A faint red light was flickering in a dark chamber. Cha Ming was hard at work, attempting to draw the “fire” character while painting the skies. Over the past few days, he had relentlessly drawn the character, one stroke at a time. With every failed attempt, his spirit strengthened ever so slightly, ensuring that his next attempt would progress a tiny bit further.

The fire(火)character was just as complicated as the wood(木) character he had drawn previously. It was shaped like dancing flames. Groups of five flames were joined together at twelve major points, which would eventually be connected to form the two-dimensional fire(火)character upon completion.

The process of drawing this character made him sweat. The character, while not complete, released small amounts of heat to the surrounding air. Regrettably, Cha Ming was working in an enclosed room. The temperature had slowly built up over time, until the room was finally as hot as a steam bath.

The red runes floating in the air rapidly drew back to the Clear Sky Brush as Cha Ming failed one more time. Without pausing to rest, he quickly got up and opened the door to his cultivation chamber. The hot air was quickly replaced with a fresh, cool draft, which Cha Ming breathed in greedily. Once the exchange was completed, he sat down again in the chamber, replenishing his qi and spiritual force.

He was almost there. In his latest attempt, he had drawn everything but the last two strokes. With luck, he would be successful in his next one to ten attempts. Taking in a deep breath, he raised the white brush to start once more. The black brush tip glowed with a vivid red color.

Huxian had been sleeping in a corner of the room, recuperating from his lazy cultivation method. He was now wide awake, hoping that Cha Ming would complete his training soon. He longed to exit the training room and find a decent meal. He was almost out of his rationed roast meat, which he now ate sparingly.

Cha Ming didn’t notice Huxian’s gaze and focused on painting with smooth and efficient brush strokes. He no longer needed to draw the details in his carefully drawn flames. Every two strokes would draw a small candlelike flame, complete with the tiny chaotic whips inherent to a naturally lit fire.

Finally, the twelve groups of five flames were joined together in twelve main points. Only four strokes remained! Taking a deep breath, he drew the two larger strokes first, squeezing ninety percent of the remaining energy from his exhausted mind. After resting for five breaths, he drew the second to the last stroke, bringing him to the brink of failure. Instead of resting, he continued with the final stroke, which completed the three-dimensional character. Its completion brought about a fierce wave of heat, which surprised the attentive Huxian. The roaring character writhed in the darkness, flickering with red, yellow, and white light.


The Clear Sky Brush let out a commanding hum. Cha Ming was prepared this time; he had put away anything Huxian could use to create trouble. The newly formed character quickly rushed to his chest, imprinting itself like a red brand. This time, pain flooded every part of Cha Ming’s body as the fiery energy rampaged.

Unfortunately, the soothing wood energy could do nothing to help him; whenever it traveled to soothe the pain, it provided fuel for the fire and intensified the burning. Cha Ming could do nothing but grit his teeth as he struggled to remain conscious. His attempts were futile, however, and the world was soon covered in darkness. The fire continued burning as he slept, transforming his physique one cell at a time.




Paff! Paff!

Cha Ming’s robes made crisp snapping sounds as he practiced his fist techniques in the air. He had measured his fist strength just prior to leaving the cultivation chamber. His powerful physical body now boasted a fist strength of 648 jin!

Once he was comfortable with his control over simple punches, he spent time familiarizing himself with his Ghost Steps Technique. As he practiced the steps, he noticed a drastic increase in speed. This caused his Ghost Steps to be clumsy; he would need some time to accommodate the increase. After practicing his staff arts, he confirmed his guess: the Fire Body Refining had increased his speed.

This increase in speed did not affect his overall strength delivery. He guessed that his current speed was a full level higher than other body cultivators at the sixth level.

“All right, Huxian, come at me, bro!” They were in a secluded training courtyard. The courtyard was built for sparring and could be reserved for two hours at a time.

All right, I’m coming! Don’t worry, I’m much stronger than you, so I’ll only use sixty percent of my strength. Huxian’s sharp teeth were revealed as he shot Cha Ming a condescending grin. The duo sparred for the next two hours without using any qi or special abilities. Naturally, Cha Ming was trounced thoroughly. Nevertheless, he had achieved his goal of familiarizing himself with his full strength.

Looking at a flashing lamp near the entrance, he realized that his time was up, and another group was waiting to enter. He and Huxian quickly gathered up wood and metal splinters from the ground—all that remained of his staff. His strength had surpassed the limitations of what the staff could handle.

