21 Performing Alchemy

After leaving Grandmaster Zong's office, Xuan found Zhi Ruo standing outside, leaning against the wall with her arms folded. She hadn't actually returned to her room, instead just remaining out here as if waiting for Xuan. He already knew that much, of course, thanks to his ability to still faintly sense her presence, but he didn't show it.

"… So? How long were you eavesdropping for?" He asked, lifting an eyebrow slightly.

"Ever since the part about 'a true dragon amongst men'," she smirked, holding back the urge to burst out in laughter. "Dragon amongst men… pfft~!"

'Dragon these nuts across your face,' Xuan thought in his head, but the people of this world wouldn't understand that joke. So, instead, he went for something simpler.

"Dragon this, dragon that…" Xuan chuckled, leaning in and lifting her chin gently. "If you really want to see my dragon, I won't refuse."

"E-Eh?" Zhi Ruo, surprised by this sudden action, was taken aback for a few moments as she remained unable to budge a muscle. Heat rose to her face from the closeness of Xuan, and for a moment, she didn't know what to do. His voice was deep, almost seductive, and for a moment as she stared into his deep red eyes, he looked perfect—almost as if those freckles and other blemishes on his face were all fake.

After a few seconds, however, Xuan broke the enchanting moment, and backed away.

"Hm… not bad, not bad. I rate it 8/10."

"Rate what…?"

"Your reaction, of course."

"… You're very strange," Zhi Ruo commented hesitantly, tilting her head. "Oh well. It's entertaining at the same time, so keep it up, junior brother!"

'Keep it up…? Does this girl not know what 'dragon' means in vulgar slang?'

With a playful smile, she prepared to leave, but Xuan cut her off with a single sentence, voice now serious and no longer as playful as moments before.

"Those pills used in the test today… you secretly modified them, didn't you?"

At this, Zhi Ruo's eyes widened a bit in surprise, and she paused in her footsteps. Slowly, she shot a sideways glance back at Xuan without turning her entire body around, and let out a soft chuckle.

"Huh… you might be a dragon after all."

Xuan smiled playfully. "Is that so? Did you change your mind about seeing it?"

"No, I am not interested in your dragon, thank you very much," Zhi Ruo replied with a giggle, finally turning back around. "Tell me, though. Are you hiding your real cultivation… or are you just a Body Tempering stage alchemy prodigy whose aptitude surpasses even my own? Otherwise, it is impossible for you to have discovered my tweaking."

'So, she does know what dragon means.'

"Hm… do I have to answer this question?"

"Depending on your answer, I may reconsider about your dragon~" She added playfully.

"That is not enough to convince me," Xuan chuckled. "But I'm really just a Body Tempering stage cultivator. As for whether I'm an alchemy prodigy or not… that's for other people to decide, not me."

Since he was part of Open Sky Alchemist Guild now, earning Zhi Ruo's trust wasn't a bad thing. Besides, it's not like the answer to her question was some sort of important secret to Xuan, so he just went along with the flow.

"Oh? And how do I know you're not lying to me?" She continued taunting with a wry grin.

"You can stop trying to test me, senior sister," Xuan sighed. "Thanks to the tweaks you made to those pills, any lies I say here will just be seen through with a glance."

Indeed—the pills used in the test earlier had been secretly modified, and Xuan knew exactly who the perpetrator was. Beneath the Soul Nourishment Pill, there was somehow the energy of another pill, which meant Xuan ended up being affected by this other pill's effects as well after refining the Soul Nourishment Pill.

Pulling something like this off should theoretically have been impossible, but there were many things he believed to be impossible in the past—most later proven wrong. The hidden pill in question was the Truth Essence Pill, which allowed the pill's refiner to tell whether the consumer was lying or telling the truth whenever they said anything.

As such, everything he said up until this point, he chose every word carefully.

Xuan had noticed this a long time ago, of course, but he'd still gone along with the refinement process. The Soul Nourishment pill with pill veins was just too valuable to give up.

"Mm, as expected of junior brother!" Zhi Ruo clapped her hands together. "You noticed and even recognized it, so you pass the first part of this test. Now… you're looking for the antidote, correct?"

