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Chapter 171: Lets Not Meet Anymore

    Huo Yuhao's feelings for Ju Zi were complicated. He was guarded against her, he pitied her, and he liked her too-particularly when she was taking care of him. He had to admit that in his heart, he saw traces of Ma Xiaotao in Ju Zi. However, Ma Xiaotao was a bad-tempered and straight-talking big sister, while Ju Zi was a warm and quiet older (but younger than Ma Xiaotao) sister.

    Through their interactions, he gradually realized that Ju Zi had stopped trying to cover up who she really was in front of him. Huo Yuhao could see that this girl's heart was filled with hatred. Her innate kindness was still there, but it was deeply concealed.

    "Yuhao, do you know that when I first ate your grilled meat, I was completely taken by its taste. Your food reminded me of my father again. I once said that if I were to marry and love someone with all my heart, I would love someone who was a talented chef like my father.

    "While you are much younger than me, I'm not afraid to admit that I like you. However, I kept this feeling in the depths of my heart, because there is no future between us. Regardless of age, experience, or anything else, there is no way we can be together.

    "I can tell that you are akin to a prodigy in Shrek Academy. With only four rings, you are able to face off against a Soul Emperor. Furthermore, soul beasts with tens of thousands of years of cultivation could not resist you. You are the most distinguished soul master I have seen. In the future, you will be a powerful entity on the continent. However, do you know that you have a weakness, too? Looking at you objectively and coldly, I can see it better. Your problem is that you are too outstanding, and even if you try your best to hide it, how can you conceal your vast potential as a genius? Sometimes, you have to wait for the waves to quiet down. A step back may give you the peace you want. This is what I want to tell you. If you can do that, then your path in the future will be even more brilliant.

    "I hope this is the last time I will cry. Soon, I will leave the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy. I don't know if we will ever meet again in the future, but I hope not. Because I don't want to face you on the battlefield. I just hope that you can live a good, peaceful, and happy life. Find someone you love and marry her. Have pretty and adorable kids. A normal life. I know that this peace is impossible for you, but I still wish it for you. How I want to be that woman! But alas, I can't!

    "I have to go." Ju Zi turned her back to him. "Despite our short time together, I still want to give you a present."

    Here, she became quiet. Every single one of her words was imprinted on Huo Yuhao's heart, particularly that line "a good, peaceful, and happy life". It almost made Huo Yuhao cry. He did not dare to open his eyes, because he did not know how he should face her. His breathing became rougher and deeper.

    He suddenly felt a fresh and clear gush of air. It was clear, but warm and moist, too. Ju Zi's supple lips landed on his face as she kissed him gently. That kiss brimmed with warmth, as well as an indescribable sadness.

    When her lips left his face, tears rolled uncontrollably from Huo Yuhao's eyes. At that moment, Ju Zi had left an imprint of herself on Huo Yuhao's heart. Even if it was not love, it was a permanent mark.

    Ju Zi wiped her tears, looked at Huo Yuhao and said softly, "This is my first kiss. I wanted to kiss your lips, but I did not obtain your consent. Hence, I decided to kiss your face. Leave your first kiss for your fated girl. I'm going, don't let me see you again."

    He gently wriggled his body while Ju Zi stood up. Her upper teeth bit down on her lower lip as she tried hard not to cry. Turning her back to him, she dashed out of the ward.

    The moment she entered, she knew that Huo Yuhao was awake. Huo Yuhao had a special trait. Even though he did not know it, the top of his ears would be stuck tightly to his head when he was awake. When he was meditating or sleeping, there would be a slight gap.

    Even Wang Dong had not noticed this change. However, Ju Zi, who had been taking care of him for the past few days, noticed.

    He could hear the doors closing. Huo Yuhao slowly opened his teary eyes, and suddenly realized how helpless he was. He wanted very much, from the bottom of his heart, to help her. However, he knew that it was impossible.

    Her enemy was his country. Her path was the opposite of the one he wanted to take. He could not ask her to abandon her vision and force her to be with him. If she did, would she still be Ju Zi?

    "Sister Ju Zi, don't you know that I want you to have a peaceful and normal life, too?" Huo Yuhao sighed as he calmed himself.

