Grandmaster Zhou Tong smiled amiably and spoke, "That Zhen Wei should be proud to have such talented offspring. If I'm not mistaken the two of you must have High-tier talents in your warrior classes, right?"
Zhen Xixi nodded respectfully, but Zhen Shi paused for a moment and shifted his eyes over to his mother. Seeing her expression he immediately nodded as well.
Grandmaster Zhou Tong turned to Zhen Xixi, "And while this young lady's movements are composed of a variety of schools of swordsmanship, I can see that you have been taught by some talented Sword Masters. I believe you are on the precipice of awakening your sword intent...?"
Xixi was impressed and replied curtly, "That is correct, Grandmaster Zhou Tong."
Zhou Tong frowned and spoke in annoyance, "Pish-posh with the grandmaster. Your father and I were good friends. Call me Uncle!" but for a short moment, he focused on her Blazing Inferno Sword thoughtfully...
Nevertheless, he turned to Zhen Shi, "On the other hand, you... I can sense the hints of a variety of Archery Schools, but your archery is much more refined and formidable. You have condensed several slivers of intent and will soon reach the precipice, however... I don't see the hints of a teacher. Are you self taught?"
Zhen Shi's eyes widened in surprise. He hadn't told anyone about the fact that he had begun condensing intent... but this old fellow knew it instantly! This must be the true capability of a powerhouse at the Sovereign level!
Nevertheless, he quickly covered his surprise with a smile and replied, "Yes, Grandmas-- Uncle Zhou Tong."
At the same time, Zhou Tong turned to Xie Li and spoke silently, "I'll look over the child's cultivation technique in a moment. Can you take me to see Zhen Wei?"
Xie Li's face froze in surprise for a moment, but she nodded almost immediately and gestured him towards the exit of the training courtyard.
As Xie Li and Zhou Tong walked away from the training courtyard, Zhen Xixi turned to Zhen Shi and spoke with a smile, "So you weren't lying. You have actually condensed silvers of intent! But... I am on the precipice of awakening! So I still think I can beat you easily!"
Zhen Shi turned to her with a proud smile, "Archery Intent... isn't ordinary. In return for the difficulty in progression... It grants greater power. So, I sincerely doubt it."
Xixi frowned unhappily and was about to reply with an indignant face, when Zhen Shi spoke seriously causing her to grow silent, "Forget about that. Shall we go see father as well? I haven't visited him since yesterday..."
Zhen Xixi paused thoughtfully and nodded, "Alright. I didn't go today either."
With a nod at his sister, Zhen Shi smiled mischievously and took a single step forwards, immediately disappearing in a gust of wind.
Xixi was speechless as she shouted, "Oi! Did you actually leave your cute elder sister? And why do you have to blow through everything? I hate your wind!"
But already aware that there will be no reply, she shouted one final time, "This is not how you're supposed to treat your elders!" and blazed out of the training courtyard in chase of her annoying younger brother.
A light breeze blew through the courtyard causing the trees to rustle and orange leaves to float in the wind.
Zhen Shi was seated in the pale grass a few meters in front of Grandmaster Zhou Tong, who was pouring through the book on his cultivation technique. Xie Li and Zhen Xixi were also waiting nearby expectantly.
Finally, Zhou Tong raised his head from the cultivation technique and spoke with a smile, "This cultivation technique is extremely complex. For the moment I can only see through some parts of it. As such, safely correcting it will take some time. Nevertheless, I am confident in correcting it within three to four years!"
Zhen Shi, Xie Li, and Zhen Xixi were immediately filled with joy as they laughed out in celebration. Things were finally going to turn around for them!
Zhou Tong nodded and spoke to Zhen Shi, "Until then I'll be personally overseeing your training--"
But before he could finish, a powerful shout was suddenly heard from outside the courtyard, "Xie Li! Where the hell have you been?"
Almost instantly a figure wrapped in a blazing white light streaked and continued, "So you were here? Playing around with your children and some random old man? Do you know how long I've been searching for you? Do you know how much trouble you have caused?"
Xie Li stared at the middle-aged man cloaked in glowing light and spoke through grit teeth, "Zhen Ji who the hell gave you the right to dash into our family's courtyard? Besides I've only been gone for a few hours! Having worked nonstop for nearly two years, surely I've earned the right to take a break?"