Xuan nodded, a smile on his face. "Senior sister is truly smart."

"Heheh, flattering me won't do anything," Zhi Ruo replied, though she did have a look of contempt on her face. "If you want the antidote, you'll have to earn it. I originally prepared all of this precisely for this moment, to test if my new junior is talented or not."


She smiled mysteriously. "Follow me. The second part begins now."


After some walking, Zhi Ruo led Xuan to her private office. Surprisingly enough, her room wasn't any less in size compared to the Grandmasters, and the herbs inside were all top quality as well. There was something strange, though…

"What are we doing alone in your room, senior sister?" Xuan asked jokingly as he secretly observed the room in detail. "Is this not taking things a bit too quickly? Though, it would be unwise to complain about that."

"Pfft, if you really wanted to, you could push me down right here, right now," Zhi Ruo giggled. "But I trust that you won't, since senior sister here believes junior brother is a gentleman."

'Gentleman? I'm far from that,' Xuan thought. 'I just don't have any intention of sleeping with a woman I just met a few minutes ago, regardless of how beautiful they are.'

"Anyway, the test will be simple," Zhi Ruo said. "I'll tell you the herb recipe for the antidote pill, and you refine it. There are more than enough herbs in this room for you to try more than once, but every time you fail, you'll have to live with this for one more day. Sounds simple enough, correct?"

"No need," Xuan said. "I know the recipe myself. I just needed the herbs."

"Oho… you continue surprising me, junior brother, time and time again," Zhi Ruo giggled, folding her arms. "I like it—never quite met anyone as interesting as you before. All the men who approached me either wanted my body or the status of being my husband."

'Can you blame them? Beauties like you are naturally coveted,' Xuan thought in his mind, dragging the pill furnace over the middle of the room and inspecting it closely.

"As expected… senior sister, you've never touched this pill furnace in your life, have you?"

Zhi Ruo blinked in shock. "You can even tell something like this?"

"The material is brand new. A used pill furnace would have burn markings and ashes inside, but this one is completely clean."

"I thought you were going to notice it eventually, but… you're really observant, huh?"

"Let's just say I have some experience."

"I see… well, no point hiding it any more. Unlike others, I don't actually need a pill furnace to perform alchemy, thanks to my special physique. Take a look."

To demonstrate, Zhi Ruo channeled her inner Qi and picked out a seemingly random selection of herbs from the cube shelves, sucking them towards her. Once within refinement range, she sat down, brought her other hand up to form a broken circle with her palms, and closed her eyes.

Immediately, a golden aura enveloped her body, bringing the herbs together. Xuan, witnessing this in person, widened his eyes.

"Such pure Yang Qi…"

It was almost as if she was the pill furnace herself as she refined, leading to a faster, more accurate, and more controlled method of pill refinement. Usually, this was never possible since the body wasn't able to handle that much concentrated Yang Qi at once, but with the Medicine Empress Physique, it actually worked.

After just a few seconds, the thick Qi surrounding Zhi Ruo faded away and she opened her eyes, now with a finished pill in her hands. With a smirk, she tossed it to Xuan, who caught it and observed it.

"This is… a Core Condensation pill—with pill veins..."

"Hm… you don't seem that surprised," Zhi Ruo observed, tilting her head while still remaining cross-legged on the floor. "When master first saw me perform alchemy like this, he nearly fainted."

"Ah, that is most likely due to his old age. I have a pretty calm temperament, so even when things do surprise me, it rarely shows on my face."

"Is that so? I see…"

'That was… a bit too close,' Xuan thought in his head. 'If I had said anything else there, it may have been identified as a lie. It seems I need to act more surprised sometimes, even if I've already seen it in my past life…'

"Senior sister Zhi Ruo is worthy of being Grandmaster Zong's disciple," Xuan said, rotating the pill and observing it. "This pill was refined not only faster but also higher quality even when compared to many alchemy Grandmasters around the world."