    He could still clearly remember that when he was in Shrek Academy, there was a special lesson on psychology in the Ultimate Soldier Plan. Their teacher had taught them that those who wanted to achieve great things must be cold and unfeeling. Great emotional turbulence would affect one's chances of success.

    Huo Yuhao tried to control his emotions. While he thought that he did a good job, as did his teachers, it was apparent that he was not there yet.

    Who could be truly emotionless? Furthermore, he was not even 15. Most people of this age would undergo mood swings and emotional instability. After all, thoughts of love and romance would start setting in, further upsetting one's emotional stability.

    He took a few deep breaths and finally, he was able to calm himself down. Losing control of his emotions could not help him solve anything. His solution for himself was simple. In his heart, he told himself that the only way to change the world would be to further strengthen himself. Only then could he control everything.

    With this thought in mind, Huo Yuhao slowly fell asleep. Tonight, he would not cultivate.

    ......

    The next day, at noon, Huo Yuhao received news from Ke Ke that Ju Zi had withdrawn from school. No one knew where she went.

    Even though Huo Yuhao was mentally prepared, he was still stunned for almost 15 minutes. Slowly, he came back to his senses.

    "Stop being shocked! Where do you think she went?" Ke Ke asked in a depressed tone.

    Huo Yuhao shook his head and said, "I don't know, but I think she is working for her vision."

    ......

    Huo Yuhao recovered quickly. Three days later, he left the ward and returned to his dormitory to rest. In reality, his wounds were almost fully recovered.

    He did not give much more thought to Ju Zi. Instead, he devoted all his energy to cultivation. With Jing Hongchen's tricks, he could soon study in the Illustrious Virtue Hall. That was his objective.

    To avoid arousing Jing Hongchen's suspicion, Huo Yuhao cultivated in the dormitory for five days before he went to look for Xuan Ziwen. He told his teacher that his wounds had completely healed, and he could now study in Illustrious Virtue Hall.

    Xuan Ziwen looked at the youth before him. While it had only been a few days, for some reason, Huo Yuhao looked more mature all of a sudden. This feeling was strange and indescribable. However, he knew that he was right.

    "Yuhao, do you know that, from a national perspective, I don't want to bring you inside? The Hallmaster has underestimated your intelligence," Xuan Ziwen frowned as he shook his head.

    Huo Yuhao smiled slightly and said, "Teacher Xuan, you are not a politician, but only a researcher. I believe that I can help you further refine your research. After all, I remember our promise at the start. You must remember it too!"

    Xuan Ziwen laughed. "Of course I remember it! Okay, don't forget that the Hall is not like here. Your every word and action will be under surveillance. Listen more, study more, look more, think more, and talk less. Try not to interact so much with the other Shreks. Stay by my side, and you will be fine."

    "Yes, sir," Huo Yuhao said respectfully.

    "Come with me," Xuan Ziwen told him, standing up and bringing Huo Yuhao out.

    In the lab, Zi Mu took a look at the youth accompanying Teacher Xuan and seemed shocked. Ke Ke, however, was excited. She seemed happier than the time she had first entered the Illustrious Virtue Hall.

    ...

    Illustrious Virtue Hall was the core of the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy. From the outside, it appeared to be an ordinary building. Once he entered, however, Huo Yuhao realized that the Hall was much bigger than he had first thought.

    Illustrious Virtue Hall, like the extravagant auction hall of the Star Luo Empire, were both underground. However, in terms of size, they were simply incomparable.

    After he entered the ordinary-looking building that was no greater than five hundred square meters in size, Xuan Ziwen brought him through three checkpoints, each guarded by a soul master and a soul tool.

    When he entered the interior of the building, Huo Yuhao could see twenty elevators that formed the shape of an arch. Every single elevator looked metallic, and could fit more than ten people.

    Xuan Ziwen brought Huo Yuhao into the first elevator and scanned his ID card on a soul tool. Then, he gripped the metal pole in the center of the elevator and inserted his soul power. Slowly, the elevator descended.

    The entire process took two minutes to complete. Huo Yuhao took note of the depth of their descent. To his surprise, it was more than a hundred meters!

