Chapter 162: The Mysterious Ju Zi

    "Wow, it's so tasty." Unlike Ju Zi, who ate the meat in a daze, Ke Ke could not help but leap up the moment she tasted the meat. She was extremely excited.

    This taste... Ju Zi appeared lost, but she felt an indescribable emotion in her heart. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and she looked at Huo Yuhao in a completely different light.

    Huo Yuhao's attention was completely devoted to the meat. He wanted to maximize his control over the fire, and he even used his Spiritual Detection to help him with that. As he grilled every single piece of meat to perfection, and then delivered them into the hands of the two girls, he himself began to eat too. It tasted good, and he couldn't help but sigh in admiration. Most importantly, he had been lucky today, as he had caught a deer that was perfect for grilling. If not, no matter how skilled he was, he could not have made a meal as tasty as this.

    The deer, which had weighed about five kilos, had about two to two-and-a-half kilos' worth of good meat. In less than an hour, it was in their stomachs. The tasty juice from the meat made them content in a way that words could not express.

    "Is there anything else you want to eat?" Huo Yuhao asked the two girls as he ate the last piece of meat.

    Ke Ke patted her slightly bulging belly and said, "It's so tasty, it really is. It tastes awesome, but I can't eat anymore. Eh, Sister Ju Zi, why are you crying? Why are your eyes red?"

    Huo Yuhao, who had devoted all his attention to cooking, and Ke Ke, who had devoted all her attention to eating, realized that Ju Zi was not in a normal state. Her eyes were puffy and red. Carefully, she inserted the last piece of meat Huo Yuhao gave her into her mouth and chewed softly.

    She did not reply to Ke Ke, but instead mumbled to herself, "This taste, it's really this taste. I thought I would never taste it again."

    Ke Ke saw her slightly unstable state of mind and rushed to her side. She grabbed her arm and asked worriedly, "Sister Ju Zi, are you alright?"

    Ju Zi gently lowered the bowl in her hands and nodded. She looked at Huo Yuhao, and her warm voice croaked as she said, "Thank you, Yuhao, for letting my taste my father's cooking again."

    Huo Yuhao did not expect Ju Zi to say something like this. A look of shock crossed his face as he said, "Fa...father?"

    Ju Zi nodded. Her eyes were blurry and she appeared to be in her own world as she said softly, "Father was the best cook. I was born in a small border town of the empire. Mother was the prettiest woman in the entire town, and father opened a small restaurant that did very well. Father said that his greatest joy in life was to cook for mother. Your food tasted like my father's. While I haven't tasted it in a decade, I will never forget it."

    "A decade?" Huo Yuhao looked at Ju Zi. Her eyes were so warm and sweet. They also brimmed with longing and admiration for her father. This look shocked him greatly. In his memory, he never had a father.

    Grief now filled Ju Zi's eyes. Huge teardrops started to roll as she continued, "War, war ruined my family. Father was forcibly conscripted, and he perished in the war against the Star Luo Empire. Mother was grief-stricken and fell deathly ill. Three years later, she passed on too. Hence, like you, I am an orphan, too."

    An indescribable feeling engulfed Huo Yuhao. Faced with this girl, who shared the same fate as him, he had a sudden desire to embrace her. She had lost her father and mother, and was an orphan just like him. No wonder she treated him differently after she found that he was an orphan, too.

    However, he did not know how to comfort Ju Zi. His heart was filled with an intense sorrow. He thought about his mother, who had raised him with much difficulty, and his father, whom he hated. At this moment, he was wracked by emotions too.

    Ke Ke stood up and spoke in a loud voice, with her hands on her hips, "What are you guys doing? Don't be sad. All those things are in the past. The more you think about it, the sadder you will be. Look ahead, and don't wallow in your grief. There are many nicer things waiting for us, no?"

    Looking at her, the heavy atmosphere suddenly changed.

    Huo Yuhao and Ju Zi were both stunned. Then, they couldn't help but burst out laughing.

    Ke Ke was confused as she said, "Am I that funny? Sister Ju Zi, don't you find it embarrassing to be crying and laughing at the same time?"

    Ju Zi stood up and tugged her elbow. She said, "It's not early, let's rest. We need to be well-rested should we wish to enter the mountains tomorrow."

