The crowd chants my new title with all the energy and enthusiasm they have to spare, all but ruining any chance I have of fixing my good friend’s terrible naming sense.
With no other option but to accept my lot in life, I stifle a sigh and beat a hasty retreat back to the walls to take shelter from all the attention and check on my family and floofs. Since most still have duties to attend to, I head over to Luo-Luo first, who has her arms wrapped around the still sleeping Lin-Lin while the animals circle around them for comfort and attention. Just as I arrive to a deafening crescendo of cheers and applause, the Heavens see fit to grant me mercy as the noise cuts out due to the Supreme Family making their presence known in a most awe-inspiring fashion, bursting out of Concealment at the head of an army of Death Corps Guards and Royal Guardians. Seeing their dark armoured forms all marching in lockstep towards Shi Bei is a remarkable sight, and it tickles my fancy to see the lions doing the same, like prancing ponies with their heads held high and their dark-furred manes blowing in the wind.
Despite their stunning first impression, their numbers leave much to be desired. At a glance, I would say there are close to seventy thousand Death Corps and Royal Guardians here to help relieve us, which is not a small number of Warriors by any means, but hardly enough to lift the siege of Shi Bei had they arrived a few hours earlier, before the Defiled turned on themselves and the survivors were made into Half-Demons. I’m not the only one to notice this detail either, and the general mood of Shi Bei quickly sours, or at least it does until someone notices the Emperor himself leading the delegation of Imperial Scions headed our way. Though the soldiers here might not recognize the Grand Marshal, Prime Minister, or most of the other faces surrounding the Emperor, his golden dragon and phoenix robes are unmistakable even among a crowd of Scions dressed in the same colours. Liang Wu Di even returned the Imperial Seal, which hangs prominently hangs from the Emperor’s gold silk belt to ensure there can be no mistaking his identity, as if it could ever be in question considering he has the word ‘Emperor’ embroidered onto his robes no less than five times. Everyone present aside from myself is shocked into awed silence as the Emperor slowly glides down to the walls of Shi Bei, on a direct route to meet me on the walls where I’ve only just arrived, much to the merriment of my adorable floofs who couldn’t care less about the Emperor’s imminent arrival.
I’m eighty-five percent sure they’re not here to capture or kill me, and ninety-five percent sure they’re not going to immediately go after my loved ones, but even then, it takes everything I have to stand here and wait rather than grab everyone and run in hopes of making my escape, because you can never really be sure when it comes to politics with Imperial Scions.
A few hushed whispers sound out as soldiers and officers alike seek to confirm what their eyes are seeing, and the crowd falls to their knees as one with reverence and admiration aplenty, their heads bowed and spirits high in a natural, inborn reaction to seeing their closest thing to a religious figurehead. Despite having been put through the wringer these past few decades, beholden to the Eternal Emperor’s whims from the moment he took the throne, the current Emperor knows how to play his role well, clad in an invisible mantle of authority emanating a palpable air of sovereign superiority without any visible effort whatsoever. The man radiates power and charisma in a way few can match, a natural and innate magnetic charm that has nothing to do with Heavenly Energy and everything to do with posture, poise, expression, and appearance. There are many Warriors who cut a heroic figure, like Akanai, Dad, Gerel, Nian Zu, Liang Wu Di, and even Xing Ao Tian if he didn’t scowl so much, but the Emperor embodies the concept of a bold and gallant leader of men, a dragon who spends his life in the skies and has deigned to descend down to grace us with his noble presence.
It’s amazing what the right clothes and a bit of extra height can do for a man’s appearance. Maybe I should stop dressing like a slob and start stretching more in hopes of one last growth spurt before my bones are set…
At Luo-Luo’s subtle coaxing, I reluctantly drop to my knees and lower my head beside her, though I utilize Scrying to keep an eye on the Emperor and his entourage just in case. Buddy sees this as an invitation to scoot in front of me and present his head for kisses, which he gets plenty of for being such a good boy. Settling back on his haunches with a grunt, his brown eyes go half-lidded and tongue lolls out as he fights to stay upright and conscious after gorging himself to his little heart’s content, and he could not be any happier unless he was fast asleep in my arms. The Old Wolf’s presence appears soon after, while Akanai, Nian Zu, and the rest of the Saint’s Tribulations Mountain’s Divinities make their way over in ones and twos, standing tall with one fist clasped and head bowed in a martial salute. No kneeling for them, no siree, but so long as the Emperor keeps his robes on, I have no problems taking a knee every now and then.
Hang on… They’re not kneeling because they’re Divinities… Which means I don’t have to kneel either. Noice.
“Rise,” the Emperor intones before I can pop up on my own, but Luo-Luo quietly tugs on my sleeve to keep me from obeying, because apparently, that would be rude. “Rise, heroes of Shi Bei, and hold your heads up high so that we might gaze upon your faces, for you have achieved great merit here today, and it is this Sovereign’s privilege to salute you.” And to his credit, the Emperor even does it, clasping his fist and inclining his head as he scans the breadth of Shi Bei. It might not sound or look like much, but to the still kneeling crowd who’ve raised their heads ever so slightly to peek, it’s enough to fill them all with pride and astonishment for having been blessed with this highest of honours, something they will tell their children and grandchildren in the decades to come.
It’s more than the Eternal Emperor would’ve done, and judging by the strained and carefully neutral expressions on most of the Supreme Family Scions here today, they think it’s too much as is, but I would say it’s nothing at all. A difference in culture, I suppose, or perhaps it’s simply my innate aversion to authority figures, but it’s gonna take a lot more than a tiny salute and a smile to win me over. To my surprise, the Emperor makes no effort to address me directly just yet, and instead launches into a speech congratulating us on our victory and giving the order to stand down for a well-deserved rest, while promising rewards and recognition aplenty once everything is sorted out.
