Brought away by Jianghong’s guardsmen, Gen sat at the window staring out into the market at Bei’s corpse. Her crystalline skin glimmered in the sunlight, illuminating her empty, ruined husk. Her broken jaw hung half-open as unseeing eyes returned his stare, and Gen felt… Nothing. Only a hollow, emptiness remained within, a void left by her absence and accompanied by a distinct, uncomfortable sense of loneliness. He never noticed it before but Bei was a part of him, connected through unseen fetters, a bond which transcended time and space.
The Spirits remained curiously muted as he shut himself away. There were no tears to be shed, no pain to embrace, no misery or anguish to be found within, not even the Spirits’ whispers to prompt him to action. In utter stillness, he sat in the vacant vacuum of his soul, asking questions and finding no answers, searching for something he couldn’t name. It was missing, but what it was he couldn’t say, only that it had to do with Bei’s absence.
With the void closing in on him, he pushed back upon it, reminiscing of better times. His lovely Bei, laid out upon their marriage bed, her tear-stained eyes silently pleading for mercy as the red-hot poker descended, such a beautiful memory engraved within his mind. The silly girl thrashed and cried, inciting his lust for more. After a single, wondrous day of passion, she belonged to him in mind, body, and soul, her compliance given, her will bound, their lives inextricably linked as husband and wife. Guardian, servant, and wife, he’d moulded her into his ideal woman, beautiful and strong, obedient and dutiful.
And now she was gone, with only his memories to sustain him.
Another woman stolen away by Falling Rain.
The statement echoed through the void and shattered his apathy, his every thought consumed by vengeance and retribution. Returning to reality, he searched through the crowd, hoping to spot his most hated foe. Instead, he was greeted by a scene of utter chaos and confusion. Butchers fled in droves as the defenders of Sanshu cut them down, Yo Ling nowhere to be seen. The Transcendents’ corpses sat in the streets, easily visible from his perch above as the tide of warriors streamed around them. Raging at Heaven’s injustice, he cursed the Emperor, the Bekhai, Sanshu’s defenders, but most of all, Gen cursed Yo Ling. For all his speeches of grandeur and victory, the old bastard was nothing but a fraud, a liar and a failure like Gen’s father had been.
The Spirits’ voices rose in a clamour, demanding surrender and resignation, and for a brief second, Gen considered succumbing to their will. Why not? What else was left for him? With Yo Ling defeated and Bei dead, how was Gen to escape? Even if he somehow avoided all the soldiers, navigated through the sprawling maze of streets, and made it out the gates, what then? He refused to return to the woods, scavenging for scraps while fleeing from the Mongrel Emperor’s reach. Better to give into the spirits and taste true power before he died. The world shrank around him and Gen saw Bei once more, waiting for him in his dreams.
And only in his dreams.
Ignoring the Spirit’s demands, Gen snarled and gathered the World’s Energy, revelling in the power within. He was no longer the worthless, snivelling hunter who would have long since given up. He was a warrior, and if he died, then he would die fighting. Moving away from the window, Gen opened the door to find Jianghong and a handful of guards about to enter. His jaw broken and cheek all but gone, Jianghong studied Gen’s eyes before giving him the briefest of nods. “Good,” he Sent, striding away with purpose. “You’ve not succumbed to despair. Come along Gen. Sanshu is lost.”
Joining Jianghong’s party, he followed them downstairs where the raging battle had yet to spill in, the doors and windows covered and barricaded. Kicking aside a stone statue, Jianghong revealed a hidden cellar hatch, gesturing around before dropping down. “Burn it all,” he ordered. With a wave of his hand, Gen sent a gout of flame around him, setting fire to the building. The growing blaze filled him with hope and aspiration, defeated but unbroken. He was merely an ember, but even then he’d survived through the storm of Sanshu, injuring two elite warriors by himself. With time and practice, he would only grow stronger.
Strong enough to have his vengeance.