    As she said that, she pulled Ke Ke toward her tent.

    After a few steps, she suddenly stopped and turned around to look at Huo Yuhao. She said, "In the future, you will be responsible for our meals." With that, she flashed him a smile. When he saw that smile, he felt that the tension between them had been reduced. The distance they kept from each other in school was gone.

    Her smile is beautiful indeed, Huo Yuhao thought. However, another figure filled his heart. He couldn't help but to mumble to himself, Raiment of light, raiment of light, Wang Dong, that's truly...

    It was a quiet night.


    In the morning, when Ju Zi and Ke Ke woke up, Huo Yuhao had already made breakfast. Because of his dawn training, he would wake earlier than everyone else. Everyone present was a soul master, and they all felt rejuvenated after a good night's rest.

    Ju Zi was especially chirpy. Her smooth face had a tint of pink, making the desire to nibble on her almost irresistible. She was like a sweet and juicy peach.

    Huo Yuhao made a simple breakfast. Soup, roasted buns, and some simple meat. He had brought all the ingredients himself. However, despite their simplicity, Ju Zi's heart raced with every bite. She did not say it, but she had dreamt about her father last night. It was almost as if her father had coaxed her to sleep. While she did not train beforehand, it was one of the best nights of sleep she had ever had.

    Even Ke Ke felt that something was amiss about Ju Zi. Over breakfast, she stole eight glances at Huo Yuhao. Every time she looked at him, her gaze would become warmer. It was as if she had found her soulmate.

    Huo Yuhao noticed this, too. Unlike Ke Ke, he felt that Ju Zi now viewed him as her father. He felt as if he was lying on a bed of nails. Ju Zi was older than him by at least four or five years!

    After breakfast, they continued their journey. This time, they did not proceed with flying-type soul tools. The skies above where soul beasts congregated were off-limits. Unless someone had a death wish, or was immensely confident in his or her abilities, no one would attempt to fly.

    At this time, Huo Yuhao finally saw the soul tool they planned to experiment with.

    It was an extremely odd-looking item. It was shaped like a ball with a diameter of two meters. Inside, there were three seats, one in front and two behind. The ball was sealed shut, but it had windows made of crystal on its front, back and two sides, which one could look out.

    At the bottom of the ball, there were six metallic legs. Every leg was split into three segments. The last segments were extremely sharp, and could easily be stuck into the ground. The second segment raised the contraption up, and the first segment connected the leg to the ball. It looked very weird.

    "What is this?" Huo Yuhao asked in surprise. It was his first time seeing something like this.

    Ju Zi said, "Teacher Xuan named it the all-terrain exploration soul tool . You see its six legs? We can sit inside the ball, and with its formation arrays, we can control it. The ball is formed from high-density metals, and can resist attacks from Grade 6 soul masters and below. At the same time, the ball can let us release our protective soul tools. Right now, its protective gear is Grade 5. Both Ke Ke and I can control it.

    "Furthermore, it can seal off our life energy. As long as we sit inside, we need not fear soul beasts sensing our energy. It can adapt to different scenarios. For example, if we encounter danger on a mountain, it can retract its legs and release a thick layer of rubber, rolling down while protecting us. The ball is sealed, but if necessary, there won't be an issue if it falls into water. The all-terrain exploration soul tool emphasizes life energy. Hence, its armor is very thick, but it drains soul power quickly, too. With my cultivation, I can control it for an hour before I need to meditate to regain my soul power. However, if the three of us take turns controlling it, it can last much longer."

    Huo Yuhao was stunned. This was the first time he had seen a soul tool a human could fit inside. While it was only an exploratory tool, what if soul cannons were added to it? That wouldn't be too hard.

    Ju Zi's explanations were very detailed. "Yuhao, don't underestimate this soul tool. More accurately, it can be said to be an amalgamation of many soul tools. To research it, the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy took thirty years, as we tried to match different formation arrays and further refine it. Only in the last two years have we achieved something significant. The highest level of research in the Illustrious Virtuous Hall concerns ways to weaponize it."