The Death Corps set forth to clean up the battlefield, but there’s not much for them to do since most corpses were turned into fuel for the Demonic Divinities. There are only a few bodies from those who fell in the last wave of exchanges, but the stench of blood and guts still lingers in the air, a smell I would be happy to escape from once Liang Wu Di gives me the go ahead to leave. This hardly seems the time to pass along Zhang Jun Bao’s dying words, so I make it a point not to turn my back to the Emperor or his entourage while herding my floofs onto their wagons. My heart melts as I watch Rakky and Kukky settle in beside one another with a tired huff, so pooped from their efforts that they can’t even be bothered to keep up appearances of their so-called rivalry. This is my fault for pushing them to their limits and then some, infusing Rakky with Heavenly Energy enough to shock the entire Half-Demon army out of their murderous rage, only to subsequently have Kukky remind them of everything they still had left to lose through a dream born of their own desires. That was the best way to end the battle quickly without a wholesale slaughter, but judging from the hulking meat-head Xing Ao Tian’s unfriendly glare, it would appear that he believes I’ve stolen his thunder. Had the fight gone on for a few moments longer, then he and his reinforcing army might well have taken up the role of conquering heroes, rather than the clean-up crew they’ve become.
Well, them’s the breaks of ruling by committee, because by the time everyone’s made up their mind on what to do next, the problems usually have either resolved themselves or gotten so bad that the plan they agreed on is pretty much useless. Say what you will about the Eternal Emperor’s tyrannical hegemony, but at least the man knew how to get shit done. Then again, it’s possible the Imperial Scions were willing to wait a little longer until matters were truly desperate, so that the survivors of Shi Bei would be all the more grateful for the Emperor’s timely arrival. Games within games, ones I would much rather not play, so I cradle my sleeping wifey in one arm, wrap my other arm around Luo-Luo’s slender waist, and lift the wagon full of pets on a Manifested raft of Domain before Cloud-Stepping over to the central command building in hopes of finding a room to rest my weary head.
Since I don’t want to steal anyone’s bedroom, I settle on commandeering a meeting room instead, one with a small tea table for six and plenty of open space for all my adorable floofs. Under Akanai’s instructions to lay low, I settle Lin-Lin in with Pong Pong, Rakky, and Kukky who’ve promptly plopped themselves down for a nap, leaving me free to greet all my fur babies properly. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen me up and about, and their joy and enthusiasm is infectious, but even more heartening is how Buddy greets each of his new best friends one by one by one. Aside from Lin-Lin, Ping Ping, and Mama Bun, this is the first time he’s meeting the rest of them in the flesh, but he already loves them and wants them to know it. Nuzzles for the bunnies, headbutts for the wildcats, presenting his butt-butt to the bears for them to sniff, Buddy makes several circuits around the room while interacting with them all once or twice. Even the stand-offish Blackjack, Guai-Guai, and Noodle are quickly charmed and follow him around like best friends, though that might have something to do with how freely Buddy is sharing his Devoured Heavenly Energy, gifting his newfangled pack with the spoils of his hunt though he keeps the lion’s share for himself.
…What about me, Buddy? Where’s my share?
About ten minutes later, Mila, Yan, and Li-Li arrive, and Buddy’s happiness shoots through the roof as he throws himself against their legs amidst yips of pure delight. The little guy steals all my thunder as the ladies all crouch down to greet him, cooing and making kissy noises while patting his head and neck. In the meantime, Lin-Lin sleeps on nuzzled in between Rakky and Kukky, but most of the other pet’s pad over for their fair share of attention while Luo-Luo and I are just forgotten. Not that I mind, because seeing everyone so happy and joyful is all I could ever ask for, the weariness just melting away from their expressions as they all indulge in floof therapy.
That being said, the three of them have been in Shi Bei since the start, meaning they’ve been fighting for the last fifteen days in rotations, so it doesn’t come as any surprise when the proceedings dissolve into a cuddle-puddle with floofs and women spread out all across the floor. Making my way over to say hi, I’m greeted with monosyllabic grunts all around as Mila, Yan, and Li-Li make their way over to Lin-Lin to join her in rest. Hoping to steal a kiss or five, my first attempt is met with unyielding rejection as Mila raises her hand and wags a finger in my face. “Don’t even think about it,” she scowls, shooing me away while making good on her escape. “I love you with all my heart, have missed you dearly, and would love nothing more than to feel your arms around me, but I’ve been fighting for fifteen days and haven’t bathed in almost twice that, so it’s not going to happen.” Though submissive in love, that has yet to translate over to real life, but that’s part of what I love about my freckled, fiery beloved, who allows me a quick kiss on the cheek before reluctantly pushing me away.
“Mm.” Yan chimes in with her agreement while snuggling up with Banjo and Baloo while George tries to wedge himself under them, only for her to coo in delight as Ping Ping and Guai-Guai amble over to lay down in her arms. “There’s barely enough water as is to quench our thirst, and those stupid sand baths aren’t nearly enough to clean all the blood out of my hair, so I can only imagine what’s lost inside those tangled red locks.” Yan’s throaty laugh does a number on my resolve, but before I can even suggest that I’m willing to risk it, she deals the death blow to my libido. “Not to mention all the chafing, what with the aforementioned sand, which gets in all the wrong places and is most unpleasant. I’m afraid you’ll just have to restrain your amorous advances until we’ve had time to bathe, so best get to abusing your authority while you still can and see if you can scrounge up enough water for us to wash in.”
