Savage Divinity – Chapter 840: The End

 

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.

 

ARG!

 

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.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

 

– 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.

 

-Ruffwriter


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Savage Divinity – Chapter 839

 

Victory is mine, but celebrations will have to wait as I watch a man mourn the loss of his brother.

 

Gently cradling the crumbling soul of the man who conquered the Warring States, the portly scholar Di Zi sheds no tears and emanates no grief or heartache, because his control over his emotions is so ingrained that he’s all but forgotten how to feel. By necessity, if I were to guess, since an errant soul like Di Zi cannot afford to indulge his emotions lest he expend what little remains of his finite and depleted Life Force, but I’m now a firm believer in accepting emotion as it comes, rather than shunting it aside to deal with later. Especially since I doubt he has much of a later, so I offer a modicum of Life Force to help sustain his existence so he can properly mourn. The transformation is staggering to behold as Di Zi staggers beneath the weight of his emotions and utters a keening wail that brings tears to my eyes, his anguish so palpable even my chest aches.

 

The Eternal Emperor was a monster to be sure, but one born of Ying Zheng who was merely a man, one with hopes, dreams, and people who loved him. I cannot forgive him for what he has done, but at the same time, I am glad I was able to bring him peace in this life and a second chance in the next.  

 

Bowing my head and looking away, I offer Di Zi as much privacy as I can, which isn’t much given how the denizens of the Eternal Emperor’s court of souls are still standing around, dazed and aimless as ever without any indication of awareness at having been freed by their captor’s death, or that they are about to pass through the cycle of reincarnation to be reborn anew. Their forms fade away en masse with the only outlier being the host Emperor’s soul, who shows no sign of crumbling away but is also still bound in chains and kneeling by the feet of the Natal Throne. Not sure if that’s a bad thing considering I have no idea what to do with him, because what happens next is a complete clusterfuck in which anything can happen. Liang Wu Di is supposed to be the Emperor in all but name now, so how will he react to the current Emperor coming back? What if this guy’s even worse than Ying Zheng, hellbent on getting revenge or worse, just a terrible ruler through and through? There’s no doubt the Supreme Families are scheming with regards to how to claim the throne for themselves, a conflict which I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole but will inevitably be drawn into because politics. Knowing all this, it might be a good idea to have the current Emperor on my side, seeing how he pretty much owes me his life, but on the other hand, he’s seen some real shit these last few minutes, secrets of mine which I would much rather keep under wraps. There’s an argument to be made to go full scorched earth and claim no survivors made it out in order to protect myself and my secrets, but I’m not sure that’s the best move, or one in accordance with my Dao.  

 

Yes, I’ve killed before, and killing the Emperor while he’s bound and helpless is a total dick move, but there are some secrets worth killing for. The question is, are mine?

“Nature is cruel and merciless, where only the strong survive. So long as we burden ourselves with false ideals, then we will never know true peace.”

 

A familiar phrase I’ve heard more than once, albeit with a little twist at the end, but I sense that this is not an attempt to open a dialogue, only Di Zi’s eulogy for the Eternal Emperor. No, for Ying Zheng, the man he was before taking up the mantle of the Eternal Emperor, the man Di Zi knew, as made clear by his next statement. “Those were your words, your final appeal to us five brothers just moments before we had our falling out. That the noble principles we all stood for, fought for, killed for, principles which you yourself once embodied, were merely false ideals holding us back. You were the best of us all, which is why we followed you without question, and why those words broke my heart. Broke all of our hearts, we brothers who looked up to you so, because we knew who you truly were and how lost you’d become. You’d forgotten why you worked so hard to unite the Empire in the first place. Not for a throne or a seal, but for a cause, a dream of a world in which peace was no longer a faint memory and children could grow up happy and free. You shared that dream with us and made us believe, gave us purpose and hope for the future, but alas, those dreams have gone and died, ground to dust beneath the heel of the man who dared to dream them up in the first place.” Heaving a heavy sigh as the Eternal Emperor’s soul returns to the cycle of reincarnation, Di Zi continues, “May you find yourself in the next life, big brother, and the strength to remain true to it. I hope the Heavens will arrange it so that we can all be brothers again, and this time, we will not let you falter.”

 

The Energy of the Heavens surge to fill in an absence and I glance up to see the vast majority of the Eternal Emperor’s court of souls finish crumbling away into nothingness. Di Zi continues to watch what little remains of his four brothers with a mournful expression, and the Emperor’s soul who watches this all with a carefully neutral expression, while I do my best not to get involved. A single soul steps forward from the crowd to catch my attention however, and I recognize him as Liang Wu Di’s Seneschal, the Solitary Sword, Zhang Jun Bao. Cupping his hands in a Martial salute, he falls to his knees and bows at the waist until his forehead is even lower than his ankles. The floor to this court of souls is similarly crumbling away, and I hasten to help the man to his feet, but my fingers slip through the Seneschal’s arm as he is fast fading into nothingness. “A thousand thanks for this servant’s freedom,” the Seneschal intones, before straightening up to look me in the eyes with a sad smile. “Please convey my regrets to my patron, and tell him that the blame lies not with him. This old servant had long since dedicated his life to his highness, Liang Wu Di, and to die in his service an honour, one second only to having played a part in helping him become the dragon he is today.”

 

“I will pass along your words and sentiments,” I reply, struggling not to cry out of sheer empathy as I commit the Seneschal’s emotions to memory in hopes of passing them along later. Not just the sorrow and anguish, but also the overwhelming pride and love he shares for the man he serves. To the world, they were master and servant, but they were as close as any father and son, and I suspect Zhang Jun Bao’s death was done as a warning to Liang Wu Di, or perhaps as punishment for overstepping his bounds. Having received my promise, Zhang Jun Bao no longer has anything left to hold him here, and quickly disappears before my eyes, a passing which is as peaceful as any.

That was the Intent after all, when I cut down the Emperor’s court of souls with a single swing of Peace. An action taken on a whim, because it just felt right, to bring peace to the dead and send them on their way with the sword of the same name. Eradicating the Eternal Emperor’s soul and denying him a chance of reincarnation would’ve sat heavily on my conscience, because it would be against my Dao, my principles, my beliefs, which is why I was hoping the brilliant scholar Di Zi would have a solution to all my woes. If that didn’t work out, I still could’ve obliterated the Eternal Emperor from existence, it just would’ve left me conflicted, a crack in my heart which would need time and introspection to mend, assuming it ever did. That’s the secret to controlling power beyond what mere mortals can wield, to act in accordance with one’s heart, a Dao Heart which is formed not by Visualization or Intent, but by the motives behind the actions you’ve taken in life thus far and the perspective you’ve built around it. Foundation Establishment, Chi Purification, and Core Formation, I don’t think the order matters as much so long as you can put it all together in a way that works, but to move forward from there, your Dao Heart must first be tested to prove that the foundations you’ve built thus far are strong enough to progress onwards along your chosen Path.

 

Something I’ve known for awhile now, subconsciously at least, else I would’ve never passed up the chance to kill an army of Defiled with the tidal wave which brought me to Shi Bei. The Rain who fought in Sinuji the first time would’ve cackled with glee at the prospect of slaughtering so many hated foes all at once, but I found new perspective while recovering from my Shattered Core and seeing the war from a new perspective. Not only was I able to step away from all the death and bloodshed and get my head back on straight, it also showed me that the War against the Enemy was not as black and white as I once believed. Were it not for this period of respite in which I married three beloved wives, reunited with Buddy, helped the Abbot, and spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the Dao with anyone who would listen, among many other things, then I might well have continued down the wrong Path to become a Martial Warrior in truth, a bloodthirsty Warrior who sought to destroy the Enemy out of misplaced anger and hatred. Instead, I was able to widen my perspective and find a new Path, one more suited to me which brought me to the heights I’ve reached today.

 

Fortune found in disaster, I suppose, which probably means I owe Gen a thanks for crippling me. Good thing he’s dead and reincarnated then, because I’ll write my name backwards before I ever thank that asshole, may he rest in peace.

 

…What? I don’t hate the Defiled anymore, but that doesn’t mean I have to love and forgive them.

 

Alas, now that I’ve worked out how I must act in accordance with my Dao, I can no longer justify letting the current Emperor go the way of the dodo, no matter how convenient it might be. Having morals is the worst, because they’re like self-imposed handicaps your enemy won’t be affected by, but I can’t go against my Dao and my conscience. If I did, it probably wouldn’t affect me much today, but ten, twenty, a hundred, or a thousand years down the line, I might well look back on the moment I murdered the current Emperor as the first stray step which brought me away from my Dao, the same way the Eternal Emperor strayed from his Path to go from celebrated war hero to megalomaniacal butcher looking forward to carving up innocent civilians in search of the Dao.

 

That is what it means to cultivate after all, to pursue the truth. Not of the Dao, but of the self, because to act against the self is to act against your Dao, and only someone who knows themself can ever reach the pinnacle of their Dao.

 

So simple, yet also infinitely complex, and staggeringly difficult because humans are notoriously good at lying to themselves. Even when you know the truth, you might not really know it know it, you know? Or you might even reject the truth outright, because life is hard enough as it is without having to deal with all the harsh truths, like maybe it’s time you stopped lying to your loved ones and hoarding so many floofs.

 

…No. Fuck that noise. I’m gonna keep hoarding floofs, because I’m probably gonna need them once the truth gets out.

 

As I emerge from my spiral of dread and apprehension regarding discussions to come, I find myself standing alone in the Void, save for Buddy beside me, Di Zi across from me, and the current Emperor chained up beside us. I should probably free him, but I have no idea how, so I turn to Di Zi while pointing at the Emperor and ask, “You uh… wouldn’t happen to know how to free him, would you? Because that would be great.”

 

Giving the Emperor a pointed look, Di Zi ask, “I do, but are you certain this is what you desire? Your future would be smooth sailing with the Emperor under your thumb, even one besieged on all sides by political enemies and allies alike.”

 

“Yea, but that’s not my style.” Narrowing my eyes in suspicion, I add, “Nor will I stand idly by and allow you to become a second Eternal Emperor, so if you don’t intend to help, then I kindly invite you to move on.”

 

In response, the portly scholar flashes a reassuring smile paired with a sad shake of his head. “Rest assured. I’ve no desire to continue enduring this wretched existence, and intend to pass on in hopes of reincarnating alongside my sworn brothers. I only wanted to know the measure of the man who defeated my brother and my hero, and now I can rest assured knowing I leave his legacy in good hands.” Waving his hand towards the Emperor, he does something which I can just barely sense, but can’t exactly make out the details. What I can tell is that Di Zi is greatly lessened by it, having expended all but a scrap of the Life Force remaining to him. “It will take some time for him to fully free himself,” Di Zi explains, offering a shrug as he slowly fades away just like the rest. “A necessity, I’m afraid, for to tear those bonds myself would leave him so weak he might not even have strength enough to reclaim his throne.”

 

Even though I have no idea as to the specifics, it makes sense to me too, much like how a butterfly needs to break free of its cocoon on its own to help it build up enough strength to live. That being said, I intend to stay and watch until Di Zi fully fades away, which he accepts with a small nod of approval. “A small part of me wants to stay and watch you progress along your Path, to see what new heights you will achieve,” Di Zi begins, only to shake his head in regret. “Alas, curiosity alone is not enough to live for, and I yearn for the comfort of their company once more.” Casting one final glance at the current Emperor, Di Zi adds, “Ying Zheng was a good man once, but a conflicted one. That’s why I pled for mercy on the outlands’ behalf. Not because I thought he would make for a poor Emperor of the mortal world, but because I knew that without an enemy to fight, he would lose all purpose in life.” Turning his gaze towards me, he offers me a sad smile and says, “Never forget to hold fast to yours.”

 

And with those parting words, Di Zi passes on into the next life and closes the book on a dark chapter in history, one I doubt will ever come to light. Mostly because of face, since no one in the Supreme Families will want anyone to know that they’ve been dancing to the Eternal Emperor’s tune since the founding of the Empire. Seeing the current Emperor fixated on breaking out of his chains and in no mood for small talk, I leave a Natal Soul behind to keep an eye on him just in case anything goes wrong before stepping out of the Void and back into the physical world. The harsh glare of the Western Sun is exactly where I last left it, and the stench of blood and offal as unsettling as I remember. Though I was fortunate enough to emerge victorious from my clash against the Eternal Emperor, the battle for Shi Bei is still going strong as Half-Demons surge onto the walls and continue to press the beleaguered defenders. The impulsive part of me wants to utilize the Energy of the Heavens to rain death down upon the Defiled, no pun intended, but that’s a terrible idea. Not just because I would feel bad about slaughtering tens of thousands of people, which I most definitely would, but also because the Treaty still stands by the barest of technicalities, namely that no one has launched a successful nuclear strike just yet, nor has any Enemy Divinity taken overt, direct action against any Imperial mortals.

 

Granted, this is only the case because they’ve tried and failed, but it’s still bad for optics if I were to shatter the Treaty wholesale, especially when there’s still the ghost of a chance of keeping it intact. Politics. This means I’m bound by the Treaty and my own sense of honour from acting overtly against the army of Defiled Half-Demons, but luckily, my new perspective has given me a more comprehensive awareness of the Dao and Heavenly Energy. With this and a little creative thinking, it shouldn’t be all to difficult to lend my allies a hand without anyone raising a complaint, because there’s nothing in my Dao which says I gotta fight fair.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The heady rush of battle and bloodshed had once been an endless font of joy and elation, but Vithar found it rather lacking of late.

 

Rather than a deluge, it had dwindled to less than a trickle, a stark contrast to what he’d experienced before in battles prior to this. Odd that, for he had never felt stronger or more confident than he did at this moment, his body light and movements natural to the point where he barely even had to think to fight. Rider and mount worked together in perfect harmony, the skeletal Transcendent beneath him more nimble and responsive than any garo could ever be, able to weave seamlessly through the tangle of longspears untouched and bring Vithar in close to his targets. From there, his battle-axe would drink deep of their blood, cleaving clean through steel, flesh, and bone with laughable ease, and when it encountered a weapon it could not sunder in twain, his battle-axe would come alive and bypass it of its own volition.

 

There was a time when he had to work to control his mount and guide his axe home, to decide when to block and when to counter, but this was no longer true. Even if his mount mis-stepped and brought him into the path of a spear, his Transcendent Armour would ward off the blow and see him through to safety, while simultaneously guiding his actions to respond accordingly. In short, Vithar’s presence was no longer needed to conduct this battle, for he was merely a fleshy vessel for the Transcendent to wield, a weapon in the hands of another to fight in a war that was not his own.

 

That was the crux of Vithar’s dissatisfaction, the faint perception of having been used. Why was he still here in Shi Bei, fighting over stones laid atop sand for a cause he did not understand? What value was there in taking this city, in spilling the blood of those defending its walls? Worthy foes, one and all, ones who’d held them off for so many days, and might well continue fighting for several more still. Was he not on his way out before all this? What happened to bring him back here? He’d given Gargeera the signal to withdraw, and his tribesmen had all followed suit, until the Uniter took the field and commanded them to halt. From there, it was all a blur, a jumbled mess of memories Vithar could barely make sense of, and as he glanced about the battlefield in search of a familiar face, he saw only strangers, rivals, and enemies in all directions.