Closing the hatch behind him, Gen descended into the darkness and lit a small flame. “A smuggler’s passage,” Jianghong Sent, already well away with lantern in hand. “I’ve found a number of them during my time as Guard Captain. A handy escape.” Following them through the twists and turns of the stony passage, Gen moved towards freedom and his destiny. Though Yo Ling’s story ended here, Gen would not die with him nor would he give in to the Spirits.
Their underground journey continued for hours before they emerged beneath the night sky. Snuffing out his flame to avoid detection, he glanced around the darkened forest to gather his bearings. The walls of Sanshu were barely in sight, kilometers to the east. Where to now?
The booming word quieted the Spirits’ chattering, their voices falling silent before the suggestion. No, this was an order, a command given by one who not only demanded subservience, but expected it. Glancing at Jianghong, Gen realized he wasn’t the only one who heard it, the older warrior already moving out, his eyes narrowed in caution yet unwilling to disobey. Lacking any better options, Gen followed along, staring up at the night sky.
So beautiful. This was but the first chapter of his new life, a bump in the path towards ultimate supremacy. So what if Bei was gone? Then he would find another wife, a stronger wife, a harem of wives. He would gather entire armies to follow him, Enlightening the masses to the truth. Those who refused to open their eyes would be fuel for the fire, turning this tiny ember into a blazing conflagration, consuming all before it. Though Sanshu stood victorious this day, he would return soon enough, and when he did, Falling Rain, Sumila, the Magistrate, and even the Mongrel Emperor himself would kneel before him.
For he was Gen, the Emissary of Flame, Chosen of the Heavens.
Still yet to recover from his injuries, Vithar sat back and watched the battle unfold. His southern allies were worse than useless, unskilled in the ways of war. Charging ahead without thought, they ran into the enemy’s traps and schemes, their tidy ranks defeated by twigs and mud. A good thing he’d ordered his tribesmen to keep to the flanks and avoid all-out battle. The plan had been to let this rabble wear away at the enemy first, but they fell so quickly it hardly even mattered. After pretending to battle for the better part of an hour, he gave the order to withdraw and led his riders away, unwilling to throw his warriors away on the whims of an incompetent elderly thief.
Only… Now what? Lacking a Demon to speak for him, the Uniter was voiceless and Vithar without direction. Though this was a land of wealth and abundance, theirs was a tribe of warriors, battle their only purpose. There was no honour in hiding away, and he feared such an existence would render him weak and feeble like the southerners. Better to die fighting, but where was he to find a worthy foe?
The Venerated One’s order echoed through his mind, and Vithar turned without hesitation, leading his riders north while bubbling with anticipation. Though this likely meant a return to hiding once more, at least he was connected to the Uniter. Now there was a commander worthy of respect, a chieftain above all chieftains. An era of bloodshed and prosperity, those were his words, and Vithar was confident the Uniter would deliver.
If not, then Vithar would cut him down and eat his flesh, taking his place as the Uniter.
Such was life, the strong devouring the weak, and Vithar wouldn’t have it any other way.
A low, rumbling purr wakes me as Aurie grumbles beside me, his adorable eyes opened wide in a plaintive, wretched stare, as if he’s mere seconds away from dying of hunger. His massive murder mitts knead the bed instead of my chest, knowing to avoid touching my injuries. Peeling away the blanket, I wince as small patches of half-healed skin go with it, my body a mass of corrosive burns. Luckily, Blobby did its thing and kept the Ichor from going too deep, but it’s still an unpleasant experience. I need food and rest, but otherwise, these full-body burns shouldn’t take too long to fix, three days at most.
I get way too much practice healing myself.