Pulling me close for a quick kiss to mitigate the blow to my pride, her efforts do nothing to lessen my hatred of the sand. To her credit, Li-Li’s gaze shows no wariness when our eyes meet briefly, only amusement as she offers me a slight nod, one I return it in kind while dreaming of a day when I can finally win her heart as well. Giving Mila’s hand a light squeeze and reaching over to stroke Yan’s cheek, I linger for a moment longer until they’re all fast asleep, save for Buddy who is all pooped out from the excitement and now struggling to sit up against my leg, stubbornly refusing to lay down and rest until I do. An exuberant Mama Bun is also still hoping about, having the time of her life on her borrowed Manifested raft, one I think Buddy is keeping maintained, because I sure as hell haven’t been. Gathering my gluttonous doggo up into my arms, I cradle him close and wonder just what did I do in my last life to deserve all this joy and happiness. Not just a second chance, but one with so many women who love me, so many floofs who adore me, and a sweet dog who made the trip over with me from my previous life to the next.
It’s been a long, hard-fought war, and there are still plenty of trials and tribulations to come, but this right here makes it all worthwhile. The only way this could be better is if the rest of my loved ones were here too, and just like that, I decide that I can’t keep hiding the truth from them and will tell them everything from start to finish as soon as I can. Wives first, plus Li-Li, and then everyone else, assuming the ladies don’t kill me.
Which probably won’t happen, right? Hey, maybe I can conjure up some Water Chi for them to wash in first, and then they’ll be less liable to kill me for lying about who I am all this time. Is that even possible? I don’t think I can channel enough Heavenly Energy to Manifest Water Chi long enough for a proper bath, not without going comatose afterwards, which kinda defeats the purpose of helping them wash off, since I would really like to be conscious afterwards. I could douse them in Water Chi for a quick sort of shower, but it would probably dissipate back into Heavenly Energy before enough time had passed to get a proper lather. What about an actual, real rainstorm? It should be technically possible, because even though I only possess the Blessing of Water, I should know enough about the water cycle to nudge things in the right direction and get a rainstorm going. Theoretically at least, though I should probably hold off on manipulating the weather until I’ve had time to run my thoughts by Taddy, but if it works out, then maybe I can figure out a way to set things right in the west, and turn it into a vibrant landscape instead of a land of sand and death.
“Lord Husband.” Interrupting my wandering thoughts in the most timid and tired way possible, Luo-Luo’s posture is still impeccable despite being too tired to even stand, sitting at the table with her hands folded and head held high while fighting to keep her eyelids open. “Perhaps it would be wise to make preparations to receive the Emperor or his emissary, if they should come calling?”
“Right, right.” I should make some tea at the very least, though why anyone would want a hot drink in this climate is beyond my comprehension. Wandering over to give her hand a squeeze, I reply, “What would I ever do without you?” Only to receive a slight wince in response, because she’s been playing her zither so forcefully she broke the skin on her fingers, which I never noticed because I was too engrossed in my floofs. “Sorry.” Taking her hands in my own, I bring them close and close my eyes to focus before directing a thread of Heavenly Energy her way, one which flows seamlessly through her and sets her abraded fingers to healing. It’s about as difficult as tying a tie on someone else, but otherwise, pretty simple to pull off, because Luo-Luo trusts and loves me with all her heart, and I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen head over heels for her as well. “There,” I declare, sneaking a light little kiss on the back of her hands and wishing I had courage enough to go for her lips. “All better. In the future, please don’t hesitate to speak up if you’re injured, because your pain is my pain too.” Luo-Luo’s fetching blush puts thoughts in my mind which are better left for later, because not only do I want our first time to be special, I don’t want to risk having someone walk in on us at the worst possible moment. Again. “Now sit tight while I go find some tea. And a teapot. And some snacks, I guess. Here. Meet Buddy.”
Though my dog puts up a bit of a fight when I seat him in the chair next to Luo-Luo, it’s mostly a token effort, because he’s so bloated with Heavenly Energy that he can barely even sit up straight. Then again, he never had the best posture to begin with, but his slovenly charms quickly win over Luo-Luo, who is already scritching his chin and cooing over him as I leave the room. Finding everything I need is more difficult than I expect, as not only am I unfamiliar with the layout of the fortress, everyone is too tired to really help, and I don’t want to stop someone and ask because then they’ll probably insist on doing everything themselves. A good twenty minutes pass before I find everything I need and make my way back to my room, at which point I’m greeted by the snores of my lovely wives and a mixed array of scowls and smiles of the Emperor seated at the table, while his entourage stands behind him. Akanai and the Old Wolf sit across from him, while Mom and Dad stand behind them and are busy making eyes at one another next to Luo-Luo and Buddy. I guess that means Mom wasn’t mistreated after being detained by Shuai Jiao, because if she had been, then Dad would have gone off to challenge the Colonel General or something, assuming I didn’t get there first, but her smile sets my heart at ease as she indicates she missed me and loves me while gesturing for me to hurry up.
“Hi,” I begin, greeting the Emperor directly while fending Mama Bun off from the snacks, only to immediately wish I’d paid more attention in Luo-Luo’s etiquette classes so I could stop making these stupid mistakes. “Sorry for the wait, I uh… went to find tea and stuff. Gimme a few minutes and I’ll have a nice, steaming hot cup of tea for us all to enjoy.”
“Allow me.” There is little to no courtesy in the heavy-set Imperial Scion’s statement, more of a demand than an offer as he takes everything out of my hands. “The Emperor is not to be kept waiting.” A member of the Di family, the Imperial Scion’s cheeks jiggle as he scowls and looks over everything I’ve brought, his brow somehow completely free of sweat despite the many layers of colourful robes he’s wearing underneath his ceremonial armour. “Nor should he be served such inferior leaves, but needs must, I suppose.”
