Chapter 73: Ghost Ashes and Unseen Rain
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Back in the Mortal Plane, Zhen Shi was completely unaware of the heaven-shaking ramifications that his random uses of OP had brought about.

If Zhen Shi were to find out that he had incited a war among the gods by getting a few divine boons, he would be completely and utterly shocked!

Not by the immensity of the matter, but by the System's heaven-defying scheming ability!

While the fact that the System had executed such an elaborate scheme was already unbelievable, what was even more impossible was that all of this had been done based on Zhen Shi's random requests of divine boons!

This was a true scheming system!

Perhaps, if Zhen Shi knew about this elaborate scheme, he might even think twice about blaming and insulting the system again. Unfortunately, he didn't.

Besides, at this particular moment, he was rather busy wallowing in a profound sense of loss and defeat. His body was still suffering from deadly weakness and his figure was still shivering.

After all, he had just been informed about the halving of his experience gain and his OP gain!

To Zhen Shi, this was almost as heaven-shaking as the upcoming divine war!

Momentarily ignoring the worried cries of Myne, Vivienne, Will, Zhen Shi heaved a heavy sigh.

Obviously, the only reason for his displeasure regarding these new changes was because it would drastically slow down his rate of improvement.

Even so, despite the fact that he was scowling inwardly and on the brink of 'having his soul passing on', Zhen Shi decided to give the system a break.

Why?

It was because he had no idea what the system had to sacrifice in return for giving him control of the Cosmos Tier Book of Thoth.

Perhaps, the changes in relation to leveling up and divine boons were only introduced to make things easier for the system after that sacrifice.

The magnanimous and upright person that he was, Zhen Shi decided to let the System off.

Instantly, the 'deadly weakness' in his body disappeared as he returned to normal.

Zhen Shi turned towards the worried faces staring at him with a raised eyebrow, 'Hais, do they really think I'm in a seriously bad condition? Are my acting skills so profound? I was just joking around! Geez!'

Even so, he was touched by their genuine worry and spoke up with a smile, "Don't worry peeps, I'm fine! That-- uhh... was just a small obstacle in my cultivation! Yes, that's it! Thanks to your support I was actually able to breakthrough! So no worries!"

Myne was slightly skeptical but ultimately nodded in relief. Vivienne and William smiled with relieved gazes as well.

Zhen Shi smiled in relief, things would've been rather awkward if they realized he had been pretending just to show his displeasure to the system.

Quickly putting this matter aside, Zhen Shi fell into thought about the current situation.

Having finished his examination of the {Book of Thoth} and also having passed on the job of creating new unorthodox formations to his (pseudo) soul, all Zhen Shi had to do now was wait for a while for that quest to be completed and reap the rewards.

On that same note, Zhen Shi was suddenly reminded of the reward he gained from the Mortal Tier Alchemist quest and instantly brought out the pouch of Ephemeral Ghost Ashes.

Even with that Material Book for dummies gifted by the System, besides some basic information, Zhen Shi had no information about what the heck ghost ashes were used for.

Turning to Vivienne he asked curiously, "Elder Sis, any idea what we use this for? Can we refine any special pills?"

Vivienne's eyes widened as she stared at the ghost ashes. She spoke with a hint of surprise, "Where did you get this from? Do you know how rare it is for ghosts to actually manifest in the Central Plains? And how rare it is for them to even leave a speck of ash? How the hell did you get this? Did you strike some fortune and end up in an arcane pocket realm?!"

Noticing the fact that Zhen Shi wasn't answering and was instead scratching his head awkwardly, both Myne and Vivienne realized the answer.

Myne couldn't help but scowl in displeasure, "Fuck! Your special physique strikes again!"

Despite her own surprise, Vivienne ignored Myne and answered Zhen Shi's question with a smile, "Well, ghost ashes do have a few general uses. They can be absorbed as spiritual energy to increase your cultivation, they can be used by spiritualists to summon ghost servants, they could even be used to improve mastery over certain ghost skills. In fact, you could even use it in pill refining for the 'Dust to Dust' enhancement skill. While it won't be as amazing as the divine silkworm, it's still pretty good."

Zhen Shi nodded and was just about to ask another question, when he noticed that Will O'Dale was staring at the ghost ashes with strangely shining eyes. However, the moment he noticed Zhen Shi's gaze, William quickly stared down at the floor.