    "Currently, the technology is not fully explored. Research into weaponizing soul tools like it can only get more complex, and they expend huge amounts of soul power. Even a Titled Douluo cannot control it for long, furthermore, its powers cannot compare to that of the Titled Douluo themself. This is not what we want at all. We hope that with our research, we can even let an ordinary person control the soul tool, till the point where even civilians can use it. This is what Teacher Xuan has been researching."

    Huo Yuhao inhaled deeply. Ju Zi's exposition changed his perception of the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy's research. Did they just want civilians to operate their soul tools, or...? Ordinary soldiers would be able to operate these machines. With that, who could resist an invasion from the Sun Moon Empire?

    While he had yet to try the all-terrain exploration soul tool for himself, he had the feeling that this item's success would significantly impact the future of the Douluo Continent.

    "Come, you try it." Saying that, Ju Zi walked over to the all-terrain exploration soul tool and climbed in with the help of the handles by the side.

    Ke Ke looked at Ju Zi, speechless. She thought to herself, "Isn't this top secret information in our school? He can try it out, but why did Sister Ju Zi tell him about its origins, and the research the school is working on? Did his food really loosen her tongue?"

    Huo Yuhao didn't say much. He entered the machine straightaway.

    The inside of the all-terrain exploration soul tool was extremely simple, crude even. The three seats were simple and metallic, and they were secured in a small space within the ball, also the seats had seatbelts. There was a metal stick in front of the first seat, but Huo Yuhao didn't know what it was for. When they entered, Huo Yuhao noticed a few windows. Other than the four main windows, the ball also had a crystal window directly above the seats, and one in the center that seemed to hold the two halves of the ball together.

    Before Ke Ke entered the ball, Ju Zi explained to Huo Yuhao, "Our all-terrain exploration soul tool's original objective was to transport and protect soul engineers. When soul engineers need to fight, they can be directly ejected from the seat. The crystal glass above will split in two, and the person will launch out from the ball. Every seat has this function. To the right of your seat, there is a red button. If you hit it, you'll be ejected."

    "Such a good design," Huo Yuhao said in admiration.

    Ke Ke had climbed in as well, and she sat next to Huo Yuhao. Ju Zi chose a function from the control stick and tugged it gently. Instantly, the window closed, and the three of them were sealed inside a two-meter wide ball.

    "Be careful, I'm going to start." As she said that, an orange-red layer of light shone from Ju Zi's body. Two yellow and three purple soul rings appeared. With her left hand, she grabbed the thickest metal bar and injected her soul power into it.

    Instantly, the all-terrain exploration soul tool started to move. As its engines purred to life gently, the ball started to rise. Huo Yuhao activated his Spiritual Detection. He could sense that its six legs started to lift the ball up, allowing him to see through the windows clearly.

    "Ke Ke, you take charge of the soul barrier." As she said that, she pressed down on a button to her left. Then a metal stick appeared before Ke Ke as well, who grabbed it tightly and prepared to channel her soul power into it.

    "Let's go!" Ju Zi shouted excitedly. She pushed the metal bar in her left hand forward a little, and in turn, the six thick metal legs started to move forward slowly. The entire all-terrain exploration soul tool began vibrating.

    Huo Yuhao fully activated his Spiritual Detection. He could clearly sense that, all throughout the all-terrain exploration soul tool, at least thirty formation arrays were operating. The soul tool was completely propelled by Ju Zi's soul power. Hence, a great deal of her soul power was being siphoned, particularly when she first started the machine. When that happened, Ju Zi's face turned pale from the exertion.

    As its speed increased, Huo Yuhao took the time to quickly record the inner structure of this soul tool. The all-terrain exploration soul tool had too many formation arrays, and he could not remember all of them at present. But it was far more important for him to remember its structure instead, something which took the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy thousands of tests and trials to come up with.

    In a short time, Huo Yuhao had gauged the soul tool's abilities. However, from one perspective, this soul tool did not appear to have much usefulness. While its defensive powers were decent, it would extort a huge amount of soul power for a Class 5 soul master. Once attacked, its huge size meant that it was just a massive target. While it was moving faster and faster, it still couldn't compare to a flying-type soul tool. Its six metallic legs would not let it become faster than this.