 

A raspy, earthshaking roar echoed across the sands, uttered by a fierce and formidable bestial king, and the clear warning sent a jolt through Vithar which shook him to his core and left him staggering in sheer shock. The mount beneath him was unfazed, and his Transcendent armour continued to direct his actions unchecked, but his eyes were open now and his thoughts no longer suppressed. The Uniter had used him, taken him against his will, made him into a Transcendent in all but name, a transgression Vithar would not stand for, but before he could find the strength to fight for control once more, a second cry sounded out, but this time from a beast far less formidable. He’d heard the cry before, from a delicious food-beast these southlanders reared, a tiny creature of feathers and beak that strutted about without fear and was known to crow at the sun’s rise.

 

A chicken, the southlanders called it, a name Vithar had noted well, for Asmani enjoyed feasting upon their delectably juicy meat.

 

Why one saw fit to cackle now was a mystery to be sure, but even before the question had yet to fully form, Vithar saw his entire life unfold before him in a single, fleeting moment. He saw himself regain control of his body and rid himself of the Transcendent’s form, peeling it off piece by piece as if it were no more than wet cloth. From there, he followed the setting sun deep into the heart of the province, doing everything he could to find his way back to that desert oasis where he’d left Asmani. It took many moons to make the trek, and he almost lost himself to thirst and madness, but he persevered because he could not die yet, not before he saw her again. And see her he did, holding their beautiful baby daughter, a child untouched by the vile air of the Northlands and perfect in every possible way. Seeing her laying fast asleep in Asmani’s arms brought Vithar a joy unlike anything he’d ever felt before, a sense of contentment and accomplishment which far surpassed becoming Chieftain of Chieftains. This was a bliss and pride which he’d never known existed before today and would never know again, for this was all merely a dream, a dream he never wanted to end but knew would have to no matter what, for this was a dream which was never meant for him.

 

The enchanting sight of his blissful dreams was replaced by the harsh glare of glinting steel, but Vithar made no move to defend himself. The Transcendent had fallen silent now, its poisoned whispers offering no allure compared to the dreams cruel fate denied him. He’d made too many mistakes, fought for all the wrong reasons, but at least now his child and his surviving tribesmen had a chance to live out their lives in this land of plenty. That was a prize well worth fighting for, one worth dying for, so he met the eyes of his killer and faced down his death with pride.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Excitement bubbled up from within Huu’s chest as he cut down the Half-Demon barring his path, only to howl in bitter regret as he watched his target die before his eyes. The damnable Chieftain Vithar had been struck down by another’s blade, so how was Huu supposed to avenge his uncle Kalil now? So inundated with rage and indignation, he almost turned his sabre upon the person who stole away his chance for vengeance, until he saw who it was that struck the final blow. Tears streamed down from Ma’s eyes as she stared down at the headless Chieftain, lost in her own little world as she flicked the blood from her battle-axe and said a silent prayer to the Mother above, and only then did she notice Huu’s gaze. “He was yer uncle,” she Sent, her tone hoarse and tired as can be, “But he was my brother. Not by choice, not at first, but it became that way because of our shared love of you, so it’s high time ye stopped disgracin’ his memory and pulled yer head out of your ass, ye?

 

“Yes Ma,” Huu replied, and he knew it for truth, because for the first time in months, he saw how much his Ma was hurting too, not to mention Yesui and Yosai. They were both frantic and exhausted from keeping up with him in the fight, their hair plastered to their faces and their quins huffing and puffing so hard it was a wonder they had yet to lie down and refuse to fight. There was still a battle to be fought, so this was no time to hug his Ma or his wives, but Huu promised himself to do just that as soon as there was time. Raising his sabre to deliver another killing blow, he found it strange that the Half-Demons were so still and subdued, no longer fuelled by rage and hatred and seemingly distracted and confused. Huu killed two more before the tides of war shifted and the majority of Defiled broke ranks to run, but even though the wolf in him wanted to chase after them for another hunt, he couldn’t find it in him to hate them any more.

 

Let the Enemy run. He would fight them another day if need be, help Rain re-take the West and clear the province of all Defiled threat, but for now, Huu had a promise to keep, and he was in no mood to wait.

 

And as he wrapped his arms around his wives and mother, he let go of all his anger and rage and found sorrow and solace in their wake.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“No!”

 

Taken aback by his opponent’s unexpected outburst, Baatar took his distance and raised his guard, but it wasn’t necessary. Something had snapped within Ankhbayar, and the young man was no longer right in the head, or at least, so wrong that he could no longer function. “No, no, no,” the exiled traitor mumbled, stumbling about the battlements in a daze. “Lies and slander, for my Path is just. They were wrong, they all were, and I will show them. Have already shown them, for the blood is strong. Two powerful sons I have raised, this, no one can deny, and soon the Empire will have no choice but to accept it and bow down before the true sons and daughters of the Mother Above.”

 

“You have raised no sons,” Baatar replied, his lip curling into a sneer of utter disdain. There was no accomplishment in striking down a madman, a loss which robbed him of much strength, so he stood and rested while engaging the fool in a battle of words instead. “You sired two outstanding sons, but you had no part in raising them. There is more to greatness than blood, Ankhbayar, you yourself are proof enough, so no matter how many sons or daughters you sire, you will never raise one to be great.”

If the madman heard any of this, he showed no sign of it, so Baatar pushed himself to cut the man down before Naaran or Gerel were forced to do it themselves. That was the least he could do, bear the sin of killing their son and father, so if they should come to hate him for it, then so be it. Though drained and exhausted beyond belief, he scanned the city walls in search of soldiers in need, but the Defiled had no fight left in them. Mother was still busy battling Divinities, but father had just finished his fight, in a most impressive fashion no less. Though his staff bore no pointed tip, he’d still managed to drive it clean through Mao Jianghong’s armoured torso, and the traitor guard captain stood transfixed with blades still in hand, his back straight and eyes unyielding. “I did not lose to you,” he declared, his tone dripping with arrogance and conceit. “Yours was the hand which dealt the blow, but it was not you who defeated me.”

 

To Baatar’s surprise, Father responded by nodding in agreement, his sagely expression hinting that he gleaned something from Jianghong’s mad ramblings. “Aye. Ye lost to yerself and yer hatred, a battle fought long ago, and ye just been wandering through life ever since. My thanks to ye then, fer showin’ me the error of me ways, and may ye go peacefully into the warm embrace of the Mother Above.”

 

For the first time since the siege began, Mao Jianghong’s icy façade cracked to show a hint of emotion, a wisp of pained contrition. “I fear Her Embrace will be denied me, and that I shall never be reunited with my family again, but such is the price which must be paid.”

 

“I disagree.” Gesturing up at the Heavens Above, father’s gruff expression broke out into a cheery smile. “The Mum on high is a forgiving sort, so I’m sure She’ll fight for ye if ye just ask.”

 

“Perhaps.” Exhaling in what Baatar first thought was a sigh, he realized it was actually Jianghong’s final breath, and he released the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Still keeping an eye on the muttering Ankhbayar, Baatar glanced over to Luo-Luo and the wagon of animals only to break out into a smile of pride and relief, for there stood his son, as bright and chipper as could be, next to the two Spiritual Beasts who might well have won them the day, the fearsome tiger Rakshasa and the cowardly rooster Kukku. More importantly, Baatar’s son was alive and well, having returned from his battle with Zhen Shi unscathed, as evidenced by his bright, cheery smile as he greeted each of his pets in turn.

 

A fool of a boy, to spoil his animals now instead of striking while the iron was hot, but such was his nature, and Baatar would not have him any other way.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

There’s a vulgar joke to be made here about a rooster and tiger coming together to make peace and end war, but much as I would love to crack wise, this is hardly the time and place.

 

It wouldn’t translate over to common anyways, though funnily enough, little bird is slang for penis, which is close enough to rooster and cock. Alas, there’s no equivalent for pussy cat, which is real disappointing, because I haven’t even come up with a joke yet and I’m already chuckling. In my defense, I’m almost giddy with relief now that the battle is won, with the Defiled fleeing in droves while the Imperials hold the wall, but much as I would love to bask in the moment and maybe lie down for a cuddle puddle, there is still work to be done.

 

Running a hand through my hair to find Pong Pong hidden within, I pluck him out of my man-bun and place him down to Rakky’s head while emanating a brief burst of Aura to tell him everything’s alright and that I got it from here. The little guy lets out the cutest little sigh of relief before snuggling down into Rakky’s luxurious fur, who is much more accepting of Pong Pong’s presence now and no longer so aggrieved. Giving the big cat one last pat on the cheek before doing the same for Kukky, I thank them both for their help before Cloud-Stepping out into the skies to chase after my quarry. Not the fleeing Half-Demons, who I am happy to spare for now, and possibly again if they are open to reason and redemption. That’s a discussion for another day however, for my chosen targets have entered into sight, and I start with Mataram YuKon, the traitor who sold out the Western Province to Zhen Shi. With Unity in hand, I charge into the fray and catch him by surprise, thanks to the new trick I just picked up from Pong Pong which is best described as a flowing current of Concealment. It’s like regular Concealment, but more active and involved, distorting my presence the way water distorts light until none can make it down into its depths. The exact specifics are beyond me, but it’s frighteningly effective for reasons I can’t entirely understand, yet am more than happy to make use of regardless.

 

Knowing without knowing, until there comes a time when I’ve figured enough out to know more. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and having a calculator doesn’t instantly give you the ability to spit out mathematical proofs, so I need to take this one step at a time.

 

With the element of surprise on my side, Mataram YuKon is a sitting duck, or at least he should’ve been. Instead, he whips his spear around at the last moment to parry my thrust, my Ground Shrinking Strike still falling short of Akanai’s. Even then, I hold the advantage of momentum, yet again, my foe turns things around, picking apart my second attack and countering with a deadly thrust of his own that just barely misses my throat. In a fair fight, it’s obvious I’m wholly outmatched, because even though I’m slightly faster and stronger than he is, plus infinitely more handsome and dashing, Mataram YuKon has a wealth of experience accrued over who knows how many centuries, since I have no idea how old he really is.

 

Unfortunately for him, I’m not fighting alone, as my distraction has bought enough time for my Grand Mentor to show me how it’s really done once again. Her ax-lance pierces clean through Mataram Yukon’s stomach and bursts out of the small of his back, gutting him and shattering his spine so thoroughly that muscle and skin are all that holds his upper and lower half together.

 

A formidable woman, my Grand Mentor, and if not for my Sending, Akanai would have killed him outright, but with Zhen Shi dead and gone, the Empire needs a scapegoat to take the blame for this war, and Mataram YuKon fits the bill nicely. Borrowing a skill I learned from Lawgiver Won Gwang’s Natal Soul, I lock down the traitor’s Spiritual System to prevent him from using his skills too easily, a constricting force that stifles the flow of Chi to keep it stagnant and listless. This plus the gaping wound in his stomach and my Grand-Mentor’s supervision should be enough to keep Mataram YuKon in check, leaving me free to move onto my second and final target of today, someone I’ve been wanting to fight for a real, long time.

 

Here piggy, pig, pig!” I bellow, unable to contain myself in all this excitement. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

 

The spike of alarm and adrenaline emanating from Zhu Chanzui is everything I’d hoped it would be and more, his beady eyes widening in fear as he struggles to escape from Machali and Da Hui’s pincer. Even though they aren’t able to kill him, keeping him in place is simple enough, and I show no mercy as I bring Unity down atop his shoulder in a killing blow. To my surprise and relief, Big Poppa Piggy doesn’t die in a single hit, as his defenses are almost as sturdy as Zhen Shi’s, though derived in a different manner. This is a Manifestation of his thick, durable hide, an innate belief that carried over from his past life as a wild-bristleboar, and something he more or less takes for granted. It’s the same as Pong Pong’s defense in that he just believes it will protect him because that is its purpose, a simple belief made true through the power of pure, unmitigated faith.

 

But I bet my faith in gunpowder is stronger.

 

Though unharmed by my attack, it was still enough to drive Zhu Chanzui to his knees, which is why I didn’t spot his vicious counter-attack in time. A powerful left hook comes out of nowhere, one that could render me and several buildings behind me into a pulp, but the deadly counter glances off the invisible currents of Heavenly Energy still flowing around me. It’s the same Chi working that kept me Concealed, only now with a different Intent, one meant to envelope and protect like a solid barrier of flowing water. The shift between stealth and defense is so seamless because I don’t even have to think about it, for the Energy of the Heavens themselves know whether it is better to hide or protect me. A flick of my wrist sees Unity go from glaive to rifle, and I draw upon the power inherent in my memories of superior weaponry and the Intent contained within. That’s what I’ve been doing all along with my memes, but while reposts are reviled, everyone knows the Main Character never has to reload until the plotline demands it, enabling me to draw upon this image in question repeatedly without fail.

 

One with the Weapon and One with the Self, I point the barrel at big poppa piggy’s face with a smile before pulling the trigger. The shot echoes out across the battlefield and sends my foe’s body shooting back into the sand, but there is no spray of blood to accompany it. Even a point-blank shot with Bullet Intent failed to pierce through his Manifested Hide, but I am far from disappointed, for his mouth is bleeding and his mind is concussed by the jolt of this first shot. Here, in a moment of clarity, a revelation comes to me, one which sees my smile grow even wider. Even though I love memes and quips almost more than life itself, I would be the first to admit that they’re kinda sad and cringy. As time went on, I eventually came to the conclusion that the humour was detracting from the effectiveness of my attacks, but there was no proof that this was happening at all. The truth is, after memeing so much on Zhen Shi and failing to kill him, I was starting to get embarrassed by my stupid weeb antics, and so I came up with an excuse to stop, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I claimed my memes were less effective because of humour, and so they became less effective, not because of the humour, but because of my wavering Will.

 

But no more. Memes are every bit a part of me as my love of floof. An awkward, perplexing, and downright shameful part of me, but a part I now accept and embrace wholeheartedly. Because let’s be honest. Who cares if no one gets my jokes? I’m fucking hilarious, and that’s good enough for me.

 

Planting both boots on top of poppa piggy’s chest while stuffing the barrel of my rifle into his face, I mime myself chambering a round and make the click sound with my mouth. “Okay,” I yell, with as much old school swagger as I can muster. “I’m reloaded.” Thunder claps and sand billows up in clouds around Zhu Chanzui’s head, but the Ancestral Bristleboar still draws breath. “I can do this all day,” I continue, before unleashing a third shot, memeing to my heart’s content and drawing strength and elation from it as I cackle to the high heavens.

 

“Mmf-topp.”

Though the mumbled half-grunt is all but indecipherable to the ears, Zhu Chanzui’s actions make his meaning clear as he holds up a copper vessel to hold me off like a Catholic wields a crucifix against vampires. Grateful for the interruption, I take a moment to calm my nerves and find Balance once more, for though there is power within Imbalance, there is danger too, and I need to toe the line even more closely than most. As my temper cools, I’m overcome by a sense of nostalgia standing over the Ancestral Bristleboar as I am, and I lean over to look him dead in his beady little eyes with my rifle still pointed at his head. “You know,” I begin, ignoring his upraised hand the object held within while making no effort to hide the fact that I’m charging up the next Chi bullet for my rifle, “This reminds me of the time I killed your son. I was twelve at the time, coming off six months of slavery, so not in the best health. Didn’t have this rifle back then either, so I stood over his helpless, battered body and clubbed him to death. Took a lot of swinging, but I got it done in the end, and some payback for all the suffering he put me through.” Pressing the barrel of my rifle hard against his cheek and thoroughly enjoying the sight of him squirming beneath it, I add, “His name was Gortan, but you probably didn’t know him. He was the overseer in one of your slave mines, and he made my life a living hell until I got so sick he thought I was dead and tossed me into a pit of corpses.”