Zhen Ji sneered and spoke, "No wonder my brother decided to cripple himself. If I had a woman who played around with old men... I just might do the same!"
Zhen Shi and Zhen Xixi immediately stood up with blazing auras and roared, "Uncle, what the fuck did you say?"
Zhen Ji continued with a scowling face, "Even the children are the same! Not respecting their elders. Tsk-tsk, no wonder my dear brother harmed himself..."
Both Zhen Shi and Xixi nearly attacked at that point. They knew that this fellow was one of the major reasons as to why their mother had to work so much and why the clan had refused to give spiritual treasures for their father's treatment.
Hearing him insult their parents, they were unable to keep their tempers in check...
But Grandmaster Zhou Tong who had been observing the ongoings calmly, suddenly spoke with a smile, "Children, Children, simmer down. There is no need to be so angered," and gestured to the two of them to sit down.
Seeing how the old man was acting suitably in his majestic presence, Zhen Ji raised his chest proudly, "Good to see that at least the old man knows how he should act--"
But before he could finish his words, Zhou Tong continued with a smirk, "When bitches bark, they are vying for attention. Ignoring the barking might just make it leave..."
Unable to fathom that his words would take such a sharp turn, Zhen Ji was speechless for a moment.
But almost immediately he dashed forwards in rage while leaving a sparking light streak in the air, "Old man, you sure look like you want to die here!"
Instantly he manifested a sword of pure light and stabbed forth causing a small sonic boom to ravage the courtyard. Half of the walls were torn down and the nearby trees were uprooted!
While Xie Li watched calmly with an expectant gaze, both Zhen Shi and Zhen Xixi were frozen in fear and relief. If they had attacked, they probably wouldn't even know how they had lost! But too bad that their idiot of an uncle messed with Grandmaster Zhou Tong!
Looking at the enraged Zhen Ji, Zhou Tong simply snorted dismissively and flicked a finger.
Like a balloon that was pathetically squeaking out air, Zhen Ji's attack lost all momentum as he collapsed onto the ground in a cloud of dust.
But the force of his collapse was even more powerful than Zhen Ji's previous attack! As such, the moment he crashed into the earth he spewed a mouthful of blood and caused a powerful earthquake to shake the earth! And that destroyed the rest of the courtyard completely destroying it...
Unable to fathom the pain and the pressure he was currently facing, Zhen Ji shivered in fear and barely squeaked out, "S-Sovereign?"
Staring at the fearful man who was down on the ground with no evidence of his previous power, both Zhen Shi and Zhen Xixi couldn't help but grin happily.
Seeing Zhen Ji who would frequently bring trouble to them, getting beaten up so embarrassingly, Zhen Shi's opinion of their mysterious 'uncle' Zhou Tong grew much better...
While he was still fearful, Zhen Ji slowly grew calm and squeaked out, "So what? My father is a sovereign as well! If this were any other place, I might be helpless. But you are in the Zhen Clan right now! I dare you to make trouble!" After all, even if he was powerless in the face of a sovereign, he was still a powerful cultivator of the law stage!
And almost on cue, a large mass of water aether gathered from the air and formed a domineering face. Just like Saint Sun Soul's face of the earth, this was a face formed of water!
The face observed the ravaged courtyard for a while and spoke with a powerful voice that caused Zhen Shi's entire body to shake, "Are you that Zhou Tong? You actually reached the title of a sovereign before Zhen Wei? Your aura seems a bit different, but I suppose congratulations are in order... However, I won't be able to come in person, of course."
Grandmaster Zhou Tong frowned for a moment but replied quickly, "Ahh! It's Senior Zhen Wudi! It seems that you're on the verge of a breakthrough... So it makes sense why you can't come."
Zhen Shi's eyes widened in surprise. This was his grandfather Zhen Wudi? He had never seen his grandfather in person and had just barely glimpsed his back on one occasion. All he knew was that his grandfather was the most esteemed person in the Zhen clan and one of the legendary Sovereigns!
However, ever since they had been left to fend for themselves after his father's injury, his opinion on Zhen Wudi had grown extremely sour...
