“Liao An? You found it…” Bào bǐ didn’t know what else to say when he swam up into the cave only to find Liao An already present.
“I followed you.” Liao An said simply. “I’m cleaning it.”
After spending a night meditating on the subject, Liao An decided to allow Bào bǐ to use her immortal cave. She could have collapsed it or stopped him from accessing it any number of ways, but Bào bǐ’s life was nearly as important to her as her own, so Liao An didn’t hesitate to do whatever she had to do. If that meant using her body as some kind of cultivation tool for a lowly mortal, then that was simply her earning positive karma for some time later in her life.
Thus, she had entered the cave before Bào bǐ arrived and started lowering the water levels. The cave was now dry enough to walk across, except for a few pools of water, including the one Bào bǐ came up from. She also picked up her body, and using a few artifacts, encased it in a crystal barrier. Bào bǐ could no longer touch her. Furthermore, she had taken the stone and put it into a standing position. This way, he wouldn’t be able to lie on her either.
Finally, Liao An had drilled a hole to the surface that wouldn’t require them getting wet. It was too small for an adult to get through, but for these two children, it was plenty of room. She was, of course, careful to make sure it was hidden behind innumerable formations and wouldn’t reveal Tigra’s location to any latent bounty hunters. With that, she kneeled down in front of her own body to cultivate. It felt a little weird kneeling to herself, but she was trying to lead by example. To her excitement, Bào bǐ also kneeled in front of her. Yes! This was how Bào bǐ should be, bowing before the goddess Tigra. That should be his natural state! She was very pleased.
“This rock is harder on the knees than that other one.” Bào bǐ complained.
That’s because his knees were previously being jammed in Tigra’s ribs! Liao An let out a cough but otherwise didn’t say anything. The pair continued to cultivate the rest of the day. After that, each day the pair would meet in the same immortal cave. Time started to pass quickly. After another month, Bào bǐ reached the third tier of Purification. He continued to work hard, and as he worked, he grew a fondness for the little girl who always sat beside him.
He didn’t really know her background, but he also didn’t really know any other kids. That meant he had no reference for her abilities or knowledge. He already found the people of the immortal world to think and act strange, so for all he knew, Liao An was a typical example. He simply saw her as a somewhat knowledgeable girl who happened to have a good intuition about cultivation. For Bào bǐ, who mostly did this to pass the time, that was sufficient. As for Liao An, as she learned more about Bào bǐ, she let up on some of her restrictions, even occasional talking about topics not related to cultivation.
Liao An also had little reference for what a normal child should be like. She had made some observations, but she had spend the most time with Bào bǐ and he became her understanding of a typical mortal child. In the heavenly realm, he could be considered incredibly behind, where most children were born already having progressed through the purification realm at least. That wasn’t to say he was the same as a heavenly realm student. His mind was incredibly insightful, and he could understand complex techniques easily. His spiritual perception he trained every day, and thus had far more control and understanding of spiritual energy far earlier than most heavenly children. In fact, despite only being in the purification stage, Liao An had noticed he had incorporated a bit of spiritual energy into his cultivation. It was a sort of bodybuilding technique that he was doing by instinct.
Becoming interested in what Bào bǐ showed her, Liao An cautiously worked on creating some new techniques. Like the Wind Symphony of the Midnight Reign, these techniques took into account Bào bǐ’s personal capabilities. They were at a level far higher than anything the Xaoi Sect possessed, and they personalized to take advantage of Bào bǐ’s strengths and circumvent his weaknesses. Even with Bào bǐ superior mind induced by the expansion pill, he might have struggled to learn these techniques, however, he was also advised by the very woman who created the techniques in the first place, so his progress was smooth.
As for Liao An, her knowledge of cultivation techniques was vastly inferior to her masters, but that still put her at the forefront of the most knowledgeable in the universe. Any technique she produced would be a blessing to any who learned it. Despite that, she was not usually fond of creating and modifying cultivation techniques. Her master had made her learn the bits she had, but there was a reason she had never formed her own school or clan, let alone taken on a disciple, despite having both the means and right to do so. She hated designing and troubleshooting cultivation, and she despised training inferior beings.
