Savage Divinity – Chapter 827

 

Empowered by a deluge of righteous fury derived from my scathing and forthright censure, I raise Unity overhead and perform a movement which can only be described as perfection.

 

Difficult to say what about it is perfect in and of itself, because if I knew what made it perfect, I would know how to replicate it after the fact. In terms of physical movements and Spiritual flow, I’ve made similar such movements countless times before, a simple, two-handed, overhead slash which, in ideal scenarios, would cleanly bisect my foe from their left shoulder to right hip. Sure, everyone says aim for the head, but heads are tiny and difficult to hit. That makes this slash one of the simplest attacks to make with a cutting polearm like my glaive, one so basic and natural it’s hardly noteworthy to the untrained eye, but like all Movements of the Forms, this simple motion hides a plethora of complexities within it that only an experienced Martial Warrior would understand. Complexities I am rather familiar with, but despite being the one to execute this attack, I’ve no name for the movement or idea of what makes this slash so different from any other I’ve delivered. The unmistakable impression of perfection stems not from the power placed into the attack or the angle of approach, nor is it a matter of timing and coordination between the movements of my muscles and the flow Chi skills. It’s not about the Sword Intent imbued into the blade itself, the push-pull dynamic of my grip, the positioning of my feet, the torque of my hips, nor any other quantifiable aspect regarding the attack itself.

 

Not to say any of the aforementioned details are lacking in any way, shape or form, and in fact are all as close to impeccable as far as I can tell, but this alone does not perfection make. Despite eliminating all these factors as the possible cause however, there is still no doubt in my mind that this is the most perfect Movement I have ever executed in this life and the last. One I suspect I will never be able to match as the true answer arrives in a moment of Insight delivered unto me from sources unknown. Perhaps it is the Heavens revealing to me the Dao in my moment of greatest need, or it could be the Mother Above looking out for me from on high. For a more grounded take, it’s possible that this is merely the culmination of all my Martial experience coming together in one moment of accidental perfection, or maybe even memories from a past life coming back to me, memories even older and more ancient than the ones I have of my time as Rayne. Whatever the source of this Insight, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt the true reason of why I was able to achieve this evanescent perfection and Perform this most transcendent of Movements in this moment of dire need.

 

In a word?

 

Unity.

 

I’m not talking about Unity the weapon. I’m talking about unity of body, mind, and soul, alongside unity of purpose, unity of intent, unity of desire, and so many more factors which I am only vaguely aware of all coming together in perfect harmony brought about by factors beyond my comprehension. In this moment, I am not merely Falling Rain, not the Warrior, the Brother, the Memester, or any other singular aspect of my personality or even a combination of them all. No, my actions are not executed by my Will alone, but in accordance with the Will of the Heavens as they have heard the charges I laid forth at Ying Zheng’s feet and have been spurred to action by my Orated emotions. Now, I act as an agent of Balance to right the wrongs wrought by my foe, with the full authority of the Heavens behind me as I move to strike the Eternal Emperor down for crimes most foul.

 

Or maybe this is all my imagination, and there is no Will of the Heavens. Maybe this is just me anthropomorphizing the Heavens the same way I anthropomorphized Blobby, and the truth is that my emotions are empowering me to seize total control of Heavenly Energy in an ephemeral moment of clarity and unity, One with the Heavens in every possible way. A feat which is only possible due to the faith I hold in humanity, I might add, as well as the conviction derived from standing on the shoulders of giants and having what we could achieve, to say nothing of the aforementioned righteous fury over what this failure of an Emperor has wrought.

 

I mean seriously, he could have been the God-Emperor of Mankind leading us to prosperity in the 41st millennium, but instead, we don’t even have running water. Like c’mon son! If you want to shit in a jar, be my guest, but don’t keep the rest of us in the dark ages too.  

 

Though I am unable to discern the exact logic behind my most transcendent of attacks, the power is undeniable as the Energy of the Heavens accedes to my Will. No longer am I limited to what my Spiritual System is able to contain, for this power comes not from the flow of Heavenly Energy surging through me, but rather straight from the source itself. Before, I wielded the Energy of the Heavens similar to how one wields water whilst swimming in the ocean, able to affect a tiny sliver of the whole without ever having full control. I could hold water in my hands, drink it up and spit it out, splash about with reckless abandon or use the pressure of my hands to send a stream spraying out, all of which has some negligible effect on the whole, but without ever truly harnessing its full latent potential. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I now control the entire ocean, I would describe it as if the ocean were contained within a bucket which I can now affect in a more impactful manner than before. I can’t empty the bucket, or even tip it over, but I can tilt it in a fashion so that its collective weight shifts in one specific direction, and it is those forces which I bring to bear against the Eternal Emperor before me.