 

Only now do I realize that the battlefield has fallen silent, and every eye is upon us. With the Defiled Half-Demons running for the hills, the Divinities were quick to follow suit, aside from the Demonic Divinities who are lost in the sauce and running around in circles like headless chickens. Aside from them, the only other living Enemy combatants left in Shi Bei are Mataram YuKon and Big Poppa Piggy here, and my words have been imbued with Chi without me even knowing it. I want everyone to hear this, so I continue as is, speaking in a calm and almost soothing tone as I use my chin to gesture at the copper vessel. “That’s how you make it, isn’t it? I’ve been calling it Anathema, but that’s not what it is. It’s Death Energy, the raw, distilled essence of what’s left behind when a living creature breathes its last, but death alone is not enough. No, only those whose lives are filled with suffering and hearts overflowing with hatred or misery can conjure up this Death Energy in reality, Death Energy the Uniter demanded. So, being the enterprising little piggy you are, you bought slaves in droves and subjected them to all manner of torment and suffering, all so you could mass produce this Death Energy for the Enemy to use against us. You thought you were making a weapon, even unleashed it in Shen Mu for a demonstration and used it to kill two good men, Guan Suo and my Dharmapala, but in the end, all your hard work benefitted the Uniter as he took that Death Energy to fuel the process of his Ascension.”

 

Scoffing at his sheer stupidity, I shake my head in contempt. “And now you hope your last little vial will save you from death? How pitiful. Break it.” Zhu Chanzui lays transfixed in shock, unable to believe his ears or follow through with my demand. “I said break it,” I repeat, spurring him to action, but my patience is already at its end. “Never mind, I’ll do it myself.” The copper vessel comes apart before reaching my hands, leaving only a floating mass of darkness behind, one which comes alive in the sunlight for death will always seek life, just as life will always end in death. “You think this morsel of Death Energy enough to stop me? It’s barely enough to fill the gaps between my teeth.” To prove it, I Devour in a single breath, and neutralize it before it even reaches my Core, yielding less Heavenly Energy than even the piddliest of Demons and just barely enough to fuel a single shot.

 

But combined with the efforts I’ve already put together, it’s more than enough to kill the piggy, as I discover first-hand after firing my shot, one which explodes his head into a spray of bone and blood while shaking the very sand beneath my feet. The crack of the shot echoes across the city and the dunes surrounding it, and as it fades away, I put all my remaining hatred and enmity of Bristleboars into a single, utterance of, “Pathetic.”

 

The rush of catharsis is almost too much to bear as I revel in this single moment of triumph, one I value even more than the defeat of the Eternal Emperor. That was a group effort whereas this is all me, one which brings me great personal joy as I unburden myself of a whole slew of stifling regrets. Unable to contain myself, I let loose with a whoop of pure joy and am joined by Buddy’s exuberant howl, one urging me to bring him out for walkies and maybe snatch up some treats along the way. Going with the flow, I lead my sweet doggo out on the hunt, striking down Demonic Divinity after Demonic Divinity as easily as turning a hand, for the emotions I feel now cannot be contained and must be expressed in a healthy way. The first Demon falls to Unity, and the second and third to Peace and Tranquility, but then I am overcome with an urge to style on my foes. A coursing torrent of water Manifests around me, sweeping up a Demon and rendering it into goop, goop which Buddy Devours with glee alongside the other victims of my spirited rampage.

 

A Manifested Palm imbued with the Mountain Collapsing Strike shatters a bear Demon into pieces. A droplet of water condensed straight out of the air expands and engulfs a four-armed taloned freak. A deafening Sending ruptures a bloated Demon’s innards from within, leaving its outer shell untouched in death, which Buddy chomps through with great relish. One by one, I test out the things I learned from my Natal Souls and the Natal Souls of the Warriors who answered my prayers on the Demonic Divinities caught in Buddy’s trap. Collecting their heads is as easy as collecting cabbages growing on the side of the street, ones which I then feed to my gluttonous dog because he’s adorable when he eats. All too soon however, the battle comes to an end, for there are no more Demonic Divinities to be Devoured. Standing on the sands with my dog beside me, I huff and pant with exertion yet have never felt more alive than I do now.

 

This is the sheer, unadulterated joy of pure Balance, not restricting emotion but taking them as they come, of following my heart and doing as I please. A Path which does not come naturally to me, but one I will strive for all the same, so that no matter if success or failure awaits me at the end, at least I will know I will have gone living the best life that I can.

 

Pleased as punch and feeling much relieved, I turn back towards Shi Bei and find the surviving soldiers all watching me with mixed expressions after bearing witness to my deeds these last few minutes. The awe and admiration is thick in the air as my audience exchanges glances in disbelief, but there is also an underlying ambiance of dread and dismay to accompany my actions here today. I, a young talent who is not even twenty-five, just helped take down two powerful Divinity leaders before embarking on a wholesale slaughter of Demonic Divinities. More than that, I made it look easy, meaning the true depths of my strength have yet to be revealed, and I can feel their reverence and obeisance mounting as the masses rally to my banner and submit to my strength without even needing to be asked.

 

It’s happening isn’t? I’m gonna get a title drop, with everyone chanting my name. Oh my god, this is so exciting. I can almost hear it now, everyone chanting my title and calling me the Undying Div –

 

“Three cheers for Legate Falling Rain, the Savage Divinity!”

 

…God fucking damnit BoShui! What the hell did I ever do to you?

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

 

Author’s Note: I’d wanted to do a double release, but something came up and I couldn’t finish editing the second chapter in time, so expect one more on Sept 23 at 8pm EDT, or regular release time.

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 838

 

To Devour, or not to Devour. That is the question.

 

One I consider with great care, for the implications are staggering indeed. No man is an island, but the Eternal Emperor is about as close to it as one can get, a functionally immortal hegemon who conquered the known world and has kept it under the boot of his heel ever since. With a little help from faith and the Heavens above, I’ve summoned the Natal Souls of my allies and loved ones to aid me in battle against this most formidable foe, and yet I am concerned that this might not be enough. No man is an island, yet my foe is the next best thing, a man alone unwilling to back down as he puts on a clinic of power and skill. Though the weight of numbers is on my side and the battle appears to be going in my favour, the Eternal Emperor stands strong against the tide. More than that, I sense that he could flee at any moment and there’s nothing I could do to stop him, meaning he could live to fight another day, assuming he doesn’t succumb to Zhen Shi’s madness in the process. I don’t believe he will, for he stands firm before his host’s Natal Throne and guards it well, giving the fight his all in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

Maybe he knows something I don’t, or is preparing something big to wipe out these Natal Souls all at once, or maybe he really is strong enough to hold out on his own. Honestly? If not for his complete and utter lack of empathy, I could almost admire him, though I admire the man he was even more. Clad in his golden Imperial robes and wielding a Materialized sword and spear in each hand, both of which feature dragons and phoenixes prominently on the hilt and haft, the Eternal Emperor’s cutting figure makes for an awe-inspiring sight as he makes his desperate last stand, but from his expression, you’d think it was merely another day in the office. Cold and distant, that’s how I would describe his grim demeanour, so calm and in control whilst embroiled in a jumbled, chaotic mess of a melee brawl, one in which he is woefully outnumbered. The Natal Souls who’ve come to support me are skewered and cut down dozens at a time, their borrowed vessels exploding into billowing, incandescent clouds of unbound Heavenly Energy with every touch of the Eternal Emperor’s deadly weapons. The mechanism behind the Eternal Emperor’s actions have yet to be revealed, for I am unable to connect with his soul and share in his perspective, one which would be most useful since I would love to know how he’s eliminating the Natal Souls of my allies so I can in turn use this skill against him.  

 

Even then, things are looking good for me and mine, but the outcome is not quite set in stone just yet, meaning it’s anybody’s game until the fat lady sings. There’s another option however, one in which I play a more active role in this final clash and subdue the Eternal Emperor myself. The power is right there in front of me, contained within the Natal Souls of these heroes who’ve come to my aid, Balanced Spirits that could easily become Unbalanced with just a little nudge in the wrong direction. Once Unbalanced, there’s nothing to stop me from Devouring them all and taking their strength for myself, an act which would afford me a more personal and in-depth look at their respective perspectives and thus more Insight and understanding into their Paths. Right now, all I can sense is an echo of their actions, a taste of their Dao and comprehension, but if I were to Devour them, then I would have everything, a wisp of their souls to tack onto mine and make us greater than the sum of our parts. It’s no different from what the Eternal Emperor has done with his court of souls, except these are merely Natal Souls, a compressed copy of the original which will dissipate once it is spent, so why not put them to better use instead? If I take them in, then they will become a part of me, a part of my Dao, and their strengths will become mine to wield, strength I could use to defeat the Eternal Emperor as easily as turning a hand, and perhaps even supplant him as the new Emperor of the Azure Sea to fulfill all my dreams of making this world a better place.

 

Except absolute power corrupts absolutely.

 

A proverb from my past life which holds all too true in this one, and a warning I would do well to heed before seizing absolute power for myself. The secrets of Heaven lay well within reach, so close I only need to step forward and seize them, but I hesitate to do so because I’m worried I would be doing it for all the wrong reasons. I am already a Divinity, perhaps even a Nascent Immortal like the Eternal Emperor claims, which means I am plenty strong as is. With help from the Natal Souls of my allies and loved ones, I have a good chance of emerging victorious as it stands, while I can only guess at how strong I would be after Devouring all these Natal Souls. I assume I’d become more powerful than I could ever imagine, but what if nothing happens? What if the Natal Souls are all just Cleansed and turned back into Heavenly Energy, putting me back where I started before all this?

 

Besides, with the limited understanding I currently possess with regards to the Dao, I’m fairly confident I have the means to end the Eternal Emperor’s existence with a single attack, render his soul unto nothingness and consign him to oblivion. I saw this happen first-hand with Mahakala, when he was doused with Anathema, which I now know is merely a manifestation of Death Energy in reality. From my tests with my own Natal Souls, I know I can conjure some up, or at least a close enough approximation to destroy the Eternal Emperor’s soul, but I would really rather not have to. Not because I’m squeamish, but I’m not talking about killing him here. If I were act against him directly in this manner, I would be forever denying him the chance to reincarnate, and who am I to judge him so harshly? Though he’s committed all manner of horrible crimes over the millennia, killing him would suffice, and any more would weigh heavily upon my conscience. Death severs all karma, so how can I deny anyone a fresh start in a new life with a clean slate, one in which they might not make the same mistakes they did in this life? Yes, mistakes, because I believe at the core of it all, the Eternal Emperor was once a good man trying to do what he believed was right, only to stray from his Path to proceed down the dark route he took to become the monster he is today.

 

Which makes him a poignant warning of things to come should I step up and replace him, which is why I’m so hesitant to act.

 

I jokingly called my Dao the Dao of ‘don’t be an asshole’, one in which I remain true to myself and my morals, but what’s to keep my definition of self and my morals from changing over the years? I identify most strongly with my past life and all the memories which came with it, but the Rayne I was in my past life would be horrified by many of the things I’ve done. He was no Warrior or soldier, no hunter or killer, but just a regular guy, an office drone in a call centre who probably never lifted a hand in anger his entire life, much less clubbed a helpless man to death in anger, but I have. I have fought and killed out of necessity, but I cannot deny the joy I derive from it either, a thrill and pleasure which the Rayne I remember would be repulsed by. I get this from Amigui, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Amigui was shaped to behave like this by the man who sired him and the circumstances he grew up in, because to kill is to survive, or at least that is how he… how I see it. Kill or be killed, such is the law of this world, one in which others believe might makes right. I disagree on a philosophical level, but I also accept it on a rational level, else I’d be more like the Abbot trying to convince the Eternal Emperor to change his ways rather than dead set on killing him here and now.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that Ying Zheng is too far gone to ever find redemption again, and thus deserving of death, but eternal oblivion?

 

No.

 

The man I see before me is a monster, there is no denying that, but at one point in his life, this was not the case. What’s to stop me from following in the Eternal Emperor’s footsteps once I possess power unrivalled beneath the Heavens? I would love to believe that my moral convictions will always remain firmly rooted in the beliefs I adhere to today, but I’ve already deviated a fair bit away from Rayne’s moral compass, and will continue to deviate as things change. What happens if ten years down the line, I decide that my efforts to improve the world are progressing too slowly and turn to more forceful measures instead? Difficult to argue against killing a thousand slave owners to free ten-thousand slaves, especially if the conflict is quick and easy as it would be if I were to seize phenomenal cosmic power here and now, but that’s a cut and dry example that sets a precedent which leads me down a slippery slope. At what ratio is massed killing no longer worth it? One slave owner’s life for two slaves? Three? What about killing in other facets of life? Should I kill a political rival who blocks my efforts at every turn? An outspoken critic utilizing rumours and misinformation against me? An ignorant commoner who doesn’t understand my plan to urbanize farming and insists on doing things the old ways instead?  

 

Might does not make right, but it sure as hell makes getting results a whole lot easier. Even though I have good intentions, I have to go about fulfilling them the right way, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, an idiom Ying Zheng’s story encapsulates all too well. For this reason alone, I believe he deserves a second chance in another life, or at least I believe I am not qualified to deny him one. Monsters aren’t born monsters, because all children are born innocent and untouched by the red dust of the mortal world.

 

And so my dilemma, as I struggle to hold firm to myself beneath a deluge of perspectives offered by the Natal Souls of my allies. Seize their power and make it my own to become something more than what I am now, more than a mortal Divinity wielding power unmatched, or reject this power out of fear and uncertainty? The latter would be for the best really, because I am too immature and uncertain for such power, too ignorant to the ways of the world and yet to experience all the vicissitudes of life. Maybe in a hundred years, I’ll have a better handle on who I am and what my Dao entails, because right now, it’s pretty much just, ‘do as I please and hope it all works out for the best’. The optimism of youth, which is beautiful and inspiring, except the cynicism of experience tells me to always prepare for the worst. Even though I possess memories of my past life, those fragmented experiences don’t count for much on the maturity scale, especially since I was something of a man-child in my past life. That being said, what those memories do tell me is that I’ll change in ten thousand different ways over the next decade at the very least, and probably ten-thousand more in the decade after, because that is what life is. Growth. Progress. Change. Advancement. At ten, your priorities are vastly different from you at twenty, or you at thirty and forty, and that’s completely normal, but how can I ensure that the me at forty, sixty, or older won’t make the same mistakes the Eternal Emperor made when he proceeded down the wrong Path?

