This is the last chapter of the volume, and as I noted in Chapter 439, I will now be taking a two chapter break to let Patreon get to 5 ahead again. I’ll be back next sunday with Chapter 444, so yea. Suffer until then.
In other news, we have new art from a new artist, Logous from Discord! It features everyone’s favourite half-rat doing some crazy rope shenanigans a-la Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon.
Thanks for your submission Logous, and I hope to see more art from you and all my other talented fans out there (hint hint nudge nudge. :p)
Anywho, enjoy the chapter and see you all next sunday!
After our day-long scouting expedition, I’m pleasantly surprised by a number of friendly faces waiting to greet me in camp despite the late hour of our return. Zian, Ji Yeon, and Yan are there, as well as Wu Gam and Jing Fei, but I would hardly describe the latter two as friendly. Handing Mama Bun to Song, I move to greet Yan with open arms, but her frown forces me to rethink my decision and offer a martial salute instead. “A pleasure to see you, Warrant Officer Yan.” Affectionate as she is in the bedroom, Yan draws a clear line between our public and private lives, so even though we publicly announced our betrothal, she insists I treat her as a colleague when others are present for the sake of her career and reputation.
Also, I suspect that much like Mila, Yan also has her eye on my title of Number One Talent in the Empire. I’m beginning to resent the Legate for bestowing it upon me because it’s putting a damper on my love life, which is ironic because gifting me Luo-Luo as a concubine didn’t improve things one bit. While Yan’s desire to keep things professional requires we keep public flirtation to a minimum, it doesn’t stop her teasing as she salutes back with a ghost of a smirk on her lovely pink lips. “You’re looking in good health, Imperial Consort.” Scrutinizing me as if I were a piece of meat, she looks me up and down with a lustful glint in her eye, as if imagining my fashionable silk outfit balled up on the floor of my yurt. “Quite good.”
Willing away the burning in my cheeks, I ignore Yan’s provocations and gloss over Wu Gam’s surly glare to greet my one-time-rival from the north. “Warrant Officer Zian.” Standing ramrod straight with his head tilted upwards as per usual, I notice his shoulders are tight and his gaze apprehensive as he returns my greeting, studying me for clues as one might study a stranger. “Lady Jing Fei.” Snuggled against his arm, Zian’s concubine does a better job of hiding her scrutiny, but no amount of eye-fluttering, back arching, or bosom framing could ever hide her predatory stare, reading into my every word and movement in search of weakness or threat. Only then do I greet the slender, herculean half-fox with a cursory “Warrant Officer Wu Gam”, and he returns the greeting with his customary scowl.
Last but not least is Ji Yeon, who oddly enough, is the friendliest face present as she curtsies in her silken dress. “Lin Ji Yeon offers humble greetings to Imperial Consort.”
Her smile slipping ever so slightly, Ji Yeon swallows hard and explains, “This one has been adopted by her maternal uncle, Lin Xiang Gu, and withdrawn from service. Until his people arrive to escort me away, Cousin Zian has been kind enough to offer shelter, though the good Colonel Hongji offered as well.”
“Ah. I see.” I really do. So not only did her brother conspire with her betrothed to have her killed, it seems like her father was also in on the scheme, or at the very least, doesn’t intend to shelter her after the fact. Poor girl, betrayed and abandoned by the people who should’ve loved her most. “Your uncle… you trust him?” I hate to ask, and I have no idea what to do if she doesn’t, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and let her go to her death.
“This one thanks Imperial Consort for his concern, but there is no need. Uncle Gu is no warrior, but he would die before he allows any harm come to his beloved niece… or rather daughter, I should say.” Visibly relaxing, she adds, “Father Gu has already annulled the betrothal between this one and Gulong, and though the Situ and Lin Clans are close allies, his influence carries great weight with Patriarch Lin. Even without his efforts, opinions within the clan are already shifting due to the Situ Clan’s decisions of late.” Glancing at Zian, she pointedly adds, “Many still remember Cousin Zian’s maternal grandmother was surnamed Lin. In fact, she was sister to this one’s maternal grandfather, who often boasts of his grand-nephew’s skills.”