 

Phenomenal cosmic power? Not even close, but I suspect this hit will pack one hell of a punch.

 

Unity’s blade bites deep into my opponent’s invisible defenses, a dense barrier of Materialized Domain so solid, compact, and ponderous that I lack the perspective to even evaluate its strength save to say that my previous attacks all failed to even pierce through it until my caustic condemnation shook the foundations of the Eternal Emperor’s resolve and conviction and weakened his defenses. Only then was I able to break past this first line of defense, and this holds true for this preeminent attack I have only just unleashed, blasting through the multi-layered Materialized Domain in an explosive manner that is neither seen nor heard, but vividly felt by my mortal and Spiritual senses both. While my previous strikes merely penetrated the Eternal Emperor’s defenses, this one blows them wide open and leaves a gaping hole behind, one which will remain until he exerts his Will and puts in the effort to mend the destruction which I have wrought.

 

This is only the beginning however, as Unity comes into contact with the Eternal Emperor’s Materialized clothes, the golden dragon and phoenix robes which represent his mantle of Imperial Supremacy the same way European nobles of old would view a crown or a sceptre. Even with the full weight of the Heavens behind me, there is a slight sense of resistance felt as my glaive scythes through them, for here in my Natal Palace, these robes represent his Will and Authority in a manner that goes beyond mere symbolism. This is his Dharmic Icon, one empowered not by Ying Zheng alone, but by the collective Will and Authority of almost every human in the Empire, or at least by those who view the Emperor as the ultimate authority under Heaven. The power of faith as it were, the widespread belief of the masses who view the Emperor as the Chosen Son of the Mother Above who stands above all others, and the fealty and worship which comes along with this. The vast majority of people living within the borders of the Empire believe in the Emperor’s authority and accede to it with little to no thought, which translates into another form of power and emotion which the Eternal Emperor can draw upon. This is the same concept behind my Manifested Memes, for the power inherent in those scenes and images was not supplied by myself alone, but conferred upon them by the collective recognition and acknowledgement of millions upon millions of souls in my past life.

 

No wonder I felt like I had to keep using new memes with each successive attack. Not because I hate reposts, but because somehow, I just knew that the power contained within each meme was finite and largely spent once used, because no one in this world understands and accepts those memes except me.

 

Not so for the Emperor’s robes, for though few have ever laid eyes on the Emperor himself, the dragon and phoenix robes are iconic to everyone born within the Empire. The beasts themselves are synonymous with talent and capability, and seen in every city across the lands, with depictions of these fantastical creatures carved atop every gate and etched into most walls of the Empire. Every acting and opera troupe across the lands has a set of robes fashioned to represent the Emperor, because while little is known of the Emperor himself, he represents the highest authority figure in all the lands, one who stands above even the hero of the show themselves and oftentimes makes an appearance just to reward them. Young talents are dragons among men, beautiful women phoenixes among cranes, and the pairing of the two is seen only as proper and just, the same way it is only right for the Emperor to rule all the lands of the Azure Sea. Not by right of conquest, or even by birthright, but rather ordained by the Heavens themselves as the Mother’s Chosen Son, and such is the Divine right of Emperors that has held true since the Empire’s founding so many millennia ago.

 

And this faith, this deference, this belief in man greater than themselves provides the Eternal Emperor with power unmatched, one so substantial and compelling that even the full weight of the Heavens cannot easily overcome it, for even the Heavens are subject to the collective Will of Humanity itself. This can be seen from how regular mortals regrow teeth, a widespread and accepted belief that has literally been Willed into Natural Law, one which would otherwise not exist if not for the power of faith. That is the power that humanity wields, a disparate and illogical power that is difficult to wield in hand, but one the Eternal Emperor has made good use of to provide his eternal soul with a defense unmatched. In light of my genuine criticisms and visual proof of what humanity might well have accomplished without him however, the Eternal Emperor’s confidence has shattered and his conviction in the Dharmic Icon wavering, for he has seen the error of his ways and wonders if he is worthy of the robes. This in turn leaves him unable to harness the full power of his Dharmic Icon, allowing even my normal attacks to pierce through with effort enough. These once impervious robes of office part before the edge of my Honed attack, and my Sword Force erupts with light and power both as Unity meets the core essence of the Eternal Emperor’s existence.

 

Only for the weight of the Heavens to reel themselves in at the last moment, which causes my attack to rebound off of phantasmal flesh even more dense and compact than his Manifested Domain and Dharmic Robes combined.