He wasn’t too upset, however. Their trip to the underground caves had provided him with the perfect material for forging a new weapon. He only needed to find a spiritual blacksmith willing to accept the work. Money wasn’t an issue—he now had a small stockpile of crystalized elemental essence and refined soul alloy just begging to be used. Strengthening himself was also a priority. Who knew when Zhou Xian would show up for revenge?

Cha Ming and Huxian quickly exited the training room and were quickly replaced by an impatient pair of students.

“Boy, your fighting skills are garbage,” a rough voice sounded out from inside his mind. Cha Ming slapped his forehead. He had forgotten about the red-bearded man inside the Clear Sky Brush, who had been quiet for a long time.

“Aren’t I pretty good for my age?” Cha Ming exclaimed defensively.

“Sure, you’re so-so. You’re okay. In my language, that means you’re garbage. I’ve seen a five-year-old chimpanzee fight better than you,” the man said dryly. Knowing that arguing wouldn’t get him anywhere, he decided to go for Plan B: boot licking.

“Of course, your perspective is a lot higher than mine. I haven’t yet received your guidance on this. As my teacher, you should have a solution to this problem since you brought it up, correct?”

Silence ensued. Cha Ming didn’t press the issue and went out to a decent restaurant. He and Huxian were famished. They ordered several tasty dishes. Cha Ming slowly ate his vegetable dishes while Huxian ate a variety of barbecued meat.

“There is a way to fix up your fighting,” the man said eventually. “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never taught anyone at such a pitifully low level before, so I don’t have any garbage techniques to teach you. Here’s what we can do: if you go to your school library, we could browse through a variety of techniques, and I can pick some that I think are suitable. Then we can make you a whole new fighting style, which you can come practice with me at any time. How about it?”

Cha Ming was surprised at the red-bearded man’s solution. That was very practical!

“All right, we’ll do what you say. We’ll finish eating first, though. By the way, can I bring food into the brush? Can you eat?” Cha Ming felt very guilty about eating in front of the bearded man.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m trying to help you, and here you go attacking my sorest spot? Of course I can’t eat! The Clear Sky Brush can’t take in any food, and further, I’m just a spiritual body! I’d need to somehow get a new body before being able to eat anything.” His aggressive, berating voice now sounded extremely sad. Little did Cha Ming know that the red-bearded man appreciated his concern.

“If I get strong enough, can I free you and make you a new body?” Cha Ming inquired. He felt very sorry for the bearded man, who had been a prisoner for countless years. The man gave no reply, and so they finished eating.




Soft sounds of booted feet and the pitter-pattering of clawed paws could be heard as Cha Ming walked toward campus from the merchant district. It was late in the afternoon, and he had made trips to both the Jade Bamboo Auction House and Elder Ling’s house. He had spent two days making talismans, yielding a total of twenty-two sixth-grade talismans. These talismans were the ever-popular fireball talismans, which had the power to decimate many foes at the fifth level of qi condensation and lower. Of course, this was quite literally burning money, so most people kept these as insurance.

The economics of crafting talismans had changed drastically for Cha Ming. There were three reasons for the change. The first most important change was that he no longer wasted ink thanks to the Clear Sky Brush. Even while using the more expensive inks like fire elemental essence, it was most economical to craft the highest level of talismans available. This was because although the crafting rate would drop by half for every level, the price would quadruple for every level.

In addition, the Clear Sky Brush had increased his success rate by a full level, and his soul force was a full level higher than his cultivation base at the fifth level of qi condensation. Setting aside ten talismans to replenish his materials, he was left with a tidy profit of about 60,000 spirit stones. He used 50,000 of these to exchange with Elder Ling for 250,000 contribution points. Elder Ling was very pleased about the progress of his student and encouraged him to work hard.

Cha Ming’s ability to create wealth was now much greater than before his trip to the spirit woods. He was now beginning to realize that he was much like a frog in a well. With every hop, he could barely catch a glimmer of the clear sky above. He used the remaining 10,000 spirit stones with confidence, purchasing a heavy but durable staff as a replacement for the one he had just broken. Tragically, he had a load of quality materials that could be used to craft a much better staff, but Wang Jun had informed him that he would need to travel to another city to have it made. The new staff weighed thirty jin, which was the limit of what he could wield comfortably.

 Coupled with the thick and heavy staff on his back, Cha Ming cut an imposing figure. Every step he took was bold and powerful. Many female students shot him curious glances as approached the bright red library with his bronze medallion engraved with a large “five.” The medallion had automatically updated his cultivation level the moment he broke through. He suspected that the academy used these medallions to track and monitor the students on campus.