I don’t have much of an eye or a tongue for tea, but I suppose if anyone knows his tea leaves, it’d be the Di Family Scion. “Sorry. This is my first time here, so I just grabbed whatever I could find.” The heavy-set man has already forgotten all about me as he sets to making the tea, so I grab Mama Bun before heading over to the table where only the Emperor, Akanai, and the Old Wolf are seated, while everyone else stands behind their respective parties. The Liang Baldy is absent, as are the Grand Marshal and Prime Minister both, along with a few other faces, meaning that aside from the Emperor, there is only one representative from each Supreme Family. All of whom are somewhat familiar, like my former Patron Liang Wu Di, and the giant meathead Xing Ao Tian, but I have no names for the others, though they were all present to talk terms with the Eternal Emperor and likely half-brothers at the very least. Unsure if I should stand or sit, I look to Luo-Luo for guidance, who uses her eyes to indicate I should bow to the Emperor and follow his lead, which I probably should’ve known. “Uh… Ten thousand years of boundless longevity upon the Emperor. Imperial uh… Legate Falling Rain awaits his orders?”
That’s how everyone was greeting the Legate, so I hope it’s good enough for the Emperor too, but he seems pretty chill about all the formalities and quickly gestures for me to sit. “Ten-thousand years is too much,” he began, flashing a smile that is every bit as charming and endearing as my former patron’s, two men cut from the same cloth, which makes sense considering how they’re brothers. “To live out the rest of my reign will be fortune enough, for our Eternal Foe took much from this Sovereign in his final fight against you, the Savage Divinity.”
God I hate that name, but it’s too late to change it now. More to the point, I can pretty much guess at the subtle message hidden within the Emperor’s words, but I have no idea how to create or transfer Life Force to help extend his life, nor am I willing to ask Lin-Lin to do it either. “This Legate is incapable, and unable to assist without guidance and practice, but the Emperor is a dragon among men, and this Legate is confident that you will ascend to Divinity in time.”
Taking no visible offense from my apparent refusal to help, the Emperor simply smiles and nods. “The Eternal Foe was a brilliant man, and though this Sovereign endured much suffering at his hands, there were benefits to be had as well. Divinity stands but a half-step away, especially if the Savage Divinity is willing to dispense his sage advice.”
…I feel like I’m being made part of a joke, but the scandalized expressions from the Emperor’s entourage tells me that the joke is not at my expense. “This Legate dare not claim himself capable of guiding the Emperor on his Path, but is happy to offer whatever assistance he may.” So long as it’s verbal. As surprisingly pleasant as this exchange might be, I’m getting really tired of all this polite doublespeak, but I’m not fluent enough to know how to say, ‘cut to the chase’ in a way that won’t offend everyone involved. Decorum demands I at least wait until tea is served, but the Di Scion is taking his sweet ass time puttering about, and has yet to even put the kettle onto the stove, so there’s nothing I can do except play along with the Emperor and make small talk for a few minutes more.
This is my personal hell. That’s it, isn’t it? I died in battle against the Eternal Emperor, and now I’m in hell.
To my great relief, the Emperor skillfully guides the ensuing conversation by asking questions about the war effort up to this point, and even includes Akanai in the conversation and compliments her on her “brilliant tactical acumen” and “unparalleled teaching abilities”. My Grand Mentor is as stoic as they come, an ice queen to surpass all ice queens, but even she is showing signs of being won over by the Emperor’s charm, who is as smooth as silk and a silver-tongued devil whom I would be leery of leaving alone with my wives. For a guy that’s been imprisoned for the last few decades, his social skills are still top-notch, though I suppose I should’ve expected as much from a man who beat out all the competition to catch the Eternal Emperor’s eye.
A real shame, because rather than the belle of the ball, he became the prime bull to be slaughtered for his meat, a feast for the Eternal Emperor’s undying soul which could no longer sustain itself.
Finally, the Di Scion finishes his preparations and pours a cup of tea for the Emperor, while leaving the pot and three cups within easy reach for me to pour for the Old Wolf, Akanai, and myself. I guess my parents and Luo-Luo don’t get a cup, but to be fair, neither does anyone in the Emperor’s entourage, though I find it odd that he brought no Divinities with him. Seems dangerous to let the Emperor sit across the table from two Divinities without any protection, no matter how friendly, but I suppose the current Emperor must be equally guarded against the Divinities of the Supreme Family as well.
And with that thought, it occurs to me that things might not be so bad after all. The current Emperor is in a fix, because the Supreme Families only just banded together to overthrow him, or rather the Eternal Emperor in the current Emperor’s body. Even though the Eternal Emperor is dead and gone, how can he prove it to the Supreme Families, much less trust them knowing they’d already overthrown one Emperor and could easily make it two? That’s why he’s here, playing all nice and cordial, because he wants to win my support, support he knows I’ll give because he was there for the final fight, and knows that I want to end this war with as little bloodshed as possible.
Among many, many, many other things. Fuck.
Happy to have worked it out in advance for once, I spend a little more time studying the Emperor across from me. Draining his cup of tea in a single gulp, he utters a quiet sigh of satisfaction while flashing a small, sad smile, one so full of longing and regret. “Delicious,” he exclaims, though even I think the tea is mediocre at best, yet he acts as if it is the most refreshing drink ever. Then again, from his perspective, it might well be, since he’s been kept on a chain for decades now, meaning this is probably the first thing he’s actually tasted since the Eternal Emperor took over. Had I known this in advance, I’d have found some wine too, though it’s against regulation to drink alcohol here in the west, since it dehydrates you even more. Suppressing the minor pang of empathy in my chest, I warn myself against taking everything at face value, because this all could be a calculated act designed to win me over, one he put together after seeing my battle against the Eternal Emperor and the lengths I went to in order to save his eternal soul.
I’m a softie at heart, so empathetic it’s pretty much a curse, and the Emperor might well be using that to win me over. Not to say that he’s wrong to, but I should keep this in mind before committing myself to anything, lest I find myself saddled with another title I don’t want or a wife I don’t need.
Needing no cue to stand and refill the Emperor’s cup, I can’t help but shoot Liang Wu Di a glance and wonder if he’ll ever have to serve me tea, and he appears to read my thoughts and respond with a sly smile that tells me things won’t work out as I envision. The Emperor takes a small, token sip from his cup, but I can tell he wants to drink more, to taste and experience more of the world he’s been denied for so long. You don’t get to where he is by being weak-willed however, so he puts the cup down while it’s still more than half-full, only to fold his hands together and regard me with the utmost gravity as he intones, “Legate Falling Rain, what is it you desire?”