    As they descended, the interior of the elevator was completely sealed, and he could not see what was outside. A small white strip of light illuminated the interior of the elevator.

    Xuan Ziwen did not say or explain anything to him. Just as he had said earlier, he wanted Huo Yuhao to listen more, see more, think more, and not ask more.

    The metallic doors of the elevator slowly opened.Xuan Ziwen looked at Huo Yuhao and nodded before he led the way out.

    It was a world made completely out of metal. While it was still in the shape of an arch, all one could see was metal. After he exited the elevator and walked through a corridor of average length, the area inside widened.

    Huo Yuhao took in a deep breath, and could not help but exclaim under his breath, "Ah..." .

    The scene before him was too shocking. He stood in a wide and spacious hall that he was unable to see the end of. Countless laboratory tables were neatly arranged, extending into the distance. When he looked at them horizontally, there had to be more than fifty tables.

    Each table was five meters by three meters! Stretching into the distance in front of him, there were more tables than he could count. People were working around each table. This humongous hall, including its dome, was about twenty meters high and it was likewise covered with metal. A strong metallic smell and a low metallic hum invaded Huo Yuhao's senses.

    Was this Illustrious Virtue Hall?! This was a factory for soul tools! Furthermore, soul tools manufactured by the Illustrious Virtue Hall could not be of low quality. Those working here were probably the true elites of the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy.

    Xuan Ziwen said in a low voice, "The area we are standing at right now is not under surveillance. After we go down, everywhere is under visual and audio surveillance. This is the manufacturing hub of Illustrious Virtue Hall. I don't know how big it is, but it should be at least half the size of the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy above. There are five thousand tables, with some hidden in the shadows. As some research has yet to commence, around one-third of the space here is empty. However, the elites of the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy and Illustrious Virtue Hall are all present. One can say that the most powerful soul engineers of the Sun Moon Empire are here."

    "Some of them are interns from the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy. They will only work here for a short time before they continue their studies. In Illustrious Virtue Hall, research is conducted in the form of small groups. Every group has a different number of members. Normally, they will have more than five tables to work at. Other than the public research spaces, there are some secret labs. Those who can work in the secret labs must be at least Rank 8 and above. Notice the badge on each of their chests. The badges of Illustrious Virtue Hall are different from the outside world. The background is the sun and moon, and stars dot the sky. Each star represents a single rank."

    As he said that, Xuan Ziwen took out an eight-starred badge and placed it on his chest.

    "Once one reaches Rank 9, one will have reached the highest and most powerful level in our country. They will be offered maximum protection. In Illustrious Virtue Hall right now, including the Hallmaster, there are four Rank 9 soul engineers. The Hallmaster is the youngest. Everyone doing research here could be said to be a disciple of one of the four most powerful soul engineers, including me and you. My teacher is one of the four."

    Huo Yuhao had been in the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy for quite some time, but he could clearly sense that he was learning more today than the rest of his days here combined. As he listened to Xuan Ziwen, he did not dare to open his mouth. All he did was memorize what he said and nod along.

    Xuan Ziwen was pleased with his response. He smiled slightly and said, "Okay, let's go. We can descend. You will be given your own table, and I will give you a topic to research. If you have questions, ask me directly. I know you can use your spiritual power to send messages. I have faith that you will do well."

    Under Xuan Ziwen's guidance, the two of them walked for ten minutes before they reached an empty table. Xuan Ziwen took out an ID card and a Rank 5 soul engineer badge. He fixed the badge to Huo Yuhao's chest, and scanned the ID card against a machine by the side of the table. Then, he used his own ID card as further verification.

    "Keep this card. The next time you enter, as well as when you use Table No. 1238, you will need this card."

    After he scanned his card, the many buttons under the table lit up. Looking at them carefully, there were at least fifty of them. Every single button had a small logo, and each of them was colored differently.

    Through Xuan Ziwen's explanations, Huo Yuhao discovered that each of these buttons was linked to a different material. Once he pressed it, the corresponding material would appear. According to the rarity and cost of the material, a different amount of the material would appear. Each table was rationed a certain amount.