Yet, every day, she found the most enjoyable part of her life came sitting next to Bào bǐ. She went over his techniques over and over again, constantly tweaking them to achieve the greatest effect. She treated him with more care than most cultivators would treat their core disciples. Of course, she also took into account the genius that was her master. When Midnight returned, she would assuredly be able to improve upon the techniques. That’s why Tigra did not aim for power or strength, but a strong foundation. The techniques she designed were not the strongest, or the most flashy, but they were the safest for Bào bǐ and would help build a foundation that could support anything Midnight could throw at him.
After spending nearly four hundred hours working on them, she finally nodded to herself. This was the longest she had ever spent working on a cultivation technique. Midnight could easily spend years contemplating techniques, but Tigra was a different woman. For her to spend this much time on him showed how much she cared, even if she hadn’t acknowledged that fact herself.
The day after he reached the peak of the third tier of cultivation, she placed two cultivation techniques in front of him. Bào bǐ picked them up and looked at them. Like the Wind Symphony of the Midnight Reign, these two looked to be incredibly complex and hard to follow. Bào bǐ already had a headache just at a glance. He didn’t know this, but these were so profound that most people would never be even able to understand the first tier of these techniques in their entire lives. Of course, these were made for Bào bǐ, and his learning would be guided by their creator, so he would naturally pick them up.
“What are these?” Bào bǐ finally asked as Liao An watched him with a proud look in her eyes.
“Two cultivation techniques most suited for you!” Liao An nodded excitedly. “Will you learn them?”
“Do they have names?” Bào bǐ asked, not wanting Liao An to try to force him to come up with another one.
Liao An, of course, had prepared for that as well. “These techniques complement the Wind Symphony. They were both part of the Midnight Reign series. The first is a defensive bodybuilding technique. It’ll strengthen your body from the skin to the organs. You must at least reach the 3rd tier or you will not be able to progress to the 2nd realm. Body strength is very important when forming a foundation. This technique is called Shadow Armor of the Midnight Reign.
“The second technique will be your first offensive technique. You seem to wish not to kill enemies, and prefer to disable and escape. For that reason, I’ve created the Wind Phantasmal Palm of the Midnight Reign. It focuses on broad strikes rather than piercing blows. It’s good for crowd control, as well as knockback. It will be difficult to crush an enemy of the same level though and you may need to incorporate a weapon to kill. In a match, you’d have to beat them into surrendering.”
“Hah… so I have to learn to fight after all…” Bào bǐ sighed but didn’t hesitate to put the techniques in his backpack.
“Bào bǐ, these techniques are very expensive.” Liao An let out a cough. “The amount they cost will surely ignite the greed in others. Remember the cultivators that stole your childhood home? These cultivators would be even less friendly if they were to even hear about these scrolls. I would ask that you not show them to anyone, your parents included.”
Bào bǐ nodded and assured Liao An that he wouldn’t tell a soul. As for where she got the cultivation techniques, he believed it was a matter of her family being rich and mysterious. Bào bǐ knew that kids were sometimes prone to handing each other gifts that their parents wouldn’t approve of. At least Bào bǐ knew the value of these secrets. He felt a little bad exploiting Liao An’s goodwill, but he at least knew enough to know that techniques she had were better than his father’s techniques.
Although, half the reason he thought so was because father created the techniques and his penmanship was somewhat poor. The scrolls created by Tigra had a far more elegant and feminine hand. If either of them knew that this was Bào bǐ’s reasoning for determining the value of these techniques, they would both likely cough up blood.