 

Why the Heavens pulled back at the last moment is unknown, but even then, my attack possessed momentum enough to crush me a million times over, yet despite delivering the greatest attack I can conceivably imagine, the collision of forces sends me flying back while the Eternal Emperor stands fixed in place. No longer do I have the full weight of the Heavens behind me, but even then, I am shocked to discover just how resilient the Eternal Emperor’s soul truly is, though in retrospect, I should’ve probably expected something to this extent when I first noticed how… significant his presence truly is. The weight of ten thousand mountains is how I described it, but it is only now that I am able to connect this sense of significance to the strength of one’s soul. In practice, I’ve been equating the ‘presence’ of an individual in reality to their overall strength, because when it comes to the Martial Dao, strength is really the only measure we have, but someone can be strong of soul without being strong of arm, while the reverse also holds true. The strength of one’s soul can be seen in the strength of one’s Domain, meaning the Eternal Emperor’s Manifested Domain is strong because his soul, the source of said Domain, is even stronger, as is his faith and conviction in his own self.

 

All of which makes perfect sense, yet I’m only now just putting it all together, and I cannot help but wonder how Ying Zheng was able to amass this strength for himself. Time I suppose, but there has to be more to it, because it doesn’t matter how much time you have if you never go to the gym. What sort of exercise does he use to target his soul? Did he craft a Spiritual Shake-Weight and spend all these millennia just jacking up the gains? Does he dress up in a tight unitard and throw on a sweatband for a round of Spiritual Step Aerobics? Or is it the fact that he breaks out the Spiritual Bow-Flex for a well-rounded set of Spiritual exercises to trim the flab from his soul and stay spiritually fit?

 

Despite the increasingly unlikely scenarios my mind conjures up on a whim, the obvious answer presents itself as I crash into the waters of my Natal Sea and am reminded of the four souls trapped within. They’re still struggling to no avail in a desperate effort to escape and no closer to shore than when I last left them, but currents remind me of their presence which puts me in mind of the army of souls stationed just outside the bounds of my Manifested Natal Palace. Therein lays the answer I seek, the souls of former Emperors and Imperial Talents held prisoner for who knows how long, prisoners who no doubt serve a purpose else why keep them around for so long? This must be at least partially why the Eternal Emperor’s soul is so much more powerful than mine, though the exact specifics still elude me. I don’t know if he’s siphoning off Spiritual mass from the army of souls he’s captured, gained this strength by challenging so many souls for control of their Natal Thrones, become stronger due to the presence of the souls themselves embedded within his own, or something else altogether, but suffice it to say that the army of souls play some role in Ying Zheng’s strength. Either way, without the full weight of the Heavens behind me to follow through the entirety of my attack, I doubt there is anything I can do to break through my opponent’s last line of defenses and kill him in a single strike.

 

Why did the Heavens balk at the last moment? Was it something I did? Some change within me that I failed to account for? I don’t know, but how in the hell am I supposed to defeat a monster like this? I’m just a guy with less than twenty years of experience in the Dao and no real understanding to speak of, all of which amounts to a mere drop in the ocean compared to the Eternal Emperor’s vast trove of experience. Just like that, this minor thread of doubt is enough to sever my connection with the Heavens, for I am no longer as united as I once was.

 

Not like it would’ve helped.  

 

Throat constricting and chest heavy, I allow myself a brief moment of self-pity desperately striving to find that sense of oneness again, but the more I struggle to grasp it in hand, the more this inkling of a fast-fading sensation slips away, like trying to remember a dream that is intent on being forgotten, until all you have left is the awareness of having dreamed a dream and nothing else. A futile effort anyways considering how the Heavens trolled me at the last second, so with no other choice left to me, I throw myself back into the fight. Bursting out of the water with Unity in hand, I am determined to see this battle through to the end despite knowing not what to do now. My perseverance immediately pays off as I lay eyes on my foe once more, for disappointing though my attack might have been, I see that it was not entirely ineffective as Ying Zheng is still reeling with agony due to my Sword Force running rampant throughout his very soul. Having felt the same agony myself, I know that a lesser man would have given into the pain and might well have been crippled by it, but my foe is made of sterner stuff and still stands with back unbent and head held high. There is anger aplenty in his heated gaze, hatred and contempt just emanating out from his narrowed eyes as his expression twists with fury unrestrained, but the damage I’ve done to his soul with sword and glaive is nothing in comparison to the inner turmoil wrought by my words alone.

