2 Art of the Decaying Flower

Ten-thousand mortal worlds below, thirty-three heavens above—such was the composition of this multiverse. Balls of solidified Heavenly Qi, the 33 Heavens stood in a parallel dimension to the mortal worlds accessible only through Ascension. Split into three rings—the first 32 Heavens revolved around the 33rd—the Highest Heaven where the God Emperor reigned.

Up here, the ground was a misty white substance, something Harun took some time to get used to. The sun, moon and stars, existed only if the ruling Gods wished them to, with sky-blue mountains of spirit stones or marble-white divine jade stretching across vast tracts of land. Regardless of their race, mortals couldn't survive in Heaven. In open air, even Crossed Vicissitude level experts would suffocate under the abundance of Heavenly Qi. Lower-ranked cultivators would directly explode.

But despite the celestials' enormous lifespan, the Heavenly Realm's colossal size, and its innumerable years of history, on average, each Heaven only had about 100 billion citizens, over three trillions in total—far less than the 10,000 mortal worlds. Harun's Fourth Heaven belonged to the Inner Ring, directly facing the Highest Heaven alongside five others.

But while reaching the Fourth Heaven upon ascension was a remarkable feat, as he returned to his sector's Page Mansion, Harun bitterly regretted it. On the surface, the Heavens followed a strictly bureaucratic structure. But each was de facto ruled by a Celestial Marquis. Heavenly God Realm experts, Celestial Marquis commanded vast hosts and wielded tremendous power. The Fourth Heaven's Celestial Marquis, current Golden Crow clan lord, was notorious for creating nine suns in his Heaven.

Nine suns, no night. Nine suns, twenty-four seven. For two years, Harun endured a temperature that hovered between 320 and 700 celsius—almost stepping into volcano territory. Worse, heat storms were as common as grass in a prairie. Alas, to transfer to another Heaven, Harun would at least need to reach the Celestial Knight Realm. At his current pace, another millennium wouldn��t be enough.

Harun's steps ended before a sky-blue, rectangular residence. Built in spirit stones, as was the custom for Heaven's low-level houses, this mansion glittered under the nine suns' rays, emitting a considerable quantity of Spiritual Qi that, for celestials, was a complete nuisance.

Spirit stones in Heaven were 95% Spiritual Qi, and 5% Heavenly Qi—the exact opposite of the outside. Whenever celestials absorbed the atmosphere's energies, their bodies produced and discharged thin quantities of Spiritual Qi. Over time, those thin strands gathered and condensed into spirit stone minerals which, with millions of years to develop, grew into mountains.

So, though rare in the Mortal Realm, in Heaven spirit stones were as common as grains of sands in a desert. Available everywhere, but utterly worthless. Only Divine Jade mattered.

Pushing the gate open, Harun returned to his dorm in the mansion's west wing. Hundreds of fellow pages shared the wing with him. The rooms were seven square meters each, and as pages weren't expected to sleep, no bed was provided. But while most pages kept the majority of their stuff in their cosmic pouches, leaving their room mostly empty, Harun's abounded with crawling venomous snakes, spiders and poisonous frogs. Cultivated across decades, all these creatures followed Harun from the Noxious Flame World. Initially, they remained in his cosmic pouch, but since the house overflowed with Spiritual Qi, no different from a top tier mortal cultivator's mansion, Harun let them out. Little did the high officials expect that their dwellings meant to restrain the growth of low-background celestials, enabled Harun to keep nurturing his toxic beasts, and develop stronger poisons.

Controlled by a strand of Harun's Divine Sense, the beasts circled yet never butted with one another, and formed a yin-yang diagram. Sitting in the lotus position, Harun activated his cultivation method, the Noxious Heart Mantra. Dark-green flames surged from his pores, forming nine toxic flame clouds in the room—the mark that he'd reached the pinnacle of the Noxious Heart Mantra.

Cultivation methods, pills and artifacts were split into 12 star grades. The Noxious Heart Mantra was just of the fifth-star grade. Harun found it in an Inheritance Ground, and with it reached the peak of his previous world. But now, it no longer sufficed.

Still rotating his cultivation base, Harun slapped his cosmic pouch, making a green ray shoot forth and a cauldron manifest above the beast-made yin-yang diagram. Raising then dropping his hands, Harun forced the toxic clouds into the beasts, and lifted them toward the floating cauldron's mouth.

Shockingly, the beasts' sizes increased till they crowded the space between Harun's walls—and they spewed green flames into the cauldron. The flames became a boiling green liquid, then again flames, alternating between the two states while the beasts nimbly dropped on the floor. Aiming his right hand at the cauldron, Harun guided the poisonous concoction's growth. His left hand rotated above his thigh, pushing his cultivation base to the limit.