 

The answer is rather simple yet also infinitely complex at the same time, because all I can do is try to be the best version of myself that I can be. That’s the most I can really ask of myself, because I still don’t know enough to have my life figured out, and I doubt I ever will. To be human is to choose, a statement I shared with the captured prisoners of the West as the Enemy gathered them before the walls of JiangHu and forced them to commit horrific acts against their fellow prisoners or have horrific acts committed against them. As I stood there and scanned the crowd of prisoners awaiting their turn to choose, it took everything I had to keep from breaking down into sobs as I waxed poetic about the freedom of choice and the nobility of man. I told them to not give in to despair, that where there is life, there is hope. I said, “While I cannot promise to march out and rescue you, know that your pain is fleeting and life impermanent, but the choices you make will have lasting consequences. All you who lie there awaiting death, know that you have chosen to be human, to be better than what the Enemy desires us to be, and for this, you have my utmost respect and admiration.”

 

A lovely little speech, full of optimistic nobility that led those prisoners to revolt against their captors, a short-lived resistance that was quashed without mercy and saw hundreds of prisoners die as they refused to play along with the Enemy’s games. I believe they made the right choice, but seen from another perspective, I essentially convinced them to commit suicide by proxy. How can I be sure that was the right call? Maybe some of them could have survived had I not spoken up, could have kept their heads down, done what was necessary, and atoned for their sins after the fact. Where there is life, there is hope, those were my words, yet I drove them to choose death over inflicting pain and suffering to others, a choice I am not sure I would be able to make in their place. For all I know, maybe some of those prisoners who survived in JiangHu were in the harbours we liberated, or Pang Si Xing, and now happily in the Citadels where they can rest and recuperate, while those who died are gone forever because I gave them shit advice. Nor am I sure that all this suffering is even proof against the existence of a Mother Above, or some other deity on high, because now I see the moral dilemma of using absolute strength to solve all the world’s problems. Might does not make right, and the ends do not justify the means, this I know and believe in my heart of hearts, yet cannot wholly elucidate in a way I can agree with without question. As things stand now, I could return to reality and slaughter the army of Half-Demons single-handedly, but would that be right? Would it be just? Forget about whether the Half-Demons deserve death, but even the Defiled Divinities have yet to overtly act against mortal soldiers, so I can hardly hold the moral high ground while embarking on a slaughter of tens of thousands of Defiled, right?

 

Not because they’re mortals, and I am now a Divinity, but because this deluge of differing perspectives has painted a world steeped in shades of gray, rather than the black and white I wish it were.

 

The army of Natal Souls who answered my prayers is not comprised solely of Imperials, for much like Bai Qi supported me in death, many of the Half-Demons fighting on the walls of Shi Bei have found it in them to support me in life. Many of them have lost their way and have no desire to make their way back, but there are many who are fighting for a better life for their tribesmen, and I cannot claim I would not do the same. If the mountains I call home were to be rendered inhospitable tomorrow, and the People denied a place in the Empire proper, I would be the first to take up my sword against the powers that be, and I would be justified in doing so. Yet the soldiers I would fight would not be fighting to oppress me, but merely following orders from on high, the death knell of many a righteous revolution. From one perspective, it is right to kill the Defiled and drive them out from the Empire’s borders, but looking at it from a different angle, how can I in good conscience send Defiled children back to the outlands where they’ll be forced to compete and slaughter one another just to ensure their tribes don’t grow too large to survive?

 

The same dilemma presents itself with the Death Corps Guards and Royal Guardians, who are sure to be caught in the crossfire should I choose to wage war against the Empire over slavery, civil liberties, income equality, or any other cause I might take up. Of course, the best option would be to solve these issues without spilling any blood, but that is an unrealistic expectation. Even with all the strength I would possess if I should Devour every Natal Soul present, there will still be those who refuse to bend the knee and follow my vision, if only because it threatens their vested interests. I have always known that change would come at the cost of bloody revolution, and I’d hoped to be long dead before all the killing kicked off, because even though I believe in an ideal, I’m not confident I can hold true to my convictions in the heat of the moment without going astray. Can I reign in my anger if someone I love suffers an unjust death? If my children are bullied by others, would I just stand idly by? What’s to stop me from using might to oppress others and see my vision carried through once I’m more powerful than the Eternal Emperor?

 

Nothing. And that in itself is terrifying.

 

Even with all these doubts and reservations, the temptation to go through with this is almost too powerful to resist. Just think of all the good I could accomplish if I were to use this power to become Emperor myself, rather than try to work with the Imperial Clan. My former patron would resist of course, as would the other Supreme Families, but that’s hardly anything to balk at. Even though they all worked together to put Liang Wu Di on the throne, that only means they also have the power to depose him, so I would bet dollars to donuts that the other families are already sharpening their knives in the dark. Whether Wu Di survives to his coronation day is still up in the air, and I’m not even sure if he’d be a better Emperor than the man he’s succeeding. No, he’ll likely be more of the same, happy to keep the status quo and amass power for the Liangs, but even if he wants to be a better Emperor, the other families would oppose him on principle alone, so why not simply seize power and authority for myself?

 

If I were Emperor, then it would be my hands on the tiller of humanity guiding our progress into the future. I could end slavery with a single mandate, put new laws into effect condemning abuse and exploitation, start work on a transcontinental highway connecting every major city in the provinces, and build schools in every town and village to educate the next generation before installing a system of service and reward based on skill and merit rather than nepotism and greed. If I were Emperor, those who rise up against me would be the rebels and insurgents, meaning the vast majority would see my actions as right and just by virtue of being the default option. Then there’s all the perks, like the wealth and respect that comes with the role, to which I am not entirely immune. I love being rich, but mostly because I would hate being poor, and anything extra is used as funding for my charitable pursuits, but as Emperor, I would have the wealth of the entire nation to use as I please.

 

Not to mention a city to hold my massive harem, because an Emperor’s gotta have descendants right? Hardly seems fair to expect Lin-Lin and Luo-Luo to do all the birthing if I am to kick off a new dynasty, or at least that’s how I’d frame the argument. I love my wives, and have more than I deserve already, but when has greed or lust ever been rational? Then there’s the benefits of the power itself. I would be functionally Immortal probably, an unageing existence that could survive for thousands of years so long as no one sees fit to separate my head from my shoulders in violent fashion. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I would be a being akin to Pong Pong, who is obviously more than a Divinity and perhaps even more than a Nascent Immortal as the Eternal Emperor claims to be. What would that be like? To live forever? I only just said that a single mortal’s lifetime is enough for me, but that’s because I’m young and jaded. Will I still say the same when I’m old and frail, or when I see the trials and tribulations awaiting my children and grandchildren? What if a single lifetime isn’t enough to see all my dreams come to fruition? I would love to bear witness as humanity climbs the technological ladder and maybe play a video game again someday, though I would do everything in my power to do away with social media and all the horrors it would bring.

 

And then? There would always be something else to accomplish, another goal to pursue, a wrong to right, or a new possibility to explore. None of this is inherently wrong or bad, but there is so much room for error when the fate of the world rests on my decisions, and my decisions alone. Besides, being Emperor sounds like a shit job, but more importantly, goes against everything I want. I don’t really want to be Emperor, any more than I wanted to be Legate. I did the job because it was given to me, but I would never have asked for it, not in a million years. It’s not all bells and whistles, because the burden of responsibility is real and I would rather not have it, since I am not one to shirk my duties. The bard said it best, for heavy lies the head which wears the crown, so why bother fitting my head for one when I could do without?

 

Which brings me back to square one, in which I have no idea what to do now. Do I Devour all these Natal Souls and hope for the best, or reject this obvious step out of fear? Neither one seems like the right answer, because even though victory is already within my grasp, the trials and tribulations I will face in the coming days and weeks are still daunting to behold, to say nothing of what surprises the future may hold. More strength could always serve me well, but is the prize worth the price? Devouring all these Natal Souls might not be morally or ethically wrong, seeing how they’re destined to be expended regardless of my actions, but it still feels wrong to me, and being illogical has never stopped my fears, guilt, and shame from bringing me down before.

 

So lost in my thoughts, it takes a moment to realize Lin-Lin’s been poking me in the cheek repeatedly for some time now in an effort to get my attention. “Copper for your thoughts, hubby?” Her beautiful brown eyes open wide in the very picture of innocent curiosity as she rests her chin on my shoulder and tilts her head ever so slightly, the only Natal Soul not to join the battle besides cowardly Buddy hiding behind my legs. “It’s not like you to be distracted in battle, ya?”

 

I don’t think I’m really needed here,” I reply, and to my surprise, that’s actually true. Even as the Eternal Emperor lashes out to kill another ten or so Natal Souls in a spectacular spray of brilliant light, I can see the writing in the wall now that I’m no longer lost in my thoughts. “His court of souls is packed with the greatest talents of multiple generations dating back to the founding of the Empire, but they’re all puppets under his strict control, and there’s too much going on all at once for him to pay attention to any one of them. The Flautist over there is being countered by Luo-Luo, while eight Elementally Blessed Warriors are taking turns suppressing the Flame Sovereign. That one there is a Martial God, but I don’t think the Eternal Emperor can control him well enough to survive against the hordes of Natal Souls, and the same can be said of the stealth assassin guy, whose talents are best served killing people stronger than him, of which there are none. As for the Emperor himself, he’s stronger than anyone in existence, but he’s burning the candle at both ends to keep this up. At the rate things are going, his host will drop dead long before he runs out of Natal Souls to kill, so even if I stand here and do nothing, this battle has already been won.”

 

“Oh.” Snuggling against my back with a comfy little sigh, my sweet wifey shrugs and says, “I didn’t know those souls were that strong. They’re all just standing around while the stinky Emperor protects them. What happens if he runs away though? Will you hafta chase him down?”   

 

Even as a Natal Soul, she’s adorable as can be, her arms tightening around my neck and shoulders as if afraid I’ll run away. “He won’t.” Again, I answer before even thinking it through, only to discover that I’m right. How do I know this? It doesn’t occur to me until I consider the question, but the answer was there all along. “Retreating would destroy the foundation of his Dao, one built upon the principle of might makes right, so admitting defeat is to admit weakness. He can’t run, or it will ruin him in a way that would be no different from death.” A Dao which I suspect differs greatly from Ying Zheng’s Dao over the course of his mortal lifetime, one that has since been warped beyond recognition by the ravages of time.

 

And just like that, something clicks in my head and the pieces all come together. “That’s it!” I exclaim, throwing my arms back behind me to wrap around her waist. “Thanks wifey.”

 

“You’re welcome hubby. What’d I do?”

 

“Your questions led me to the answer I needed.” Another thought strikes me and I turn to get a better look at her calm, sleepy expression, her half-lidded eyes so full of love and affection. “Hang on. Are you here, like here here? As a soul instead of a Natal Soul?”

 

My sweet wifey takes a long moment to consider the question, and it’s almost too much for my heart to bear as she puffs her cheeks and furrows her brow in thought. “I dunno,” is the answer she arrives at, shrugging in clueless indifference. “I didn’t do anything differently, so I guess I’m here in the same way I always come to visit, ya?” The answer to which is still up for debate. Studying my expression even as I lose myself in her eyes, she smiles and asks, “So you figured out the solution to whatever was bothering you before?”

 

“Yea,” I reply, without surprise, because honestly, the answer was self-evident before the question even presented itself, but I still had to go through with all the motions regardless. My tendency to stew in anxiety and overthink my problems is not exactly a blessing, but these are flaws I’ve learned to embrace and even indulge, because I would not be the man I am today without them. While my doubts and introspection are exhausting to go through, I don’t know any other way to deal with my problems in life, because this is part and parcel of who I am, something which has kept me honest and mostly undefiled to this day. Relieved of my burden, I heave a sigh and smile at my sweet wifey. “And thanks to you, I even know what to do next.”

I just need to keep in mind the advice Charok gave me all those years ago. I cannot allow myself to be driven by my fears, or any other emotions, but at the same time, I cannot avoid them either. Another concept that seems simple, yet is so difficult to follow through with, because it is all too easy to give in to fear, or anger, or hatred, and infinitely more difficult to rise above it. Yet rise above it I must if I intend to be true to myself and do as my conscience demands, for my Dao is not one of pursuing strength for the sake of strength. It is a complex system of morals and beliefs which I find impossible to describe in a few words or even sentences, but simply my Dao, my everything, the culmination of who I am and what I intend to do. This isn’t the same as The Dao, which is everything and nothing, as well as anything else in between. The Dao is eternal life and inevitable death, unchecked Creation and untold Destruction, an endless cycle of push and pull, up and down, left and right, and any other opposing force you might conjure up in mind. It is trials and tribulations without end, yet an end there must be, for all things must come to an end. A contradiction which cannot be proven or disproven, because both are true, and both are false, depending on your perspective.

 

And my perspective? Life is hard enough already, so why make it harder if you don’t have to?

 

The ineffable sense of urgency pushing me to move forward along the Path disappears, and I’m left with a sense of relief and reassurance. What was I even thinking? Why would I Devour all these Natal Souls just for the chance to become stronger when they’re pretty much already solving all my problems? That’s not me, because I do not pursue the Dao for strength, or at least not solely for strength. I do it because it’s awesome as fuck, and I want to know how it all works in a way I can understand and pass along for others to build on. I never liked knowing without knowing and understanding without comprehending, but now that I have strength enough to stand on my own, I can take my time to science the shit out of magic and work things out to my heart’s content. That’s the real reason why I pursue the Dao, for bear arms and other cool shit, which is as good an answer as any. That’s why knowing without knowing is such a bummer, and why I get such a kick out of debating with the Abbot, Grandpa Du, and anyone else who will listen to me ramble on about the mechanics of the Martial Path.

 

Because discovering the answers for yourself is half the fun, and if I cheated to get ahead, there would be no such satisfaction.

 

This was a trial and tribulation, I realize this now, one of the Dao and my heart, for had I gone ahead and Devoured these Natal Souls for the sake of power and power alone, then I will have gone against my Dao, or at the very least be forced to adopt a new and different perspective before proceeding down this new fork in my Path, one for which I am ill-suited. Thankfully, Lin-Lin was here to help distract me and set my head on straight, allowing me to make what I believe is the right choice in the end. I choose not to take this step now not out of fear or concern, but confidence, confidence that I would fuck things up if I progressed now, and confidence that I will find the way forward again in the future. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not next week either, but in a few decades or centuries depending on how many years I have left, after I’ve had time to live, laugh, love, and learn but before it comes time to die.

 

I think it’s better this way, because I am not the same man I was yesterday, and tomorrow I will be a different man again. As such, even though the Truth and the Dao is immutable, the way I perceive it will change countless times over the course of my life, so why should I commit to one interpretation now? Why am I working so hard to define my Dao and myself when I still have so much left to do and experience? I have wives to grow old with, children to raise, floofs to spoil, and a whole slew of goals to accomplish, ones which may well give new perspectives and help me uncover a better Path, or at least one more suitable for the me I will become. If it turns out that I’m wrong and I’ve gone and blown my one and only shot, then that just means Immortality and possible godhood was never meant for me, which is totally fine too. I am still a man mildly in love with death after all, and I have no desire to ever outlive any of my wives, and even the thought of losing my parents or elders gets me a little choked up inside. So even if Lin-Lin could share her Life Force with me to keep me alive longer, I would really rather she didn’t, because death is merely a new beginning.