Dragging myself out of bed, Aurie bounds away to wait by the door, excited for the new day. Throwing on a borrowed blue silk robe, I follow him out into the massive courtyard where he does his business. Wandering over to the quins, I inspect their injuries one by one, more to feed my guilt and delay the tasks ahead than out of any actual ability to help. The poor beasts have been drained by constant travel and repeated fights, with many of them sporting new scars. Uninjured, Mafu greets me with an enthusiastic snuffle, thoroughly checking my pockets for food before laying back down next to Atir. Mila’s injured quin peers through half-lidded eyes and I feed her the last of my personal stash of pain pills, saving it for her instead of taking it before I slept. A cracked skull no laughing matter, and the poor thing even tore her neck muscles after a direct hit from Yo Ling. Carefully checking all the quins’ injuries, I coo and mutter beneath my breath, wishing I could Heal their wounds, their pained, whimpering squeaks tugging at my heartstrings. They’re resilient creatures, but even then we’re stuck in Sanshu for at least a week, if not a month.
Even though I’d rather not stick around longer than necessary, at least Magistrate Tongzu is properly grateful, letting us stay in this enormous, secluded mansion and feeding us for free. Plus, he’s too busy doing his thing for banquets and whatnot, so I don’t have to worry too much about accidentally offending anyone in the interim, so long as I stay in the manor. I sent word to Jorani telling him to get out of the city before someone remembers he’s a fugitive, but he assured me things would be fine, so I’ve washed my hands of him. As for the other bandits, well… Tongzu seems like a stand up guy. I’m sure he won’t hang anyone who fought in defence of the city, or at least give them a head start.
While finishing my quin inspection, an army of servants arrive carrying cooked food and baskets of raw fish. Filled with the carnivorous corpse eaters, I wholeheartedly vow to not eat another fish so long as I’m here, unwilling to dine on second-hand Defiled flesh, but the quins are happy to have at it. Sending a few Sentinels to rescue the poor, besieged servants from the army of squeaking adorableness, I call Aurie away from a collapsed servant, too terrified to move as my runty cat rears up on his hind legs and puts his paws together, begging for a snack.
It’s freaking adorable.
Snatching a basket of fish and a tray of meatbuns, I head to Mila’s room to feed my other pets, munching while I go. Already awake, Li Song sits on the porch outside Mila’s room with feet dangling down, the other cats and bears playing in the grass. Smiling as they charge over, I drop off the stinky fish and watch my fur babies dig in with relish, stealing a covert glance at the injured cat-girl. I’ve never gotten a good look at Song with her hair down in good lighting, and man is she gorgeous. Even with her arm in a sling and her cheek bandaged, it does little to take away from her refined elegance, sitting upright with knees together as she runs a comb through her long, silken hair. Sitting beneath the morning sun, she seems a vision of peace and serenity, enjoying her daily ritual without a care in the world.
I wish Li Song could always be this relaxed and happy, but a few minutes each day are all she’ll allow herself.
Placing the meatbuns next to Li Song, I leave Mila and Lin to sleep in, unwilling to suffer another scolding from my adorable little wifey for not properly guarding Mila. Honestly, I don’t know if Lin loves Mila or myself more, but there’s no sense pouting about it. I’m the one who wanted multiple wives, and having them get along is much better than the alternative. Unfortunately, with Lin demanding to sleep and care for Mila, and the Guard Leader refusing to let me stay too, I was left no choice but to sleep elsewhere as all my other pets were stolen away.
With two betrothed and five furry pets, I, a hero of Sanshu, am left with but one cat to cuddle. A grave injustice.
A short jaunt across the courtyard brings me to the recovery wing, where we kept all our wounded and injured. With only three Healers, they’ve been busy keeping alive instead of fully healing one or two people, so I’m here to help. Before diving in, I visit our guest of honour. Nodding at the taciturn ‘manservant’, I knock before entering to greet my tired, battered friend, sitting in bed and enjoying his breakfast. “Wow. I thought you looked bad last night, but you look even worse in daylight.”
“Hmph.” With all the airs of a haughty noble, Fung turns his nose up and scoffs. “Tie up your robes and cover your burns before criticizing my appearance.”
Smiling, I take a seat next to him while drooling over his luxurious breakfast. Congee, fried dough fritters, and a side of beef, plus pork dumplings and hot soy milk. Maybe I should hire myself a manservant, though I doubt I’d find anyone as skilled as Fu Zhu Li. “How’re you doing?”
