Beyond the Timescape

Chapter 27: A Stranger Like Jade



Chapter 27: A Stranger Like Jade

The howl of wolves echoed through the mountains, but then the sound faded into nothing, almost as though a fiercer animal had scared the wolves away.

As Xu Qing made his way through the darkness, he couldn’t bury the sense of loss in his heart. Growing up as he had in the slums, he’d long since grown accustomed to goodbyes. But this was different. Deeper. The emptiness in his heart reflected itself in his posture. He looked bleak.

He took his time going back, and the sun was coming up when he caught sight of the basecamp. There didn’t seem to be many lamps burning in the camp. From what Xu Qing remembered, no matter how late he came back from the forbidden region, there was always one lamp burning for him. But today, that one lamp was gone. And it would never come back.

His melancholy deepened as he entered the camp and walked through the darkness to the courtyard. Inside were a dozen dogs. They glanced at him quietly when he appeared.

He finally looked up and saw three rooms. And darkness. There was no sign of life. No light. No energy. The leftovers from the previous night were still on the table in the kitchen.

Xu Qing walked into the kitchen and looked at the three sets of bowls and chopsticks. After a very long moment, he sat down and started eating the cold food. He took a bite. Swallowed. Took a bite. Swallowed. After, he washed the dishes, straightened up the kitchen, and went back to his room.

Closing his eyes, he started a session of cultivation.

Outside of the courtyard stood the violet-robed old man and his servant. They could see everything.

After a moment of silence passed, the man in violet sighed. “What an affectionate and faithful boy.”

“Master Seventh, should I give him an identity medallion?”

“Wait until after we get that cloudydream blossom from the forbidden region for Grandmaster Bai.” With that, the man in violet faded into nothing. The servant nodded and did the same.

***

The night passed.

The following morning at dawn, Xu Qing walked out and, out of habit, looked over at Sergeant Thunder’s room. He quickly retracted his gaze. He didn’t say much at Grandmaster Bai’s lecture, and returned home in silence.

He ate dinner alone, though he made sure to put three sets of dinnerware on the table.

He couldn’t help but occasionally look at the spot where Sergeant Thunder used to sit. Now… there was one less person and one less voice.

Eating in silence caused melancholy to again fill his heart, but eventually he shoved it down. After eating, he cleaned up, then got food for the dogs. He watched them eat, then went back to his room to meditate.

Days began to pass, all of them roughly the same. Soon, it was six days after Sergeant Thunder’s departure.

Xu Qing had buried his sense of loss deep in his heart, and was now back to his usual detached self. However, if one looked closely, it was possible to see something much colder in that detached attitude. He only relaxed when listening to Grandmaster Bai’s lectures. At all other times, he remained completely on guard. It wasn’t an unfamiliar way of life for him. This was how he’d lived for six years.

As a lone wolf.

He worked even harder at cultivation, as if only like this could he return to that familiar lonely state sooner. On the evening of the seventh night, he experienced a breakthrough. Before, he had reached the fourth level with the Sea and Mountain Incantation. Now he was in the fifth.

As popping sounds rang out within him, the dogs outside sensed the increased pressure and terrifying aura, and they backed up, trembling.

The sounds of the breakthrough lasted longer than in the past. In fact, the entire process lasted longer. After about an hour, when all the filth had oozed out of his pores, his eyes snapped open. At the same time, the room glittered with a violet light.

The popping sounds still rang out, as though his bones were growing and his flesh was being torn and shredded. None of it was beyond what Xu Qing could bear.

After things went quiet, another hour passed. Finally, he stood up, whereupon his clothing seemed shorter than before.

Although he wasn’t an entirely different person, he did seem more refined. That was especially true of his facial features, a result of his body being pure and free of mutagen.

His handsome features, combined with his cold, detached attitude, made him attractive in a way that the filth and grime couldn’t cover up.

However, Xu Qing didn’t pay attention to any of that. Going out into the courtyard, he did some tests to check how much faster he was now. And he threw some experimental punches, resulting in loud cracking sounds filling the air. From what he could tell, he was more than twice as strong as he’d been in the fourth level!

Even more shocking, when he threw punches, the spirit power fluctuations caused the image of a goblin to appear, its teeth bared to reveal sharp fangs. It looked almost like an evil ghost!

So, this is the power of one goblin?

As he looked down at his clenched fists, the surrounding dogs trembled.

According to the description, each level of the Sea and Mountain Incantation provided the strength of a tiger. Five combined created the strength of a goblin. And two goblins made a hobgoblin.

However, something about the description didn’t seem right to him.

Given how strong he was, he was fairly sure he was at the level of seven or eight tigers. It was the same in terms of speed. And he was fairly certain that once he reached the sixth level, he would have the strength of two goblins, which was much earlier than normal.

It must be because of the violet crystal. And the saber strike from that statue in the temple complex.

Extending his right hand, he recalled the image of that statue. Energy swirled around him. He dropped his hand.

Still not quite there yet.

His version of that saber strike wasn’t good enough yet. Just as he was about to go back into his room, he suddenly looked down and noticed his shadow. After the breakthrough, it was just like before; the mutagen flowed into his shadow, leaving his body absolutely pure.

As he looked at his shadow, a thought occurred to him.

I wonder if I can control my shadow…?

As the thought percolated, he continued to stare at his shadow, willing it to move. Unfortunately, even after expending a lot of effort, nothing happened. He sighed softly and, thinking he might be getting a bit too greedy, was about to give up when… his shadow’s hand suddenly twitched slightly!

That sight caused Xu Qing’s eyes to widen.

