again, Yao Jun? But I don't think I've heard about this Dread Dreamer before, is it a new member of Titan's Gate? And since you said that the Reaper might come here, he's actually still active?"
Zhuan Yi almost couldn't resist the urge to laugh out loud in the face of Yao Jun's display. She knew nothing of this whole Reaper of Godpiercer thing, but she had heard him call himself the Nine Heavens Demon God once before. So clearly, the guard in front of them was actually warning them about Yao Jun, and Yao Jun had to act ignorant to dig for information.
"Right, but you shouldn't speak his name so casually, you never know who's listening. And no, the Dread Dreamer is one of the Seven Fiendlords, I believe her name was something like Lao Gu? Guo Lu? Something like that, records of her are a bit scarcer since she messes with the minds of people. And sadly, yes, they're both still active. The Nine Heavens Demon God even took part in an attack just four months ago, wiped out a small outpost belonging to the Primordial Sea clan while the Dread Dreamer wiped out a group belonging to the Heavens Gate sect."
The guard didn't hesitate to share his information, the people behind Yao Jun starting to show signs of impatience. But the moment the man finished sharing the information, he once again felt that chill run down his back. But this time it was far worse, it was as if a primordial fear overtook him, his knees shivering as his pupils dilated unfocusedly.
Yao Jun stood in front of the guard with a steely expression, barely showing any emotion. But Sirius knew, probably better than anyone present, just how dangerous that state was. Yao Jun had certain reverse scales, and chief among them was probably Guo Luo, and now it seemed like someone was tarnishing that reverse scale.
"I see, thank you for enlightening me. We will certainly make sure that we're careful, but who knows, perhaps we're...lucky enough that the Nine Heavens Demon God won't attack."
The corners of Yao Jun's lips turned up slightly, but his eyes weren't smiling so the guard still felt as if his entire body was in the process of being swallowed. It was only after Yao Jun and his group stepped past him and entered the city that he could breathe a bit easier, not even daring to glance back at the group behind him.
The three entered the city, and the architecture was a bit different from what Yao Jun was used to, but he wasn't sure if this was traditional Final Fire clan architecture or just something unique to the city. None of the buildings had edges, they were more circular in form, almost cone-shaped. They were also covered in lines that seemed to flow with liquid fire of various colours, much like the characteristic veins of the Final Fire race.
Zhuan Yi only glanced somewhat curiously at the surrounding buildings and the people, she came from a race with no concrete form so she had seen all manner of strange appearances. Her attention quickly gathered on Yao Jun, whose gaze was still somewhat sharp.
"So, I take it we've arrived in a place you used to roam in the past?"
Not only was he familiar with the ruler of this territory, but the people here even knew about and used the title he had mentioned once in the past. And since he seemed to be the cause of their spatial displacement, it would make sense that they arrived in a place that had ties with him. Yao Jun also didn't deny it, stating it simply.
"This is the minor universe where I was born, I got pulled back due to certain reasons. But now that I know where we are, returning back to the major universe has become a bit easier."
Knowing where they were was the first step in returning, and luckily they had arrived in a place where it wouldn't be too hard for them to find a way to leave the universe. After all, Yao Jun did have a few connections here, both good and bad ones. Zhuan Yi didn't pay too much attention to the fact that their return had become much smoother, there was another fact that couldn't help but draw her attention.
"A minor universe... it actually birthed a thing like you? Also looks like you've got quite the reputation here, someone's even trying to piggyback off of it. What do you think, know who it might be?"
Minor universes were minor for a reason, they had a weaker core and thus had less Qi lingering in the air. It was much harder for a universe like that to birth great beings such as Divine Beasts or talented cultivators, there simply wasn't enough energy to support their growth. There were obviously exceptions, but they couldn't be called common.
Yao Jun's expression sank slightly when faced with Zhuan Yi's question. He didn't have a good reputation, to be honest, perhaps only the World Tree clan would view him somewhat favourable. But in fact, Yao Jun knew one person who would likely be just fine with this, one person who would use this fact to their advantage.
"...I've got a hunch, there is one person that has proven themselves crafty enough, and she's certainly also proven herself willing in the past."