Intrigued by this, Zhen Shi turned to him with a grin, "Bro Will, do you have something to add?"

Will O'Dale raised his head with an embarrassed face. Finally, with a light sigh, he began to explain, "Just like Elder Sister Vivienne said, ghost ashes can be used for mastering ghost skills. Remember that stealth skill I used? Genuine ghost ashes are required for reaching the next level."

Immediately, he shook his head in a serious tone, "But I don't want to take things for free from you guys! You've already done so much for me. I'd owe too much..."

Zhen Shi raised an eyebrow of surprise at this new turn of events. Suddenly, he smiled and instantly threw the pouch of ghost ashes at Will O'Dale.

Will O'Dale hurriedly caught the pouch, fearful of dropping even a speck of the valuable ghost ashes.

Even so, he pushed it back towards Zhen Shi and opened his mouth to disagree... when Zhen Shi beat him to it and spoke out first, "Bro, I'll be really hurt if you don't accept my gift," his face scrunching up with 'heart-wrenching pain'.

Will O'Dale froze when he saw his senior brother's 'genuine pain'. Still, he spoke up seriously, "But, I still can't accept this! Do you know how valuable this--"

Raising his hand to silence him, Zhen Shi shook his head, the 'pain' in his face quickly being replaced with a grin, "Bro, just take it already! Improving your stealth skill is way more useful to all of us, than slightly increasing the grade of a pill! If you're really embarrassed about owing too much, just let me take a peek at your ghost skill sometime!"

Seeing that Zhen Shi was adamant about this matter, Will O'Dale finally nodded as he found those terms much more satisfactory. He spoke with a shake of his head, "Fine, but you should know that I'd let you examine it even if you didn't give me the ghost ashes."

Even so, despite the fair terms for both sides, Will O'Dale couldn't help but smile inwardly. He was praising the heavens for granting him such a selfless brother, 'Aiya, I truly am a lucky fellow, aren't I?'

Seeing this, Myne and Vivienne shook their heads with strange smiles. They were suspicious of Zhen Shi's intentions for giving up a valuable treasure but were impressed by his 'selfless' actions at the same time.

Zhen Shi grinned inwardly, quite pleased with himself. The moment he had heard about the stealth skill, obtaining it had been his only intention!

As for the ghost ashes, he couldn't care less about it. If his assumptions were correct, using [Dream Engraving] should be on the same level as using those ghost ashes, to increase the grade of a pill. He wasn't a spiritualist to do creepy shit like summoning ghosts either. Thus, exchanging the ashes for the Stealth skill was a deal that was very favorable for him.

Excited at the prospect of learning that stealth skill that had been a pain in his ass before, Zhen Shi turned to Will O'Dale and asked, "So Bro, let me take a look at this stealth skill of yours. Where is it?"

Will O'Dale forced a smile, as he began to explain in embarrassment, "Umm, I'm sorry, but I don't have it with me right now. It's a secret family skill of the O'Dale family and is stored securely in our family armory. However, considering my status, I can definitely get it for you by tomorrow!"

Hearing that he wouldn't be getting the stealth right now, Zhen Shi's excitement deflated like a balloon. Even so, he wasn't that impatient to check the skill and so, nodded with a simple smile.

Will smiled back and put the ephemeral ghost ashes away.

With that matter out of the way, Zhen Shi felt rather relaxed. But suddenly, he remembered another thing that he had to do and quickly examined the state of the sky through the central garden.

Noting the slightly red sunlight amidst the clouds, he could see that it was still the evening. As such, he still had quite a bit of free time.

Intending to finish that job as well, Zhen Shi spoke out with a grin, "Now that I finished cultivating, I'm gonna go out to the forest nearby and get back the arrow I lost due to that overreacting bull. The Bull was only a manifestation of aether, so the arrow should've dropped down once it dissipated. Afterward, I'll be going out to see a friend."

Myne immediately frowned as he asked back in a serious tone, "Is that a good idea though? What if Turnbull decides to attack you?"

Zhen Shi shook his head nonchalantly, "It's fine, bro. Turnbull was heavily injured. I'm sure you know that if he doesn't use a Sovereign tier pill or something similar, he'll need a few days to recover. Besides, we're still within the jurisdiction of the Lyonesse Kingdom. Even if things go truly bad, I can still contact you guys with the communication ring," and pointed to the ring on his middle finger.