 

A fact which is both satisfying and disheartening at the same time…

 

Then again, maybe not as I realize why my foe has been standing stock still and taking every one of my attacks to the chin. While my ‘physical’ efforts to do away with the Eternal Emperor might well have fallen short, my words had more of an effect than intended. In revealing my past life’s memories, with no small amount of science fiction sprinkled in to make it seem even more inconceivable, I was aiming to send him into a downward spiral of doubt and self-loathing, and it sort of worked. Not in the way I’d hoped, since Ying Zheng is made of sterner stuff than most and simply refuses to Demonify, but unlike him, his alter ego Zhen Shi is a delicate little snowflake who cannot stand being criticized by someone he sees as beneath him. Though the latter is far weaker than the former in terms of the Dao, there is power in emotion which I cannot yet quantify, power which Zhen Shi is using to contend against Ying Zheng for ultimate control. An unseen struggle for dominance which I am not privy to, but for which I am solely responsible for as Zhen Shi’s rage and ire both are driven to new heights by the truth revealed by my memories.

 

For in Zhen Shi’s eyes, his other self is unworthy of leading the Empire, and it has long been his dream to reclaim the throne for himself.

 

That might be my key to victory here, helping Zhen Shi overcome Ying Zheng and then moving forward from there, because even though they are two sides of the same coin, the former is more vulnerable than the latter. That being said, I’m fairly certain Ying Zheng can protect himself from Emotional Aura, and even if I could bypass those defenses through a meme like before or some clever usage of Oration, I simply lack the capacity to express rage unchecked. This is simply my nature, for I am not an angry person, nor do I have the hate or spite required to empower Zhen Shi even further. Pique and indignation I have plenty of, as I do so love to complain, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not one to really hate. Sure, I hate the bristleboars, but it is a reactionary hatred, one which stems from fear and anger over how I suffered at their hands. Otherwise, I’m not one to embrace the dark side, as I don’t even really hate my parents who abandoned me in this life. The woman who birthed me was damaged in her own way, unable to cope with the loss of her first son and unwilling to allow any others to replace him, while my sire is just a stone-cold bastard who might as well have been a stranger to my younger self. I didn’t hate him, because I never had any expectations of love from him, no desire to connect or win his approval, and I still don’t.

 

In short, whether he lives or dies is really no business of mine, unless he happens to kill Dad or Naaran. Maybe Gerel too, but I dunno. I mean, technically, he’s my brother, but he’s just so damn annoying…

 

In short, I never truly saw my parents as family and never truly expected any love or affection from them. I’d hoped for it, yearned for it even, but it came as no surprise to learn that they held no love in their hearts for me, and so I never saw the point in hating them, because it’s not like I ever held them in high esteem. No, all my hate I saved for myself, but that is not a hatred I care to share, nor is it one that would help me here, for my self-loathing is rooted in a sense of weakness and inadequacy, a far different emotion from Zhen Shi’s rage born of an overinflated sense of self worth and the denial of what he believes he is owed. In his eyes, he is Ying Zheng, the Eternal Emperor who should have been, and thus the throne his birthright which was taken from him by his other self. Thus, my particular brand of hatred would not resonate with him the same way my despair and dejection did, because like I said before, everyone knows what it’s like to feel sad, and while depression is more than just extreme sadness, everyone can relate once they’ve experienced it for themselves.

 

Or you know… should be able to relate unless they’re incapable of empathy, like Ying Zheng and Zhen Shi across from me.

 

So now for the million-dollar question: If Zhen Shi and Ying Zheng’s Paths are two sides of the same coin, what is it about the former’s perspective that makes him so susceptible to emotion? No, better question, what is it about Ying Zheng’s perspective that makes him so unshakable, to the point where even nigh-on irrevocable proof of his ignorance is not enough to shatter his determination and conviction? Despite having seen how far humanity can progress in less than a thousand years and then some, the Eternal Emperor still believes in the legitimacy of his rule, that he is the Chosen Son of Heaven destined to take control of the world, which is how he’s able to hold strong when faced with Zhen Shi’s emotional assault. My words and memories have introduced an element of doubt into the mix regarding his actions and decisions, but that isn’t enough to derail him from the Dao he’s pursued for as long as he can remember, one I cannot exploit because it’s steeped in pure logic yet makes no sense to me whatsoever.

