After a nice, long bath, An Fei felt as though she had revived. The young girl quickly inspected her body to discover that all of the bruises and welts on her skin had receded, and save for the remnant stings of pain, she had completely returned to normal.
…though that wasn’t anything commendable – really, when Xilong made her toil during the day, then suffer through the night.
It had forced her to grasp the Concept of <Hemorrhage> in the span of a whole month of nothing but endless writing and memorization, until the young girl had ceaselessly worried whether the ink stains on her hands were permanent.
Not only that, she was forced to practice the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> every night, until she could call upon the martial arts technique’s Construct without a single conscious thought.
If it wasn’t overly taxing her body and mind, what else could she call her past month and a half?
“Rest up, and have a good night’s sleep,” the heavenly dragon brushed against the young girl’s back.
“We have a long day tomorrow. You wouldn’t want to be half—muddled with sleep, would you?”
Was she supposed to be brimming with anticipation for tomorrow’s suffering?
An Fei shook her fist towards where she assumed the scarlet dragon lay invisible. Finding the Sanctum to be utterly silent after throwing several profane gestures wither hands, the young girl staggered back towards the boudoir located in the Gate of Death, falling utterly asleep the moment her body touched the blankets.
Of course, she hadn’t suffered only to receive no benefit at all.
On the contrary, the results from the brutal training Xilong had pushed her through was more than sufficient when it came to matters of compensation.
The first and foremost benefit was that she had grasped the Construct of the <Shadow Dance> martial arts technique’s first principle, <Steps of Underlying Shadows>. Though An Fei had yet to obtain a complete understanding of the intricacies hidden within the Construct, the visual and personal experiences that Xilong had put her through was a satisfactory introduction.
Previously, An Fei utilized the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> by concealing herself into the fields of influence of the environment around her. While she was in that semi-permanent state, physical attacks could not deliver any damage onto her body, and instead treated her as an integral force of nature.
It was akin to losing the fundamental targeting on an enemy; if they couldn’t be recognized by any method of detection whatsoever, then an attack couldn’t process any tangible result. Nonetheless, there was indeed an exception – when the opponent utilized spiritual essence when attacking.
Attacking with spiritual essence, no matter how precise or accurate the attack may be, was akin to swinging around an oversized battle hammer.
Though the practitioner may not be able to grasp An Fei’s field of influence to deliver a personalized attack, the mere trails of the mass of spiritual essence rushing through the spatial coordinates was sufficient to harm her.
Since spiritual essence could permeate through most if not all of mortal creation, it was increasingly more difficult to defend against by blending into another person’s field of influence. Upon noticing that An Fei was overly reliant on such a flawed method, Xilong had chanced upon the decision of force-feeding her the Construct of the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> to help avoid any sequalae from future conflicts with mortal cultivators.
That was, instead of blending into the nearby fields of influence as would a shadow, the Construct of the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> was the principle of integrate with the boundary line that stood between creation and destruction that was the void.
It bridged from the concept that shadows existed untouched by decay without the rapport of a Construct, allowing for the declaration that all creation decayed into the void of nihility.
Since all creation decayed into the void and shadows were exempt from such phenomenon without the use of a Construct, it was inevitable that someone would raise the argument that indeed, shadows were generated from the void to mirror the object’s identity. Since it was impossible to either prove or disprove that shadows didn’t exist during the nighttime, they also couldn’t argue against the claim that shadows were byproducts of the infinite void.
The constant state of ambiguity allowed for the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> as well as the techniques of <Shadow Dance> to assume An Fei’s identity as a shadow, and thus receive protection from the void.
It was impossible to hack apart a shadow, nor could it be destroyed through any means possible. Even Immortals were helpless in destroying a trivial concept as a shadow without employing the divine assistance of the Divine Script.
As she became isolated from the world the moment the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> triggered through its Construct, An Fei would not have to worry about being injured from contacting the spiritual essence of the world…
…if there wasn’t a behemoth-like jackal towering behind her head, one with the name of <Calligraphy>…
“What is it now? Not to mention, you wanted me to come outside?”