Myne nodded, his frown disappearing behind a relaxed smile. However, his eyes lingered on the ring for just a bit longer...

Even still, Vivienne added in a worried tone, "Just in case, should we come with you?"

Zhen Shi hurriedly shook his head and his hands in disagreement, "No! No! It's fine! I'm only going out for a little while. Besides, my friend... is a... rather introverted fellow. He doesn't like crowds much!"

By this point, both Myne and Vivienne could see that there was something off with Zhen Shi's story. So they began to observe him with curious eyes trying to figure out the truth...

Zhen Shi immediately realized that he had acted too suspiciously. Noticing Will O'Dale who was nearby and smiling at the air like an idiot, Zhen Shi hatched out a quick plan.

With a calm smile, Zhen Shi began to explain, "You two must be exhausted after that fight. After all, you were fighting for much longer than me. Thus, I really think you should rest. But if you're really worried, I guess I'll take William with me," and put his arm around the clueless fellow.

Shaking out of his thoughts, Will O'Dale who heard these words was rather flabbergasted. He had only been smiling into the air, as he had been imagining his power after increasing the level of his ghost skill.

Despite this, within a few seconds, Will completely forgot about the stealth skill and began to grow excited once more.

If he agreed to do this, he would be alone with his senior brother! His kind and selfless senior brother! This would be a perfect time to solidify the bond between brothers!

As William began to imagine all the limitless possibilities, he even started to shiver out of pure excitement.

Seeing the bright light in Will's eyes and his strange shivering, Zhen Shi immediately regretted his plan. He couldn't help but think this was too much of a sacrifice to cover up the truth, but by now it was too late.

Seeing his regret, Vivienne grinned with a smirk and spoke, "Oh! That's fine then. With William to keep you company, we won't have to be worried at all. See you soon, little bro," and waved her hand in goodbye.

Zhen Shi forced a grin onto his face, as he hurriedly waved back and stood up to leave the pavilion. Will O'Dale scuttled after him shivering with excitement.

Jiya!

Just when Zhen Shi opened the door and put one foot outside, Myne called out with a mischievous tone his voice, "Good luck, bro! Tell her that we said hello!"

Hearing that final sentence, Zhen Shi flinched in disbelief, 'FUCK! They know! SHIT! I have to drag this perverted Will around for nothing now!'

With no intention to stay around any longer and continue to stare at the failure of his 'clever plan', Zhen Shi quickly dashed out of the pavilion. The excited Will hurried after him, already planning all sorts of fun bonding activities.

As the door slowly closed behind the two of them, Vivienne glared at Myne, "What was that for? A little teasing is fine, but telling that straight out will embarrass any young man. Don't tell me you've forgotten about yourself when you were younger! Poor Zhen Shi..."

Myne laughed with a loud guffaw, "But it was funny! Did he really think such a half-assed lie could cover the truth from us old-timers? With my countless millennia of experience as a grand mage, how could I misunderstand anything regarding mortal life?" and continued to laugh once more, rather proud of himself.

Vivienne, however, raised an eyebrow. She couldn't help but remember the various strange glances she had noticed between Myne and Zhen Shi. Regardless of how long this grand mage had lived, he had definitely misunderstood something... unfortunately, she didn't know what it was.

🌲🌲🌲

Just a few hundred kilometers away from the Lyon and Turnbull Market Pavillion, was the mystical Berthelien forest.

Deep within this forest, at a certain location was a rather familiar valley. The valley was rather desolate and bleak, containing nothing more than a shattered fountain at the very center.

However, inside this valley, there was a single figure, a middle-aged man. His eyes were calm but analytical, his face unblemished and fair, and covering his body was a light golden blue robe. Despite his favorable appearance, one would feel that there was a shattering fury within his eyes, waiting to rage out...

His eyes slowly passed from the edges of the valley to the center, finally stopping at the fountain.

Almost instantly, he waved a finger causing a globe of the remaining water in the fountain to float over. Instantly he stored it within a small bottle.

Shaking the bottle, the middle-aged man observed the water with curious eyes. Rather slowly, a few faint golden specks appeared in the water, and the man's eyes glowed with interest.

Finally, he put the small bottle away and turned back to the valley. A few minutes later...

Whoosh!

