This was a refining workshop, not very large. More precisely speaking, it was a refining workshop that was connected with a living room. There was also a minor warehouse that stored all the experiment materials nearby. If one was willing to, they could absolutely stay there for research for quite a few months without getting out of the room.
From that point of view, this place was also more or less a hermit’s residence where they trained in seclusion from the world.
There was nobody else in the workshop except for an old refiner whose white hair was in a mess and whose face was as wrinkled as a dry walnut, making it impossible to tell his exact age. He was studying a scarlet ball wholeheartedly, which was the one that Cheng Xuansu had retrieved from Tang Xiaoxing’s throat not long ago.
“This is… spectacular!”
The old refiner was faced with a microscope made of 251 lenses. They were helping more than ten super tiny stylets that were as thin as a hair to dissect the shell of the scarlet ball layer by layer.
On the light beam triggered by the microscope, on the surface of the ball that was no more than three millimeters in diameter, there were almost a hundred complicated rune arrays, which were attracted to each other and vibrating with each other, emitting extremely feeble waves!
It was only the first layer.
In fact, the ball, whose precise diameter was 2.78 millimeters, was divided into seven layers like an onion. Every layer could function independently. Almost five hundred rune arrays had been carved on the ball in that manner.
What powered those rune arrays at the core, on the other hand, was merely a marrow crystal as insignificant as a grain of dust.
“What an amazing structure. It is already marvelous enough to construct seven metal shells that are as thin as paper that can rotate freely in a space the size of millet. But to precisely distribute spiritual energy to the 497 rune arrays with such a small marrow crystal is just—is just—”
The old refiner breathed in excitement. He eyed the magical equipment as if he had gone back to hundreds of years prior and was meeting the love of his life for the first time.
His face was full of wrinkles. Even his facial organs had been drowned by the wrinkles, making him look much older than he actually was.
But his hands were as fresh and smooth as a newborn baby’s.
The movement of his hands was also as soft and gentle as if he were touching the silk-like skin of his love.
Half narrowing his eyes, he released spiritual threads with his fingers as he examined all of the rune arrays inside the ball one after another. The more he touched, the greedier and more enthusiastic his eyes became.
“This is a set of localization rune arrays, but compared with the localization rune arrays that I’ve devised, its coverage is reduced by eleven percent, the spiritual energy consumption is lowered by nineteen percent, and the spiritual waves released are fewer. It is much more inconspicuous!
“This is… this is actually a set of space survey chips that can scan the environment they pass through and translate the information into the most precise 3D map!
“Huh. This is a transmission unit to send concentrated spiritual waves to the outside world. With such a gadget, a certain receptor in the outside world can synchronize all the information that the magical equipment has detected. A rather delicate design. A lot of the technologies from the primeval relics seem to have been adopted, too. They are much more advanced than the technologies we have grasped!
“Thankfully, the magical equipment was detected in time and soaked in ‘blockage liquids’, causing it to malfunction. Otherwise, we’d be in big trouble.
“Wait. What’s this? The thirty-three runes in the innermost layer seem unrelated with localization, detection, or teleportation. They seem—they seem—”
The old refiner frowned and thought hard for a long time. He adjusted the angle and the magnification of the lenses and searched for the files of the rune arrays concerned on his crystal processor now and then. Three minutes later, he reached a conclusion. “This seems to be a certain interference rune array, which, once activated, can block all the defense rune arrays and the alert magical equipment around.
“However, there seems to be a minor design problem. Under such a design, it is impossible for the magical equipment to be activated remotely. One can only turn on the magical equipment at a close distance. What can such a rune array do?
“But it makes sense. Too many rune arrays and chips of different functions have been inserted into such a tiny area. There’s not enough space for even a needle to be stabbed in. It is absolutely impossible to stuff a powerful, remote activation rune array!”
Scratching his stubbled chin, the old refiner considered whether or not it was possible to redistribute the space that the rune arrays and the chips occupied so that a complicated, powerful remote activation rune array could be filled in if he were the designer.
After thinking hard for a long time, his conclusion was that he could not do it, either.
“Who exactly produced such an advanced piece of tracking, surveying, and localizing magical equipment? Do the Star Glory Federation or the Imperium of True Human Beings boast such a terrifying refiner?”
Mumbling to himself, the old refiner began writing the analysis report on the crystal processor quickly.
However, after he glanced at the light beam of the microscope unintentionally, he suddenly saw the most unbelievable thing.
The interference rune array at the core of the ball was emanating feeble brightness. It was looking at him quietly like a weird eye.