The Water face, Zhen Wudi nodded, "Indeed," turning his head to the shivering Zhen Ji he continued, "As for this stupid son of mine, for the crime of attacking a sovereign, you may deal with him as you see fit. But I hope that you will give me some face and won't kill him."
Raising his head back at Zhou Tong he paused for a moment and continued, "I think you've already checked up on Zhen Wei... What do you think of his situation?"
Zhou Tong shook his head powerlessly and replied, "Since he had siphoned out the Spiritual Roots within a short amount of time, his body is suffering from acute qi malnourishment. If only he had a few months of time, he could've used a safer method to extract it...
Alas, what happened has happened. Let's just forget about that. I suppose it was an untimely accident... Besides considering his high level of cultivation that was almost on the verge of reaching the Sovereign tier, the energy required to cure his qi malnourishment is impossibly immense. I doubt that even all of the Spirit Stones in the Central Plains will be sufficient...
And even if that problem is solved, there is still no guarantee that he will wake up..."
The Water face Zhen Wudi seemed to be disappointed, "It is as I had determined myself..."
Turning to stare at Zhen Shi, the Water face continued, "Zhou Tong you have always been talented in perfecting cultivation and martial techniques... I hope you can solve my grandson's problem and make his sacrifice worth it."
While Zhen Shi was surprised at the fact that his grandfather actually knew him, Zhou Tong nodded and replied, "Of course. I am confident of at least that!"
Zhen Wudi nodded his head in thanks and scattered into drops of water that disappeared into the air.
Zhou Tong stayed silent for a few more moments, but soon lowered his head at Zhen Ji, and whispered menacingly, "Now... how to deal with you. You better remember that these three are under my protection from now on. I'm even going to have to waste a few minutes to repair their training courtyard. How the hell will you repay me?
And what did you say last? 'Make trouble if I dare'? Well... kid, I more than dare!" and Zhen Ji's pants were magically lowered along with the raising of Zhou Tong's vicious hand...
Immediately, Xie Li closed Zhen Xixi's eyes causing her to pout indignantly, "Why can't I look when my little brother can? I'm the elder sister alright? Me!"
But before she could say anything else...
A resounding sound rang out in the courtyard, followed soon after by the whimpering of a poor man.
Several enjoyable hours later, Zhen Shi was back in the familiar training courtyard, which appeared to have been mystically repaired...
But this time he was alone with Zhou Tong, who was hard at work analyzing the cultivation technique and would occasionally write down notes composed of golden letters in the air.
Zhen Shi heaved a heavy breath as he recuperated from his recent practice of the [Martial Cultivation Technique].
Having stopped for a while he turned to Zhou Tong and asked quizzically, "Uncle, can you explain why it is difficult to shoot arrows accurately beyond a distance of 9 km?"
Zhou Tong stopped his work and raised a surprised face, "Wait... so not only will you reach intent within a few months, but you have also reached the first threshold of archery?"
Seeing Zhen Shi's confusion he continued, "Every class including warriors and mages have certain limits closely related to their cultivation level.
You have already reached the peak combat capability of a novice archer. If you wish to surpass that obstacle and reach the level of a true archer you will have to complete two objectives; the first will be to reach the Soul Stage."
Zhen Shi asked with interest, "And the second?"
Zhou Tong smiled and replied, "The second objective is impossible to achieve without reaching the Soul Stage. Knowing about it will only be a hindrance to your regular training. After all, the only ones that have ever completed it before the Soul Stage were those who commanded Supreme Archery Talent! But those are mere legends," but his eyes remained expectantly on Zhen Shi...
'Ignorantly' Zhen Shi nodded. Reminding himself of his promise to his mother he decided to remain silent.
As such he posed a different question, "Alright. Then can you explain why it is difficult to make progress beyond the level of average competency in the [Unarmed Water Style]? Must I comprehend the element of water for further progress?"
Zhou Tong appeared to be caught off guard as he asked in confusion, "The [Unarmed Water Style]? What's that?"
Zhen Shi frowned in thought as he answered, "Wasn't Uncle Zhou Tong the one who created this technique?"
Immediately Zhou Tong replied with a hearty laugh, "Of course. Of course. But I'm sure you've already understood how difficult it is right?