Suddenly, the wind whistled behind him as a blue-robed man appeared behind him. Instantly, he bowed towards the middle-aged man and asked respectfully, "Lord Lyon, I have returned from the market hall. Was your search successful?"

The fearsome middle-aged man was actually Lord Lyon!

A Curator of the Lyon and Turnbull Market Hall and a Law Wielding Tier Expert, one level above Lord Turnbull!

Lord Lyon didn't even turn around as he replied with a grunt, "No, it obviously wasn't! Forget it! Elder Shen, tell me, did our people find anything?"

Elder Shen bowed once me and immediately answered, "Our scouts scoured the entire forest within a thousand kilometers of this valley and didn't discover anything besides the expected evidence left by some minor battles. However, our spies reported that there was a small commotion as some cultivators that had been missing for thousands of years suddenly reappeared.

Most of them were either related to the Zhen Clan or the Lyonesse kingdom. Apparently, some form of agreement was struck between the patriarch and the king, and all the missing cultivators were transferred to the Zhen Clan."

Lord Lyon turned around with genuine interest, "Oh? That's rather intriguing... The two Grand Patriarchs did say that this valley may have a sealing and trapping formation. Those survivors could know some important information."

The blue-robed man shook his head and continued in a serious tone, "However, the Zhen Clan also knows about the ancient legends. I doubt they'll let us meet with the survivors anytime soon..."

Lord Lyon nodded with a thoughtful expression, "A fair point, Elder Shen. For now, we'll inform the grand patriarchs and let them take the lead."

Shaking his head, Lord Lyon asked in a serious tone, "Putting that matter aside, didn't you tell me something about a few mysterious Soul Tier disciples that supposedly fought against Turnbull? Did you find any more information about them?"

Elder Shen nodded and started his report, "As I mentioned before, the three disciples go by the names of Myne, Vivienne, and the youngest and weakest in cultivation, Zhen Shi. Their mysterious master is apparently named Myrden.

The first disciple, Myne, has momentous skill in blacksmithing and formations. Witnesses report him forming a Sea Fortress formation of the Law Tier. The second disciple, Vivienne, is supposedly skilled in Herbology and possibly skilled in pill refining, as well."

Lord Lyon raised an eyebrow in surprise but finally nodded, "I see. If they were truly that skilled, I suppose it makes sense for Turnbull to take the risk to put them out of the picture, in order to win the Appraisal Competition..."

With a wise tone in his voice, he continued, "To create a Law Tier formation at the Nascent Soul stage, this Myne must be a really skilled formation master. I suppose it makes sense for Turnbull to have lost against a formation. He is only a single proclaimer after all."

Elder Shen awkwardly shook his head, "No, my lord. Lord Turnbull attacked with his Hundred-fold Proclaiming Army."

Lord Lyon was caught by surprise. He was also feeling rather annoyed at being incorrect even when he acted wisely, "What? Impossible! With his hundred-fold army, he could even go up against me! Then how did he lose?"

Fearful of angering his proud Lord, Elder Shen began to explain in a hurry, "The disciples fought with numerous battle tactics. According to some witnesses, they even made use of the mental effect of the caster's thoughts on qi manifestations. When Lord Turnbull used a bull manifestation to attack, they used red to enrage the Bull!"

Lord Lyon's eyes widened, as he spoke with that wise tone once more, "Clever! To make use of Bullfighting like that, how ingenious! But Turnbull should be stronger than that..."

Elder Shen hurriedly continued, "Having done this, Myne's Sea Fortress formation launched the main assault while the third and final disciple, Zhen Shi, teamed up with Will O'Dale to fight against Turnbull's hundredfold army! While Turnbull was forced to fight with Myne, they slowly whittled down his forces until he was completely alone."

Lord Lyon nodded thoughtfully, with that wise look in his eyes once more, "Clever! Very Clever! I can see why Turnbull would've been defeated in such a situation. Make sure you give a reward to Elder Hao Lei for his meritorious service."

At this point, Elder Shen was feeling extremely awkward. He nodded to Lord Lyon's order, but with a heavy sigh, he shook his head once more, "No, my lord, the disciples didn't win like that... Lord Turnbull even used the Island formation to attack!"

Lord Lyon was completely and utterly shocked. This time he didn't even care about the embarrassment of being wrong when he acted wisely. With his mouth agape, he sputtered out, "W-What!? Did he really use his last Island Talisman?"

