Walking out of the hall, Arthur made his way straight to the hostel. He paid for an additional 10 days, wincing at the loss of a full credit before he went up to his room. Better to pay for extra time and get a credit on file than to find himself under and thrown out while he was in the midst of something important. And he did have something important to do. Important and stupid.
Maybe it was foolish to try, but he had been thinking about the advantages that all these heroes and special sect members and the rich had—and he had, now in his hands, one of those advantages. So he was going to use it. Even if it might kill or damage him.
Hurrying into his room, Arthur dumped out the technique scrolls he had purchased, set his new fighting spear beside him, and made sure the door was locked and a chair placed in front of it. Not that the Tower guards would allow anything to happen to him, but they were not magical enough to appear immediately. Better to be safe than sorry.
Checking that the bars on the window were engaged, Arthur sat down on his bed and picked out the pill. He turned it over and over again in his hand and then jumped up, stripping to his underclothes and putting a towel beneath the spot he would cultivate.
Then he sat back down, forcing his right knee from jittering. He could not help but think this was foolish, but . . .
“Ugh . . . tastes like bad Chinese medicine,” Arthur said, feeling the bitter, muddy flavour on his tongue. “Wait. Is there good Chinese medicine?” He scratched the back of his head, trying to think of any of the concoctions he had been forced to drink by his master, concluding that there really wasn’t. All of them had been horrible.
Then, the heat in his stomach began to grow. He had no more time to think about such things as awful flavours, so he focused on breathing and cultivating, pulling energy into his body and churning it around. Not that he had ever used a pill before, but everything he had read indicated the process was similar. Just that the energy he would be pulling would start from his center.
Heat grew in his stomach as the pill broke down and interacted with his body. Not the heat of a fire, but a cold heat, that sent wracking shivers through him. Like a brain freeze, except starting from his stomach. At first it was low, no colder than ice kacang swallowed too fast, freezing his stomach as he sat there. Then, it began to pick up, the cold-heat growing with each pulse of energy, as though a lump of frozen energy was being chilled by liquid nitrogen.
Every second, it grew colder. As the chill in his stomach grew more painful, tendrils of energy reached out through the entirety of his body, sending lightning through his nerves and tendons, his veins and arteries. Blood chilled and sung, and Arthur began to sweat as his body tensed and released.
The cold grew too much, the block of ice in his stomach sending liquid nitrogen through his body. His teeth clenched and clenched, and he wished he had grabbed a strip of leather or maybe his mouthguard, just so that he would not break his teeth.
Then, he had no more time for even those thoughts as the pain swept over him. Nerves on fire as cold lightning danced through them, Arthur sweated and struggled, churning his cultivation process as fast as possible, drawing the energy into his stomach, into his dantian where the refined energy could be stored.
So much energy, coming into him at once. More than that, though, he could feel it changing his body, ripping apart muscles and tendons, strengthening ligaments and joints as he sat there, the pill freezing and shattering the impurities even as his new Tower body struggled to fix the damage.
Fuel and catalyst, all in one. Head thrown back, muscles taut, Arthur screamed into the sky, struggling to stay conscious. More than anything, he knew instinctively that if he were to fall unconscious he would damage himself, maybe die.
So he stayed conscious, a bobbing sliver of himself in a sea of pain, bailing the energy back into his center where it rushed out just as fast to heal him.
Innumerable moments passed as the ocean of pain shrunk with every bucket of energy he pulled away. In time, the pill no longer added to it, and the energy—the cold, ponderous, and freezing energy—faded, leaving him to float in an ocean of calm.
Safe, at last, he relaxed.
Hours later he woke up, mouth dry and his jaw aching. He stumbled over to the sink in the room, draining a cup of water and wincing at the pain that shot through his mouth as dried blood cracked and pulled apart and the cold water struck raw nerves. After a bit, he spat out the shards of a broken tooth, making a face. He stumbled back to his backpack, searching through his camping gear before finding what he needed and returned to the sink with pliers in hand.
For a long moment, Arthur hesitated before he stuck it in. A lot of grunting, muffled swearing, and pain later, he extracted the cracked tooth from his mouth, spitting out a torrent of blood that slowly trickled off as his expanded cultivation body healed the minor wound. It didn’t, unfortunately, regrow his tooth, making him tongue the still-sore section.
“Bodoh!” Cursing himself, Arthur stumbled to his seat and winced at the smell he caught of himself. He changed direction, throwing the window open before he got out a camp towel and made his way back to the sink to wipe himself down.
“At least no black gunk. I wonder if that was a lie or I just didn’t manage to break through enough?” he could not help but wonder aloud. Of course, there was no answer; but at least the rank smell of sweat and fear was easy enough to get rid of. He could take a shower, but that would require him to leave the room and he was not ready for that yet.
Eventually he sat on his bed, closing his eyes for a long time before he braved what he had been avoiding.
“No, no, no, no . . . that’s not good!” Arthur said out loud, staring at the new change. He worked his jaw and fingers—also his mind as he tried to prod the damn software to give him more details about what it meant that he was “Yin Aspected”.
It, of course, provided nothing. He groaned and let himself flop onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Memory came back, of the corpse in the woods. Had it been a little smaller, a little thinner and smaller-boned than what he had expected? Maybe shorter? Were its hips larger? Was it wearing women’s clothes?!
He couldn’t recall. It was not something he had noticed. Besides, everyone here wore pants and shirts, or robes—not skirts or dresses. And he certainly hadn’t seen any female underclothes. But that didn’t mean anything. Maybe it really had been a man, who was Yin-aspected.
He didn’t know.
All Arthur knew was that, now, he was too. And what that meant, he didn’t know.