An Fei muttered as the cold breeze wrapped around her hair, chilling her exposed nape with a glacial breath. The young girl shivered in her thin clothes, deeply wishing that she had brought the linen coat from the Sanctum.
She most definitely would have, if it weren’t for a certain scarlet dragon threatening to unleash the ghastly fan on her if she returned to the Sanctum outside of “normal resting hours”…
“Just brave it for a while, the cold temperature will go away soon,” Xilong sighed through the unsheathed taijijian.
“Today, you’re going to learn how to fly. Why else would I make you come outside when winter approaches?”
The young girl was hardly impressed. An Fei quickly sheathed the taijijian and crossed her arms as she stared into the bleak skies with a grim expression, her lips failing to muster the urge to twitch.
“…you brought me out in this cold weather to learn how to… ‘fly’?”
“Of course! Why else would I allow you to skip practicing <Calligraphy> and expose yourself to danger? Excessive spoon-feeding of Constructs is bad for your state of mind’s progression.”
“Enough dawdling – hurry up and summon your swords!”
Summon her swords?
An Fei’s mind blanked at Xilong’s unexpected words, failing to comprehend them for a few minutes.
Nonetheless, as her sluggish mind carefully deciphered the scarlet dragon’s command, the young girl’s expression brightened.
Recalling the somewhat cute and excessively bloodthirsty handle-less sword, An Fei didn’t hesitate before willing her spiritual essence to burrow deep into the Tianzong and Bingfeng acupuncture points…
“…this isn’t working…” the young girl’s expression became peculiar.
“No matter how I approach it, the acupuncture points are still sealed…”
“…why are you even trying to manifest the sword via acupuncture points?” the scarlet dragon was equally unable to comprehend An Fei’s predicament.
“Don’t they have my imprint as weapons of the Gate of Death? Just where did such a useless concept come from – manifesta through acupuncture points instilled with spiritual essence?”
An Fei’s lips finally twitched despite the embittering cold. The young girl chose not to respond as she obediently followed the scarlet dragon’s instructions, though her heart did contain a sliver of resentment for not telling her of such information beforehand.
Closing her eyes, she allowed the sea of perception to gently probe around her surroundings. Though her eyes remained shut, the young girl could still see the world – though in a different perspective.
The standard world filled with vibrant colors and objects had been replaced with a monochromic platform of a dull, grey hue.
Her surroundings as well as the mortal world itself diminished into nothing but characteristic indents alongside of the platform. The world retained the same monochrome grey regardless of which direction she peeked, stretching beyond even the boundary.
“Look inside yourself. What do you see?”
The young girl complied, and found none of her original body. Instead, located where her heart lay situated with its irregular beat, was a small sphere of golden light – the compressed core of spiritual essence within her body.
Her Eight Extraordinary Meridians were illuminated with a vast array of colors, and her Twelve Standard Meridians shone brilliantly with a subdued yet rebellious golden radiance.
And when An Fei shifted her sea of perception towards the bloodstream, she found thirty-odd specks of scarlet light.
They were akin to tiny sparks illuminating a darkened world; however small their magnificence were compared to the blistering radiance of her meridians and the spiritual core at her heart, they still carried forth their independent brilliance.
An Fei’s lips twitched into a light smile, and the sea of perception lurched forwards to coil around one particular spark of scarlet light.
The spark of light burst into a torrential sea of heat and energy. Its seal broken, the tiny kernel released all of its pent-up malevolence and bloodthirst in a single, resounding howl that illuminated the bleak skies with a hue of scarlet. And when the young girl opened her eyes, she found a sword hovering before her, the blade level with her chest.
The sword was rather crude in appearance, resembling more of a rectangular slab of metal than any particular broadsword. Moreover, everything below the tang had been severed by some mysterious force, the jagged portion of metal whispering their indignance towards the silent world.
“It’s been a year. How’ve you been?”
The handle-less sword gently quivered as if in reply. At the same time, the scarlet inscription on its blade brightened in intensity, whilst the taijijian dulled by a significant margin.
As if feeling rather unsettled within its heart, a certain little raven abruptly sneezed whilst in its sleep.