Yao Jun considered her a friend, so he pretended to be ignorant when he learned about her doing it for the first time, he hadn't told her that he knew even to this day. But if she was doing it a second time, and even dragging Guo Luo into it, then it would be a different matter altogether.
Yao Jun's gaze swept through the surroundings, taking in the sight of the rather open city. He barely had any cultivation or energy now so his senses had declined quite sharply, but luckily he wasn't here alone.
"Sirius, can you find the prison?"
"Leave it to me!"
Sirius merged his own senses with the wind the moment he finished speaking, every breeze or gust of wind around them reporting back to him. They didn't know how the prison looked, but with such a wide-spread net, it would be hard not to find it by observing the inside and the people around it.
Once they located the prison, they found an inn that was located fairly close. It wasn't anything luxurious, it was located quite close to a rather high-security prison after all, but Yao Jun had never been someone picky about luxuries. He rented three rooms for the group, occupying one of them for himself and sat down on the bed, Zhuan Yi leaning against the window-frame and gazing out at the city.
He clearly had a plan in mind, one that was definitely tied to the possible arrival of the Nine Heavens Demon God. And looking at his still somewhat sharp gaze, it clearly wasn't a plan that would end well for others if he didn't end up pleased.
"Now we wait. I want to see if this 'Nine Heavens Demon God' is actually going to attack this place. It's also a chance for me to catch up on my cultivation, all this regressing is making me lag behind."
First, his God Gate had shattered and taken his Qi cultivation and half his soul cultivation with it. And just as he was starting to catch up again in his body and soul cultivation, he merged with the broken fragment and lost everything all over again. Twice he had regressed, but both times had ended up being pathways to a greater height so he felt that he couldn't really complain about it.
Zhuan Yi nodded her head slightly but didn't bother sticking around in his room to watch him cultivate, Sirius also didn't stick around and quietly left the room so that Yao Jun could focus fully. As for Yao Jun, he crossed his legs and closed his eyes, bringing out one corpse after another from his interspatial ring and using the Blood Ocean's Hunger to turn them into droplets that he could absorb.
The eight celestial bodies in his chest continuously broke apart and multiplied, 8 becoming 16, which became 32, which became 64 that then became 128. The number doubled each time, the number of planets and other celestial bodies quickly skyrocketing out of control.
Yao Jun kept a sliver of his senses on the outside to pay attention to the passage of time, so he knew that after 15 days of this unchecked propagation, the originally single planet had propagated to become an entire galaxy. But even with an entire galaxy forming in his chest, he still felt the nagging sensation that it was too small, it wanted to grow larger.
Yama and Ba-Shei were still the only living beings within the galaxy, he wasn't actually sure if life would form there on its own or if he would have to introduce it himself. But whatever the case was, he could feel that the energy he now carried was equal to a late-stage Earthly Deity, one that cultivated all three systems no less.
The growth of the galaxy had also slowed by quite a bit, he had a feeling that it would take several more days, possibly weeks, of cultivation just to break the galaxy down once more. And since that was the case, he made up his mind.
"That should be enough for now, let's see if we can't carve the channels anew."
Crumbling The Nine Heavens, it was a technique that had followed him for a good portion of his cultivation journey and it had saved his life on many an occasion. The nine channels he had carved for it all broke when his God Gate shattered, they had all been connected to it after all. But now he had a new centre of power, so he wanted to see if he could recreate the channels.
But the thing was, he still wasn't sure if he actually had a proper body right now. Sure, he had his human form, but that was something he created out of his desire, he didn't actually know if it served as his body. But even so, he wasn't entirely without options, he had after all proven that this newborn universe responded to his desires and sensations.
He focused his senses, the shimmering galaxy silencing as he slowly drew in several breaths. He thought back to when he first carved the channels, to the sensation of burrowing a path in his own body and connecting it to his God Gate.
The galaxy started to shiver and tremble slightly in response to his actions, some of the weaker planets crumbling into small chunks. Yao Jun's brows furrowed slightly as he continued, he felt a sensation similar to when he first carved the channels, but it had one major difference. He didn't feel as if he was connecting the channel with his source of power, but rather as if he was just creating a circle and connecting the two ends.