Greatly alarmed, the old refiner almost cried out. The ball had been completely paralyzed by him through secret techniques and was under his absolute control. There was no way that it could be activated, unless the enemy was pouring their telepathic thoughts into the rune array from within ten meters!
The old refiner thought of something. The most unlikely possibility suddenly occurred to him.
However, before he was able to react, he felt excruciating pain on his back. The pain raged inside his body like the most blatant flood and bound his every vein and muscle, making it impossible for him to move his finger or even send out a telepathic thought!
The old refiner fell into his chair helplessly, only to be swiveled around together with his chair.
Then, he saw himself.
The same white, messy hair; the same wrinkled face that looked like a walnut; the same facial organs that were drowned by wrinkles; and the same pair of hands that were as fresh and smooth as a newborn baby’s.
He could not help but have an absurd feeling that he was faced with a mirror.
No. The intruder who had snuck in without alarming anyone was slightly different from him. The greatest disparity between them was perhaps the guy’s indifference and loneliness, the queer vibe that indicated that he was interested in nothing other than the arts of refining.
However, after observing him carefully for a few short seconds, the stranger seemed to have grasped the critical points of his demeanor. After a few deep breaths, the stranger gradually put on an almost-identical expression and posture to his own. Even the guy’s heartbeat and breath were adjusted to the same frequency!
What perfect refining arts!
Of course, the old refiner was grasped by intense horror, but what eclipsed his horror was his curiosity about the intruder.
He could tell that the guy had faked his appearance with a certain secret technique. The secret technique was much more than changing body itself; it also concerned the modification of the face with techniques such as a ‘skin mask’.
A ‘skin mask’ was supposed to be an obsolete technology that had been outdated on Firefly for a very long time. The old refiner had never seen such a finely-made skin mask before in his life.
The stranger extended his hand and stuck a cold chip to the old refiner’s throat. The old refiner swallowed and felt that he had regained the ability to talk. However, he was only able to speak softly, unable to scream or cast spells.
Although he knew that he could get an answer, the old refiner still could not help but ask, “Who are you?”
As he expected, the stranger gave no reply. Instead, the guy held a hair with both hands and delivered it to his face. “Professor Luo De, one of the best specialists in material science and super-miniscule carving on Firefly, as well as Tang Xiaoxing’s mentor. You were the one who crafted the tracking magical equipment in the form of hair in person, weren’t you? According to Tang Xiaoxing, you are the only one who has such super-miniscule carving skills on Firefly, allowing you to carve more than a hundred rune arrays on the wall of the hollow tube that is as thin as a hair. You are the only one who has access to the new material made of ‘Nine Holed Jade’ and ‘Venomous Spider Ghost Thread’, too.”
The old refiner’s eyes froze. After thinking for a long time, he breathed hard and said, “So—so, the ultimate target of the localization magical equipment was me all along!”
“Exactly,” the stranger said casually. “Neither Captain Tang Dingyuan nor Speaker Cui Lingfeng are so easily localized or approached, but the defense on your side is much sloppier.
“Moreover, you have played a vital role in the whole event.
“First of all, the trailing antenna that was disguised as a hair is identical to Tang Xiaoxing’s own hair in terms of quality and color, which can only be the result of thoughtful refining.
“Also, the other two trailing chips that were stuck to Tang Xiaoxing’s body were almost exactly the same in style to the antenna. They must’ve been made by you, too, right? On the surface, they are perfectly blended with her skin and can barely be recognized.
“Both one’s hair and one’s skin color are unique, which means that you knew very well when you were crafting those three pieces of magical equipment that they were going to be applied to Tang Xiaoxing, your student and Captain Tang Dingyuan’s daughter.
“Then, Professor Luo, who prefers solitude to socializing and barely follows the affairs of the outside world because of his weird temper, what kind of role have you been playing in the whole incident?”
Professor Luo De bulged his eyes, not entirely because of the facts that the stranger had pointed out, but also because the guy’s voice was gradually changing until it was exactly the same as his own old, high-pitched voice!
At that moment, without the different clothes that they were wearing, even he would have found it difficult to tell himself apart from the stranger!
“Generally speaking, I am always a pacifist who convinces other people with reason and is against violent approaches.” The stranger sighed, not without pity. “However, we are in the middle of an emergency. If you are still unwilling to tell me the truth, Professor Luo, I’m afraid that I’ll have to resort to my petty tricks.
“Trust me. Although the guards outside will notice what is happening inside very soon, I’ll make sure that the short hour will be as long and sufferable as a century!”