He definitely wasn’t seeing things, as he was absolutely sure that his flesh-and-blood hand hadn’t twitched. Only the shadow version of it. He tried again.

Time passed. And then, as Xu Qing himself remained absolutely motionless, his shadow… slowly raised its hand!

It only moved slightly, but that effort alone made Xu Qing feel like his head was about to explode. Only after a long moment passed did he regain his composure. However, his eyes were now shining brightly.

I can control it!

He looked back down at his shadow. Exercising that bit of control took a huge amount of effort, and while his mind had felt empty moments before, now he felt the pain of a headache. It was obvious that doing this was very taxing. However, he was confident that as he practiced, and as his cultivation base improved, he would gain greater and greater control.

And eventually, his shadow… could be used as a weapon to catch his enemies off guard!

I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Feeling like his head was splitting, he returned to his room and sat down cross-legged to meditate.

The next morning, he was only half-recovered, and felt quite dispirited. Trying to force himself into a better state of mind, he changed clothes and hurried to Grandmaster Bai’s tent.

Chen Feiyuan wasn’t there, and the grandmaster hadn’t arrived yet either. But Tingyu was reading the same medicinal codex from before. When she saw Xu Qing arrive, she waved and called out a greeting, then went back to reading.

Mornings had all begun like this lately. According to Tingyu, the newly arrived group of young men and women included some friends of Chen Feiyuan’s, whom he often went to see. Grandmaster Bai was busy with some important matter for the past few days, and usually arrived late, then left immediately after his lecture.

Xu Qing sat down off to the side, took out a bamboo slip, and started reviewing the previous day’s lesson. A short time later, Tingyu suddenly stopped reading and looked at him.

“Why do you look different today?” she asked.

Xu Qing didn’t look up at her. He just kept studying.

Tingyu’s bright eyes opened wider as she looked even more closely at Xu Qing.

Then Grandmaster Bai arrived, and she didn’t say anything further. However, throughout the lecture, she kept looking over at Xu Qing.

Grandmaster Bai was usually very strict, but he seemed to have something on his mind, and only offered some minor admonitions to Tingyu for her lack of attentiveness. After finishing the lecture, he reminded them of what he would test them on the next day, then hurried off.

Xu Qing stood and prepared to leave. However, before he could get outside, Tingyu jumped in his way. Frowning, he looked at her.

Lifting her chin, she glared back. She had a very pretty face, with eyes that sparkled like the stars and moon.

“I figured it out,” she said. “You’re taller.”

“Sure,” Xu Qing replied, nodding. Then he tried to walk around her, except she once again moved to block his way.

Looking at him curiously with her sparkling eyes, she said, “Kid, you come here every day with that dirty face of yours. I just realized I don’t know what you actually look like. And now I can tell you’re different from before. Nope. This isn’t going to work. I’m going to wash your face and see the real you.”

Pulling a handkerchief out of her sleeve, she started moving toward him.

Xu Qing put his hands up defensively, and was about to flee in the opposite direction when Tingyu gave a cold snort.

“I helped you ask for the day off, Kid. You owe me a favor!”

Xu Qing stopped moving, which was when Tingyu jumped toward him. At the same time, she sent spirit power fluctuations running through the handkerchief to turn it damp. Then she started rubbing his cheek.

Instantly, the fair skin on his cheek was revealed. However, Xu Qing had no patience for this, and decided to force his way to freedom.

“Kid!” she shouted, “I’m your elder sister!”

The term ‘elder sister’ was obviously an important one, and it caused Xu Qing to freeze in place. [1]

Then, Tingyu’s eyes became like crescent moons filled with both beauty and craftiness. Moving with lightning speed, she started rubbing at the rest of Xu Qing’s face.

Xu Qing wanted to shove her away, but because of how she’d called herself his elder sister, he didn’t.

And thus, as Tingyu scrubbed and wiped, Xu Qing’s real face was fully revealed. Toward the end, her movements slowed, and her eyes grew wide. Stepping back, she looked at his face. And somehow, at that exact same moment, a ray of sunshine hit his face.Aall 𝒏𝒆west ch𝒂pt𝒆rs on n.o./v𝒆l𝒃i/n/(.)c𝒐m

This was the first time Xu Qing’s face had been washed clean in the last six years, and he wasn’t used to it. As Tingyu stared, he walked around her and dashed out of the tent.

He wasn’t used to the sun being so warm when hitting his face. In fact, he felt naked.

Outside, he squatted, scooped up some mud, and rubbed it on his face. Only then did he breathe a sigh of relief. Feeling much better, he settled back into his detached self, and headed to the forbidden region.

After he was gone, Tingyu took a very deep breath. Hunh. He’s pretty good-looking.

Pulling aside the main tent flap, she looked at him disappearing in the distance, her face slightly flushed. She looked around to see if anyone had noticed what just happened.

He’s better-looking than Chen Feiyuan. Actually, no. Chen Feiyuan can’t even come close to comparing to him!

1. As I’m sure many of you know, forms of address in sects and organizations often mirror familial terms. Elder brother/sister, junior brother/sister, and even things like aunt/uncle are commonly used. However, these forms of address do not correlate exactly to the way they're used in families. For one thing, romances between sect brothers and sisters is a common thing. Also, they’re very important in establishing hierarchical relationships. In a formal classroom or sect situation, the status of a person with the higher social standing would be something to take fairly seriously. For more details on my view of this subject, you can check out chapter 9 of my non-fiction reference guide Understanding Chinese Fantasy Novels. ☜

Deathblade's Thoughts

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