“Honestly? To go home. Been away far too long for my tastes, but there’s still work to be done.”
I don’t know why I’m being so candid, but the Emperor doesn’t seem to mind, save to shake his head with a smile and say, “That cannot do. You have done this Sovereign a great service, done this Empire a great service, and for this, you must be rewarded. The soldiers are already spreading stories of visions, of seeing you lead them into battle against the Uniter to save this Sovereign from his clutches.” My expression gives away my surprise, because I didn’t think anyone would remember that, but then again, I should’ve known that those surviving Natal Souls would’ve made their way back to their original hosts after I dismissed them. Looking at Mom and Dad, I see them beaming with pride, and there is a faint glimmer of the same hidden within Akanai’s cool gaze, though I might well be imagining it since I now know that she’s actually proud and hiding it. It seems they all remember too, or at least have an inkling of what happened, even though I’m pretty sure I saw all of their Natal Souls get torn apart in the fight. I guess even the Eternal Emperor didn’t know how to destroy a fragment of soul, and could only dismiss the bindings holding those Natal Souls together, meaning the secret is out and the world will soon know about how I faced off against the Uniter in the Void.
A white lie I told everyone out of convenience, since explaining the whole thing would’ve been a pain in my ass, but in doing so, I’ve made it appear as if the Emperor had come to reinforce Shi Bei himself, only to fall victim to the Uniter’s clutches. The Emperor will no doubt spin this to his advantage, but none of the Imperial Scions from the Supreme Families had joined in on the fight, so they only know what others can tell them.
Which makes this all real complicated, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to say, because I don’t really want anything from the Emperor at all. I just want to do my thing and follow my heart, which the Emperor should know since he was there when I more or less said as much, so why is he asking me what I want instead of offering to support me in my endeavours?
A test? To see if I’ll actually stick to my principles and turn down the possibility of wealth and power? Psh. If I wanted power, I’d have taken over the Emperor’s body instead of leaving a Natal Soul to watch over him, one which has long since made its way back unnoticed. Reviewing its memories of the Emperor’s struggle, I realize he spent a good deal of time from his perspective breaking free of the Eternal Emperor’s chains, a long and gruelling escape which required fortitude and willpower in spades. Those chains were embedded deep into his soul, and breaking free took more than just slipping out of them, but removing them inch by painful inch until he was free to control himself once more. In fact, I doubt he has yet to wholly acclimate to his body, because it’ll take some time for him to familiarize himself with it again, not just the physical side of things like walking and running, but also the metaphysical side with regards to his flow of Chi. Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure how he was able to Cloud-Step into Shi Bei for his grand entrance, and as I go back through my memories to double check, I realize that it was only possible because Liang Wu Di was subtly helping him along.
Ah. I see. Maybe my former patron was never motivated by the throne itself, but rather by the desire to free his brother from the shackles of an undying ghost. Well shit… now I like him again, even though I don’t really want to, but I suppose this means I can push the envelope and see how many problems I can fix in one sitting by borrowing the Emperor’s authority. “Well, even though we broke the back of the Enemy command, the war for the West is still far from finished, so this Legate would appreciate any and all support the Emperor can lend to the effort.”
“Such is this Sovereign’s duty, and cannot be considered a reward, but you shall have all the support you require and more.”
A plain and simple promise voiced out loud in front of witnesses? Wow. The Emperor is actually serious about this. “Uh… even though the risks are high, this Legate begs for clemency and compassion for those captured by the Enemy, asking that the purge be left as a last resort.”
“This Sovereign is well aware of your fortune to have contracted an Elemental Spirit, so such decisions will be left to you. Do not disappoint. This too cannot be considered a reward, for a service rendered can hardly be rewarded with more service.”
This… this is too easy. There’s gotta be a catch somewhere, so I test the waters with something that will benefit me indirectly to see if the Emperor just accepts my request and moves on. “I’m guessing a Divinity isn’t allowed to hold rank?” I ask, throwing a quick glance at Akanai who shakes her head in confirmation. “Well, the North needs a new Colonel General, and my Dad was being groomed for the role…”
“A promotion is indeed in the works for Baatar of the People, but it is one he earned with his own merits, and thus has no bearing on your reward.”
“My teacher, Medical Saint Taduk and my wife, Mei Lin, their status is –”
“Say no more. From henceforth, they are both under this Sovereign’s protection, and those who act against them will be met with the full force of my wrath. Again, this is only as it should be, for they too are citizens of this Sovereign’s realm.”
Okay, now I know something is fishy. There’s something specific he wants from me, and I have no idea what, so I’m just gonna keep pushing the envelope and see what happens. “Well… there’s also a minor matter of a promised marriage, one between young hero Yong-Jin and Ryo Seoyoon, but you see…”
A brief explanation is all it takes before the Emperor agrees to annul their marriage so that Fung and Seoyoon can be married instead, only for Liang Wu Di to chime in and ask permission to interject. “It was this Prince’s decision to bind Yong-Jin and Seoyoon in marriage, a most grievous mistake indeed, for the two are not a suited match. In the same vein, this Prince shall also free Ryo Da’in from her commitment as well, though with great reluctance.”