 

At least, that’s how it appears given everything I know. I’ve seen the man’s life story, watched him grow from lowly cattle herder to first Emperor of the Azure Sea, and while I’ve some insight into what makes him tick, I still have no idea what made him into the monster he is today. Granted a different sort of monster from Zhen Shi, and if not for the fact that their souls look exactly alike and admitting to it themselves, I would’ve never suspected they were two parts of a whole. They’re almost nothing alike, but then again, the Eternal Emperor before me is also nothing like the Ying Zheng I saw in his memories, a man whose Dao was rooted in the flames of fervent emotion. Hell, I would even go as far as to say that Zhen Shi is more like the Ying Zheng of old than the Eternal Emperor, with his Dao of the Razor’s edge being a direct improvement to how Ying Zheng allowed himself to be driven by emotion. I suppose the similarity makes more sense when you factor in how Zhen Shi was severed away from the original host soul so soon after the founding of the Empire, but seeing how his mission was to study the ‘other side of the coin’, this tells me that no matter how different their perspectives might appear, Zhen Shi and the Eternal Emperor’s Dao share the same roots.

 

So I know Zhen Shi’s Dao is the Razor’s Edge, wherein he experiences and indulges the full breadth of his emotions in full while adhering to logic above all else, but what of the Eternal Emperor’s Dao? At first, I thought the flip side to the Razor’s Edge would be divesting oneself of emotion in adherence to logic, but that can’t be true. If this were the case, then the Eternal Emperor would possess power comparable to what I wielded in JiangHu, for there is power in the sacrifice of emotions. What’s more, if he were aiming to divest himself of all emotion, then he would have long since abandoned his role as Emperor of the Azure Sea, because as far as I can tell, he’s only holding onto the throne for sentimental reasons, misguided though they might be. I already noted how he believes his role is to be the guardian of all humanity, one who maintains peace and Balance at the expense of all else. A role he would not care for if he was willing to divest himself of emotion, so clearly I’m on the wrong track here, but if the Eternal Emperor’s Dao is not that of rejecting emotion, then what could it be?

 

So I got to thinking… what if Zhen Shi is more similar to the Ying Zheng of old by design? What if the Eternal Emperor is the way he is now because he strove to become better than the man he once was, whereas Zhen Shi was meant to discover what it would have been if he kept going? Yea, I can see it now, the aged first Emperor seated upon his throne as the days pass by, with nothing to do but deliberate the Path he took to arrive at his current lofty heights and where to go from there. In his eyes, he sees all the mistakes he made and time he wasted due to indulging his emotions, and how much more efficient he could have been if not for them. Why kill his father and sell his sword to the highest bidder? Better if he’d suppressed his emotion and taken control of Qin from within instead, catapulting his progress ahead by decades, if not more. All those years squandered in anger and hatred, all those battles fought out of pure spite and malice, a waste of effort and resources is nothing else.

 

Though lacking any and all proof, I just know that I am right, for much like Zhen Shi, the Eternal Emperor believes in logic above all else, but rather than walk the Razor’s Edge and experience all his emotions in full, he seeks to elevate himself beyond them. He doesn’t reject emotion, because he sees the power hidden within, power he used to conquer his Empire in the first place, but once all was said and done, he found a way to utilize this power without being beholden to it. Since he doesn’t discard or reject his emotions, the only option left is for him to hoard and suppress them, burying them deep down within and refusing to ever face them head on, like how he avoids reminiscing of his mortal relations like his five sworn brothers or any wives or children. This is how he views Balance, with all his emotions there, but not there, present but distinct, with all of the benefits of emotion when it comes to harnessing the Energy of the Heavens and none of the perceived drawbacks like illogical behavior, irrational logic, or pangs of conscience and regret.

 

Two sides of the same coin, one seeped in emotion, the other detached from it. The latter is the Eternal Emperor’s Dao, or rather a portion of it, for it is difficult to sum up the entirety of a single person’s perspective in a handful of words or even sentences. Humans are complex, multi-faceted creatures, and though I understand the Eternal Emperor a little better than before, I still have no idea what drives him to be who he is, or why he holds his own humanity and emotions in such disdain, while still cherishing the memories of his mother so fondly. It’s to the point where I suspect he may have engineered the whole Mother and Father religion just to pay his respects to the woman who birthed him and denigrate the man who sired him, though to be honest, this is merely an unfounded suspicion which I have no real proof of either way.

 

Either way, even though his Dao is steeped in logic, it is a twisted sort of logic that I cannot entirely make sense of, and thus have no idea how to counter it in an indisputable fashion. Despite having seen and experienced memories of a world unlike anything he’s ever seen and been proven wrong on so many different levels, he’s still yet to succumb to the weight of his emotions and is fighting to make sense of it all instead. This is a man who is sitting on a stockpile of suppressed emotions accumulated over several millennia, emotions he’s struggling to control with Zhen Shi back in the mix, yet even then the Eternal Emperor’s Will remains too strong for me and his Natal Soul to overcome. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I want Zhen Shi to win, because said stockpile of emotions would empower him to levels previously unmatched, so really, I might as well just call it quits and flip a coin to see what happens.