This way he would just end up sending the energy back into the source if he tried to fill up the channel, it wouldn't actually accomplish anything. He spent a bit of time thinking, eventually deciding to attempt actually carving a physical channel into the body he had created. But just as he decided to try out this idea, there was a change in the galaxy.
Ba-Shei, who was slithering around on one of the planets stopped moving when the galaxy stopped trembling. He raised his tiny head high and hissed as loudly as he could, doing his best to draw Yao Jun's attention. And when Yao Jun's gaze settled on Ba-Shei, the golden line of faith that connected the two burst forth with a brilliant light.
The aura radiating from Ba-Shei's body instantly skyrocketed in response to the burst of light, his shadow extending outwards and swallowing the entire planet. The shadow continued to stretch outwards as Ba-Shei hissed, but he halted it before it could reach the next planet. The thread of faith stopped glowing, Ba-Shei swishing his head about like a child looking to get praised.
And Yao Jun decided to oblige him, an avatar of his body appearing in the empty space that remained after Ba-Shei's shadow swallowed the planet. Ba-Shei had grown in accordance with the growth of this newborn universe, but despite an entire galaxy being born, Ba-Shei was still only about the length of two fingers. As such, Yao Jun couldn't really pat his head as he used to in the past, instead using his finger to rub his head while muttering softly.
"Faith... I didn't expect such an illusory thing to have an effect as tangible as this."
Ba-Shei was born alongside this space, which Yao Jun still guessed was a newborn universe. This technically made him an Origin Beast, and it seemed like this evolution into a new realm of existence had given him some innate knowledge. At the very least, Yao Jun had never heard about using faith to temporarily boost your power. Then again, Yao Jun hadn't really had much experience with faith so it was only to be expected that he didn't know much about it.
Ba-Shei had sensed his intentions and given him a hand, and Yao Jun didn't hesitate to test it out for himself. He touched upon the thread of faith that connected him and Yama, mimicking the sensation he felt in the past when he drew upon the strength of the Demonic beasts he had absorbed into his God Gate.
And just like it did earlier, the thread of golden light burst forth with a blinding light. Yao Jun instantly felt his energy rise, the entire galaxy growing a bit brighter, even the body he had created felt like it grew sturdier as he allowed the rising energy to course through him.
He severed the connection with the thread of faith after a short moment, the rush of energy receding and leaving him feeling somewhat drained and weary. Clearly, the power of faith wasn't something that could be used willy nilly, it would leave you drained and weak if you used it for too long, just like all other types of doping.
But it was good enough, he hadn't been able to carve new channels, but he had found something just as good. In fact, it wouldn't be wrong to say that he had found something better. After all, he could only have nine channels of Crumbling The Nine Heavens, but he wasn't limited in how many strands of faith he could have.
He spent a bit more time experimenting with the threads of faith, checking if there was a difference in strength they gave or if he could use multiple at once. After a few days, he reached the conclusion that all threads of faith gave about the same level of boost, but he could use multiple at once to make them stack, it would just increase the rate at which he grew weary. But he didn't get the chance to experiment further, because the voice of Sirius entered his ears 21 days after they entered the city.
"I know, they've arrived."
Yao Jun opened his eyes as Sirius pushed open the door to notify him. But Yao Jun had already returned his cultivation to the late-stage of the Earthly Deity realm, which was actually a bit higher than what it had been when he first regressed. As such, his senses had naturally returned to what they used to be. So when the array that covered the city activated and burst, he had noticed it straight away.
He stood up from his seated position, switching from the blue robes he still wore to the emerald green shirt and pants that Guo Luo had gotten made for him in the past. He walked over to Sirius, the two stepping through the door and meeting up with Zhuan Yi, who was looking forward to the spectacle. But compared to her gleam of excitement, Yao Jun's own gaze was a fair bit darker.
"Come, let's go and see if it really is Wan Yi that dares to abuse mine and Guo Luo's names. And if it is, she'd best pray that she has a convincing excuse."