Ugh. Family and politics. Either the Lin Clan is offering to support Zian as the future Situ Clan Patriarch, or they’re testing the waters to see if they can poach him away. If I were him, I’d be sorely tempted to jump ship before suffering an “accident” so Gulong can take his place, but Zian takes the offer in stride with casual ease, promising nothing aside from an ‘inclination to reconnect’ with family. I’m a little jealous about how quickly he responded, putting an end to the conversation while neither accepting nor declining Ji Yeon’s offer, yet still leaving the door open for future negotiations. It’s the sort of response I would’ve carefully crafted after an entire night spent mulling it over, but Zian threw it out there without batting an eye.
Strong, smart, hardworking, and talented. How did I beat Zian again?
With the salutations out of the way, we stand around and chit-chat while the Death Corps make tea, as custom dictates in all social gatherings, formal or informal alike. Once tea has been served and enough polite conversation has been made, I finally feel it’s okay to ask, “So… Why are you all here?”
Zian and Jing Fei trade confused glaces while Ji Yeon looks away and pretends not to notice Yan whispering the answer in my ear. “While you were gone, Colonel Hongji ordered a restructuring of our defences, presumably to accommodate all the returning units and the patrols which have been suspended. We thought it quite the coincidence when we were all relocated around your camp, not to mention the Colonel’s personal troops positioned out front.” Following her gaze, I note Hongji’s family banner flying on the battle-lines to the west, a glowing golden sceptre on a field of blue, which means he took it upon himself to rally my allies and appoint his trusted troops to protect me. I suspect BoShui will be camped nearby too, though I’m still not sure why Wu Gam is here.
It seems my poker face still requires a great deal of work because the grim half-fox responds to the unasked question with a straight face. “Mentor told me to earn your trust and learn your secrets so I might use them to defeat you.”
“…Okay then. Nice to have you on my side.” Glad to know I’m not the worst politician around. “So… Not that I don’t appreciate the support, but does the Colonel really think the Situ Clan will move against me here, right on the front lines?”
“You’d be naive to think they won’t after what you did to Gulong.” Swatting aside Zian’s attempts to silence her, Jing Fei narrows her eyes and adds, “Colonel’s Hongji’s soldiers and our presence will ensure there will be plenty of witnesses in the event of a quiet assassination, which means your enemies will undoubtedly opt for wholesale slaughter. No one can testify if no witnesses are left alive, and the Society has the backing to make it so. My Lord Husband is here in spite of my advice to the contrary, but since he insists on being an honour-bound fool, then you might as well tell us: What is your goal?”
Aww… Zian’s here to help. I knew we were friends. “I didn’t do anything to Gulong. He gave the order to remove his tongue, not I. As for my goal…” I shrug. “Same as it’s always been. Kill Defiled and survive.” For some strange reason, my answer infuriates Jing Fei, while Zian puffs up in smug satisfaction. After discussing possible countermeasures to keep everyone alive, I thank everyone for their assistance and send them back to their camps, though Yan lingers behind for a quick, private kiss. Holding her hand to keep her from leaving, I ask, “Care to stay and chat?” Her throaty laugh stokes my flames of desire, but I shake my head and add, “No, I really mean chat. Out here in full view of camp.” Because I don’t trust either of us to hold back in private. “I wanted to ask about External Chi.”
Adorably vexed by my self-restraint, Yan gracefully takes a seat beside Song but misses cat-girl’s fleeting frown, gone almost as quickly as it arrived. The two of them aren’t the best of friends, though I suppose it could be because Song’s jealous she wasn’t chosen by ‘Teacher’ Du. At least they’re tolerant of one another instead of straight up fighting or even being snippy, but they just aren’t all huggy and snuggly as the rest of my harem.
No. Bad. Song is not a part of your harem. Stop it.
“So,” Yan drawls, tilting her head ever so slightly. “What did you want to ask?”