Bào bǐ headed home, but as he slipped through the front door, he could hear his father’s voice. “Truly? Just four more years? A spirit stone a month! How can I afford that? But if you… truly can help me break through… True power… I can truly have the power to protect my wife and child and no longer be bullied by the Xaoi sect…”
Xaoi Yun seemed to be having a conversation with himself. Bào bǐ peaked around the corner, and he could see his father in a corner. There was some kind of jewelry in his hand. It was glowing and he seemed to be talking to it. Even to Bào bǐ, this scene was very suspicious.
“Someone?” Xiao Yun looked up and spun around. “Ah! Bào bǐ… what are you doing here?”
Xaoi Yun closed his hand and shoved the item in his pocket. The glowing disappeared so quickly it might have never been there in the first place. He gave a smile, his face trying to put on a picture of absolute innocence.
“Who were you talking to?” Bào bǐ asked, narrowing his eyes, “What was that glowing…”
“Glowing? Eh? What glowing? Son, you must get your eyes checked, Hahaha…” Xiao Yun chuckled nervously, but then his eyes caught something. “What is that in your bag? Are those technique scrolls?”
“Ah!” Bào bǐ had been so caught up that he had let his backpack slide down his arm, and the two scrolls had pushed their way out the top. “They’re nothing!”
Bào bǐ instantly hid the two technique scrolls which transcended anything this planet likely had. His expression ended up mirroring his fathers a second later.
“Those are just some notes. Liao An and I were cultivating and she likes to give me pictures… Hahahaha…”
Xaoi Yun’s expression remained suspicious. He knew that Bào bǐ hung out with a young girl and they liked to play at cultivation. He had never met the girl himself, and Bào bǐ didn’t seem interested in inviting her over, despite the fact Xaoi Lan really wanted to meet her.
Xiao Yun’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He just realized his son had reached the third tier of purification. That was absolutely amazing! Rather, his son was a monster who would shock the Xaoi Sect in a few years. Did it have to do with that girl and her play cultivation? Just what was going on there? Although he was proud, Xaoi Yun also felt that his son would soon leave him in the dust. Xaoi Yun was still in the 4th tier, and not even peak.
“Just four more years…” Xaoi Yun tightened his fist while whispering to himself. “Then, I will be the father you deserve…”
“What was that, dad?”
“Ah, cough… I said… congratulations on reaching the third tier, your father doesn’t deserve such a magnificent son!”
“Oh… thank you. well… in that case… I guess I’ll be going then.” Bào bǐ said as the silent awkwardness grew.
“Y-yes… me… as well…” Xaoi Yun nodded.
Every cultivator had their secrets. This was no different. The child and father parted, with Xaoi Yun following his fortunes, while Bào bǐ would follow his own. Xaoi Yun felt a little sad. He had hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. He had always hoped his son would one day outshine him and regain their family honor, but he had never expected his rise to be so meteoric, and without Xaoi Yun’s input as well. He knew that Bào bǐ was learning the techniques from the Xaoi sect, but that was the limit to his knowledge. Perhaps this girl was his fortune, as the mysterious ring Xaoi Yun had discovered would be his own.
Time continued to pass. As for Xaoi Yun, he left the house and was usually gone performing jobs for nobles. He’d take the highest paying and most dangerous jobs, and every cent he earned he traded for spiritual stones. Like a man possessed, he did everything he could to bring in money. Yet, despite all of that, he neither increased in cultivation nor accumulated any wealth so that they could improve their living conditions.
It grew to the point where even some mortals looked down on Xaoi Yun, who ignored his beautiful wife and child in exchange for dangerous missions and money. Rumors grew that he had been gambling or perhaps hiring whores. He never explained to Xaoi Lan or Bào bǐ what he was doing, but he assured her in three to four years, things would start to change.
Meanwhile, Xaoi Lan was often left at home on her own. She could do nothing but smile and wait patiently while her husband fought to change his fate. He had already changed hers when he married her, so she would wait for him an eternity if she had to. However, she was also a woman with needs, so she struggled on long cold nights. She started making it a habit of sneaking into Bào bǐ’s bed and night and going to sleep while hugging him tightly.