At this point, Lord Lyon came up with an almost crazy thought, 'Such power at such a young age... Wait, these disciples couldn't have a connection to this valley, right?'

His eyes glittering with interest, he asked in that wise tone once more, "But how the heck did Turnbull lose? Did this Myne make use of an event stronger formation? Perhaps... a formation the manifested a sky-reaching tower? Did it completely seal off Turnbull?"

With another heavy sigh, Elder Shen shook his head. For a moment, he couldn't help but feel that he was shaking his head a bit too much today.

In the end, he explained awkwardly, "No, my lord, it wasn't Myne that defeated Turnbull. It was the youngest disciple, Zhen Shi! He destroyed the formation talisman with a single touch and completely dominated Turnbull in close combat not giving him a single chance to come out on top! If the battle went on for longer, Turnbull could've died! Even now, he is seriously injured!"

Lord Lyon was shocked once more. He had never expected the final victory to depend on the weakest disciple.

He was rather disappointed that his crazy guess hadn't been correct, but was still rather suspicious. Their sudden appearance, around the same time, that this valley collapsed, was rather strangely coincidental.

In the end, with eyes full of curiosity, he spoke out, "Tell me more about this Zhen Shi."

Relieved that his Lord was still in a good mood and not annoyed by those minor failures, Elder Shen nodded in relief, "He completed the Golden Bridge Trial gaining the title of {Honorary Guest}. Most surprisingly, he gained a divine blessing from God Caishen in this process! I believe the ability he used to beat Lord Turnbull could've been this blessing..."

Lord Lyon nodded, a hint of disappointment rising in his eyes, 'If that is so, I guess I could be mistaken. Perhaps these disciples are completely unrelated to Supreme Curator Merlin. It could be a coincidence...'

Elder Shen continued in a serious tone, "My Lord, our spies discovered some very interesting information. Another person named Zhen Shi, supposedly, teleported right into the Brishman Mansion in Lyon city! He lived in the mansion until he recovered and finally left.

This matter caused a huge uproar with the threat to security and pushed CountBrishman to a precarious position.

A kingdom-wide search warrant was even launched to find this Zhen Shi. However, reports suggest that King Mark was using this chance to force a relationship between the Prince and the Healing Princess.

However, most strangely, around the same time that King Mark offered the newly found missing cultivators to the Zhen Clan, that search for Zhen Shi was discretely stopped. The search order wasn't canceled, however...

Whether this was a friendly gesture towards the Zhen Clan or a simple order on King Mark's part as his objective of forcing the relationship was achieved, we're unsure."

Lord Lyon was extremely intrigued by this new information. With a thoughtful expression, he muttered, "It seems that this Zhen Shi was only used as a pawn to force the marriage. We can be confident that King Mark wasn't worried about any threat to national security. The Divine Organizations won't allow that..."

Elder Shen nodded in agreement, "Most interestingly, the time-lines match and it is highly possible that the two Zhen Shi's are the same person. In other words, the Zhen Shi in our Market Hall still has a search order out for him. My report is complete, my lord."

At this point, Lord Lyon's gaze grew sharp. He spoke in a commanding tone, "Even if the search has been reduced since the search order still exists, this Zhen Shi could be hunted by the entire Kingdom!

Thankfully, Lord Turnbull doesn't seem to know. After all, subsequent losses in the appraisal have made the Turnbull family quite weak in terms of connections...

Send my word to our most trusted officials! Make sure that no news about Zhen Shi's victory against Lord Turnbull leaves the Market Island. Silence any who dare oppose! Contact our connections in the King's court and try to take down the search order, as well.

And... make sure that those disciples are allowed a few more favors than promised. If they require anything, make sure it's given!"

Elder Shen bowed, vanishing in a gust of wind, to carry out his commands.

The only reason the Lyon family was dominating the Turnbull's was because of Lord Lyon's superior capability and talent. All of his orders would be carried out perfectly.

As the gust of wind blew through the valley, Lord Lyon stared back at the fountain, a thoughtful expression on his face, "Zhen Shi. Perhaps you are the Supreme Curator... Perhaps you aren't. It could even be your mysterious master, Myrden. Either way, your actions, and your divine blessing have already connected you to our market hall by karma. As a subordinate representing our family, for the duration that you serve us, we will naturally shelter you from the unseen rains..."

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