It takes a few moments to put the pieces together, and I almost screw everything up by making a face, because now I know why the Ryo’s were so willing to turn against me. Liang Wu Di offered to take Da’in as his wife, or concubine at the very least, meaning the Ryo’s would have a highly placed Imperial Scion for a son-in-law, and possibly even a daughter as the future Empress. In light of this news, I can hardly blame them for accepting, because even I might have to think twice about it if Liang Wu Di offered to take my hand in marriage. Not really, but still, the principle stands, though I’m a little weirded out by the age gap. Da’in isn’t much older than Wu Di’s daughter, Miss Rou, maybe five or so years at most, which means he’s probably twice the age of Da’in and almost sixty himself, even though he only looks like he’s in his mid-thirties. Then again, I suppose Kyung isn’t all that much younger, and I’m hardly one to talk about age gaps, though I have since come to accept that maybe I’m not as mature and grown-up as I’d like to believe, seeing how I was actually born into this world, rather than fully transmigrated.
Not making excuses, just saying is all. Shit’s complicated, so hopefully my wives find it in themselves to forgive me for all my lies.
Bringing us back on track like the leader he is, the Emperor leans forward and transfixes me with his gaze. “You still have yet to request a suitable reward, one to match your accomplishments. This cannot be, lest this Sovereign be construed as miserly and ungenerous.”
“If this General might offer a suggestion?” Now it’s Xing Ao Tian’s turn to interject, and immediately the temperature in the room drops by several degrees, as anyone with eyes can see that he’s at odds with the Emperor and Liang Wu Di. Upon receiving the Emperor’s nonverbal assent, Xing Ao Tian continues, “Falling Rain has made a great contribution here today, but as he says himself, his work is far from finished, to say nothing of how he overstepped his bounds to come this far in the first place. As reward, confirming his position as Legate of the Outer Provinces is generous enough, and this General shall personally see to it that the West is reclaimed with the utmost speed.”
Meaning he wants to hand me an empty title that will have no power once he steps in and takes over. The Tian and Di Scions make no move to agree or disagree, but even as Liang Wu Di shakes his head, a young Yang Scion chimes in to show his support. “Truly an unprecedented honour for someone outside the Imperial Clan, and General Xing’s support will be necessary here in the West now that the young Savage Divinity is no longer able to meddle in mortal affairs.”
…Technically true, but I figured I could still run point on command and be a part of the process, even if I can’t personally take action unless an Enemy Divinity shows up. Knowing better than to speak however, I simply remain silent and look at the Emperor instead, to see how genuine he is about rewarding me. Personally, I would much rather work with him than against him, because backing the established Emperor will probably result in less instability than working with the Supreme Families against him, to say nothing of how I’m pretty sure Xing Ao Tian would love to meet me in a dark alley somewhere and beat the shit outta me. Jokes on him, I schooled him once already, and I’m even stronger now, though I suppose he’s got plenty of Seniors to call on to help him even the score.
To my pleasant surprise, the Emperor comes down firmly against Xing Ao Tian’s suggestion, slamming the palm of his hand against the table in a show of overt rage. “Short-sighted fools.” Luckily for him, we’re all shrouded in a Sound Barrier and his little outburst didn’t wake Mila, else all of our lives would be in grave danger. Pointing at me while addressing the Scions behind him, the Emperor roars, “Do you know what this young man has done? He has given us our freedom again, the chance to control our fate once more. We who believed ourselves dragons have been little more than dogs to our Eternal Foe, marching to the beat of his tune for millennia in complete and utter ignorance. Even when Wu Di brought indisputable proof for you all to see, when our Foe admitted to his sins himself, you all thought to barter with our captor rather than work together to be rid of him once and for all.” Turning to me, the Emperor huffs in disdain and says, “Tell me your thoughts on the Oath they made, one of mutual non-interference.”
“Worth less than the paper it wasn’t written on,” I respond, only for all four Scions except Liang Wu Di to frown. “His Oath was to not meddle in the affairs of the Supreme Family, so long as they pay no mind to him and his.” Shrugging as if the answer is self-evident, I explain, “The man united the warring states of the Azure Sea, and thus sees the throne as his by right. Right of arms or right of birth, the throne belongs to him. The moment someone from the Supreme Family publicly claims it for themselves, the Eternal… Foe’s Oath will no longer bind him, for you will have meddled with what he sees as rightfully his.” Frowning, I add, “But you all would’ve caught that, yet you agreed anyways, because you never intended on keeping it. You were going to use him to put pressure on the Emperor, leverage to ensure Liang Wu Di didn’t act against you once he became Emperor himself.” Laughing, I add, “Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face. The man had tens of thousands of years of experience playing you all against one another, and can take over a new body with less effort than it takes to turn a hand. If he was still around, he could easily take over any of you and resume his efforts from there, or take one of your children and play the long con. So long as he still lived, you’d never truly be safe, because he could be hiding in the bodies of anyone, and would do anything to become Emperor again.”
The lack of a response tells me I hit the nail on the head for once, and I find it incredible how arrogant these Scions can be. Even Wu Di seems somewhat skeptical of my claims, but the Emperor knows first hand how terrifying the Eternal Emperor truly was. What’s more, I can tell the others don’t entirely trust us, since they only have our word that the Eternal Emperor is dead and gone, since no one else was present to see it, but aside from an Oath I refuse to make, we don’t have any way to prove it.
None of which is my problem, nor is it something for future me to deal with. Instead, this is the Emperor’s problem, but now he’s trying to make it my problem by bringing me into the fold, which means I need to make the most of it while I can. Glancing at Luo-Luo in hopes that she has something to help me move this conversation along, I’m struck by a flash of Insight as to what to ask for a reward. “My Imperial Servant, Zheng Luo,” I begin, changing the subject with all the tact of a drunk ox in a china shop. “As my reward, this Legate humbly requests that the Emperor remove her status as an Imperial Servant, and return her freedom to her.”
The perfect request to keep myself from becoming beholden to the Emperor, but alas, he shakes his head in apparent regret. “Again, you ask for what should rightfully be rewarded, since such talent cannot remain buried unjustly.” Turning to face Luo-Luo, who quickly falls to her knees, the Emperor declares, “From this day forth, Imperial Servant Zheng Luo is no more, her service no longer required and her birthright restored. Rise, Liang Xiao Luo, and accept the title of Divine True Musician, the foremost talent of this generation.”