Grimacing in reply, Fung pushes his plate away. “About as well as can be expected. I’m a failure who lost his entire command to an ambush. If it wasn’t for Fu Zhu Li and Mentor’s hidden guards pulling me out, and Rustram delaying the enemy, I’d be dead too.” Winded by the short conversation, he sinks back into his pillows, his blanket slipping to reveal his bruised, bandaged chest.
Resisting the urge to devour his breakfast, I turn away from the tempting meal. “You survived. They fought to keep you safe and they did their duty.” It’s no real comfort, but I’m not sure what else to say. “Besides, you captured Dastan Zhandos, Defiled traitor of Sanshu, so there’s that.”
“Wasn’t even my accomplishment,” Fung whined, arms crossed and lips pursed. “Lady Mei Lin spotted the whole thing and sent word. A unit from Shen Yun captured Dastan, led by, get this, Ong Wu Ying.” Catching my confusion, he clarifies, “My former betrothed’s cousin. The Ong family lost no time moving their assets to Shen Yun after Mentor’s annulment of the marriage agreement.”
I never really understood the politics that went with having Fung betrothed to a woman who would have him killed the moment she bore an heir, but then again, I’m merely a commoner. I could never do the whole political marriage thing, and luckily, I’ll never have to. There’s few things sadder than a loveless marriage, and I’m glad Fung won’t have to suffer through one.
Seeing he’s still bothered by something, I tilt my head in silent question. Glancing about, he reaches for my hand and Sends, “Say nothing and listen. You never know who might be in hiding.”
“Got it,” I Send back, enjoying his look of surprise.
Shaking his head, Fung sighs. “So you know how to Send too. By the Mother, Mentor will work me to the bone when she hears of this. Have mercy, brother Rain.”
“So it’s brother now, is it? What happened to martial nephew?”
“This one wouldn’t dare.” Rolling his eyes, Fung puts on a pensive frown. “About Dastan… I’m not convinced he’s Defiled. I believe he was duped and it sits poorly with me knowing his fate.”
Torture until death. Fun times in Sanshu.
After promising to back him up with the Magistrate, I leave to check on the rest of my retinue and the other Sentinels. Bedridden and immobile, many sport fresh amputations and blood-soaked bandages, sweating with fever as their bodies fight off infection. My pain pills put to good use, Vichear’s loud snores shake the air around him, his broken ribs and collapsed lung leaving him in bad shape, but in no immediate danger. Beside him are Argot and Jochi, covered head to toe in bandages, but in no danger of death. Most of the wounded already know my Panacea healing method, and the others are being taught through Sending, but even then, it’s not easy. For many, the road to recovery will be long and arduous, full of pain and suffering before they’re back to full strength.
And to think, they’re the lucky ones.
Fighting back the tears, I swallow the lump in my throat and move on. Leaving the main area, I slip into a private room and sigh, staring at the battered forms of Tenjin and Tursinai. I wish I’d seen their epic fight against Yo Ling, or better yet, been able to help. Yea, I could barely scratch his Aura, but things might have gone differently if I wasn’t busy napping. I let them both down and it hurts, even if no one else thinks so.
“Oh my, has little Rain come to peek?” Tursinai’s playful question interrupts my pity party, shrinking back in mock fear. “Well here I am, injured and helpless to resist before the mighty Falling Rain. Do as you please, but I beg you, spare our lives.”
“Quiet you.” Rolling my eyes, I check on Tenjin first, his breathing steady and skin cool. He’s paralyzed, but alive. I’d call it a miracle, but it wasn’t. The Guard Leader kept him from dying instantly, though she didn’t bother to heal him or take out Yo Ling. What’s the point of having so much power if she won’t take action? I don’t get how she can be so callous to stand by and watch good men and women die.
“Is something wrong?” Tursinai’s worried tone brings me back to reality, and I realize I’ve been frowning over her grievously-wounded husband.
I can see how she might get the wrong impression. “No, sorry, I was lost in thought. He’s fine, no change.”