After a short half-hour wait, Cha Ming was greeted at the entrance of the library by the short Elder Xiao. “Cha Ming, my young friend, you’ve finally come to visit me again! Don’t tell me you’re here for business again? It really breaks my heart, you know.” Elder Xiao’s face was plastered with toothy grin, making it apparent that he wasn’t sad in the slightest.

“Elder Xiao, you know that I’d come here to visit you more often. Alas, I was out of town for a month, and I’ve been recuperating for two weeks. You can hardly hold that against me, right?” A hurt look appeared on the younger man’s face. It was mirrored by a similar expression on Huxian’s face.

“Sure, sure, I believe you. With weak muscles like these, I can see how it would take you a while to recover.” Elder Xiao pinched his thigh hard. A stinging pain ran throughout Cha Ming’s entire body.

What the hell! He’s a body refiner? Cha Ming vowed never to underestimate any of the elders or instructors ever again.

Elder Xiao gave him a meaningful look. “I had expected that your thin frame would be physically weak. It looks like you’ve started cultivating your body, just like I did. You might not know this, but the Xiao clan’s small bodies are tailor-made for body cultivation.

“Speaking of which, who even gave you that body cultivation technique? We don’t have all that many on campus.” He then glanced at the bronze medallion on Cha Ming’s chest. “Are you sure you’re just a third-grade talent, you monster?”

Cha Ming shrugged shyly. The truth was that since practicing the Seventy-Two Transformations Technique, his talent had begun to improve. A second yin and a second yang organ had been strengthened. When combined with his two previously strengthened organs, he now possessed a rough talent rating of three and four tenths.

“I’m going to start calling you little monster from now on,” said Elder Xiao, shaking his head. “By the way, little monster, since you’ve practiced body refining to the sixth grade, you can go to the administration building and have your medallion changed manually to reflect your actual strength. While the school doesn’t discriminate against body refiners, the medallions aren’t programmed to measure anything other than qi condensation level.”

“Is there an advantage to being a sixth-grade student?” Cha Ming inquired.

“Sure, there are a few. The most important benefit is that you can enter the Alchemists Association and commission work. Students below your level are assumed to be too poor, and those below your level that are rich enough definitely have other connections. In addition, using pills to propel your cultivation at lower grades, while possible, is quite harmful to your foundation.

“The second benefit is that each grade six and higher student obtains a personal courtyard, which possesses a cultivation array, a training mannequin, and a sparring chamber in the backyard. Of course, all these functions require spirit stones, which you will need to provide. That’s why you never see anyone at that level in the cultivation pavilion. Students who are too strong get fined whenever they break a mannequin. Cultivating without an array is also very inefficient. The cultivation pavilion is really for beginners and untalented students.”

As Elder Xiao concluded his explanation, the three of them proceeded up to an observation room on the second floor. He walked over to a stone on the side of the wall and pressed a button. With a helpless expression, he explained to Cha Ming, “Computer needed to be shut down for maintenance just yesterday. It will take a good ten minutes until it’s active again. Meanwhile, you can explain to me what you need.”

“It’s like this, Elder Xiao: I’m looking for a movement technique and a staff technique that are well suited for me to use. I practice five-element qi refining and five-element body refining. Do you happen to have anything that suits me? I have 250,000 contribution points to spend,” Cha Ming said sheepishly.

“Five-element body cultivation! Are you nuts? First you decide to practice five-element qi refining, the hardest of all of them, and now you try five-element body refining? You’re a monster! A little monster!” Elder Xiao wracked his brain for fifteen minutes. The computer had long since activated and was awaiting Elder Xiao’s instructions.

“Sorry, I can’t help you this time. I’ve got nothing like that. I suggest that you pick a silver staff art and a silver movement technique and make do with what you have,” Elder Xiao advised, looking up location codes for various techniques.

Cha Ming frowned slightly, but he had anticipated this problem before arriving. “Would it be possible to see an abridged version of all the bronze and silver staff techniques and movement techniques? I can’t make up my mind just by looking at the title.”

“Way ahead of you!” The small elder quickly stepped out of the room and motioned with his hand. Two hundred scrolls flew out from the various shelves and piled up on the small table in the room. “Knock yourself out. You have until sunset to read through these. You can come back tomorrow and continue if you aren’t done by then.”




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