    One could say that this soul tool was full of deficiencies, but Huo Yuhao was completely certain that Shrek Academy absolutely could not make a soul tool like it. In other words, the Star Luo Empire, the Heavenly Soul Empire, and the Dou Ling Empire had yet to make any soul tools with its ability. The technology required to make this soul tool was too advanced. The inter-connected formation arrays and its inherent concealment technique prevented him from fully understanding the soul tool, even with his Spiritual Detection.

    Looking at it now, the soul tool appeared to have very little use. With its huge soul power consumption, it was less useful than a Class 5 soul engineer. Even he could easily destroy this machine should he wish to. However, what if one day the Sun Moon Empire found a replacement for the soul power source? What if the new source could support a soul cannon? What would the situation be then? It was hard to imagine, but what if it became the main weapon of all wars? How useless would ordinary soldiers be next to it?

    In just a short while countless thoughts and possibilities flashed through Huo Yuhao's mind. The impact of this soul tool was indeed extraordinary.

    He implicitly understood that while Xuan Ziwen did not have any well-defined teaching syllabus, that he wasn't too guarded against Huo Yuhao, as he allowed him to partake in this experiment with Ju Zi and Ke Ke. However, he understood Xuan Ziwen's intentions too. If he could combine the Zhuge Divine Crossbow with the all-terrain exploration soul tool, then it would possess offensive potential! While it would require complex preparational procedures, it could at least bestow it attacking capabilities. This research would significantly improve this soul tool.

    While a stationary soul tool could be placed on it, from Huo Yuhao's understanding of a stationary tool, almost all the projectiles fired by a stationary soul tool were propelled by the formation array. While the energy-gathering formations could definitely gather a certain amount of energy, it still required soul energy to operate. Compared to the Zhuge Divine Crossbow, which was mechanical, a concentrated soul tool was vastly different.

    Simply speaking, should the internal workings of the Zhuge Divine Crossbow be implanted into the all-terrain exploration soul tool, it would reduce its overall energy consumption. This was what Xuan Ziwen wanted the most.

    Naturally, Huo Yuhao would not give him the mechanical secrets of the Zhuge Divine Crossbow. With the current technological level and research behind the Sun Moon Empire, if he helped them by divulging any of the secrets of the Zhuge Divine Crossbow, then the three other countries would be in deep trouble!

    Ju Zi did not know what Huo Yuhao was thinking, partly because she was giving all her attention to controlling the all-terrain exploration soul tool. As she expended her soul power, she also had to adjust according to the type of terrain.

    Inside the sealed ball, it was indeed uncomfortable. The main problem was its shakiness. While the all-terrain exploration soul tool was relatively shock-proof, the path wasn't smooth at all. In the hard seat, the motions were extremely uncomfortable. After fifteen minutes, Ju Zi had to stop to rest. At last, they had arrived at one of the outlying branches of the Jing Yang Mountain Range. Moving forward, they would be climbing the mountains.

    Huo Yuhao made some quick calculations, and he realized that since the all-terrain exploration soul tool started operations, its speed was almost as fast as his highest running speed.

    "Yuhao, share your feelings." Ju Zi, who was visibly pale, turned her head to look at Huo Yuhao. She'd switched positions with Ke Ke, who was piloting now.

    Huo Yuhao thought about it for a while and said, "Clumsy and lacking agility. I feel that what we see now is the result of its materials. For such a huge contraption, it's amazing enough that you can make it move at such high speeds just with your soul power. When compared to ordinary soul tools, which can only attack or only defend, it is already extremely complicated. I would say that it's a Class 8 soul tool in terms of complexity, but in terms of usefulness it's ordinary."

    Ju Zi nodded and said, "That's right, it's still full of problems, and all we can do is continually improve it. With our current progress, it will be awhile before we refine it any further. Right now, there are some people in the empire who believe that we should devote more energy to the stationary soul tools. After all, they can already be operated by lower level soul masters, and they have very powerful offensive abilities. Furthermore, the expenses put into the production of a soul tool like this are extreme..."

    "You don't know this, but even though this machine appears clumsy, every single one of its joints holds a different formation array. Several researchers have been involved in its creation, and many different materials have been tried. The workload is immense. I think it'll take a few thousand years to weaponize."

    Huo Yuhao flatly asked, "Sister Ju Zi, do you think there was a point to doing such research?"

    Ju Zi replied without missing a beat, "Of course there was a point. Research into soul machines will have a monumental impact on both our society and era. However..."