 

I suppose it’s a little selfish, wanting to die first so I don’t have to mourn any losses, but who knows? Maybe this too will change with time. Maybe there will come a day when I regret this decision, or maybe I’ll look back on this moment and laugh at how stupid I was, but at the end of the day, I chose to follow my heart and do as I please, which is something at least, and I continue to do so as I approach the battle between the Eternal Emperor and the heroes of the Empire to put an end to this conflict once and for all.

 

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Ten-thousand Natal Souls fell before this Sovereign’s blades, but there were still at least ten-thousand more to go, and though his spirit was eager and willing to fight on to the bitter end, that end was drawing near due to the deficiencies of his borrowed body.

 

An imbalance between the body, mind and soul, one he’d long since accepted as the cost of an eternal existence, but today proved that he’d erred along his Path. A most lamentable end to the story of his long life, one in which he failed to live up to its full potential. This army would be the end of him, whittling him down one Natal Soul at a time, for if he did not spare the effort to kill them, then their unified Intent would see him dead. In their eyes, he was the villain who’d brought the Enemy to their doorstep, rather than their rightful Sovereign who gave them so many millennia of peace and prosperity, and there was nothing he could do or say to make them believe otherwise.

 

Not after they’d seen Zhen Shi’s appearance, one which was a match for this Sovereign’s own, a blunder that he could never have foreseen even if given ten more millennia to prepare.

 

Though full of righteous fury and bitter dissatisfaction, this Sovereign made no effort to reason with his assailants, presented not a single word of argument or explanation in his defense, for he was the Eternal Emperor, and these rebels too far beneath him to address. Though surrounded by wolves, he was still a dragon yet, and possessed of a dragon’s pride, so he would not give them the satisfaction of hearing him make a case for his life. There would be no declarations for them to refute, no demands they could ignore, no pleas they could deny or excuses for them to tear apart. This Sovereign had held true to his Path, but the Heavens saw fit to deny him his rightful place above them, meaning these Natal Souls were merely the tools of Heavens’ Will and the instruments of his demise.

 

Instruments which ceased their endless assault as Falling Rain made his presence known once more, and this Sovereign was surprised to see how much the boy had changed. There was an air of confidence about him that wasn’t there before, not the bold brashness of a man with the upper hand or the cocky impudence of a boorish victor, but a certainty about his poise and a tenacity of spirit which was baked into the core of Falling Rain’s essence, qualities which were not present before. Oh he had his arrogance, that casual disdain and pretension about him, but now he had the confidence to pair with it, and this Sovereign had no choice but to admit that the boy wore it well.

 

No, not a boy, but a cultivator, a Nascent Immortal who’d surpassed this Sovereign’s millennia of effort in little more than two decades of life.

 

There was still life and Prana left to this Sovereign’s host yet, but he saw no point in delaying the inevitable, so he accepted his defeat with grace. Dismissing his sword and spear even as his foe dismissed his army of Natal Souls, their eyes met in an exchange of mutual understanding, wherein this Sovereign placed the fate of his empire into Falling Rain’s hands, for Liang Wu Di and the Supreme Families would only bring disaster to the lands this Sovereign had guarded for so many years. There was no need for any promises or demands, because he could see that Falling Rain loved these lands just as much as he, if not more because his love extended to the people and beasts who inhabited it as well.

 

And yet, even knowing he left his Empire in able hands, this Sovereign could not accept his defeat without first asking one, last question. “How?”

 

“A difficult question to answer,” Falling Rain replied, pursing his lips in thought. “But I’ll give it my best try. Let’s start from the beginning.” Gesturing at the vast Void stretching out in all directions from beyond the boundaries of Liang Wu Sheng’s Natal Palace, he said, “Shatter the Void and become One with the Heavens, the first step in the process of refining your body, mind, and soul and removing the distinctions between the three. This is where one would lay the foundation of everything which comes after, and as such, I would call it the Foundation Establishment stage. Not just the foundation of your physique, but the foundation of your Dao, which you laid piece by piece over the course of decades spent embroiled in bloody warfare.”

 

There was no judgement in Falling Rain’s tone, no condemnation or admiration to be found, merely a rote recitation of the facts as he saw them which did much to soothe this Sovereign’s wounded pride. Moving his hands to his chest, Falling Rain continued, “The next step is to become One with the World, harmonizing your breathing and inner flow of Heavenly Energy with the physical and metaphysical world around you. A process which changes the ambient Heavenly Energy flowing through you, as well as the channels it flows through, though I will not speculate on how since I am still unsure. I can only say that the Heavenly Energy becomes more than just that, for it is marked by your essence, your emotions, and your Dao to become yours and yours alone, which you then take in as nourishment for your physique and Spiritual System.” Tilting his head to one side, he paused for a moment before adding, “I would call this Chi Purification, or maybe Chi Condensation.”

 

It was all too clear that Falling Rain was making most of this up as he went, putting his thoughts and experiences into words for the first time ever, but thus far, this Sovereign agreed with every word he said, and found no flaws in his logic. Though Fifth Brother used different names for the individual parts, the details remained almost exactly the same, showing just how brilliant this young man truly was, a genius to surpass all geniuses. “At first, there is no need to do anything more,” Falling Rain continued, his gaze distant and turned inwards as he discussed his Dao, and though this Sovereign could have taken this chance to attack, he stayed his hand because the answers were more important to him than even his eternal life. “Your body, mind, and soul are being Refined, your Dao is taking shape, and your Spiritual channels are being cleansed and widened, all of which will take time to complete… unless you have an Elemental Spirit to help pave the way, and a genius Medical Saint to help lay the foundation of your Refined Physique.” So that was the explanation for Falling Rain’s speedy progress, one this Sovereign should have guessed at before, but only because there could be no other explanation besides being a freak of nature in possession of a rare physique found in one in a hundred trillion mortals which enabled them to cultivate with extreme speed.

 

No doubt thanking the Heavens for his dog shit luck, Falling Rain paused to smile before moving on, and this Sovereign could only shake his head in envy. “Eventually however, there comes a point when your physique is fully Refined and your Spiritual System Cleansed and completed, at which point you will begin to see an excess of marked Heavenly Energy flowing through you. Left to its own devices, this marked Heavenly Energy will eventually pass through and return to be reassimilated into the Heavens, so in order to retain it, you must become One with the Self. In doing so, you demarcate a section of your Refined Physique to hold said marked Heavenly Energy, one which remains permeable to regular Heavenly Energy so as not to affect the flow. A realm within a realm, a plane within a plane, seamlessly divided and connected again to form a Core that is not a Core, a distinct Domain in which your Authority reigns supreme, and your Authority alone, without ever disconnecting from reality and the Void itself.”

 

This marked the first deviation from Fifth Brother’s theories, and yet, this Sovereign could find no fault in Falling Rain’s words because it explained away why the cultivators who Formed their Inner Cores using information gleaned from this Sovereign’s success were either unable to succeed, or created False Cores which were so flawed they would eventually prove more hindrance than boon. “What is One with the Self? How do you achieve it?”

 

It wasn’t until after the fact that this Sovereign realized he’d voiced the question out loud and revealed the depths of his ignorance, but Falling Rain simply answered without gloating. “How can you expect the world to accept you if you cannot accept yourself? This is where you erred along your Path, for you are no longer the Ying Zheng who reached Core Formation shortly after uniting the Empire, yet you have made no effort to acknowledge this change, and even outright deny it.” Again, there was no heat or condemnation in his tone, but this Sovereign burned with shame all the same, for he could hear the unmistakable ring of truth within Falling Rain’s declaration, but he was not yet done. “Even then, you could have found your Path again had you not buried your heart and humanity both, but at least you re-discovered a part of it here today.”

 

Following Falling Rain’s gaze, this Sovereign turned to see the souls of his sworn brothers standing at attention behind him, four empty shells and a fifth so spent it might as well be empty too. For a long moment, he could not understand the meaning behind Falling Rain’s words until he remembered all the fond memories he shared with his sworn brothers, and why he’d been willing to stand guard over their empty shells right up until his final moment of bitter defeat. “Earlier today, I asked you why you seek strength,” Falling Rain reminded, and this Sovereign remembered the heavy blows he’d suffered following that seemingly innocent question, blows which would have been light as a feather had this Sovereign not strayed from his Path. “You fought for fame and wealth, then for vengeance and escape, fighting for the sake of fighting because you knew no other way to live.”

 

“Until I met them,” this Sovereign continued, unable to tear his eyes away from his five sworn brothers and wishing he could go back to those early days. “I defeated First Brother Wushen when we crossed paths in the state of Qiong, winning by the narrowest of margins after three days and three nights. Had he not admitted defeat when he did, I might well have in the next breath, and he knew it too. Though enemies on the battlefield, we knew we’d found a kindred spirit in one another, and we swore brotherhood then and there.” He met Second Brother in a winehouse, playing moving melodies for spare coins which were few and far between, for the cost of constant war was staggering indeed. There, they drank themselves deep into their cups and discovered that they shared a hatred for the established norms and a wistful hope for a better future. Third and Fourth Brothers were soldiers in the employ of respective warlords, and this Sovereign won them over with his words and his deeds. Together, they embarked on a quest in their war-torn world to bring peace to the lands once more, so theirs was a bond forged in conflict and quenched in camaraderie unmatched.

 

Aside from Fifth Brother Di Zi, of course, but they all liked him at first glance, because he possessed an exuberant gaiety and merry outlook on life which few could match.

 

“Fifth Brother was the best of us all,” this Sovereign continued, narrating all of this out loud for no reason than to share his reminiscence. “A brilliant man, but what made him stood out was his generosity and compassion, willing to spare no expense to help others even complete strangers he’d just met. He had a way of seeing things that made the complex seem simple, and he always knew just what to say to help me see things clearly too. He was more than a friend, more than a brother, but a guide, a mentor, and a conselor of conscience, one whose motives were always in favour of everyone involved, especially for those without a voice. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if we’d not fallen out, if I’d not let my pride, my rage, and my fear consume me.”

 

Such was life, but it was far too late for regrets. Finished with his narration, this Sovereign made no effort to defend himself as Falling Rain took his sword in hand and raised it up high, glowing with a light that transcended the limits of mortality and touched upon the powers of Immortals in truth. “I do not know how to kill you without consigning your soul to oblivion,” he began, unapologetic to the end, but this Sovereign cared not to explain the method of his own death, nor did he particularly mind this unenviable fate, a harvest reaped for the sins he’d sown.

 

Never one to stand on ceremony, Falling Rain struck without warning and this Sovereign welcomed the bitter end, only to discover that he was not yet dead. Turning an inquisitive glance upon his foe, this Sovereign’s heart skipped a beat as he heard a familiar sigh, one he hadn’t heard in long millennia. “I told you, did I not,” Fifth Brother Di Zi began, his tone so full of regret as he plunged his hand into this Sovereign’s back and unravelled the ties keeping his soul anchored to Liang Wu Sheng’s body. “To cultivate is to nurture the truth, the Truth of the Heavens, the Truth of the World, and the Truth of the Self. You have long since lost your Truth of Self, big brother, which is why we turned against you, but I pray that you hold fast to it in your next life.”

 

“Fifth Brother,” Ying Zheng gasped, feeling like a child who’d been caught sneaking sweets by mother once again. “I understand now. I’m sorry. For everything.”

 

“I know. I too am sorry, for I wish there was another way.”

 

And as the darkness stole away all awareness, his last thought was one of pleasant comfort as he slipped into the warmth of the Mother’s embrace, one which he had denied for far too long.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 837

The barrier between reality and the Void is one delineated not by space, but rather by the speed at which time is perceived.

 

Or at least, that’s how I understand it. Here in the Void, everything moves at the speed of thought or something, so even though it feels like this fight against the Emperor has been going on for weeks, it’s really only been a few minutes in reality since we met face to face. The time differential makes it difficult to pay attention to what’s happening in Shi Bei while doing battle here in the Void, or at least keep track of what’s going on outside in what I would call ‘real’ time. Doing so would leave me distracted here in the Void long enough for the Emperor to put a figurative kettle on the stove and enjoy himself a cup of tea like a proper monarch would, or tear my ass a new one like the psychotic, blood-thirsty, all-conquering hegemon that the Eternal Emperor is.

Which I knew before going with the Hail Mary play, and as such, was prepared to stall for as long as needed for my prayers to reach the ears of those who could help. For the souls of the dead to respond to my call came as something of a surprise, even though I had an inkling suspicion that this was within the realm of possibilities. While the Eternal Emperor was light on the details of how he survived the apocalyptic battle which claimed the lives of his sworn brothers, the fact that he was able to salvage their souls and implant them into new bodies tells me that a soul can survive without a physical vessel in the event of biological death. For a time, at least, as I suspect the presence of starving Spectres in the Void makes good incentive for any lingering souls to make themselves scarce asap. After so many Demonic births and Ascensions here in Shi Bei however, loose Spectres are in short supply and promptly consumed, which enabled the souls of the fallen to linger for longer than they otherwise might in hopes of seeing this battle resolved, and therefore available to answer my prayers in my time of need.

 

A good thing too, because I doubt I could’ve stalled long enough for my original plan to take form, not on my own at least. As denizens of the Void, the souls of the dead were able to hear and respond to my Call almost immediately to lend their strength to my cause once more, and I gotta say, it felt good fighting alongside these heroes for one last hurrah. More than that, I suspect like the battle might’ve helped them in some way, freed them from the heavy burdens their violent deaths placed upon them, a cathartic release of grudges and regrets from this life before moving on to the next. I am merely a single man, one incapable of righting all the wrongs they’ve endured in life, or even fully providing for all the loved ones they’ve left behind, but at least they were able to relieve themselves of this last burden before moving on.

 

I wonder… What unresolved enmity did I carry over from my previous life to make me the man I am today? There has to be some reason why I was able to awaken memories of my past life. You know, aside from me being crazy, since crazy doesn’t usually dredge up prior incarnations to fill the role of split-identities. Or maybe it does. I don’t know. Whatever the case my be, I suspect my past life wasn’t all sunshine and roses else I never would’ve ended up like this, though I’m glad a part of Buddy made the trip over with me.

 

Grateful as I am for the aid from all these fallen heroes, I was never counting on them to win me the day, nor am I willing to let them throw away their chance at reincarnation either. Had the Eternal Emperor not brought it up, I wouldn’t have noticed the souls of the dead slowly succumbing to Unbalance around me until it was too late to save them. In retrospect, it makes sense since I know that souls expend emotion by virtue of their existence, and are unable to generate new emotions without an attached body and mind. Not unless they care to merge with an Elemental Spirit at the risk of being consumed should they ever become Unbalanced at least, which is just a whole other thing I don’t entirely understand. It’s all academic anyways, for the solution to their woes comes to me in a moment of Insight as I utilize Tranquility as a Keystone to emanate an Aura of calm serenity and something else to soothe the rage of the fallen souls and send them on their way. A simple thanks is a sorely lacking farewell to heroes who gave it their all in life and in death, but unfortunately, it’s all I can offer. I wish I could do more, but I don’t know enough about reincarnation to help them any more than I have, so all I can do is wish them all the best as I turn to face my foe once again.

 

But not alone, for though the souls of the dead have moved on, there are still others able and willing to help shoulder the Heavens for humanity.

