CORRUPTED CRIMSON

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CHAPTER 2: GOLD BONE FORGING

Cha Ming sat cross-legged in his residence, which was situated near the gardens where Huxian, his friends, and the small white cat were playing. His generous accommodations were much like the auction house itself—plain and simple on the outside with a pleasant-looking bamboo garden.

The luxury was in the details. There was hot and cold running water, an imported technology from Quicksilver. The heating and cooling elements were powered by runes, but the pump was mechanical. A tube in the washroom contained luxury scented soaps from a faraway kingdom. Finally, an exquisite tea set was carefully stowed in a cupboard, along with an unlimited pitcher of boiling water and dozens of high-quality teas.

Cha Ming hesitated as he pondered his next course of action. While he knew he should get to work straightaway, a nagging thought distracted him as soon as he got to work.

What’s a few days? he thought. Surely Wang Jun can wait a bit while I start my bone forging. After all, personal strength is paramount.

After a half hour of indecision, he opted to follow the voice in his mind. He set aside the formation scrolls and withdrew a one-jin chunk of gold immortal jade; it emanated a sharp and incisive aura. He chose gold bone forging because it focused on the spine, the basis of the entire skeleton. The tricky part was using the solid immortal jade as ink, something he couldn’t quite fathom.

As though answering his doubts, the Clear Sky Brush darted out without Cha Ming’s consent and devoured the large chunk of immortal jade. The gold character on the brush lit up brightly, and inside the Clear Sky World he saw a small golden puddle of melted jade. It reminded Cha Ming of gold evanescence, but in a much stronger and purer form. He observed it more closely and noticed that it was laced with black and white threads. The Clear Sky Brush had likely infused it with creation and destruction qi.

He took a deep breath and visualized the pattern etched in his mind. There were 206 bones in an adult body, and the Seventy-Two Transformations Technique had a runic pattern for each one. Cha Ming drew thin runic lines in the air like he would a sigil. Unlike previous times, they didn’t shake or quiver. It was as though they were inherently stable and at no risk of collapsing or self-destructing. He painted until his gold qi was exhausted, leaving the faint outline of his forearm bone floating in midair. He exhausted his qi one more time before completing the bone-forging sigil, which instantly burst apart upon completion and darted into his forearm.

He screamed in pain as the runes burned through his nerves, his muscles, and his tendons on their way to the smaller bone. But this pain was only an appetizer—he nearly blacked out when the runes entered the bone itself.

Gold energy poured into the bone while simultaneously breaking and rearranging its structure. He felt the pounding of ten thousand golden hammers as it was deformed tens of thousands of times. With each strike, the structure of the bone shifted increasingly closer to perfection. The process felt like it took hours, but only an incense time had passed.

When the pain ended, he noticed that the burned muscles, tendons, and nerves had completely recovered. They were much stronger and more sensitive than before.

He adjusted his condition before continuing. He forged his left arm and hand in half a day, and his right arm and hand in the other half. His legs came next, followed by the peripheral bones in his torso and chest. The skull came next. Each individual bone had its own unique pattern that linked it back toward the key bone in the gold-aligned bone forging: the spine.

Cha Ming began forging his spine on the fourth day; its runic diagram was much more complicated than any of the other bone-forging sigils. Gold bone forging placed great emphasis on the spine, where the force in the body was originally generated. His brush poured out the remainder of the gold immortal jade as he started from the bottom, incorporating intricate runes into each spine bone. He painted it in thirty-three installments, one for each bone in his body.

The spine sigil took an entire day to paint, and once the last rune was completed, it burst apart and seared its way into his spine. The transformation was ten times more painful than with the other bones. He twitched involuntarily as pain suffused his entire body. He remained lucid, for it was a requirement of the technique that he remain aware of the changes taking place.

A hundred thousand golden hammers beat down on his spine, shattering it and remaking it. Cha Ming was paralyzed during this process; his resplendent soul could only look on in amazement as the tiny imperfections and fractures that had accumulated during his martial journey were removed one at a time. The structure of his bones was rearranged into a three-dimensional runic array. In the gaps within the array, he noticed a peculiar phenomenon: the appearance of tiny gray dots.

The miniscule dots materialized at key points in Cha Ming’s bones. At first, they appeared like nothing more than imperfections marring an otherwise perfect rune. He soon realized that they were much more than that. Tiny eddies formed around each dot and greedily sucked in the ambient energy. They were like voids, and the world itself fed them with a portion of its essence. The more they drank, the more Cha Ming felt his body crush down on the floor below. He realized that as they drank in energy, they used it to manipulate his weight. His body became increasingly heavy and only halted once it matched his current fist strength: 6,480 jin.

Not only were his bones forged, but so were the nerves, muscles, and ligaments supporting his skeletal structure. Those in the spine were evidently stronger than those in his arms and legs. Unlike the gold-wrought ligaments that now linked his bones together, his spine was joined together with titanium. The nerves were platinum, the best metal for conducting electrical signals.

Finally, the hammers stopped pounding. The eddies in his bones ceased drinking one after another, and as they did, his weight decreased. With but a thought, Cha Ming activated these voids and summoned their weight once more; his bones creaked but didn’t break, as his entire skeleton was akin to a magic treasure.

His ligaments and muscles had perfectly adapted to his new weight during their reconstruction in the bone-forging process.