    She frowned, then continued, "Looking at things right now, soul machines seem to be too advanced, which is why continuing to research them has become so hard. If we spent more time on fundamental research, soul machines would surely become a thing of the future. In my opinion, we need to focus on researching a replacement for soul power. If we don't, only soul masters will be able to use this sort of soul tool. This massive limitation will surely affect the development of soul tools."

    Huo Yuhao hadn't expected Ju Zi to be so open about it. With respect in his heart, he gently nodded, but chose not to express his own opinion.

    "Why haven't you said anything? Is it because you're afraid that we'll use it to attack your country?" Ju Zi seemed to understand what Huo Yuhao was thinking.

    Huo Yuhao didn't try to hide his thoughts. He nodded again and then said, "Many technological advancements are made to fuel the war engine. Once war breaks out, civilians are the ones who suffer the most."

    Ju Zi looked at him in the eye and said, "I understand this point perfectly. Hence, rapid technological advancement might not be a good thing. Regardless of whether it's me or Teacher Xuan, we all share this sentiment. You don't know this, but Teacher Xuan is considered the best researcher of his generation in the Illustrious Virtuous Hall. He could be considered one of the top researchers in the entire Sun Moon Empire, but he's never once revealed his full ability. This is because he doesn't want his research to be used for war, and is why I respect him."

    Huo Yuhao was shocked and said, "You mean to say that Teacher Xuan doesn't submit his research?"

    Ju Zi nodded. "That's right. When you came to the Sun Moon Empire, didn't you feel that our soul tool research progress was much faster than the other three countries?"

    Huo Yuhao nodded.

    Ju Zi said, "In reality, our research has reached a bottleneck-in all directions. We haven't made any improvements in the last decade. This is also why we have yet to see a Class 10 soul engineer emerge in the past few years. Coupled with the constant turmoil in the imperial family, which results in the ruling class not having a proper direction, our research into soul tools has naturally stopped.

    "Many years ago, the Sun Moon Empire was defeated by the other three countries of the Douluo Continent, which caused the Sun Moon Continent to be stripped of its name. Because of this, the empire devoted all of its energy to developing soul tools for a period of time. Our progress was the fastest back then; in just a thousand years, our progress in soul tools and all aspects of technology surpassed that of the other empires. However, the presence of soul masters kept us in check, thus we didn't dare to act carelessly.

    "However, following the development of soul tools, the country progressed well too. Thus, the imperial family started to believe that our country's defences were adequate, and that we were powerful enough to compete for supremacy on the continent. Hence, the official policy of the imperial family started to change; hedonism reigned, and income inequality throughout the empire widened. Conflicts began to erupt between the rich and poor, especially in the past few decades. The common people have rioted several times now. Do you know what the best option for the ruling class is now?"

    Had Ju Zi asked Huo Yuhao the same question two years ago, he would've only been able to show her an expression of confusion. However, the Ultimate Soldier Plan had let him gain quite a bit of knowledge over the past two years, including knowledge pertaining to politics and history of the continent.

    "A war would be able to resolve all of the empire's conflicts. Following an invasion, the empire could resolve all sources of conflict. War would let the country gain more land, which would in turn enrich more people. The lower class could become rich and aristocratic through war, while societal conflicts would be partially resolved because of it. At the very least, there wouldn't be any large-scale riots."

    Ke Ke appeared completely confused, but Ju Zi looked at Huo Yuhao and smiled slightly. She then said something that caused the hairs on Huo Yuhao's back to immediately stand on end. "You seem more and more like a spy, albeit one who's not fully qualified."

    A startled expression crossed Huo Yuhao's eyes, but he soon returned to normal and said plainly, "As an exchange student from Shrek Academy, I wasn't welcome from the very start, right? But don't worry, I'm not a spy, nor am I serving any country. However, if possible, I want to prevent a war from happening."

    Ju Zi smiled and said, "Yuhao, do you know what my life's goal is?"

    Huo Yuhao shook his head.

    Ju Zi's eyes narrowed into slits as she looked out of one of the windows and mumbled, "I hate war; I despise it. However, I have to avenge my father-to trample the Star Luo Empire under my feet. That's the reason for my existence." Right now, her normally-warm eyes held an ice-cold gaze. It was as if she'd put a pair of glasses over her heart.