 

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Eyes darting over to stare at one particular patch of sky, Lin-Lin squinted as hard as she could, but still couldn’t make out her beloved hubby, despite knowing he was right there.

 

Things had to be really, really bad though, because it sounded like he was asking for help, but she was more than happy to lend a hand however she could. Even though she wasn’t a Warrior, Lin-Lin was still really strong, so if hubby needed help shouldering the Heavens, then she would do her best and give it her all, because hubby never, ever, ever liked to ask for help. It was so silly, his stubborn insistence on doing things his way and making all the mistakes himself, but at least he learned from them eventually.

 

Arms wrapped around Luo-Luo’s waist, Lin-Lin nuzzled into the tall woman’s embrace and rested her head against Noodle’s soft, supple body coiled underneath the dress. Opening herself up to the Heavens, she reached for Balance and yawned deeply as she always did, believing Luo-Luo would keep her safe, and from the way she moved an arm to shield her, Lin-Lin knew she’d guessed right. There was no helping it though, because hubby needed help and this was the only way Lin-Lin knew how to, which meant falling asleep on the battlefield even if it wasn’t the most convenient place to do so.

Grumbling under her breath as Noodle shifted under Luo-Luo’s dress, Lin-Lin held back a girlish giggle. So lewd, letting Noodle crawl around across her bare skin, but if it made them both happy, then who was Lin-Lin to judge, ya?

 

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Holding the precocious Ancestral Hare close as she snuggled in close, Luo-Luo didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of Lin-Lin falling fast asleep mid-battle while still standing on both feet.

 

The poor girl had probably pushed herself too hard, running and jumping about the battlefield as if it were one of Lord Husband’s obstacle courses, only a thousand times more deadly, if not more. Wincing at the sight of her blood staining Lin-Lin’s dress, Luo-Luo fussed about for a clean handkerchief but came up short. Blood was notoriously difficult to wash out, or at least that’s what Sorya and Anrhi claimed, and Luo-Luo had no reason to doubt them. Oh how she hoped they were doing well in Meng Sha, and that they would get away before another Defiled army came to lay siege to the fortress once more. That being said, this battle was still not over and Luo-Luo’s spirit burned with courage and determination both, but her body was unable to match her ambitions as her strength and vigor fell short. The pain of her abraded fingers was almost nothing compared to what the soldiers endured here today, but it still troubled her so, mostly because the pain kept her from playing in proper time since she kept flinching every time she plucked a string.

 

Unable to continue playing for now, Luo-Luo raised her eyes to the clear skies above as she hummed beneath her breath, for singing had never been her strong suit. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sing, more that there was nothing outstanding about her vocals, which contrasted all the more when following her phenomenal instrumentals. Though the song she hummed was every bit as in tune with the Heavens and the battlefield as it echoed out for all to hear, Luo-Luo wasn’t sure why she’d chosen this specific melody which differed so greatly from the song she played on her zither. Not until her weary mind finally remembered where she’d last heard this tune, a silly little ditty with nonsensical lyrics which Lord Husband taught Tali to sing, a song dedicated to Mama Bun. A doting uncle he was, always full of smiles and hugs whenever he saw them, and Luo-Luo knew in her heart of hearts that he would be a fine father as well, assuming he ever saw fit to put a child in her belly. One only needed to look at the way he cherished his beloved pets, and looking after children could hardly be any different, right?

 

The worst part was she couldn’t even be angry about his refusal to bed her, because his reasons were so sweet and stupid, for he had long since won her heart, yet still he hesitated to accept her for fear of rejection. A wonderful, loving man, her Lord Husband, and Luo-Luo hoped he was doing well, though she knew not why she thought of him and this melody just now.

 

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The hound’s mournful, panicked howl gave the wolf a great fright, one which was doubled as he watched his packmate disappear before his eyes.

 

Blinking twice almost got him killed as the Demonic Divinity continued to fight, a feral thing of claws and fury which didn’t fight like man or beast. A tricksy one, especially since the wolf had fought only to distract it for the hound to Devour in one gulp, only for the floppy-eared glutton to miss his cue and disappear moments before he was to strike. Annoyed though the wolf might be, he worried for the little hound, a beast so silly and stupid that it belied all belief. How was it possible for a creature so innocent and inexperienced to have survived long enough to attain Divinity? Once this battle was over and done with, he’d been planning on teaching his packmate the instincts he would need to hunt and survive, but now the hound had just up and vanished into thin air, leaving only a vague sentiment urging the wolf to hurry up and follow along.

 

Swatting the Demonic Divinity aside, the wolf grumbled up a storm underneath his breath while struggling to come to a decision. Keep the Demon alive for his packmate to eat, or go on a killing spree and possibly ruin their hunt? Lashing out with a handful of Claw Intent, he crushed the Demon’s head with a single strike before moving onto his next target. No sense faffing about waiting for the hound to return, like a lovesick sea wife waiting by the docks for her sailor of a husband. If the hound missed out on his meals, well then he had no one to blame but himself, so maybe he would learn a thing or two about leaving his pack in the middle of a hunt.

 

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Eyes filling with tears of joy and pique both, Mila’s nose scrunched up into something halfway between a smile and a grimace. “Idiot,” she muttered, hunkering down behind her shield and bracing for yet another boneshaking block, one she Deflected as much as she could yet still almost knocked her off her feet. Happy as she was to discover that her beloved husband had remembered how to ask for help, she couldn’t help but resent his poor choice of timing, or the vague manner in which he asked without any words or instructions to follow. What sort of help did he need? A Chi infusion like what Lin-Lin shared earlier? If so, Mila had no idea how to go about doing so, especially since she had no idea where Rain was at the moment. Was he nearby, fighting Zhen Shi in Concealment? He had to be, and if he was here asking for help with his hat in hand, then his fight most certainly wasn’t going well. Oh how she wished he would stop being an idiot and just say what he needed, but he persisted with his vague impressions of required assistance without uttering so much as a word.

 

It was times like these when Mila wished she could fall head over heels in love with a woman, but much as she loved her sister-wives, she still preferred Rain’s affections. His roaming hands, his eager lips, his hungry stare, the mere thought of this was enough to send a chill down her spine and set fire to her loins. A craving she could do without at this very moment, and one she lacked the energy to sate even if the battle ended this very moment, not that she thought Rain would even want her. Not only had she been stuck fighting in Shi Bei for the better part of fifteen days, she couldn’t remember the last time she bathed, because unlike those blessed to serve in Meng Sha, there wasn’t enough water to go around for quenching everyone’s thirst, much less washing their faces.

 

A sense of lust and amusement washed over her, emanating from Rain rather than from within, and Mila chortled at his perverted conduct which hinted at the depths of his love and lacking standards both. Oh how she loved her husband so, even if he frustrated her to no end, and she only hoped he would continue to frustrate her until their dying days. Or his, if she was being practical, but Mother forbid those days come too soon, for Mila was far too young to be a widow just yet.

 

Whatever he needed, she would provide without questions, save to ask what in the high Heavens did he actually need…

 

And just like that, whatever help Rain needed was provided and brought away, though Mila still had no idea what she’d done, and she gave it no mind as she turned her focus back to the Half-Demon trying to kill her.

 

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Emotional Aura was a godsend from the Mother Above for those who cared not for social niceties.

This Song wholeheartedly believed. There were no words exchanged, no pleasantries to feign, no courtesies to observe or body cues to remember. All it took was a brief moment of emotion to convey their respective intents, another moment to parse through them, and then Rain was off with whatever he’d needed from Song to go about his day. All he required was her trust, which he’d long since acquired, and then she sent him off with her best wishes to do whatever it was that needed to be done. The details were unimportant, nor was she worried regarding his ultimate fate, because despite matters having grown dire enough to come and ask for help, Rain was brimming with courage and determination both. If history was any indication, this meant that no matter the outcome, he will have given it his all, which was all anyone could ever ask. Victory or defeat lay in the hands of the Heavens now, and as the Mother’s Chosen Son, Song suspected Rain would emerge triumphant soon enough.

 

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The left flank seemed in danger of folding, so Yan dispatched a Wind Blade to support them, a finger-length sliver of Honed Air that hammered clean through the leading Half-Demon’s unarmoured face.

 

As her target dropped like a sack of rice, the other Half-Demons faltered and eyed her from afar, unable to see where the invisible attack came from but fairly certain she was responsible for their comrade’s death and wholly unwilling to become her next target. A good thing too, because she didn’t have too many more Wind Blades left to give, not unless sweet lovable Lin-Lin came back with another refreshing top-up of Chi for Yan’s Core. The Enemy didn’t know that however, so their fear kept them mostly in line as she supported her soldiers to hold the wall against these powerful armoured invaders. Though seemingly an improvement from your bog-standard Defiled in every possible way, Yan found that these elite Half-Demons were far easier to manage than the crazed masses of Defiled or hordes of fearless Demons who came pouring in without end. The Half-Demons were still human yet, retaining control of enough of their minds to feel fear and dread which she exploited to no end. A good thing too, because if not for their human failings, they might well have overrun all of Shi Bei in the initial push, as only their unwillingness to die for this forsaken city of sand kept them from slaughtering the defenders to the last.

 

It was obvious at first glance to anyone with Officer’s training, that a proper commander could easily have guided the Enemy Half-Demons to victory. They only had to coordinate and break through in a handful of strategic and eye-catching areas to deal a deathblow to Imperial morale, and fleeing soldiers were much easier to kill than ones willing to fight. A good thing Bai Qi was dead and gone then, and his chosen second sorely lacking in terms of command. It was either the handsome Mao Jianghong with his icy aloofness, or the even more handsome exile who sired Rain. Now that she knew how good he could look, Yan was eager to head home and stuff her husband’s face until he grew fat, or at least filled out to match his sire’s strapping physique, or Gerel’s which she wouldn’t mind a taste of. Rain would hate that, jealous man that he was, and while Yan would never do anything untowards without his blessing, there was a devilish temptation glowing about Gerel now that she knew he was Rain’s brother by blood.

 

Seriously. Brothers. What woman could say no to that? Yan was even willing to let Rain have a dalliance with Yuzhen, if that’s what it would take, though Gerel would probably be equally as unwilling. Birds of a feather they were, which in retrospect made it all too obvious why they couldn’t stand the other’s presence for more than a few minutes.

 

Offering her beloved husband’s disgruntled presence a teasing smirk as she noted his arrival, Yan inwardly fluttered her eyelashes in feigned innocence, knowing how much he loved her wilder side and how it ignited his competitive streak. Though having long since resigned to spending the next century as a one-man woman, she didn’t begrudge him for his limits, though she would be lying if she claimed she wasn’t envious of his harem and yearned to have one of her own to match. It was all in good nature, because she knew her husband well, and knew that he would never intentionally do anything to disappoint her. Any unintentional mistakes would be quickly corrected as well, and he would rather die than see them hurt, which was partially why Yan had been willing to marry him in the first place, a decision she would never regret, so long as she should still draw breath.

 

A blown kiss and a warm hug, that was the sentiment she reassured him with, before sending him off in the same breath. Whatever his trials and tribulations, there wasn’t much she could do to help besides whatever it was he just did, so he would have to overcome them on his own. There was no need to worry though, because she had every confidence in him, and so long as her soldiers held and the Enemy remained leaderless and without direction, then it was only a matter of time before the siege of Shi Bei was lifted.

Now wouldn’t that be a pleasant surprise, for Rain to come flying to the rescue only to realize that Yan and the others had already solved the issue at hand. Her beloved fool of a husband had enough on his plate, so she was determined to ease his burdens by winning the battle between mortal powers before he made his triumphant return.

 

Another Half-Demon was about to gain the upper hand, so Yan sent another finger-length Wind Blade his way with a flick of her finger, marveling at just how practiced she’d become. “Hold the line,” Yan bellowed, speaking to herself and her flagging soldiers at the same time. “Victory will soon be in our grasp!”

 

Mother in Heaven, she hoped that was true, because Yan had never been more exhausted.

 

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The familiar presence made itself known in a manner so polite and understated that Kuang Biao almost overlooked its arrival, only to stagger back in sheer surprise when he recognized who it was. Burning with remorse and contrition, he offered his heartfelt regrets and apologies to the young Legate, for though Falling Rain had long since won Kuang Biao’s loyalty and respect, the Death Corps Guards moved at the Emperor’s orders. They’d been given no choice but to withdraw from Meng Sha and stand idly by while the heroes of the Empire fought against all odds here in Shi Bei, a decision which filled him with rage and grief, for he would have gladly fought and died alongside these vaunted heroes. Having borne witness to the entirety of the siege, his admiration for these provincial Warriors was second only to his contempt for the Supreme Families who even now treated the lives of their subjects like pieces upon the playing board.

 

There was no condemnation from Falling Rain however, not even a hint of displeasure, at least none directed towards Kuang Biao and his fellow Death Corps Guards. Instead, he was here to ask for help, and Kuang Biao gladly offered it, for if ever given a choice, he would serve Falling Rain over any Imperial Scion, even the Emperor himself. Gratitude and embarrassment were all he felt in response, and then the young Warrior’s presence was gone, but as Kuang Biao glanced around in bewildered confusion, he noted that he wasn’t the only one wearing a flustered expression in the crowd.

 

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My adorable doggo appears in the Void alongside me, the first living being to respond to my call, with plenty of happy yips and frantic wags to greet me. It doesn’t last for long however as he spots the Eternal Emperor across from us, and his hackles raise at the mere sight of our formidable foe even as he takes shelter behind my legs. Though sweet as can be and utterly useless in a real fight, my doggo utters a deep, guttural growl, one full of warning and caution without any real threat. Ineffective though he might be as a guard or hunting, Buddy’s mere presence alone is enough to wash away my fatigue and bring me my second wind, though I suppose that number should be higher if we take into account all of today’s trials and tribulations. Buddy is my emotional support dog in every sense of the word, a furry little bundle of endless joy and love that I brought with me from my past life into this one, a feat made possible by the fact that Rayne loved Buddy so much that an imprint of Buddy’s soul was left on his own. This Buddy is not the Buddy’s real soul, which probably reincarnated into another life by now, but a reflection of the real Buddy, a soul cast in the same mould as the original, with many of the same emotions and memories.

 

They say love is magical, and it’s corny as hell, but there’s no denying the truth.

 

A truth supported by the arrival of the second soul following the departure of the recently dead, someone I never expected to see. It’s not Lin-Lin, who trusts me implicitly without any doubts whatsoever and would have responded without question, which I know because if she didn’t she’d never would’ve been able to make her way into my Natal Palace before. Nor is it Mila, Yan, or Luo-Luo, who I love dearly but don’t expect to see here in the Void for a little while longer, because they’re strong, independent women who have become my lifelong partners in love, and as partners, deserve an explanation even if I don’t really have one to give. The new arrival isn’t Taddy, who loves me like a son and harbours no doubts in his heart, or Dad who wholeheartedly believes I am his son, genetics be damned. I honestly expected Alsantset would be the first to arrive after Buddy, because my older sister has always been the one looking out for me from day one, but it turns out, I was wrong.

 

Because my older brother has been keeping an even closer eye on me all this time, without me even knowing it.