Liang Xiao Luo. So similar to Liang Xiao Rou, who is Liang Wu Di’s daughter. Liang Wu Di, my patron, who presented Luo-Luo to me in the first place.
Meaning Liang Wu Di is Luo-Luo’s father, and my Father-in-Law to boot.
I turned down the chance to marry sisters. Sisters!
…Actually, not as disappointed as I thought I’d be, considering I clearly ended up with the better sister. Winning!
Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I try to ignore my new Father-in-Law’s smug smile as he moves to greet his daughter and help her to her feet. “Xiao Luo, I am your father, Liang Wu Di, but it was never my intent to give you up. Our Eternal Foe demanded it after we had a falling out, a show of fealty in offering my firstborn into service.” Turning to the Emperor to share a cold smile, he continued, “That was the first day I embarked upon my crusade to unseat him, only to uncover that the brother I looked up to, the brother I fell out with, the brother who demanded my precious daughter, was not my brother at all.” Reaching out to stroke Luo-Luo’s cheek with so much love it can’t be faked, he swallows a lump in his throat and says, “In a way, the Eternal Foe was overthrown because he took you away from me, a crime which I could never forgive. Know that you have always been in my heart, so I ask that you forgive your foolish father for leaving you alone all these years.”
Oddly enough, Luo-Luo turns to me instead of responding, her eyes filled with tears and surprise, but all I can do is offer a smile in support, and urge her to make her own decisions. “Forgive this servant –” she begins, only to stop and correct herself as Liang Wu Di shakes his head with a smile. “Forgive this one,” Luo-Luo corrects, though even I can tell that’s not right, because being a Divine True Musician has gotta have some heft, “But all this is happening too quickly and this one needs time to process it.”
“Yes, yes, take all the time you need.” Though obviously disappointed, Liang Wu Di tries not to let it show as he pats her on the shoulder once before thinking better of it. “Just know that I, your father, will wait as long as need be, and that your mother and sister are waiting as well. Your sister is actually here in Shi Bei, though she has some bad blood with your husband, water under the bridge, I’m sure.” Turning to look me in the eyes, he adds, “Now that my eldest daughter has been returned to me, I expect a proper marriage ceremony, understand? Preferably one where no one attempts to poison you, resulting in the need to engage in self mutilation to cure you.”
“Of course,” I reply, because what else can I say, except go along with the flow and accept it? Ask someone to cut you open one time…
As Liang Wu Di takes his place behind the Emperor once more, and Luo-Luo calms her nerves in Mom’s one-armed embrace, I find myself at the centre of attention once more, which is becoming all too common for my tastes. “Seeing how you are unable to come up with a suitable reward,” the Emperor begins, finishing the rest of his tea with a sigh of delight, “Let us try a different tack. What are your goals moving forward from here? What is it you hope to accomplish? In the short term and long term, if you please, and perhaps there will be something you desire which this Sovereign can grant you.”
Clever man. In supporting my goals, he binds us together in a way I cannot refuse, because if we’re working together to accomplish my dreams, then our fates will be tied together. Clearly he’s worried about the other Supreme Families, and he thinks that I and the army stationed here in Shi Bei can help him, an army which has given rise to three new Divinities and countless Peak Experts who would follow my lead. Then there’s my own strength, which is still something of a mystery, though I honestly hope there will never be any need to wield it ever again. The Eternal Emperor is dead and gone, and Zhen Shi gone with him, so all that remains are scattered bands of Defiled who might well be convinced to put aside their murderous ways and settle down in the Empire for good, like Asmani and her tribe living in the Arid Wastes. There is still bloody work to be done, but with a little luck and a lot of effort, we will have peace in our time once more, especially if the current Emperor’s reign remains stable and secure until it comes time to pass the title along.
So what do I want to do? I don’t want to just free the West, I also want to fix all the issues that plagued it. Access to food and water were the big ones, but I’ve been working on the first issue for a while. With glass now a thing, we can begin research on canning and food preservation, enabling the fertile south to export more of its agriculture to every corner of the Empire. As for water, I’ve already established that it’s all down-hill from the Azure sea and carved out a channel for water, so why not turn it into a bonafide river, and I guess plant some trees to keep the sand from filling it in? I’d need to consult some experts on erosion and other stuff, but I’m sure there’s a way to reclaim the desert and turn it into arable land after a few years. Planting trees helps, I think, so we can start from the coastline and work our way in, and perhaps see some positive changes in the coming decades.
But that’s just the start. I want to build schools and orphanages in every town, hamlet, and village, and task the Brotherhood with teaching the next generation how to read and write. Once we have a new generation of scholars, I want to create jobs for them in the municipal levels of government to help oversee those schools and other facets of society, positions which will be filled based on objective skill and merit, as opposed to nepotism. I want to write a system of laws in which all are equal before it, to ensure everyone who works hard can go to bed at night with a full belly and a roof over their head. I want to end slavery and shrink the economic gap between commoners and the wealthy elites, while simultaneously doing away with this system of inherited nobility and the belief that might makes right in spite of all else.
All grand dreams and noble ideals, but I can’t outright ask for any of this, because the Emperor would never agree. Too much hinges on slavery being a thing, so I need to work towards my goal myself and show the world that things don’t have to be this way. That’s why I let the secret of Anathema production leak, to show the world the full extent of what the lack of human rights has caused and make them look more closely at the problem, rather than avert their eyes away. It’s a risk, but one I’m willing to take, because the knowledge will bring more eyes to the issue and make it everyone’s concern, instead of just mine.