    For example, each table could only use a hundred grams of mithril.

    Huo Yuhao made some mental calculations. No wonder Jing Hongchen was so generous when he said that he could take all of the experimental metals. There were limits, however this satisfied him enough already. He started to study the icons, and asked Xuan Ziwen some questions. He had seen at least ten types of rare metals that he had never heard of before.

    Xuan Ziwen tossed a manual at him and said, "This is your first day here. Familiarize yourself with the various functions of the table. There are clear instructions in the manual. For a distinguished soul engineer, a good table will help you a lot in your research. I have to go and do my own research. If you need me, use your ID card to access Secret Research Zone 1. Find a guard, and ask the guard to look for me. However, I will only give you one opportunity per day to ask me questions."

    "Yes," Huo Yuhao replied respectfully.

    Xuan Ziwen appeared exceptionally cool as he said that. With that, he walked into the darkness, and soon, he was covered by it.

    With Huo Yuhao's sharp eyesight, he noticed that Xuan Ziwen had walked to the end and stopped in a pitch-black corridor. There, two black shadows appeared and spoke to him before he disappeared. Secret Research Zone 1 should be over there.

    He had finally entered Illustrious Virtue Hall. While it was unlike what he had imagined, Huo Yuhao was still pleasantly surprised. Here, he could naturally learn more things, and it was no doubt the best place for him to find his own path.

    He did not rush to operate a soul tool. Instead, he sat by his table and studied the manual carefully.

    ...

    Huo Yuhao did not know that in a room in the depths of Illustrious Virtue Hall, Jing Hongchen was observing his every move quietly.

    Lin Jiayi stood next to Jing Hongchen and said, "His recovery was quicker than most normal people, but if we take into consideration the medicine I gave him that day, it should be normal. Hallmaster, are you really going to let him study here? You know Teacher Xuan's personality. Once he starts his research, he will forget about eating and even sleeping. I'm afraid..."

    Jing Hongchen waved his hand and said, "It's fine, we have to let him learn some things. If not, how can we answer to Shrek Academy? He is but a three-ringed soul master with the powers of a Rank 4 soul engineer. Let him learn. The might of a single person cannot change a war, right? This could have been delayed, if not for the bastards from the Royal Stewards. Send someone to observe his actions. As long as they seem normal, leave him alone. Also, take note of the type of soul tools he makes."

    "Yes," Lin Jiayi acknowledged.

    Jing Hongchen stood up and left. Every single day, he bore the heavy responsibility of research. As the youngest Rank 9 soul engineer, his research affected the progress of the empire.

    Yesterday, he had accepted the Crown Prince's invitation for an evening banquet. Before he went, he had to finish the tasks at hand.

    ......

    The tiny manual scared Huo Yuhao. Only now did he realize the significance of the table before him.

    The ordinary-looking table was full of different functions. The table before him had all the functions of the big manufacturing tools in Shrek Academy. The table contained abrasives, pressurized equipment, and high-temperature manufacturing tools. One could say that with the right materials, it was not impossible to manufacture Rank 7 and Rank 8 soul tools from this table.

    Huo Yuhao spent the entire day reading the manual and trying out the functions of the table. However, no one knew that he had used his spiritual power to scan the table.

    Lunch and dinner would be sent to the table by assistants. From his observations, Huo Yuhao realized that some soul engineers did not even bother to eat. They had yet to touch their lunch even at dinnertime. Under these circumstances, the assistants would remind them to eat.

    ...

    When the completely exhausted Huo Yuhao left the Illustrious Virtue Hall with Xuan Ziwen, the sky outside was almost completely dark.

    "So, how do you feel?" Xuan Ziwen asked with a smile.

    Huo Yuhao blurted out, "Time seems to pass quicker inside!"

    Xuan Ziwen looked at him in surprise and said, "That's right! You integrate fast, it's not easy for one to obtain such a feeling. I thought that you might even find it boring."

    Huo Yuhao smiled. "I'm just afraid I won't have enough time. Teacher Xuan, I shall head back to rest."