    Huo Yuhao was shocked. He'd thought that Ju Zi was a pacifist in his heart. He'd never expected Ju Zi to say something like this.

    Ju Zi turned her head and smiled at him. "It's not a comfortable thing to hear, right? I know that you're a citizen of the Star Luo Empire, thus I hope I don't see you on the battlefield in the future. Let's go, Ke Ke."

    Following Ju Zi's words, the atmosphere within the all-terrain exploration soul tool became solemn. The ball began to move forwards, while Ju Zi had already closed her eyes and appeared to be meditating.

    Huo Yuhao sat there and stared at her quietly. His heart was heavy. Ju Zi made him uncomfortable. Even though she was only a Class 5 soul engineer, Huo Yuhao had heard several different things from her words that weren't something a soul engineer-engaged only in research-could think of. What was she hiding in her heart?

    Kill her!

    Suddenly, an unknown sense of danger flashed through Huo Yuhao's heart and manifested itself into a desire to kill. He suddenly felt that, in the future, the warm and pretty young girl in front of him would become a powerful and threatening enemy. He'd only seen a small portion of her heart, but it was enough to shock him. This girl was better at concealing herself than he was!

    However, could he really do it?

    No, he couldn't.

    He couldn't forget the sorrow her eyes had held when she'd uttered the word 'father.' He couldn't bear to do so.

    "If you have this sort of mentality, why are you telling me so much?" Huo Yuhao finally asked.

    A warm light suddenly spread from her, separating Ke Ke from them. It was from a soundproofing soul tool. Surprisingly, Ke Ke didn't seem to realize. Ju Zi turned her head, smiled and said to Huo Yuhao, "Your heart is still young; you don't have the capability to be my opponent. If I'm to die in battle one day, I hope to die by your hands. Like this, I'll be able to taste my father when I die. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

    Huo Yuhao's heart trembled. He could see the very same expression he'd had when he first left the Duke's Mansion in her eyes. However, she hid it very well. Furthermore, she'd cloaked herself in a layer of warmth. It was only because he'd cooked for them last night that the deepest thoughts in her mind had been triggered.

    "So how are you going to lead the Sun Moon Empire into war?" Huo Yuhao asked in a low voice. Even though Ju Zi was a Soul King and Class 5 soul engineer, her powers didn't appear to surpass Huo Yuhao's.

    Ju Zi smiled and said, "Guess. All I can say is that martial prowess isn't the only determinant." She appeared to have given a lot of thought to this. Naturally, she wouldn't tell Huo Yuhao.

    "I've told you all of this today purely because I had the urge to do so. There's nothing I truly cherish in this world, as there's nothing that's worth cherishing to me. However, I have to avenge my father and mother. I can still clearly remember the look of desperation in my mother's eyes when she heard that my father had died, as well as my own desperation. At that moment, the entire world seemed to become black and white. Oh well, I know that you think I can't do much. Just treat it as a story then." Once she'd finished speaking, she deactivated the soundproofing soul tool.

    Is it really only a story? Huo Yuhao didn't know. However, the Eye of Destiny on his forehead appeared to be telling him something. But when he tried to focus on it, the feeling disappeared.

    Huo Yuhao looked deeply at Ju Zi and then sank into deep thought.

    Ke Ke hadn't sensed the conversation that had just taken place. As she had to constantly channel her soul power, her attention was completely focused in front of her. Currently, they'd just started to ascend a branch of the Jing Yang Mountain Range. The ball's multiple legs proved their usefulness here. While it was still vibrating, it wasn't slowed down at all. Under Ke Ke's control, the metallic ball continued to move forwards. Since it had six legs, there were always at least three support points. Furthermore, they were made from firm metal that could easily be inserted into both the mud and granite around them. After a while, they managed to ascend a mountain.

    Ju Zi didn't say anything else to Huo Yuhao. Instead, she took out a pen and paper and started to take notes. Evidently, she was recording notes on the all-terrain exploration soul tool.

    "Ke Ke, if you're tired, just tell us," Ju Zi reminded Ke Ke.

    "Yup," Ke Ke replied. Her face was pale from continually channelling her soul power into the all-terrain exploration vehicle.
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