 

Not Gerel, my brother by blood, who I’m not sure will even heed the call I sent out since he’s not exactly the trusting type, but Charok, my brother-in-law who has been right here with me from the very start.

 

“You seem surprised,” Charok begins, greeting me with a familiar grin as he takes his place beside me, neither leaning too closely nor standing too far away which shows just how well he knows me. Alsantset would throw an arm around my neck, which I don’t hate, but don’t always love it either, while Dad would feel compelled to pat me on the shoulder or head. Mom likes to run her fingers through my hair, which I enjoy because it shows how much she loves me, while Gerel is every bit as awkward as I am and would stare me down to prove that he’s not awkward at all. This isn’t to say I don’t love all the people I just listed or how they show their affection, but I also like my personal space, so while hugs and pats are fine every now and then, there is a very finite limit I am willing to accept before I’m forced to tolerate it instead.

 

Which Charok understands, hence his distant but not too distant greeting, and I love him all the more for it.

 

Throwing my arms around him in a hug, I cannot help but let out a joyous laugh. “I didn’t know you were close enough for my Natal Souls to reach.” Furrowing my brow in concern, a thought strikes me and I ask, “Were you captured by the Legate? Are Tali and Tate okay?”

 

“No and yes,” Charok replies, before furrowing his brow as well, which does nothing to ease my troubled concerns. “As far as I know.” Shrugging, he adds, “Or perhaps I should say as far as you know. I am not entirely sure, as I am not the Charok you left behind in the Citadel.”

 

And just like that, the answer comes to me, knowing without knowing before I even knew what I wanted to know. This isn’t Charok’s real soul, or even a Natal Soul, but rather a reflection of the imprint he left on my soul, the same manner in which Buddy was brought forth. While still processing this new information, my eyes are involuntarily drawn to Charok’s wrist, one gushing with enough blood to almost send me spiraling into a panic, but my brother by choice shoots me a calm, soothing smile which brings me back to the day he left this impression upon my soul, almost two years after I arrived at the village when I was still struggling to find Balance because of my fear. There we sat, around a little campfire which Charok just used to make a delicious lunch, when he stopped and asked me a single question which I have struggled to answer ever since.

 

“Why do you seek strength?”

 

I remember how I replied, with a joke about crushing my enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women, but he told me to go reflect on the question and come back with a serious answer. Of course, me being me, I did no reflecting at all and simply wasted some time wandering around before coming back to camp, at which point I tried to change the topic. Charok wasn’t having any of it though, and he asked me the question again, so I told him I wanted to be strong so I could defend myself, so I could fight back if anyone tried to hurt me. That was a lie too, and Charok knew it, and he needled me until I admitted the truth, that I pursue strength because I am driven towards it by fear, fear of losing control, losing my freedom, losing the people I love again.

 

So he sat me down and told me a story, the story of how he felt unworthy of being with Alsantset and how those feelings rendered him unable to find Balance. How he allowed himself to be guided by his fear, driven by it until he pushed everything else away. He hid his fear deep inside him until it consumed him from within, pushing him to the point of running out of the village half-cocked in the middle of the night to chase after a nightmare of his own devising. In doing so, he meant to show how fear, or any emotion really, doesn’t stop anyone from attaining the state of Balance. Being controlled by your emotions is what stops you, because then you have given into your emotion and in doing so, reject any and all aid the Heavens might render you.

 

And so in an effort to assuage my irrational fears, Charok swore an Oath to the Heavens stating that he would never allow anyone to take me away from the People, and if anyone should try, then they would rise up as one and wipe my enemies from existence. In doing so, he left an impression upon my soul, one nowhere near as real and complete as the one Buddy left, but one significant enough to materialize him here today in my time of need, with a little help from prayer and the Energy of the Heavens. Surprised as I am to discover this, after giving it a moment of thought, I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised at all, because like someone else said before, I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever met. Though I know myself as Falling Rain, the very essence of my being changes every time I meet someone new, because those experiences change me in turn for better or for worse. Charok’s presence here is proof of how he helped shape me to become the man I am now, one who has finally figured out the lesson he was trying to impart, to neither reject nor surrender to emotion, but embrace it and all it entails, a lesson which seems easy enough to understand, but difficult to truly accomplish. It’s been almost ten years since that fateful day, and I’ve finally managed to follow through, and in doing so, have found Balance, plain and simple.

 

A Balance I share with my loved ones as they appear in the Void to support me, or more accurately, the Natal Souls of my loved ones whom I’ve summoned here to aid me. Alsantset’s arrival is met with a smile from Charok which she returns in full strength, but even this impression left almost a decade ago knows better than to approach his wife while she’s working. Even though she just arrived, my ferocious sister is ready to rend and tear at the drop of a hat now that I’ve finally managed to pull my head out of my ass long enough to ask for her help, and she settles into a hunched stance with her spear in both hands, eagerly awaiting the start of battle. Appearing beside her, Dad takes a step forward to take up a similar stance, putting both of us behind him without blocking our avenues of attacks, emanating fierce pride and boundless joy at the prospect of fighting alongside us. Mom’s arrival is far more sedate as she reaches over to run her hand through my hair as expected, her radiant smile taking decades off her appearance before she moves to stand beside Dad.

 

Taddy swoops in almost unseen with Hua Lie at his side, both standing tall and ready to help shoulder the Heavens if they should fall. Despite being a thousand times weaker, Mila arrives in similar fashion without sparing me so much as a glance, her fetching freckled features scrunched up into an adorably fierce frown whilst brandishing her spear and shield in a protective yet aggressive fashion. In stark contrast, Yan offers me a sultry, pouty smile and a slow, suggestive bump of her hip before settling into a readied stance, so relaxed as she prepares for the fight of her life. Lin-Lin materializes on my back with her arms wrapped around my shoulders, and as testament to how much I love her, my first instinct to this unexpected intrusion of personal space is not to throw my unknown assailant head first into the ground, but rather to lean back and press my cheek against hers in a chaste show of love and affection. Luo-Luo is all smiles and sighs as she appears with her zither in hand to stand slightly behind us, and I position myself with Yan, Lin-Lin, and Mila so that Luo-Luo is beside us instead, because she is no unwanted concubine, but a partner among equals. As for Song, her arrival almost goes unnoticed because she’s busy quietly introducing herself to Buddy, though she spares me a bare fraction of a nod in greeting that speaks volumes to how she feels.

 

I count myself blessed to have so many people who love me, with still so many more to come, and I revel in the shared emotions emanating from one and all as they bare their love for me in full, love which I return in spades because I would be nothing without them.  

 

This was the outcome I was aiming for when I put my hands together to pray, to call upon the Natal Souls of my allies to do battle against the Eternal Emperor here in his Natal Palace. Powerful though I might be, my time spent pursuing the Dao has been too short and too limited for me to overcome the Eternal Emperor, but with the combined efforts of various Natal Souls working in concert, victory is all but assured. That’s the answer that came to me in my moment of Insight, to join hands with my allies to overthrow the tyrant before me, but it took a little doing to accomplish. First, I figured that asking my allies and loved ones to risk their eternal souls in battle would be dangerous to the extreme, doubly so considering their bodies and minds were engaged in a literal battle of life and death on the fields of Shi Bei. So rather than ask them to show up in full spirit, because you never go full spirit, I had my Natal Souls become vessels for my allies to send back with a sliver of their Will and souls, ones carrying the culmination of their perspective of the Dao to help me do battle against the Eternal Emperor. It’s almost the reverse of what Zhen Shi did with Gen, in that he sent in a Natal Soul to take control, whereas I handed over a Natal Soul to surrender to my allies, one they then took over and sent back without affecting their ability to do battle in the real world.

 

The lessons learned from my brief battle with the souls of the dead tells me there will be a cost to this, but the cost of imbuing a sliver of Will into a pre-packaged Natal Soul should be negligible to most, even those close to the end of their natural lifespans. Hopefully this isn’t the straw that breaks the camel’s back, because I could never forgive myself if I accidentally convinced Grandpa Du to give up his few remaining years of life just to help me in a fight, any more than I could forgive myself if he took an arrow meant for me. That being said, whatever the cost they paid, I intend to pay back in full, since I should have more than enough Life Force or whatever to spare thanks to Pong Pong’s contributions and my own Ascension to True Divinity. I don’t need to live for millennia, because a single mortal’s lifetime is enough for me, so long as it is one spent in the company of my loved ones.

 

A sentiment I firmly believe in, and one I hold fast to in my heart as the floodgates open and Natal Souls begin pouring into the Void. Many are close friends who I treat as family like Fung, Zian, Huu, BoShui, Tenjin, Tursinai, and so many more. Others are actually family, such as Grandpa Du, Kyung, Gerel and Naaran, while still more are close allies who have won my trust, such as the Abbot, Nian Zu, Situ Jia Yang, Tam Taewoong, Seoyoon, Da’in, and Wu Gam. As for the rest, they are all Warriors I am proud to stand alongside, whether they be Death Corps Guards consigned to stand and watch from the sidelines, Royal Guardians who reluctantly heed orders to do the same, brave soldiers fighting in Shi Bei even now, or political enemies like Shuai Jiao and Yong-Jin whose consciences demands they lend their efforts to the fight, even if their actions indicate otherwise. Though there are at least a million Imperial soldiers still struggling to fend off the Enemy Half-Demons in reality, only tens of thousands of Natal Souls have answered my call, which honestly is tens of thousands more than I expected. I knew my family and loved ones would respond without hesitation, and maybe a few hundred Stormguards and Sentinels would take the leap of faith and follow soon after, but almost everyone my Natal Souls were able to contact have made it here to join me in this battle against the Eternal Emperor, an honour I am not sure I am worthy to bear.

 

Touched as I am by this overwhelming show of support, I fear there is no time for niceties. These Natal Souls are mere fractions of fractions, meagre slivers of Will being held together by little more than love and determination, meaning every emotion experienced will eat away at their limited existence, so time is at a premium here. Thankfully, in my newly acquired infinite wisdom, I made sure my Natal Souls passed along all the relevant information needed to clue everyone in to what’s going on, so there’s no need for me to give a second speech in hopes of tricking everyone into thinking the Eternal Emperor is actually Zhen Shi, rather than the other way around. A good thing Zhen Shi’s physical form looks exactly like the Eternal Emperor’s soul, to say nothing of how the current host and Emperor is clad in Imperial robes despite kneeling in chains next to the throne. The actual explanation would be too difficult to get into with any sort of brevity, but the people who responded to my call care not for the details. What’s more, unlike the first wave, these Natal Souls belong to people who are still alive, so there’s no need to share my Life Force with them to ensure they can reincarnate, as even if these Natal Souls are wholly expended, the real souls are still out there in reality, inhabiting their real bodies.

 

Then again, what separates a Natal Soul from a real soul? If you make a copy of the original indistinguishable in all ways, then what sets the two creations apart besides the time of their creation? A difficult question to answer that I would rank up there with the ship of Theseus and all that jazz, but right now, I have more pressing matters to attend to.  

 

Because being the no-nonsense Warrior that she is, my Grand-Mentor’s Natal Soul kicks off the battle into high gear as soon as she arrives by launching a Ground-Shrinking Strike at the startled Eternal Emperor.

 

This is Akanai of the People, the Herald of the Storms, a peerless Warrior unlike any other and the first Demi-Human Divinity in history. Even more incredible is how I am able to perceive her attack, not just see it play out but also parse through the steps she went through to deliver it. Balance on Windy Leaf into Pierce the Horizon, that has been the full extent of my understanding of the Ground-Shrinking Strike up until just this very moment, which is the same as saying a Major League pitcher can wind up and throw a ball real fast. The information within the statement isn’t wrong, but it’s not exactly useful either, and I feel embarrassed for ever having tried to explain the Ground-Shrinking Strike using those exact words. There’s so much more to Akanai’s attack than the Movements of the Forms, so much more than I ever thought possible, for she is not focused solely on accelerating herself towards her opponent. That’s one half of the equation yes, eking out every last iota of speed and power her body has to spare, but at the same time, she’s also utilizing her Domain to pull on her opponent’s Domain and bring them both closer together. Given the limited strength of her Domain however, and the ‘inertia’ of her target, this generally leads to her opponent not budging an inch, but this subtle, metaphysical push-pull interaction is enough to drive her Ground-Shrinking Strike to speeds I could never previously hope to match, a metaphysical push-pull interaction to go along with the physical. Add in the scintillating Weapon Intent which appears to be a combination of Spear and Axe Intent even more formidable than my Sword Intent, and Akanai’s singular attack has done more damage to the Eternal Emperor’s soul than I and an army of the dead could manage.

 

All of which is made clear to me through her perspective of the Dao, one shared with me through the medium of emotion and Intent.

 

Maybe it’s because her Will is inhabiting a Natal Soul I prepared for her, but I can perceive almost everything she’s doing as if I were doing it myself. There are no thoughts or explanations to go with the sensation, just an awareness of the flow of Chi, the Intent behind it, and the emotions which empower it, like an echo ringing out into the Void. Amazing as it is to be given a glimpse into her mastery of the Dao firsthand, what’s more surprising is how damned proud she is of me, which given our history together shouldn’t be surprising, yet still is. She is my Grand-Mentor, my Grandmother, and my Mother-in-Law all at once. A triumvirate of roles one would not usually hold all at once for the same individual, but roles she wears with pride, alongside the responsibilities those roles entail. Though she’s never said it in so many words, her actions have all but screamed it, and she is pleased to have played a part in guiding me along my Path while eager to see where I will go next.

 

Akanai’s perspective is not the only one revealed to me, as Husolt charges into battle after his beloved wife. Out in reality, he is no match for his newly Ascended Divinity of a wife, but here in the Void, emotion and Intent matters more than arbitrary milestones of the Martial Path, and Husolt has always been a man of emotion. With his staff in hand, he delivers a powerful, two-handed hammer strike to the Eternal Emperor’s soul. Still bent double from tanking Akanai’s Ground Shrinking Strike, he is in no state to defend as Husolt’s first strike slams him into the stone surface of his Manifested court which he himself maintains. Never one for courtesy or face, my grandfather slash Father-in-Law uses this to his full advantage by unleashing a flurry of furious blows, and I see within them a glimpse of his Dao in full effect. Like the blazing fury of a red-hot forge, his attacks radiate a half-formed Intent, one that is neither Creation nor Destruction, but of both, and neither at the same time. This is the Intent he uses when forging a new Spiritual Weapon, hammering away at steel to cleanse it of impurities and shape it into the form he envisions. Right now however, he can only see hatred and death. In his eyes, the Eternal Emperor is not some ancient, insurmountable monster out of history, but the man who dared slight his beloved wife, the villain who summoned her to Central to bestow upon her a title as reward for her heroics, yet left her wholly unprotected from the greed and envy of his subjects.

 

And hell hath no fury like a loving husband whose beloved wife was scorned, as Husolt has held firmly to this grudge for more than fifty years, and this cathartic release sees his Natal Soul rise to the heights of Divinity to match his wife.