On heads, my opponent wins, and on tails, I lose.

 

Coming at this from another angle, I think back to the storm I created which helped three-thousand Storm Guards achieve Core Creation during my misguided efforts to divest myself of emotion in JiangHu, which is only scratching the surface of what I’d accomplished. The reason I was able to unleash all that power was due to the strength of my emotions fuelling my desperate escape, emotions I experienced over the course of two measly decades. If I could tap into that power again, I might well stand a chance against my foe, but the problem is, I no longer possesses the desire for oblivion no matter the cost, nor am I willing to die anymore, not unless I absolutely have no other option available, and even then I’m not sure if I could muster the willpower to go through with it, not after knowing just how much it will hurt Lin-Lin and everyone else who loves and cares for me. That’s the flip side of the power of emotions, because while there is plenty of potential just waiting to be unleashed, those same emotions can also prove a hindrance when it comes to doing what has to be done.

 

Shen Zhen Wu – no, Liang Wu Di was right. My Dao is one of freedom, but the freedom I seek does not truly exist, for I have bound myself in chains of my own making, chains of love, morals, principles, desires and more from which I can never escape.

 

Not the worst thing in the world if I’m being honest, for freedom would be meaningless without said chains, but as if to prove his Dao is right and my Dao is wrong, the Eternal Emperor regains control of his emotions before I finish my little inner rant of doom and gloom, only to hit me with all the force of an electrified truck. Unable to even grit my teeth in an effort to endure, I find myself screaming bloody murder as the torment overwhelms every fibre of my being, and all I want to do is run and hide. There is no escape however, no end to this suffering and no respite in sight as the Eternal Emperor’s rage washes over me in a deluge of disgust and disdain. There are no words shared between us, no conversation to be had, for his Will is focused on inflicting pain and nothing else, while mine are fixated on unattainable escape.

 

Only for sweet relief to present itself amidst a deafening din of horrifying shrieks, one which erupts without warning. Dread and dismay threaten to overwhelm me where I stand as a black, disklike object blots out the light of the sun and descends upon me from above, emitting a whiny pitch that promises death and suffering both as it strives to draw us into its concealed maw. Shocked and confused by this turn of events, all I can do is stand and watch with jaw dropped as the Emperor retreats from the source of our shared consternation, for even he is unwilling to face this terror head on. There is no logic to this fear, no discernable reason to be alarmed, and yet even I find the panic all-encompassing as the massive, shrieking object chases after the fleeing Emperor and drives him out of my Manifested Natal Palace, a reasonable decision I resist only because I recognize the source of those cacophonous shrieks.

 

That’s my Roomba, the little robot vacuum I bought to wage war against the never-ending droves of discarded dog hair, only about ten-thousand times bigger and scarier than I remember.

 

It doesn’t take much to figure out what just happened, because I sure as hell didn’t Manifest an automated vacuum as a Dharmic Icon of Insurmountable Terror. Acting on instinct alone, I teleport into my bedroom and dismiss the majority of my Manifested Natal Palace, leaving only the condo itself and nothing else. Granted, this means setting free the Supreme Ancestors who were trapped in my Natal Sea, but it’s not like keeping them contained was helping me any. What’s more, keeping so much of my Natal Palace Manifested was straining the limits of my abilities, which I only now notice in the absence of said strain, one that is neither physical nor spiritual, but something else entirely as I pant and heave in place. Difficult to say how much more I have left in the tank, but even then I’m able to reinforce the defenses of my condo and still have effort to spare, now that only a tiny fraction of my whole Natal Palace is Manifested here in the Void.

 

There will come a day when I make sense of all this, but I fear that day will not come soon enough…

 

Inside my bedroom, Buddy greets me with the love and enthusiasm only a dog can muster after so little time spent apart, and once I am sure that my foe can’t just stroll right in, I pat my doggo’s head and scritch his cheeks in thanks for all his efforts. “Good dog,” I declare, just grateful he’s not completely useless and had some contribution to the fight, because I hate to think that I wasted my once chance to defeat the Eternal Emperor by giving my dog a physical form. No regrets, but it would still suck to immediately die after this most awesome of reunions, especially since we have yet to do anything fun. “Soon as this is all done, we’re going for a walkie. Promise.”