I can assure you that you can progress even without much understanding of water. If it had such a strict requirement, it wouldn't be much of a proper martial art now would it?
But such a highly graded martial art must be understood through one's own comprehension. My explanations will only make things more difficult for you."
Zhen Shi nodded calmly but was deep in thought, 'Father said that I could indeed progress without much understanding of the element of water, and Uncle Zhou Tong is saying the same thing.
But since when was Mortal Tier Grade 8 a high grade? Could it be that Uncle Zhou Tong doesn't know that his technique has been given such a low grade by the general public? Or could it be that there is a deeper meaning in his words...?"
However, Zhou Tong obstructed his train of thought as he spoke hurriedly, "You know what? You're Zhen Wei's son, so I'm sure you'll be able to make sense of what must be done. Let me tell you the second requirement for being recognized as a true archer."
Calmly he raised his hand causing a transparent bow made of pure wind to appear. As he pulled back the bowstring, a transparent arrow of wid was formed as well.
And just like that, he released the arrow without a single sound...
It was almost as if the bow, the bowstring, and the arrows were part of the wind itself. And as such, they wouldn't obstruct each other, and there would be no sound either...
However, before the first arrow had even traveled halfway to the target, Zhou Tong pulled back the bowstring a total of two more times, subsequently releasing another two arrows! These arrows were almost mystical as if they existed, but didn't exist at the same time...
And even before Zhen Shi could make sense of what was happening, three transparent wind arrows had struck the center of the target, which was more than 9 km away!
Zhou Tong flicked his hand causing the bow to disappear and spoke, "Only when you can do this, can you call yourself a true archer!
Of course, you can do it with ordinary arrows. Forming weapons out of the wind is completely unrelated to this. It's just a simple application of Wind Aether...
Going back to topic, once an archer becomes a true archer, their capability will be classified from the point onwards depending on their mastery of intent. Do you understand?"
Zhen Shi nodded while keeping this in mind and thought, 'Since I have the Superior Archery Talent I should be able to do this before I reach the Soul Stage, and I can practice when Uncle Zhou Tong isn't around.
Either way, this Uncle of mine is truly powerful! He was supposed to be a Sovereign of Water, but his archery and comprehension of wind are top-notch as well. No wonder even grandfather treated him with respect!'
While he was thinking so, Uncle Zhou Tong snapped grumpily, "What are you dozing around for? If that's all the questions you have, continue practicing. You need to reach the Core Formation Stage within this year!"
Zhen Shi nodded with a smile and prepared himself for some more training.
And just like that another six months passed by peacefully.
Zhen Shi released a breath of turbid air as he sensed his cultivation grow extremely close to reaching the Core Formation Stage. Even during such a long time, he was unable to make a breakthrough. It would seem that this will take a long time...
But before he could think more on this matter, a familiar old man with a wide belly approached him. Zhen Shi hurriedly got up and spoke respectfully, "Uncle Zhou Tong, what brings you here?"
Zhou Tong smiled as he answered, "Well I've been mostly busy with fixing the cultivation technique but, this old man isn't too much of a bad blacksmith and I also had some free time. It is tradition for the teacher to give their students a proper weapon once they are of age, and I just happened to create this..."
Saying so he flicked his hand, causing a verdant greenwood bow with the sleek engraving of a blazing storm to appear in his hand. Handing it over to Zhen Shi who stared in speechless surprise, Zhou Tong continued, "It's a Soul Tier grade 7 weapon based on the element of wind... But I didn't have enough time to make any arrows... Is it suitable?"
Zhen Shi laughed with glistening eyes while continuing to admire the bow, "Yes, yes. It's enough. Thank you, Uncle Zhou Tong."
Zhou Tong smiled with a pleased expression, but before he could say anything Zhen Shi ran out while calling out, "I haven't had a duel with Elder Sister in a while. So I'll be taking my leave!"
Staring at Zhen Shi's leaving figure, Zhou Tong smiled in satisfaction, "Good! This child is improving rapidly. Now that troublesome fellow will have to get off my back!"
And before he knew it, another two years passed by.
However, these two years had been extremely peaceful. With a Sovereign to back them up, not a single elder of the Zhen Clan dared make trouble. Thus while Zhen Shi and Zhen Xixi's days were still filled with training, it was relaxed and enjoyable. They had their mother around and even Uncle Zhou Tong. It was truly blissful.