Sighing with relief, Tursinai pouts. “How cruel, and to think, I was about to ‘fall asleep’ and overlook your wandering hands.” Ignoring her, I lift her blanket aside and remove the poultice on her shoulder, grimacing at the mangled mess beneath, a fist-sized chunk of meat missing. “Rude. That is not the face one makes when gazing upon the naked flesh of a tender young maiden. Try again.”
Chuckling, I lay my hand across her forehead, her skin hot to the touch. “Stop joking around and let me concentrate. Infection’s set in and you’re feverish. I’ll mix up a tincture for you, but if it gets worse, call for a healer.” Rummaging through my pack for herbs, I grumble while working. “I can’t believe the guard leader let things get so far. You both could have died and she stood there and watched. I know she’s strong, stronger than both of you and stronger than Yo Ling, yet she did nothing. Of all the arrogant, spiteful people I’ve met, she tops the list.”
“Don’t blame her, little Rain. She has valid reason to hide and I’ll not have you malign my hubby’s savior.” Shooting me a smile, she adds, “I’m all sweaty and sticky from fever. Wipe me down?”
“I’ll send for a serving girl.”
“Pei. Save the serving girls for hubby, I’d rather have a strapping young man.”
With the odd couple taken care of, I continue helping with the injured. It doesn’t take long, there aren’t many left to care for. With the final tally in, less than thirty of my original retinue remain. Rustram, Bulat, and Ravil made it through without a scratch, while Pran and Saluk both took grave injuries, fighting like the possessed to protect Mila from Yo Ling. Besides those five, only Silva, Viyan, and Birca remain from my original cripples, a grand total of eight out of the sixty-seven I started with. They didn’t even last a year with me, and I can’t help but wonder if they’d have lived longer as cripples. Huu’s retinue isn’t in much better shape and Gerel’s elites took a mauling along with his pride. Outside his private room, Yuzhen’s guards stand ready, which means she’s still inside.
The lucky bastard.
Okay, yea, Yuzhen put politics over human life, but when it comes right down to it, she didn’t really have a choice. Is it fair to blame her? Probably not, but I’m still having a hard time accepting it. She’s a kind person, but she accepts the Purge as a necessary evil, unwilling to fight against it. Why? It’s a horrific act, slaughtering thousands on the off-chance they might be Defiled, and I shudder to think what the Empire will do when they catch wind of what went down here.
Thankfully, I won’t be around when the hammer falls, and the Mother have mercy on anyone who is. Fuck being a Warrant Officer or Sentinel, I’m gonna quit and go study healing with Taduk. It’ll be awesome, spending my free time searching for a solution to my whole two-souls-one-body kerfuffle and maybe even experiment with bear hands. Sure, it lacks the thrill and excitement of soldiering around, and yea, sometimes I crave a little action, but I’ve had more than enough to last me a lifetime. Besides, with Baatar and Akanai defending the province, this is the perfect time for a well deserved break. From here on out, I’m gonna be Falling Rain, Herbalist and Scholar of the People.
Who knows, maybe I’ll even go a full year without a near death experience.
The dream is alive.
– End of Volume 12 –
Author’s note: Whoo, after six volumes, the Sanshu arc is finally finished! It took way longer than expected, and that’s my bad. Won’t let it happen again.
Okay, sort of bad news time: I’m gonna take a quasi-break.
Calm down. Everything is gonna be okay.
I say quasi-break because I’ll still write and release, except they’re gonna be shorter side stories. A few just for fluffy fun because all the fight-writing is wearing me down, and maybe 1 or 2 to tie up loose ends in Sanshu, 3-5 in total, on normal schedule. This break is mostly so I can go over my plans for the rest of SD. I know where I wanna go with the story, but I don’t want it to take another 18 volumes, so I’m gonna hafta do some… rethinking.
I’d take a real break, but I’m still reserving that for Path of Exile: Fall of Oriath. No, it still hasn’t been released. If it isn’t amazing, I’m gonna cry myself to sleep for a week.
Anyways, take care!
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