 

Reacting to the mere thought of the word, my doggo’s tail wags even harder as he Manifests his leash and collar which he holds in his mouth, the latter dangling at the end of the former instead of just appearing around his neck. It’s adorable how he expects me to put it on for him even though he could do it himself, which I suppose makes sense from his doggy perspective, and seeing how he just ran the Emperor out of my Natal Palace, I shouldn’t look down on Buddy’s Dao. He didn’t do anything outside in reality, because he thought I could just run, but seeing me trapped in the Eternal Emperor’s grasp, he finally found it in him to protect using a method wholly in accordance with who he is.

 

This is the power of Dog Logic, which is every bit as incomprehensible as the Eternal Emperor’s Dao, but apparently no less effective. A shame I can’t convince my doggo to weaponize his irrational fear, because I suspect that irrationality is partially responsible for why the Eternal Emperor reacted so strongly to the vacuum. His Dao is based on logic, whereas Buddy’s Dao is based on what makes perfect sense to his doggy brain without any regard to logic whatsoever, so I suppose the two perspectives resonate on many levels

 

Come and face me, worm!” The Eternal Emperor’s challenge echoes through the Void and pierce through the defenses I have laid all around my condo, but thankfully, said defenses are still strong enough to ward off the earth-shaking attacks delivered by my foe and his army of souls. While I was praising my doggo, they surrounded my condo while standing a good distance away, not so far as to seem distant, but not so close as to crowd me out, because the last thing I need is to look out my window and see strangers with their faces pressed against the glass. Truly the stuff of nightmares, but having a crowd encircling me in the Void is only marginally better as I lock eyes with the most formidable foe I have ever faced.

 

Another barrage of attack lands along the border of my Manifested Natal Palace, and this time, I am watching closely enough to identify the powers being used. There’s Fire, Spear Intent, and good old fashioned Materialized Domain, but also plenty of other options which I can only vaguely identify, most of which come from the gathered souls. The other three basic Elements are present and accounted for, but even with duplicates, none are capable of matching the Yang Ancestor’s prowess. The Auxiliary Blessings are also present, with blasts of lightning, spheres of flaming rock, spears of frozen ice, globs of dense, viscous, and weighty mud, as well as wispy clouds of withering mists and blossoming flowers of deadly beauty. Plenty of Esoteric Blessings in the mix too, with beams of light, darkness, sound, microwaves, and more landing alongside Materialized fists of slime, Manifested pools of murky liquids, tendrils of melting acidity, and a whole host of things I can barely even identify. More impressive than the dizzying array of various attacks is how perfectly coordinated each wave of attacks is, with the moment of impact arriving at the exact same time for each and every single attack all focused on a single area of my Manifested Natal Palace no larger than a fist.

 

How my defenses are able to hold out is a mystery even to me, but I suppose it’s much harder to break into someone’s Natal Palace when they’re so guarded against intrusion. The frustration is evident on the Eternal Emperor’s expression however, which tells me that even though he was able to hold firm and rally back from my mental attack, he is not back to 100% just yet, but I’ve thrown everything at him plus the kitchen sink and really don’t know what to try next. “

 

“Is this your final gambit?” Lips twisted in a sneer of utter contempt, the Eternal Emperor unleashes a massive palm strike that condenses at the last moment and almost knocks me off my feet, even though it fails to break through my defenses. “To cower within your fortress and pray for deliverance from the Heavens Above?” Before I can make sense of that last bit, he helpfully continues, “Even putting aside your remarkable fortune and attainments, you are a talent unmatched by any, but while you have proven yourself capable of moving the Heavens themselves, this Sovereign’s Authority stands second to none. Truly a fool unlike any other you are, to try and turn the Heavens against their Chosen Son.” Huffing and puffing despite the fact that he has no need of air nor any lungs to breathe, the Eternal Emperor brings all his rage to bear in an effort to cow me where I stand, but little does he realize how ineffective his efforts prove to be. Gone is the calm and dispassionate individual who was so dignified in his indifference, a grand and stately noble who gave up his throne without so much as blinking an eye. In his place is a furiously unhinged tyrant who feels the need to taunt and gloat to make up for the loss of face he suffered by fleeing from my Natal Palace, a petty despot desperate to prove that he stands above me.

 

And just like that, it all comes together. I feared the Eternal Emperor because I did not understand him, but this man I see here before me now? I pity him, for this is the true Ying Zheng, the man hiding behind the mantle of the Eternal Emperor. Distraught over the loss of his mother, he slaughtered the man who sired him in a fit of rage, and from then on, he was lost and without direction. He lived his life one battle at a time, moving from one war to the next without rest, and when a lifetime had passed and he discovered he had no one left to fight, he found that his life was still empty and without meaning. What good is an Empire to a man with no desire to be Emperor? And yet, Emperor he must be, a role he desperately clung on to because if not for this, he would truly have nothing left. Talent and Need drove him this far, saw him rise to heights greater than anyone who came before or after, and perhaps his story might have turned out differently had his descendants not turned against him, a betrayal that no doubt cut him deeply because of all he’d done and sacrificed so that they could know peace.