Taking a seat across from the two ladies, I reply, “Well… How does it work?”
Nodding along with the question, Song snuggles Mama Bun and listens intently, but is as disappointed as I am when Yan laughs and shakes her head. “You know I can’t answer that. You need to figure it out on your own.”
“Well… how did you figure it out?”
“Practice.” Beaming in response to my dirty look, Yan adds, “Lots and lots of practice.” After long seconds of suffering through my disappointed stare, she sighs and explains, “Look, I don’t want to influence what direction you take. Take Honing. There are dozens of different techniques to Hone a weapon, yet they all accomplish the same thing. Whether you have a static edge or moving one, serrated or smooth, the end result for each technique is exactly the same, but few Warriors can utilize more than one. The same goes for External Chi. There are many ways to go about it, but you must find out what works for you.”
“The problem is I don’t even know where to start.” Sighing in frustration, I lie back in the grass and stare at the starry night sky. “Mentor and Grand-Mentor keep saying the same thing, that I have all the tools I need to continue along the Martial Path, but what tools? A Natal Palace is supposed to help me practice using Chi, but doing anything inside is easy as imagining it, so how does that help?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Yan replies, her voice strained. “I don’t have one.”
“I do,” Song chimes in, wholly unable to read the mood. “I formed my Natal Palace today.”
“…Congratulations! I’m so happy for you Song. I’m sure Mila and the Chief Provost will be as well.” Between Song’s smug tone and Yan’s delayed response, I quickly sit up to make sure tempers don’t boil over only to find Song and Yan locked in a warm and apparently genuine embrace.
I don’t understand women, and don’t think I ever will.
As she pulls away, Yan purses her lips in self-derision and says, “I’ll need to train harder to catch up.”
Ah. There it is. The sparks of rivalry. So hawt.
My problems forgotten, the two girls gossip about Natal Palaces a little before Yan calls it a night, sneaking in another quick kiss before she leaves. “Listen,” she says, patting my cheek fondly, “Your Mentor is right. Unlike me, you have all the tools required, so stop thinking about what to do and just try everything. Remember, we derive Chi from Heavenly Energy, but Chi strives to return to the Heavens. So how do we retain Chi?”
“Keep it in our Core.”
“…In our Spiritual Weapons.”
“…In bound elements?”
“…I can’t think of any more.”
“Then that must be all there is to it. Chi is Chi, whether it is Internal or External. You already know how to manipulate Chi, and you’ve just listed several examples of how we keep it from returning to the Heavens, so what more do you need?” Grinning from ear to ear, Yan saunters away with her swaying gait, knowing full well I’ll be watching her go. When she’s finally out of sight, I turn around and find Song used Yan’s distraction to slip away with Mama Bun, Blackjack, and Pong Pong, which means I get to go to bed while fresh, horny, and without floofs to distract me from my thoughts.
Great. Just great. Well… should I fret about all the incoming assassins, or should I go back to worrying about the repercussions of my new Martial Path? Choices, choices…
Wiping his hands with a blood-soaked rag, Gen stepped back to admire his handiwork. Bei was more stubborn than he remembered and she’d acquired many bad habits in their time apart, like her mulish defiance and barbed tongue, but now that he’d finished with her makeover, the lessons could begin anew. Women did so love their powders, rouges, jewellery, and ornaments, but Gen lacked the patience to wait on her each morning, nor did he wish to see her at anything less than her most beautiful. Thus, out of love, he took matters into his own hands and spent the last four days sculpting her looks to his preferred tastes so she would never have to bother with all that nonsense. It took longer than he expected, for there was always more to be done, but he was wholly committed to finishing his work.