Zhen Shi had finally been able to reach the Core Formation Stage a couple of weeks ago and had spent the remaining time stabilizing his cultivation. But it was already obvious that his cultivation was beginning to stagnate... On the other hand, Zhen Xixi was already at Core Formation Stage 8!
However, Zhen Shi's greatest progress had been in the field of archery and mastering intent... Especially the training he had conducted in secret...
Nevertheless, in the middle of another peaceful day, under a blazing sun, Zhou Tong spoke to the trio with a grim face, "As you can all see, I've been able to solve the cultivation technique..."
He continued with a smile, "I really don't know if Zhen Wei knew what he was doing or just wanted to save Zhen Shi's cultivation and accidentally realized it... Because what he did, was the method to fixing the cultivation technique!
In other words, while I have fixed all the problems, in theory, to ensure that there will be no problems Zhen Shi will need to have the spiritual roots of four elements. In other words, he needs to have two more; earthen and aqua are missing."
Xie Li smiled at this and spoke calmly, "That won't be a problem. Shi'er can have mine."
Zhen Shi hurriedly stood up and shouted, "No! I won't! No way!"
Xie Li smiled in a reassuring tone, "Shi'er you don't have to worry. As long as I perform the extraction technique at a slow rate, there will be no adverse effects. I'll take care of it, so don't worry. All right?"
Zhen Shi shook his head, "No! It's not alright. Uncle Zhou Tong, there must be some other way, right?"
Zhou Tong paused thoughtfully, "Well... sure. But it'll take some time..."
Xie Li stood up with a smile but spoke sternly, "Alright. Grandmaster Zhou Tong I can give you one more week. It's already apparent that Xiao Shi's cultivation is stagnating. If you can't find a solution by then, I'll extract the Spiritual Roots."
Saying so she walked away with a worried Zhen Xixi in tow. Nevertheless, Xixi paused for a moment and turned around to wave at Zhen Shi.
While Zhen Shi reciprocated his sister's gesture, his focus was on Uncle Zhou Tong. Once the duo of mother and daughter had completely left the courtyard, Zhou Tong spoke with a heavy sigh, "Little Shi, despite what I said to your mother, there is no other way beyond infusing two spiritual roots."
Zhen Shi frowned in disappointment and spoke through grit teeth, "Father asked me to protect them. How can I cultivate with peace of mind knowing that I made my mother harm herself? I can't! Once is already bad enough..."
Zhou Tong continued while in thought, "Well... if you are that adamant about this, there may be a solution."
Seeing that he had captured Zhen Shi's attention he continued, "I'm sure you have heard about the other realms or other worlds right?
Even considering the boundless Northern Ice Lands or the fearsome Southern Desert, they are simply parts of our own realm. The other realms are completely different from ours and inhabited by amazing creatures. There are naturally some magical treasures that can create Spiritual Roots within you.
I can find a water spiritual root relatively easily, from the Northern Icelands, but the Earth Spiritual Root will definitely take a lot of time and involve some visits to other realms. But the majority of these treasures have to be used as soon as they are harvested..."
Zhen Shi spoke thoughtfully, "So... that means that I'd have to leave the Zhen Clan? How long would this take?"
Zhou Tong replied curtly, "Honestly, I'm not sure. The Water Spiritual Root can probably be harvested in another two years... but the other one will take longer. So... at the very least, and if nothing goes wrong, a decade."
Zhen Shi's eyes widened in surprise, but finally, he heaved a heavy sigh.
Having spent nearly three years with Uncle Zhou Tong who had protected the three of them from the higher-ups of the clan, and had even treated them almost as well as a father would, Zhen Shi, trusted this old uncle of his.
Besides he had no intention of bringing trouble upon his mother.
As such, he nodded decisively, and simply asked, "When are we leaving?"
Zhou Tong laughed out loud in glee while clapping Zhen Shi's back and said, "You are truly his son!
But... that old grandfather of yours has been paying close attention and has been staying alert for anything out of the ordinary. I suppose he is suspicious of me and wants to protect you or something...
However, in the last few days, his focus has lessened as he seems to have reached a decisive point in his breakthrough. I doubt we'll have another chance like this, so we must leave today."