She usually came at night, because Bào bǐ spent every day in his immortal cave sitting next to Liao An in front of that glowing stone. Except on nights when father was home. Those nights, he thought it best to stay at Liao An’s house. Fortunately, the Liao family was always accomodating.
It seemed like every day, Liao An and Bào bǐ would practice techniques together and continue to cultivate. For Bào bǐ, he was just buying time until he was older. He mostly wanted to leave the house and get a job. Perhaps, he’d fall in love too. None of that could be done in the body of a small child. He had little passion for cultivation, and rather did it out of habit, like his morning sit-ups and his yoga.
When he broke through into the mid-tier, Liao An presented him with an item that would suppress his cultivation. He didn’t know this, merely wearing the necklace to please the girl. He dropped down to the second tier to anyone who tried to detect his true cultivation level. The item was naturally of a high enough level that no one on this planet would be able to detect his true cultivation. If his father had ever been home to notice his drop, he would have sighed and blamed the family curse that had kept them all suppressed all those years.
Time passed quickly, and Bào bǐ lived a happy if simple life. He began to look forward to cultivation, which felt good, like a good workout routine. He also enjoyed Liao An’s company. She grew older, and despite her typically cold expression, she was actually quite a beautiful girl.
He reached the fifth tier. The sixth tier. He managed to break through to the seventh tier. The eighth tier. Four years later, the last sliver of his purification pill fell away and was processed, eliminating the energy within his gut that he had known since the day he gained spiritual perception. A booming could be felt deep within Bào bǐ’s gut, and once again filth grew out from his pores. He had finally reached the 9th tier, the top of the purification realm.
More than that, his techniques had also grown. Due to their extreme complexity and difficulty in training, especially without resources, the body technique had only made it to the first tier, the movement technique the third, and the palm technique was at the second. Bào bǐ was now seven, but thanks to the pills and his abnormal development, he already looked to be 12 or 13. Liao An didn’t seem to have this problem. She looked like a very typical 9-year-old girl. She was incredibly cute and unfortunately had been catching the eyes of more and more neighbors, who wanted to arrange a marriage to their son. The rumors going around that she was a cultivator didn’t hurt either, although Liao An had refused to be tested and her parents weren’t cultivators themselves to know of such things.
“You will not be able to progress anymore without resources. The body technique in particular demands too much energy. I didn’t predict how measly this wretched world is to a cultivator. Even I haven’t been able to progress to the 2nd realm. We will need to find some medicinal herbs and perhaps even create some pills.”
Bào bǐ had long since grown used to Liao An speaking like this. “Is that so? Is that like taking Ginseng and Multivitamins? I suppose it’d be tough to find those things in this world, huh?”
Part of the reason Liao An spoke so boldly was exactly because Bào bǐ spoke much the same way. It was clear they were both speaking different languages, but Liao An sometimes forgot that Bào bǐ was born in this world. He often talked like he wasn’t, and had vast knowledge just like her. It was clear, at the least, that he didn’t have the mind of a child, even if he often acted strange to her. In a way, he was easier to talk to than anyone else in this world.
“I have not heard of this Ginseng or Multivitamin, but we will need resources if we want you to progress.”
Although Tigra’s bag of holding had many resources, they were all far too strong for Bào bǐ. If she attempted to make any of these into pills, those pills would destroy a lower realm mortal in an instant. She had even considered various ways to weaken her herbs, but it all simply came down to her resources being far too high grade for his rank. Although Liao An didn’t have as much of a problem in her cultivation as she suggested, even she was slowed up and weakened by lack of resources.
“What do you have in mind?” Bào bǐ asked.
“Tomorrow… we’re going hunting.”
Bào bǐ blinked. “Hunting? What are we hunting for? Deers? Rabbits.”
Liao An shot him a look, once again realizing how far he had to go in cultivation. “We’ll be hunting spiritual beasts.”