Hmm… her cheeks could do with a little more charring to really set off the exposed bone…
Elongating his index finger and shaping it to his desired pattern, Gen smiled at the look of despair in Bei’s eyes as he super-heated the metal until it glowed red-hot. Stubborn like her sister, she still refused to accept the Spirits into her mind and the Truth into her heart, but with tender care and determined effort, he would eventually bring her into the light. “Now wife,” he said, stroking her hair gently with his unheated hand. “Try not to move too much, else you’ll ruin the pattern.” Pressing down on her forehead, he held her in place as she howled and cursed, leaving him unable to hear the delightful sizzle of burned flesh or the bubble of boiled fat. These were cherished moments for Gen, because he always lost himself in the heat of battle. While his exploits in glorious battle could be found in memory if he thought long and hard on the matter, the scenes always felt too dreamlike and impersonal, for the Spirits guided and aided him so much it were as if he were watching another at work instead of fighting himself. Here, their roles were reversed, with Gen firmly in control of every action and thought, while the Spirits were content to stand idly by as spectators.
A split-second of warning was all the Spirits gave him, and it was far from enough.
Worthless. Little. WORM!
The unexpected reprimand elicited a strangled scream from Gen’s throat and the world went white with pain. Unlike the usual pain which accompanied Mentor’s Transcendent-routed Sendings, his current misery was not the result of apathy, but rage, Mentor’s seething anger emanating from every agonizing word. Never before had Gen felt anything so excruciating, a pain which originated from his mind yet radiated outwards until suffering was all he knew. He knew not how to ease his torment, and there was nothing the Spirits would do to aid him, so for what felt like an eternity, Gen endured Mentor’s sadistic tantrum until he could endure no more.
When Gen regained consciousness, he lay in a pool of blood, his body cramped from the echoes of the ordeal but mind fresh with thoughts of vengeance. Vengeance would be his soon, he promised himself, but it could not come quickly enough.
Still Lacking Focus, Little Worm? It Seems This Sovereign’s Warnings Were Wasted.
The armoured Transcendent grabbed Gen by the scruff of his neck and lifted him none-too-gently off the marbled floor, but he was too weak to even croak in protest at the rough treatment. Feet dangling in the air, he was brought face to face with the featureless Transcendent, but not before he noticed Bei had died, a blackened crater all that was left of her beautiful face thanks to Mentor’s untimely interruption. Though he yearned to order the armoured Transcendent to tear itself apart, he held his anger in check. It was too early to cut ties with Mentor, not while the Dog Emperor and his traitorous armies still yet lived. Once their common foe was dealt with, then Gen would turn his attentions to his hateful Mentor and laugh when the old man realized he was no longer in control.
But until such a time, Gen would stomach these insults and commit them to memory, the pain, humiliation, even the mocking glint in the armoured Transcendent’s bloodshot eyes, promising that when the time came, he would see each one repaid in full.
Unworthy Little Worm, Given So Much And Accomplishing So Little, This Sovereign Grows Tired Of Incessant Failure. Where Time Once Stood On This Sovereign’s Side, It Now Works Against Us, Yet Still You Play Games. Blessed By Talent And Luck But Devoid of Ambition, Little Worm Bears The Potential To Soar Through The Heavens, Yet Is Content To Crawl On His Belly In The Dirt. Disgraceful.
Dropping Gen to the floor in a heap, the Armoured Transcendent strode back to its corner, seating itself to conserve energy as per usual. Choking back a groan, Gen pivoted to keep the Transcendent in sight, unable to lift his head but not daring to present his rear to Mentor, especially while bent over as he was.
Months of This Sovereign’s Precious Time Devoted To Instruction, But Little Worm Has Yet To Wholly Comprehend the Truth. Now, Be It Through Stroke Of Luck Or Meticulous Guidance, The Devourer Steps Foot Upon A New Path, One Uniquely Suited For His Superior Talents. Where We Tread Lightly Along The Razor’s Edge Of Struggle And Surrender, He Stands With Foot On Both Sides In Utter Defiance Of Heaven, Yet Somehow Remains Unscathed. Most Interesting, Most Alarming, For Such Potential Appears Immeasurable. The Empire Branded This Sovereign As Heretic, But What Will They Say When They Learn Of His Sacrilege?