Of course, there’s other stuff I want too. I want to have a menagerie of floofs to love and to spoil, to build a home large enough for me and my wives as well as the family we will soon start. I want to have indoor plumbing and other technological advancements from my past life, and be pleasantly surprised by what the people of this world can contribute with their unique perspectives. I want to science the shit out of the Dao and create a primer or guide to cultivation that anyone can use to progress along the Path, because the more cultivators there are, the more data there will be, meaning eventually, someone will figure out the parts too complicated for me. I want to explore the depths of the Azure Sea and find out just what in the hell is so terrifying as to make Pong Pong live in constant fear. I want to explore the outlands and try to bring life back to them, so that humanity can flourish all around this strange and mysterious world instead of under the authority of a single man. I want to bring my sweet doggo out for a walk, as soon as he finishes digesting his latest meal, and see how he introduces himself to the rest of my friends and family, because he loves meeting new people and I love seeing him do it. I want to get to know my grandfather Naaran and my brother Gerel, and see if I have any surviving brothers or sisters I could help. I also want to make sure my sister knows how much she means to me, and that I would have made Charok my brother if he wasn’t married to her. I want to see my niece and nephew grow up to become the wonderful people I know they will be, and see the look on my parent’s faces when they become grandparents themselves. I want to support Mila in her quest to become a Peak Expert and Divine Blacksmith, cheer for Yan as she strives to follow in Grandpa Du’s footsteps, cherish them both as well as Lin-Lin everyday in an effort to find some way to make up for my lechery. I want to shamelessly woo Li-Li who I cannot even imagine a life without, and to get to know Luo-Luo better because I’ve long since fallen in love with this incredible woman and am thrilled to know that she loves me too as her emotions surge off her in waves of love and adoration.
There’s so much I want, but how do I respond to the Emperor’s question? Right now, I’d love a little privacy so I can respond appropriately to Luo-Luo’s emotions, but even I’m not so bold as to tell the Emperor to fuck off, much less Akanai or my parents. Aside from that, I want to make the world a better place, which is what I intend to do, one small step at a time, steps which would be much easier if the Emperor were on my side. There will be failures ahead, and mistakes to be made, but I have a loving family, earnest friends, and whole cadre of support floofs to help me through it all, to say nothing of the people and floofs I have yet to meet. So long as I follow my heart and surround myself with people who love me, then I have nothing to fear, because with their help, there is no trial or tribulation I cannot overcome.
We all must forge our own Path, but that doesn’t mean we must walk it alone, a lesson I’ve learned time and time again, but this time, I really think it’s gonna stick.
– Savage Divinity, Final Volume End –
Author’s Note: So. Here we are. I started posting this story to Royal Road in march of 2016, meaning it’s been more than six years since we started this journey, and it’s been one hell of a ride. I don’t have a word count, but it’s def at least 3.5 million words, which is just a mind-blowing number to comprehend.
First and foremost, I want to thank you all for coming along with me on this journey, because whether you were there from the start or are a recent addition, the important thing is that you made it to the end. To have people come into the comments every week and show that they’ve been paying attention is just so incredible, to the point where I sometimes wonder if this is all a ruse and there’s like one superfan using bots to drive conversation and keep me interested in writing. Then there’s my patrons, who are actually willing to financially support my work, which is just unbelievable, and I am so very grateful to you all. You’ve paid for many a meal over these last six years so that I could spend less time cooking and more time writing, and it shows in my waistline, so thank you again for your generous support.
Now, for Savage Divinity, I plotted it out over the course of a couple weeks as a precursor Xianxia, a world of Immortals before there were Immortals and set cultivation techniques in play, which I would then inundate with memes. Since then, I mostly stuck to the plan aside from a few major and many minor changes, but this sort of open ending has always been the end goal. I know many of you would prefer something tighter, to see Rain accomplish the goals he lays out above, like end slavery, woo Li-Li, and sleep with Luo-Luo, but I would rather leave you all with hope. Happily ever after is great and all, but I like it more when a character still has room to grow, dreams to chase, and goals to accomplish even after the story is done. With the death of the Eternal Emperor, the main conflict has come and gone, so while it would be nice to hit those hallmark moments in text, I feel like this is a much better place to stop and let you all imagine the rest. Hope is what keeps us all going, the most important lesson Rain learned throughout the story, and one I think we all need to be reminded of every now and then. No matter how dark the future may seem, hold fast to hope, because so long as you continue along your chosen path, you can never truly know what heights it will bring you to unless you see it through to the end. With this ending, I ask for you to have hope for Rain and his loved ones, all of whom have grown on me as an author and a reader both, and I hope it is the same for you.
I mean, this ending sure as hell beats the alternative, because it should be clear to you all by now how much I love to make my characters suffer…
At the moment, I have no plans for additional side-stories because I have no ideas for any. Sure there are ideas I could go with, like the stuff I mentioned above, but it takes more than a single event to put together a chapter that sounds like something I would read. That being said, even though I have no plans to do so, that doesn’t mean I won’t. If I come up with something compelling, I’ll give it a go, but if not, then it is what it is.
As for what comes next for me, the answer is: a break. Writing has consumed my life for the last six years, and I’d like to rediscover what it’s like to have free time, plus I’m currently going through a difficult personal situation which I won’t get into here. What I do know is that I want to write another story now that Savage Divinity is done, but what that story will be is a mystery even to me. I’ve got ideas, but not even a vague notion of a possible plot in mind, so it’ll take some time to put something together that I want to pursue. All I know right now is that it won’t be a sequel to Savage Divinity, but once I commit to something, I’ll probably share the news on Discord, so you can click that link if you want to be among the first to know, or just want to say hi, ask questions, or chat. The earliest I’ll have anything to show will likely be 2023, and that’s if I rush to get something going asap, but for now, I’m gonna take it easy, cuddle my dog, and just take it all in.
Thank you all again for reading Savage Divinity and giving me the strength and motivation I needed to get it done. It means so much to me, I cannot wholly express it in words. I am grateful to have taken this journey alongside so many friends, and I hope that you will all join me on the next one, whatever it may be.
Until next time.
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