 

***

 

A carriage rolled up to the palace gates, revealing Wang Jun’s humbly dressed figure. He was welcomed by green-clothed guards, who ushered him into the third prince’s study. The prince was already waiting before the fireplace. He looked gaunt and weary.

Wang Jun, noting his condition, sat in front of him quietly. “It’s about time you came to see me,” Prince Lei said. He looked less than pleased.

His father is dying, Wang Jun reminded himself. It is best to be forbearing and compassionate.

“My apologies for not coming sooner,” Wang Jun said. “There were some important matters to deal with, and I wasn’t able to extricate myself until now. I arrived in the city only yesterday.”

“What could possibly be more important than my father’s condition?” the third prince said sharply, lashing out. His angry expression was immediately replaced with an apologetic one. “I’m sorry. It’s been a very stressful situation. My sister and I have been taking turns watching over my royal father. The only one who isn’t affected by all of this is my second brother.”

“I understand your suspicions,” Wang Jun said, “but the crown prince can always make up excuses like needing to be strong for the country. You know that.”

Lei shook his head. “He’s always been like this. I have no idea why Father favored him in the first place. He’s an unfilial prick, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Perhaps there is,” Wang Jun said. “If the crown prince is responsible, he will leave traces. We need to be patient and expose him when he makes a mistake.”

The third prince nodded. He picked up a jug of wine from the shelf. “Would you care for a drink?”

Wang Jun shook his head. “I don’t drink. It affects my state of mind, so I’ll make tea instead. You would do well to note that your brother is clever enough to poison your father, he’s also clever enough to frame you.”

Prince Lei hesitated before setting down the flask. His eyes were bloodshot.

“What was it that kept you preoccupied?” Prince Lei asked. He sat down and accepted a cup of freshly brewed tea. It was a recovery tonic, and color instantly returned to the man’s pale face.

“A friend of mine, a citizen of the Song Kingdom, accompanied me back to the city,” Wang Jun said. “He’s a mid-grade formation master, one who is capable of setting up all nine energy-gathering formations.”

“Is that even possible?” the third prince asked doubtfully. “Not that I’m complaining, but I thought the human body was limited to five elements.”

Wang Jun shrugged. “That doesn’t really matter, does it? Formation masters are extremely difficult to recruit, and many noble families in the city can’t afford such an extravagance. With his help, we can recruit many undecided members.”

Prince Lei visibly relaxed. “The sooner we rope them in, the better. That way, Prince Tian won’t be able to sleep comfortably, either.”

“On another note, we’ll be trickling our large stockpile of weapons into the market shortly,” Wang Jun said. “This will net us a tidy sum, and we’ll sell to allies where possible.”

“And the properties of the nobles who wish to escape the city?” Prince Lei asked.

“Hold off from purchasing real estate,” Wang Jun said decisively. “The prices are low, but not as low as they could be. Our allies and enemies have large cash reserves, and it’s important to deplete them. We’ll swoop in and snatch choice properties when the time is ripe.”

The third prince nodded. “Anything else?”

“There’s one more thing,” Wang Jun said. “The friend I invited has dabbled in medicine. Although he is not a spirit doctor, he is a formation and talisman master. He might be able to see something the others couldn’t.”

“I’m not against such a thing, but my sister listens to the spirit doctors unfailingly,” Prince Lei said. “She cares about Father just as much as I do. She almost never leaves his side. It will take some time to arrange for your friend to examine my father in secret.”

“Please look into it,” Wang Jun said. “Every day matters.”

 

***

 

The door to Feng Ming’s dark cell opened, revealing his father’s burly figure. As a one of the Song Kingdom’s four marshals, both his cultivation and presence were imposing. Decades of fighting in the southern battlefield had tempered his will to the point that he could make the average man faint with a single glance.

Despite his overpowering status, the large man walked over calmly, sitting on the wooden bench located in front of Feng Ming’s bed. “Why did you refuse to come back when I summoned you?” Feng Chuan asked. His face contained no anger, only concern.

Feng Ming, who was seated on the ground, looked up to his father’s figure. “I finally found something worth fighting for out there, and now you want to pull me away due to petty politics. How could I leave my life-and-death brothers behind for the protection of Songjing’s walls?”

Feng Chuan sighed. “Civil war is a frightening thing. You weren’t there during the last king’s passing, but I was. The streets flowed with blood, and the poor starved. Fathers were forced to push their own parents out onto the streets to save their children. Your perspective is limited, my son.”

“Why can’t people set aside their differences and fight for the good of the country?” Feng Ming asked, his voice laced with anger.

Feng Chuan sighed once more. “This is something I’ve wondered my entire life,” he said. “But my thoughts can’t change human nature. There is a struggle for the throne, and we must take sides. I’ve taken the crown prince’s side because his claim to the throne is the most legitimate. He also has a higher chance of winning a civil war, should such a thing occur.”

Feng Ming remained silent for a moment. “If you want me to come to Songjing, you’ll have to tie me up and carry me over like a sack of rice.” He looked at his father with a firm gaze and a tempered will. Despite his father’s abundant experience, Feng Ming’s resolve didn’t waver in the slightest.

Feng Chuan chuckled. “That’s my boy,” he said. Then he struck his son across the face with a gauntleted fist.

He picked up the unconscious Feng Ming and slung him across his shoulder. He took off his black-and-gold marshal’s cape and used it to cover his son’s body.

“It’s a long flight to Songjing. Can’t have you catching a cold.”

 



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