Zhen Shi nodded once more and began to walk away, "Alright, Uncle Zhou Tong, I'll be back soon."
Approximately two hours later, Zhen Shi was leisurely observing the familiar figure of his sister using her divine blessing.
Her figure was barely visible as she was surrounded by a whirlpool of spiritual energy. Instantly, this energy was infused into multiple objects that were around her, ranging from random rocks to majestic statues...
And as if all of those objects had gained sentience, they glowed momentarily before radiating a refreshing aura of spiritual aether.
Observing the newly created spiritual treasures around her, Zhen Xixi heaved a breath of turbid air and nodded in satisfaction. She turned to Zhen Shi and said with a smile, "What do you think? Not bad right? Now, I can manage 50 of these in three hours!"
Zhen Shi nodded at her question but stuttered as he struggled to speak, "S-Sis, I have something to--"
Xixi smiled once more as she lifted a hand signaling him to stop. She calmly grabbed a handful of spiritual items and pushed them into Zhen Shi's arms.
While Zhen Shi stared at her in surprise, she spoke calmly, "Little Bor, you don't need to explain. I'm seventeen this year. I already figured out that you'd do something to make sure that mother won't have to suffer anymore...
So what ARE you doing? Attacking a nearby clan and stealing some valuable treasure? Or maybe stealing from our own treasury? Or perhaps you have to go away for a while to search for some miracle medicine or hunt a powerful beast?"
Zhen Shi nodded and grinned forcefully, "The last one is fairly correct. I'm going to leave with Uncle Zhou Tong..."
Seeing his face, Xixi frowned, "Why are you acting so weird? What? Will you be gone for a couple of months? Don't be a baby, aren't you fourteen? You can handle it," and clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder.
Zhen Shi shook his head derisively, "No... it won't be a couple of months. According to Uncle Zhou Tong, it'll take a decade at the very least..."
Xixi's face immediately turned awful as well, "A-Atleast a decade?"
But seeing her brother's face, she quickly grew calm and smiled forcefully. Stretching out her arms she wrapped him in a bear hug and spoke, "Well, that's fine too. Maybe in your adventure, you'll grow strong enough to beat your elder sister and win properly!"
Zhen Shi couldn't help but smile as he hugged her back, "Che. I almost won last time..."
But suddenly, he could sense her figure shake as she spoke through stifled sobs, "A-Almost... isn't a victory..."
Zhen Shi broke off the hug and grabbed her reassuringly and with a smile, he continued, "Sis, you're being the baby now!"
As Xixi struggled to wipe off her tears, she muttered in embarrassment, "N-no, your clothes are dusty and some dirt got into my eyes."
Zhen Shi couldn't help but laugh at her reply and spoke reassuringly, "Don't worry! With my heavenly capabilities, I'll probably be back before you know it! And then we can teach those stuck up Elder grandpas a proper lesson like Uncle Zhou Tong did to poor Uncle Zhen Ji."
Zhen Xixi laughed at that memory, but paused momentarily and said fearfully, "B-but you promise that you'll be safe right? You'll come back to us?"
Zhen Shi smiled and spoke confidently while clapping his chest, "Of course! Who the hell do you think I am?"
Zhen Xixi nodded in relief with a satisfied smile. But as if she had suddenly realized she asked hurriedly, "Wait, w-what about Mother? She'll probably be upset..."
Smiling once more, Zhen Shi handed her a small yellow crystal and answered, "If I told her in person she might do something drastic. I used the weird recording spirit treasure you gave me last year."
Xixi nodded while lowering her head to stare at the crystal, but frowned, "Wait... then won't I be the one who has to face her divine wrath? No, No way! Do it yourself!" and raised her head indignantly.
But what lay waiting for her was a familiar finger bent in an equally familiar arc.
And before she could even react, Zhen Shi had flicked her once more!
As his figure disappeared in a gust of wind, his words rang out, "Aren't you always saying you're the elder sibling? Figure something out!"
Unable to accept this she shouted in annoyance, "Bastard brother! When you get back, I'm going to teach you a proper lesson on how to respect your elders!"
Nevertheless, she smiled and continued in a silent whisper, "Little Bro, you better come back..."