Grating, seething sounds followed, the substance shrank into a palm-sized orb, then burst into a large cloud of vapor—leaving behind two sacramento-green pills. Grasping toward them, Harun made the pills fly into his hand. The cauldron returned to his pouch, and the beasts stayed behind.

"After two years of nurturing and refinement, the Mother-Child Offering Pills are finally complete," Harun said.

As a cultivator, Harun initially didn't have much aptitude. If not for the Eye of Luminous Treasures, he could have never built his current Dao Foundation. But there was one domain in which Harun dared say, that even if now he didn't rank first, his talent knew no equal: Poisonous Arts.

The Heavenly Realm abhorred Poisonous Arts. Here, finding a Plaguebringer, as poison masters were called, was a daunting task. This made the Noxious Flame World the pinnacle of the Poisonous Arts. And Harun was the Noxious Flame World's Plague Overlord. Across his 150 years of cultivation, he'd invented and perfected innumerable poisons.

Perhaps on pure fighting skills, he'd rank average among the Fourth Heaven's billions of first-level Celestial Kins. But once he unleashed his Poisonous Arts, killing a second-level Celestial Kin was no big deal.

Willful and erratic, Harun couldn't stomach any injustice—at least when directed at him. And the more he was forced to endure, the more brutal his retaliation would be. Since the registrar almost had him whipped to death, it was time to pay him back.

Exhausted by the poisonous pill refinement, the beasts would need a substantial quantity of Spiritual Qi to recover. Some might even pass away. For the past two years, Harun used them as conductors to absorb the mansion's Spiritual Qi and transform it into Heavenly Qi. After several rounds of Qi Purification, he added his toxic ingredients.

Transforming Spiritual into Heavenly Qi was a Celestial Kin's basic skill, and a fundamental requirement to become a celestial, so the ability wasn't that impressive. However, doing it by proxy was a completely different matter.

If not for those beasts sharing decades worth of Harun's Spiritual Sense, he couldn't have accomplished it. A pity that his mobility was heavily restricted in the Fourth Heaven, or Harun would build himself a better arsenal.

Taking the smallest of the two pills, Harun directly swallowed it. For those at the Celestial Kin Realm, those two pills would seem like sixth-star Qi Pills with rich Heavenly Qi. And in the smallest pill's case, they weren't incorrect. But though the largest pill could at least make him breakthrough four levels, Harun didn't touch it—sitting crossed legged to digest the smallest pill instead.

Bright-green flames erupted from his body, circling him in arcs while a drop of green blood shot out of his chest, hovering before his face. The blood drop represented Harun's Celestial Nature.

Celestial Kins cultivate nine blood drops to reach the peak of their realm. With each drop, the Celestial Nature is refined and strengthened, laying down the foundation for the Divine Path. Downgraded to green viper, Harun needed high-grade Heavenly Qi, and a top-tier scripture to bring his Celestial Nature back to Devouring Serpent.

Fortunately, he now had both.

"Life and Death intertwine in the shadows of the eternal night…" Harun recited the mnemonics of a cultivation method he found 96 years ago in the deadliest ruins of his career: the Art of the Decaying Flower. Because his Eye of Luminous Treasures didn't react to it, Harun could affirm that this method was at least of the sixth-star grade—probably higher.

Unfortunately, a rash attempt at cultivating it made him realize that it wasn't something mortals could practice. After narrowly avoiding cultivation deviation, Harun's body regressed to a 14-year-old's appearance, and once every full moon, he'd become a child. Strangely, at that time, he was also at his strongest.

And now that the Child Pill filled him with rich Heavenly Qi, Harun could finally cultivate the first layer of this Poisonous Art.

"...Wither to bloom, and in decay harvest the samsara."

Dark-blue light surged, merging with Harun's green blood drops to change its color and nature. At the same time, a second blood drop formed beside the first. Two dark-blue drops soon took shape, rippling with formidable Heavenly Qi. Meanwhile, a flower of the same shade, with nine petals appeared in Harun's Divine Consciousness. One petal withered, and with it Harun's body atrophied, then swelled back to pristine shape. The process repeated for three transformations before Harun's eyes opened wide.

In his brown pupils, the image of a dark-blue cobra flickered. The two blood drops returned to Harun's chest, marking his breakthrough to the second-level of the Celestial Kin Realm.

"Impressive…" Harun whispered. With the first layer of the Decaying Flower Art, Harun could feel his strength and speed triple. But at the same time, his defense was reduced by 25%.

But as Harun appraised his body's changes—

"Harun Erdevan, you're hereby summoned to the registrar's office!" A voice thundered in the mansion, almost splitting many pages' eardrums. Shrugging off the pain, Harun glanced at the Mother Pill in his hand, the pain turned to sweetness, and he stored the pill in his cosmic pouch.

Standing up, Harun left his room to go meet the registrar.

Next chapter