 

A wild guess without any proof behind it, but I suspect I’m closer to the truth than he would care to admit. Ying Zheng was a man of emotion, not just anger and rage, but love and camaraderie too, and I can’t see a man like that neglecting the blood of his blood. Maybe that betrayal is what set him down this Path, one in which he shelved all his emotions and buried them deep, not discarding them, but not partaking of them either, because then they could no longer hurt him. Alas, because of this, he no longer took pride in his accomplishments and found no joy in his relationships, which is likely why his sworn brothers turned against him, but as fascinating as I find this character study to be, I’m still not sure how to use it against him. I know now why my verbal and emotional assault failed to shake him, because he doesn’t really care for his role as Emperor or what he could have accomplished. He only cares for the title itself, would kill to hold onto it at all costs, but the responsibilities mean nothing to him at all. Humanity means nothing to him, and thus he has no drive to do anything for them, because in striving to shelter himself from the pain of emotion, he has become a monster who only cares about himself. A monster of his own design, which means any attempts to appeal to his compassion or use his shame against him will be largely ineffective, while anger and hatred only serve to empower him. Add in the fact that he can somehow override my Authority over the Heavens, even after I miraculously harnessed them as a whole, and I see no way in which I can defeat him, no avenue to victory for me to take. I’m not giving up, because I still draw breath, and where there is life, there is hope, but try as I might, I sure as hell can’t see where my hope lies. Stifling a sigh as I settle back onto the bed, I pet my doggo’s head and mutter, “I’m in over my head. Don’t suppose you have any bright ideas, do you?”

 

In response to my desperate plea, Buddy cocks his head to one side before nudging me with his nose once more, still holding his leash and collar between his jaws. The message is clear, he wants to go for walkies, but now is not the time. While I wrack my brain for a new plan of action however, my doggo is relentless in his desire, avoiding my efforts to pat his head and nudging me from various angles with his cold, wet nose, and all the while shoving his front paws into the bed like it owes him money and he’s trying to collect on its life insurance. Eventually, he gets so insistent that he even jumps off the bed and stares at me from the bedroom door, which for Buddy means he’s about twenty seconds away peeing out of spite because he won’t take no for an answer. “We can’t go out, Buddy,” I begin, pointing outside at the army of souls just waiting for me to make a move along with the Eternal Emperor who is still monologuing in an effort to demean and belittle me, but his ability trash talk is sorely lacking for someone who has never known defeat. “It’s too dangerous to go outside.”

 

To which my doggo responds with a short and insistent bark, once again demanding I bring him out for walkies or face the filthy consequences.

 

There’s no arguing with him when he’s in a mood like this, and I’d rather not find out if he can actually poop and pee here in my Natal Palace, so I head over and affix his collar around his neck before taking a deep breath in preparation of teleporting down to the lobby. It’s probably not as safe as staying in the bedroom, but maybe Buddy’s doggy brain will figure it out if he sees the crowd waiting outside from a different angle. Before I can jump us down however, my doggo bolts away and tugs on his leash before uttering another short and insistent bark in his half-hearted efforts to drag me towards the front door which I have yet to use. Since I’m already humouring him, I might as well go along with him the entire way, so I follow him out into the hallway and over to the elevators, where he sits down and settles in to wait. Pushing the button to call the elevator, one immediately opens up and we head inside, where again he takes a seat while the doors close behind us. Hitting the G button to bring us to the ground floor, I watch the numbers go down one by one in an almost surreal elevator ride, one in which I temporarily forget about all the big nasties waiting outside and fade into that fog of obscurity so commonly experienced during long, boring elevator rides.

 

And when the elevator dings, Buddy hops to his feet and jams his nose against the door, which slowly opens to reveal –

 

Not the lobby I was expecting, but the sweltering hot sands of the Western desert, as I stand face to face with the current Emperor’s distracted host.

 

Glancing at my delighted doggo who immediately sets to sniffing and sneezing the sand, it all comes together in a moment of clarity I would really rather do without. In my sweet, stupid doggo’s mind, elevators have always been magic, which is why he thought we could use them to get out of the host Emperor’s Natal Palace and back to my body.

 

Well, you know what they say: if its stupid but it works, well… then it ain’t stupid.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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One thought on “Savage Divinity – Chapter 827

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