    Xuan Ziwen nodded and said, "Go, you will enter the Illustrious Virtue Hall by yourself tomorrow. Use your ID card. Once you are inside, you will be scanned to ascertain your identity. I'm your guarantor. If anything happens, I will be implicated too." As he said that, his gaze seemed to deepen.

    "Teacher Xuan, please don't worry. I will not cause trouble for you." Huo Yuhao said respectfully.

    Back in his dorm room, Huo Yuhao carefully used his Spiritual Detection to sense if there were any surveillance soul tools in his room. After he was sure that there were none, he began to draw on a piece of paper.

    The table's make-up was too complicated. He spent almost 4 hours coming up with a rough outline. Tonight, he could only accomplish so much. There were at least 10 formation arrays in the table. Each of them alone did not appear to be very complicated, but they were all tightly interconnected. He had never even heard of some of them.

    For example, three Grade 3 formation arrays were used to assist a Grade 4 formation array. Together, they could be used as a Grade 5 formation array with a reduced cost. To him, this was a valuable experience indeed!

    He was not just recording the formation arrays in the research table. To Huo Yuhao, this was a learning process.

    The next day, Huo Yuhao met He Caitou as they were eating breakfast. Both of them had gotten permission to enter the Illustrious Virtue Hall, but while He Caitou had passed the examination, he was still an intern. He had special teachers guiding his research inside the Illustrious Virtue Hall, unlike Huo Yuhao, who had nothing but a table and his wits.

    However, He Caitou admired Huo Yuhao. While he had teachers who offered him guidance, they did not allow him to touch the table. Compared to Huo Yuhao, he was in a more miserable state.

    The two of them shared the same thought. Only after they entered the Illustrious Virtue Hall did they realize how big the world of soul engineers was. Only then did they know how terrifying the research of the Sun Moon Empire was.

    For a long period afterward, the two of them devoted all their attention to research, and studied tirelessly as they tried to absorb as much knowledge as possible.

    Lin Jiayi, the teacher in charge of the exchange students from Shrek Academy, soon lost interest in Huo Yuhao. Huo Yuhao's research appeared directionless. Every day, all he did was make a small, delicate but simple metal object. He rarely used any formation arrays. Most of the time, he would just sit there and do nothing. Occasionally, he would ask Xuan Ziwen some questions, but they were all superficial and completely unlike those posed by high-level soul engineers.

    However, He Caitou had caught his attention. He Caitou appeared exceptionally talented in making soul tools. He learned quickly, and his research seemed to have gained steam. Every day, he was making progress.

    This was the strategy that He Caitou and Huo Yuhao came up with. While He Caitou was better than Huo Yuhao in terms of soul tools, it was not a significant difference. With him as his cover, Huo Yuhao could use his vast spiritual power to learn even more stuff here.

    Do nothing? If Lin Jiayi knew what he was doing, he would probably slap himself.

    Huo Yuhao's version of 'doing nothing' was to use his spiritual detection to sense what everyone else around him was researching, particularly those soul engineers who appeared to be making soul tools that could also be weapons.

    His plan was simple. By detecting them and then recording them, he could then do careful research and analysis on his own. If he ran into something he didn't know, he would ask Xuan Ziwen. Superficially, he appeared to be doing nothing. In reality, his progress was terrifying. The small items he made were not so simple once he brought them back to his dorm. With his Life Guardian, Huo Yuhao would take more time to finish making these objects, but under total secrecy.

    After half a year, the ten exchange students from Shrek Academy, as well as their teacher, all appeared very normal, including Huo Yuhao and He Caitou. Among the ten of them, six had entered the Illustrious Virtue Hall to study. The other four obtained permission to enter the Illustrious Virtue Hall for three days a week. In terms of their overall abilities with soul tools, they all progressed differently. Of course, they could not come into contact with the most important research. Even so, after this batch of exchange students returned, Shrek Academy's Soul Tool Department would improve greatly.

    Of course, this was just a superficial appraisal. Half a month earlier, as the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy had lowered their guard, Fan Yu had finally found a chance to send a batch of Huo Yuhao's pictures back. These pictures were extremely valuable. To Shrek Academy's Soul Tool Department, this was worth more than a hundred thousand year soul beast! With these pictures, they could cut a hundred years off their research.