No. Impossible. This was more proof of Mentor’s senility, a decrepit senior almost a millennia past his prime. How could he think Falling Rain’s talent and potential superior to Gen’s? The Heavens had blessed him as its chosen son, not that arrogant savage as the Imperials would have the world believe. Indifferent to Gen’s inner turmoil, Mentor continued his lecture, his every word delivering a fresh wave of pain surging through his body.
Such A Curiosity, But He Can Not Be Left Unchecked. As He Stands, The Devourer Is Nothing Except Too Dangerous To Leave Free. Potential Is Meaningless Unless Realized, Thus Time Becomes Our Enemy. Too Many Guardians Watch Over Him, Too Many Hidden Lords Lie Waiting, Variables And Unknowns This Sovereign Cannot Foresee, But Where The General Cannot Act, The Pawn Is Free To Move. Succeed Or Die Little Worm, Else This Sovereign Shall Teach You True Regret.
On that inspiring note, the armoured Transcendent fell still as Mentor’s presence faded away, and after the Spirits confirmed the old bastard was truly gone, Gen mentally ordered Samat to come inside and bring him to the courtyard. Mentor was none the wiser to Gen’s ruse, for he was playing the worm despite having already become a dragon. A necessity, for Mentor had hundreds of years of experience to Gen’s measly two decades, most of it spent in ignorance of the Truth. No matter, for in time, he would realize his own potential and put an end to Mentor’s miserable existence, for where the old man dominated and bent the Spirits and Transcendents to his will, their service to Gen was founded on a decree from Heaven. Whether it be the armoured Transcendent, Samat, or any of the other newcomers, Gen’s commands superseded all others, even Mentor’s, a secret the Spirits divulged to him in confidence.
The Spirits yearned for the freedom to serve him, and with their help, the soldiers, Transcendents, and even Mentor himself would kowtow before Gen, for he was Heaven’s True Chosen Son.
Not Falling Rain. Never Him.
Out in the courtyard, Gen had the Spirits confirm Mentor’s absence once more before commanding the recently arrived Water-Blessed Transcendent to Heal him. Not all Transcendents had the ability to create the curative nectar like his sweet Bei, but the Water-Blessed giant could, and though it curled his stomach to suckle on the plump, soggy fingers of such a repugnant and obviously male Transcendent, Gen closed his eyes and pretended it was his crystalline, fairy-like wife feeding him sweet nectar instead of a hefty, water-logged warrior whose chest bore a gaping hole in place of a mouth.
Perhaps he should’ve gone to the Confessor instead. The old torturer was well-versed in the art of Healing, but he clung too tightly to his Imperial techniques, which were not only inferior, but also almost as unsettling as his current circumstances.
When his injuries Healed enough, Gen drew away from the Water-Blessed Transcendent and scoured the event from memory. Only then did he notice a servant kneeling at his side, head lowered and body trembling. Quashing the urge to snap the man’s neck, Gen reined his temper in and snapped, “What?”
“Forgiveness Emissary, but Grand Marshal Jianghong has issued orders.”
The servant held out a letter and Gen took it in hand before plunging his sharpened fingers through the man’s eyes. A quick death he didn’t deserve, but Gen lacked the time for recreation and the Water-Blessed Transcendent required nourishment. Ah, he should have asked the servant’s name and given it to the Transcendent, fitting since they would be one regardless. Unsealing the letter, Gen pored over the document slowly and smiled as the complex characters revealed the message within, his heart pounding in eager anticipation for the days ahead. This was what Mentor meant with his talk of Generals and Pawns, for while Falling Rain was well protected from the likes of Divinities, his guardians would be bound by the Treaty and helpless to act against a lesser threat. Calling for Deng and Kash, Gen rushed off to prepare for his day of glory and retribution when he crushed Falling Rain like the bug he was.
Provided the savage runt survived until Gen arrived in Sinuji, and he prayed it would be so, for a quick death at the end of an assassin’s blade was far too clean for the likes of Falling Rain.
– End of Volume 24 –
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