"You can keep it," Zhi Ruo said, standing up and locking her hands behind her head before winking playfully at Xuan. "You're at the Ninth Layer Body Tempering stage, right? Grandmaster Dun told me. When you're ready to break through, use this—it should help you solidify your Core far better than the pills out there on the market. Think of it as a reward from senior sister for noticing the oddities of the pill furnace."

"Then, junior brother will not be polite."

Xuan formed a gesture of gratitude with his hands, though he did not bow.

"Now then, it's time you show me how you practice alchemy," Zhi Ruo said, folding her arms and leaning against the wall. "Go on, you said you knew the recipe for the antidote pill, right? I'm waiting~"

"… Very well."

'Hmm… he has never practiced alchemy before in his life,' Zhi Ruo thought, smiling wryly. 'He doesn't have the scent of herbs or pills on him—a trademark brand of every alchemist, no matter novice or grandmaster. I wonder what kind of tricks he'll pull out of his sleeve, this time? Heheh, this junior brother is truly interesting!'

'Hmph. This girl is trying to test me?' Xuan laughed in his head. 'Little does she know, I've long memorized the recipes for all Earth, Transient, and Heaven-Grade pills, thanks to Ling'er.'

The antidote to the Truth Essence Pill, for instance, was unironically called the False Essence Pill, and it involved the combination of several Heaven-Grade herbs—namely Memoryweed, Deceiving Dewflower, and Nullifying Ambrosia—all of which were present in this room.

Without any hesitation, Xuan used his Qi to pull the right herbs from their respective locations on the cube shelves on the walls, much like how Zhi Ruo did moments earlier. Then, he made the same gesture with his hands as well rather than putting the herbs into the pill furnace, and Zhi Ruo immediately realized what he was trying to do.

"Junior brother, you can't-!" She jumped in to stop him. "I can refine pills like this because I have a special physique, but if you try to practice alchemy without a pill furnace, you'll die! Even Master can't do this, much less a Body Tempering stage cultivator!"

But Xuan only smirked, shooting a smug look in her direction.

"I appreciate the concern, but you're not the only one with secrets, senior sister. Haven't you noticed something off yet? How I can use and manipulate Qi despite only being a Body Tempering stage cultivator?"

"Indeed, it's strange…" Zhi Ruo narrowed her eyes. "As a Body Tempering stage cultivator, you don't even have a Core yet, meaning it is impossible to channel Qi in your body, so how are you…"

Suddenly, she stopped, sensing the fluctuations of Qi in the air.

"Wait, don't tell me…"

"… Heh."

"… You can command World Qi?!"

Immediately, a wild red energy converged around Xuan's body, powerful and chaotic. Compared to Zhi Ruo's pure Yang Qi from earlier, Xuan's was far stronger, but also harder to control. Yet for some reason, he appeared perfectly calm, causing Zhi Ruo to just stand there and watch, utterly stunned.

The red Qi entered the herbs, disintegrating them into their rawest form—energy—before combining them once more, this time in the form of a pill. Xuan expertly controlled the World Qi around him using the powers granted to him by the Chaos Scripture, adjusting the heat and timing of the pill-to-be until he decided it was time to finish.

In an instant, his eyes snapped open, and the Qi around him dissipated. Catching the pill in his hand, he turned to the shocked Zhi Ruo, and tossed it up towards her.

Snapping back to reality, she quickly caught it, and observed it the same way Xuan had observed hers just moments earlier.

"These are… pill veins. On your first attempt at alchemy, you actually refined a pill with pill veins…"

"Like I said," Xuan said, standing up and adjusting his clothes. "You're not the only one with secrets."

As he passed by her, he took the pill out of her hands and downed it in one gulp, feeling as its effects washed over his body.

Zhi Ruo let out a sigh, before folding her arms again and looking down at the floor.

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone what I saw here today, and nor will I pry into your private business," she said, understanding Xuan's personality. "How many secrets are you still hiding, I wonder? It's quite interesting. My life hasn't been this exciting in a while, so… continue surprising your senior sister here, m'kay?"

She smiled warmly, to which Xuan chuckled.

"No promises."

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