    Huo Yuhao still had the ability of a Class 6 soul engineer, but he was now one that even Xuan Ziwen recognized.

    Huo Yuhao's progress shocked even Xuan Ziwen. In the entire Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy, his understanding of Huo Yuhao's soul engineering abilities was the most complete.

    After he chose the path of a close-combat soul engineer, Huo Yuhao felt like a tiny canoe in the middle of the ocean looking in the direction of a lighthouse. Not even Xuan Ziwen understood his true progress in soul tools.

    "Woo..." Huo Yuhao exhaled as he stretched. Happily, he looked at the tiny silver piece of metal in his hands. The metal was irregularly-shaped, and its complicated shape was formed from many different types of metal. Huo Yuhao had spent more than ten days making it. Today, he was finally successful. This also meant that his soul thruster, which he had designed and made for himself, was complete.

    By picking the path of a close-combat soul engineer, Huo Yuhao's first priority was not to increase his attack or his defenses. Instead, he needed to increase his speed.

    Compared to a normal soul ancestor, he was much more powerful. He had 3 times more soul skills than a normal soul ancestor. Regardless of whether it was in terms of attack, defense or control, he had powerful soul skills in each. Coupled with his Eye of Destiny, his close-combat abilities had reached a level of strength that, even against a soul king or soul emperor, once he had drawn close enough to them, they might not be able to resist his attacks.

    However, his only weakness was in terms of his speed. He had domain-type control soul skills, as well as attack soul skills that could affect an area. However, these were not his specialty, and he could not change them so easily. No one could be strong in all aspects. When Huo Yuhao chose to specialize as a close-combat soul engineer, he gave up his domain attacks and his ability to attack from a distance. Hence, he needed to increase his speed.

    Compared to a regular four-ringed soul ancestor, even an agility-type four-ringed soul ancestor, he was at least as fast, if not faster. However, if he faced a soul king who specialized in speed, then his weakness would be exposed. Hence, he would need control type soul skills to limit his opponent, and his disadvantage in speed meant that his originally-explosive power would be affected. Hence, a soul thruster was his priority.

    Over the past half a year, Huo Yuhao spend half his time on research that would benefit his soul thruster. He spent the other half of his time on research into combining the Tang Sect's hidden tools and soul tools. In both aspects, he had obtained exceptional results.

    After he completed this item in his hand, it meant that his Grade 6 soul tool, which he had made himself, was complete. All he needed to do was assemble it.

    The more he researched soul tools, the better he understood Ma Rulong's words. A powerful soul engineer would only use his own soul tools, because he knew what he needed.

    He took in a deep breath and smiled contentedly. To him, this was not just the completion of a Grade 6 soul tool. More importantly, the manufacturing of this soul tool allowed him to put what he had learned over the past half year into practice. This allowed him to further solidify his fundamentals. These profound principles and theories from the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy were all good supporting theories for him to make even more soul tools in the future. He believed his improvement would be exponential in the next two years.

    However, the only thing that he felt helpless about was the increase in his soul power. In the past half year, his soul power had reached Rank 43. Yet, he felt as if he were progressing at a slower rate. At this speed, he would only be a Rank 50 soul king by the time the next Continental Advanced Soul Master Academy Soul Dueling Tournament rolled around. This meant that he had fallen behind his friends.

    However, he still had a positive outlook. After thinking about it carefully, he realized that these two and a half years he would be spending in the Sun Moon Imperial Soul Engineering Academy were important to raising his abilities as a soul engineer. He had his own plans for increasing his soul power.

    Just as Huo Yuhao was looking contentedly at the item in his hand, he suddenly felt an odd feeling.

    This did not come from him, but instead, from his Eye of Destiny. He could feel that the Eye of Destiny was numbing him, and a sense of danger crept up in his heart.

    Without hesitation, Huo Yuhao leapt to the side and tumbled off his seat. He curled up under the table as he released his Ice Empress' Armor, and his Hongchen's Blessing could be triggered at a moment's notice.

    "Boom, boom, boom, boom..." Four explosions sounded inside the Illustrious Virtue Hall. The terrifying explosions instantly caused a destructive shockwave.
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