37 Breakthrough, Early Muscle Realm

As Fang Hao reached the initial stage of the technique, he felt a profound transformation taking place within him.

He began to groan in agony, beads of sweat forming on his forehead as he let out a sharp cry of pain. The perspiration that dripped from his body carried a peculiar, fishy odor, tainted with specks of black and tiny droplets of blood. Fang Hao clenched his teeth, enduring the intense discomfort.

During this process, his body underwent subtle yet strange changes. His physique seemed to grow leaner, but a burning sensation pervaded his muscles, particularly in his legs.

They started to shape and strengthen, with veins pulsating more prominently under the pressure. The pain and alteration were part of the metamorphosis brought about by the technique's power.

For four grueling days, Fang Hao endured the agonizing process of transformation. He found himself collapsed on the floor, a weary expression etched across his face as he panted heavily.

Throughout these days, he had lost consciousness multiple times, only to wake up once again in a state of pain. Each episode of unconsciousness was followed by waking up to renewed suffering. Yet, amidst this ordeal, he persisted, his determination unwavering.

This was the process to break through to the early stage of the 'Muscle Realm,' a breakthrough he had finally achieved. The pain gradually vanished, and the agonized expression on his face gave way to a look of amazement, spoiled only by a slight frown due to the peculiar smell that hung in the air.

Lost in his excitement, Fang Hao stood up, his exhaustion momentarily forgotten. The mist formation he had created had long since consumed the spiritual stone, causing it to break down. As he surveyed the scene, he noticed that one of the four leaves of the Aquamist Orchid flower had withered away.

Gently picking up the flower and inspecting it, he carefully stored it within his spatial ring. He then proceeded to remove the robes that clung to his sweaty body, discarding them on the ground, leaving him standing there in his naked form.

Repulsed by the sensation of sweat and the accompanying odor, Fang Hao's expression twisted into one of disgust. He contemplated his situation, realizing that this place lacked the convenience of a shower, and he had forgotten to learn a spell that could cleanse his body of dirt and grime.

Turning to his spatial ring, he retrieved a token and placed it on his head. Unlike the last time, when he had skimmed through it due to his focus on the map and the rules, he now paid close attention to its contents.

Among the several simple cultivation spells, one particularly caught his eye—the 'Dust Removal' spell.

"It's that straightforward," Fang Hao muttered aloud, realizing the simplicity of the spell. He didn't need even need a understanding to utilize it; all it required was the gathering of spiritual power and directing it onto his outer body, effectively washing away the impurities.

Concentrating spiritual energy into his hand, he directed it towards himself. As if answering his call, a refreshing breeze enveloped him, ruffling his hair and causing it to sway like a dance.

Satisfied with the result, he nodded in approval, feeling cleansed. Repeating the process for the rest of his body, he felt a slight weariness settle in but also a sense of cleanliness and revitalization.

Looking at the robes strewn on the floor, he repeated the process, rendering them spotless as well. "Incredible, I didn't even need to take off the robes," he muttered, slightly embarrassed as he picked them up.

Turning to face the nearby mirror, Fang Hao paused and then asked in a somewhat skeptical tone, "You didn't see anything, right?" His gaze locked onto the mirror, waiting for a response, and to his relief, it remained silent. With a small sigh of relief, he donned the now-clean robes.

"At least Daoist Guan Xin doesn't make absurd remarks like that neighbor," Fang Hao muttered, a shiver running down his spine at the thought of such a situation.

"Regardless, I should first stabilize my realm and become accustomed to the technique," he thought aloud, his mind focused on his immediate goals. Taking a seat on the prayer mat, he opened and clenched his hand, sensing the newfound power coursing through his body.

"My body is now at least five times stronger than before with my spiritual energy," he mused, assessing the changes.

Shifting his attention to his legs, he sensed the hidden power within, realizing that his legs and spine had undergone significant strengthening, his hands had also gained newfound dexterity and flexibility.

"My legs should be the strongest part, followed by my spine." he concluded, estimating that they were now at least eight times stronger than before.

Closing his eyes, Fang Hao entered into a deep meditation that lasted for a week. During this time, he focused on becoming accustomed to the newfound power and practiced blending into the shadows within the cave.

His aura had become practically undetectable, and while his physical body remained, he found that in the darkness, he could move almost silently, making it extremely difficult to notice him.

Satisfied with his progress, Fang Hao stepped out of the shadows.

"At night, if I can move without making any sounds, it's extremely hard to detect me," he noted, nodding to himself. He then contemplated the next step: how to use his newfound abilities in combat.

"To truly understand how to use this in combat, I need to gain experience," he mumbled.

With that, he sat down to studying the next part of the Slippery Shadow Snake manual.

"It's still too early; I don't comprehend anything," Fang Hao murmured, shaking his head with a touch of disappointment.

He realized he needed to spend more time cultivating and gaining practical experience to truly understand his newfound abilities before moving on.

"Mission?" he pondered aloud, his expression thoughtful as he weighed the options before him.

There were pills available that could help his cultivation progress, but they came at the cost of merit points.

Fang Hao was going to take a walk around the outer sect to gather information. He planned to inquire about any available missions that could help him gain practical experience.

"The others should have been in the sect for a while now," he muttered, considering the fellow members who had joined around the same time as him.

"It's been almost a month since I arrived," Fang Hao mused, a realization dawning upon him. "I've reached the Muscle Realm, yet I spent 3 weeks in this cave; what about the next realms?" He felt a strange sense of disbelief.

"My sister has already reached the Vital Core realm and cultivates for fifty years each time. Will I become someone like her in the future?" He stared at his reflection in the imaginary mirror, his appearance largely unchanged except for his slicker hair and leaner physique.

"Time is merciless. I don't think the Fang Hao then will be the same me..." he mumbled, a confused expression crossing his face as he gazed at his reflection. As he stared, the mirror formed a question before his eyes.

Fang Hao's eyes shifted, becoming cloudy for a moment before he quickly averted his gaze.

In an instant, a flash of light illuminated his eyes, clearing away the cloudiness as if he had forgotten the question he had seen.

"Let's head out," he said with determination, taking deliberate steps as he left the cave behind. Oblivious to the letters on the mirror that appeared.

A few seconds ago...

"Why do you cultivate?" The mirror's words resonated in Fang Hao's mind, prompting him to turn his head away with a clouded gaze, almost as if he were a puppet being manipulated.

"Did you truly ignore me?" Another question materialized, carrying a trace of accusation as it observed his departure without a reply.

As Fang Hao emerged from the cave, the mirror's surface retained its stillness for a moment.

Then, a sense of bewilderment seemed to emanate from it, and the words formed once again: "Mind Control...?" The letters glimmered briefly before fading away.

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