 

The Eternal Emperor rebounds from these attacks in the blink of an eye and rips apart the husband-and-wife pair utilizing some Honed attack of Domain, Spirit, and more. Though their part in this battle is done, their actions have inspired the other Natal Souls into battle. This in turn triggers a deluge of information to flood through me as I am given a glimpse into thousands of individual Dao’s, a look at how every combatant perceives the power they wield and a chance to better understand the Dao as a whole. An intoxicating rush, for in the blink of an eye, so many mysteries are made clear to me, and the more I comprehend, the more easily I am able to put it all together to move myself further along my Path. Knowing how Mom delivers her shards of Domain and how Luo-Luo turns moving melodies into group buffs to everyone who hears them might not seem related, but put them together in the right orientation and timing and now I have a method to imbue a sound with my Domain to attack my foes through Sending. The little trick I played on Miss Rou’s guards, blaring a soundtrack to disorient them? If I were to use it again, those guards would be left dead and bleeding from their eyes, nose, ears, and mouth.

 

Nian Zu’s Shooting Star takes Amplified Resonation in the completely opposite direction as the Mountain Collapsing Stomp, as rather than increase the magnitude of forces, he compresses and contains them until there is power enough to literally vibrate physical matter apart, as he demonstrates by demolishing a solid chunk of the Emperor’s court in an attempt to bring him down. What would happen if I combine these two opposing rationales, increasing magnitude while compressing the results? Untold destruction as far as I can tell, but even here in the Void, I dare not try it, because there is no way I could control it.

 

Kuang Biao and the Death Corps Guards know nothing of the Forms, for those are a creation of the outer provinces, and instead train using a series of secret maneuvers and breathing exercises which help them strengthen their bodies, minds, and souls as well as purify their Chi. This explains the discrepancy between the Imperials and outer provinces, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides. For example, the Forms are loosely defined in order to guide the practitioner to become more familiar with themselves and seek out the best Forms for them, whereas the maneuvers practiced by the Death Corps are clear cut and precise, a rigid formula of perfection based on the body type of the creator. The former is a set of guidelines, the latter explicit rules, and while the Forms take longer to master, they have the potential to lead to the pinnacle of an individual’s Dao. In contrast, the Imperial method offers faster progress if and only if the individual’s body type matches well with the creators, but if not, then sooner or later, you’ll run into a glass ceiling and have to figure out the rest for yourself.

 

Mila’s Blessing of Sun borrows power from the actual sun itself, a feat replicated by Yan’s Blessing of Air through use of her fan, so why have I been trying to make water out of nothing? There was a time when I thought I could condense the water right out of the air, but I dismissed it as wrong, yet it wasn’t the method that was incorrect, merely the logic behind it. On the flip side, Yong-Jin utilizes his Blessing of Wood by mimicking Wood Chi with his own, without any borrowing involved, enhancing his Manifested Domain in the areas of durability, flexibility, and tensile strength. Shuai Jiao takes it even further by having his Wood Chi behave as Chi, forming a closed loop in which his Chi mimicks Wood Chi mimicking Chi, enabling his attacks to move beyond the physical realm and target the metaphysical as well. Where Yong-Jin can lock down joints with his Grasping Vines, Shuai Jiao’s also target the Spiritual System and interfere with the flow of the victim’s Chi, making it even more difficult to escape. Two different Paths to the pinnacle of Elemental Blessings, yet neither one is wrong or right, just different ways of going about the same general principle.

 

And all this is merely scratching the surface of my recent attainments, some of which would make defeating the Eternal Emperor a breeze.

 

There are no instant answers provided like with the limited omniscience of the Heavens, but a more intimate sense of comprehension based on my rapidly flourishing perspective of the Dao, one which makes this knowledge feel so much more like my own. That doesn’t necessarily mean I can retain it, or even explain it, the same way I can’t really explain how I track a ball flying through the sky and know where to run to so I can catch it, but I sure as hell am confident I can catch anything the Eternal Emperor might throw at me from here on in. The issue is, all the information feels too much like my own, except my Dao and perspective differs greatly from everything I am being shown. Like a man who spent his life in darkness, I am now being blinded by the sun, unable to find my way within this world of glaring light. The answers come too fast for me to keep up as I struggle to hold firm to my perspective beneath an avalanche of information threatening to wash me away where I stand. Had I not finished Refining my body, mind, and soul then gone on to affirm my Path, my Dao, and my sense of self, then I might well have been broken by this deluge of differing perspectives and Dao. Even after coming so far, I still feel myself coming apart at the seams as I lose myself in the rush of mysteries revealed to me en masse, unable to keep myself from drinking deeply of this enlightening nectar and plunder the secrets my allies have given over for my study.

 

Knowing without knowing, comprehending without understanding, this is where I stand upon my Path, but the knowledge provided is terrifying and vast. Frozen in indecision, I lose sight of the battle and the people who came to support me as I suffer a crisis of faith. Within these answers, I have uncovered a next step along the Path, only I am not sure if this is a step suitable for me. Defeating the Eternal Emperor, winning the siege in Shi Bei, dealing with the Supreme Families and their allies, all this and more seems so inconsequential as I deliberate whether to take this next step presented to me, one I must take now while I still can lest it be forever denied me again should I lose this ineffable state, but a step which could well be the end of me.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 836

 

The resounding silence echoes endlessly throughout the Void in response to my non-verbal call to arms, proving once and for all that thoughts and prayers are well worth their weight in gold.

 

No, that’s the old me, the empty me, the faithless me, the me who was too afraid to want things because the inevitable disappointment was becoming too difficult to bear. This is a new me, with a new body and new outlook on life, a brighter, more courageous me who understands myself better than ever before. I wouldn’t be the first person to find religion on the battlefield, but this isn’t a desperate appeal to powers unbeknownst to me hoping they’ll miraculously save me from all that ails me. My prayers are not directed to a deity on high in hopes of Divine Intervention, nor is it a plea for deliverance or absolution. Instead, I am praying to the Energy of the Heavens themselves, and not because I am depending on them to fix everything. I am praying because as silly and ridiculous as it might sound, prayer is the best option moving forward that doesn’t involve complete surrender.

 

How do I know this? I’m not entirely sure, but I am certain I am on the right track. I know this in my heart of hearts, because my gut, my instincts, my intuition, experience and Insight, all this and more is telling me to believe in myself and my fellow people, and my faith will be rewarded. It’s not the limited omniscience of the Heavens guiding me anymore, but a more subtle and personal directive. Before, all I had to do was wonder and the answer would be provided, not so much in words, but in actions, yet I always knew those answers were not truly mine. Now, however, it’s almost as if a part of me knows this is the right way to go except I can’t find the words to express it. Knowing without knowing, but with more intimate undertones, as if I’ve known all of this all along and done it a thousand times before. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that’s what it feels like now, as if I’m picking up a bike and getting ready for my first ride in a long, long time. It’s familiar and foreign at the same time, so natural and instinctive that there’s no way it can be wrong.

 

It’s the same sensation as your first natural kiss, when you look into the eyes of someone you love and are just naturally drawn towards them. Or the feeling of walking down a path you’ve gone down a thousand times before, but not for many years since. I imagine this is the same feeling Roc has when he swoops in to perch on my shoulder, knowing exactly how fast to fly and how hard to brake to come to a perfect, near weightless landing, or when Jimjam finds the optimal path up a towering tree trunk. Knowing without knowing, except now, this knowing extends beyond the physical realm and into the metaphysical.

 

It takes everything I have to quiet the skeptic in me, that stubborn, comic book nerd who only understands what I’ve learned in my past life and refuses to accept any new lessons from this one. Putting aside the debatable value of thoughts and prayers in my last world, there is an undeniable weight to them in this one, because faith has a power all of its own due to how the Energy of the Heavens works. Gerel and I have always butted heads about my lack of faith, but I’ve repeatedly missed the point he was trying to make, or ignored it because I didn’t want to accept it. When he says I lack faith, he isn’t talking about my love/hate relationship with religion, but rather faith in the Energy of the Heavens themselves.

 

Again, not in the sense that the Energy of the Heavens is some anthropomorphic being looking out for my best interests, but rather in letting it do what it does best. It’s no different from my faith in science. I don’t exactly understand everything there is to know about gravity, but even though I can’t rattle off a proof that will set aside all doubts, I have faith in the fact that whatever goes up, must come down. Except that’s not entirely true, because there is an argument to be made that if you go up long enough, you never have to come back down once you break through the atmosphere and free yourself from the pull of this planet’s total mass. Again, I’m taking this on faith, because I sure as shit have never been to space, nor have I really taken the time to go through the proofs of the math behind those facts because, in all honestly, that’s boring. So the long and short of it is that I believe in gravity without wholly understanding it, but I don’t need to understand it in order to use it. Push rock off cliff, rock fall and squish people below. Simple. Easy. Effective. This is the mindset I should be using when approaching the Energy of the Heavens, focused on how to use it rather than figuring out how it works, and only then will I possess the qualifications to delve deeper into the details. The bigger issue is that the Energy of the Heavens is far more complicated than gravity in that it is a force affected by the way I perceive it. Thus, in my desire to affix rules and formulas to the Dao, I demonstrate a lack of faith in its ability to heed my Will and do whatever is needed to fulfill it without any further guidance from myself, guidance I am then unable to provide to obtain the outcome I desire. This in turn negatively affected its ability to act without said guidance, and thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

 

It’s Guiding all over again. I can do it, as long as I don’t think too hard about it, because thinking about it means I need to provide all variables, but I’m unable to do so which makes it no longer work. The same thing with teeth. Humans aren’t supposed to naturally regrow their adult teeth, except in this world they do, because faith and Heavenly Energy.

 

It ain’t exactly all logical, but it makes sense. There are limits to what the Energy of the Heavens can do of course, namely that it must adhere to the rules of the world. Teeth are easy, because the framework is already there, so the Energy of the Heavens is really only stimulating an entirely natural process. The same could be said regarding the Refinement and Cleansing of my body, mind, and soul, because when I surrendered complete control of the process and trusted the Energy of the Heavens, it was more than capable of handling all the details from start to finish and improving me in every way possible. That is my Path now, the way forward from here, a compromise between my need to understand things and my supernatural ability to willfully ignore the facts whenever it suits me, which even as I say sounds far too complicated to actually explain. The amount of shit I still don’t entirely understand about how I Refined my body, mind, and soul could fill the oceans and then some, but I had faith in the process. By acknowledging several truths about myself and affirming my Dao, I was able to hold true to my sense of self and in doing so, become One with the Heavens and One with the World. This in turn enabled me to retain my unique individuality so that the Energy of the Heavens could rebuild me from the ground up without destroying the core essence of who I am.

 

Because to pursue the truth without the truth of self is to pursue a lie, and one cannot lie to oneself or the Heavens above. Maybe that’s why Ancestral Beasts and Human Divinities remain false Divinities, unable to take that final step because they instinctively know that they would lose themselves in the process, the same way I knew any attempt to Ascend would’ve ended in failure before today’s events.

Luckily I have plenty of experience finding myself from all my bouts of crazy, which enabled me to surrender without losing control, which brings me to my current prayer. A last resort which should be working, except it isn’t. There’s no answer to my prayer just yet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one, only that I am doing something wrong because I feel like I should’ve gotten an answer already. So why am I being stonewalled? Because my prayer is too vague, too uncertain, too broad and all-encompassing. I made a call for help asking humanity to stand up against a shared foe, but I didn’t include any incentive to answer. Humans are typically pretty decent, but only a rare few are willing to stand up and do the right thing for no reward whatsoever. There isn’t much I can offer however, except to share why I believe we must all unite together and overthrow the Eternal Emperor, and when all is said and done, I hope this will be enough.

 

In other words, I need to focus my Will, clarify my Intent, and only then will the Heavens move to assist me. Perspective matters, but Intent is more important, one I have failed to clarify beyond a basic, “Gib halp, plz.”

 

So why do I need help? Besides the fact that I’m in over my head and about to die, because again, most people wouldn’t really care all that much. Well, some might, but how many would be willing to risk their own lives to help a stranger survive? That being said, even though I’m out here fighting for my damn life, that’s not the only reason I’m here. I don’t mean here in Shi Bei specifically, but here in general, as the person I am today. Like I said before, I could’ve walked away from all this at any point in time, stayed home in the mountains or sat safe in the Citadel and no one would’ve thought twice about it. But I didn’t. I chose to embrace my title as the Undying Savage, chose to fight for the honour of being the Number One Talent, chose to share my ideas with the world and use my limited power and influence as Minister of Finance and Legate of the Outer Provinces, decisions which have ultimately brought me here, standing in the Natal Palace of a puppet to face off against a body-snatching immortal spirit who hearkens back to the dawn of the Empire.

 

Not solely because I wanted to be the hero, or even because I needed to be a hero. No, the truth is, I do what I do because at the end of the day, I want to make the world a better place. It’s that simple. Although the various trials and tribulations I’ve faced have brought me to many a dark place, and I complain about this shitty world more than most could stand to hear, the truth is, I love this world and the life I’ve made here, with all my friends, family, and floofs. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is, so I have made it my mission to make this world the best it can be, with human rights, civil liberties, indoor plumbing, and all that other great stuff that I would rather not do without. Sure, I am often spurred on by the suffering I see, and I’ve turned a blind eye to plenty of suffering that I know I cannot fix, but I still do what I can when I can, and I hope that will never change.

That’s why I stand against the Eternal Emperor. Truth be told, I don’t hate him, or at least I didn’t before he started taking on Zhen Shi’s mannerisms and threatening all my loved ones. I may have erred in kicking off the clone wars like I did, because as far as I can tell, Ying Zheng without Zhen Shi wasn’t that much of a monster. I mean, yea, he pretty much engineered the eternal war between the Imperials and Defiled, while treating the lives of his subjects like chaff, but all things considered, he’s far from the worst option available. After a few minutes with me though, now he’s talking about sacrificing whole armies in the name of progress and torturing everyone I hold dear, and I can’t help but feel like this is partially my fault. Then again, even if he wasn’t in the process of devolving into a deranged murder-hobo, I would still stand against him, because he is dead set on hindering humanity’s progress and the sole reason why I still shit in a pot. That alone should be enough to consign him to the darkest pits of hell, but there are other reasons to fight him too. The Eternal Emperor represents the immutable status quo, a bleak and unchanging future in which trials and tribulations continue without end, but more importantly, without progress. In contrast, I hold high hopes for the future, of this world and humanity both, hopes I dare dream of because I have seen further than my peers.

 

This is the Path I’ve chosen, one I convey as best I can through prayer and emotion by sharing all the reasons I need help, why I desire strength. To survive, but more than that, to ensure the survival of those I love and care for, and to flourish in time. That is why I pursue strength, but also because in a world which believes ‘might makes right’, the only way to have a voice at the table is to carry a big stick. I yearn for the day when that is no longer true, the same way I yearn for a day when there are no more slaves suffering under the whips of their oppressors, no more people going to bed hungry after a long day’s work, no more despots picking on the weak and growing fat off their labours, and no more educated nobles exploiting the masses for mere entertainment. I dream of a day when I can be free from these conflicts to do as I please, but until such a time when all the above is true, that freedom will be denied me as I willingly fight for the freedoms of others. That is why I fight here today, because the Eternal Emperor stands before me as the Enemy of all mankind, a tyrant oppressor who would see us bound in the chains of suffering all for the sake of his misguided Balance. He is a manipulative despot who has played both sides to engineer so much death and suffering in the name of his own selfish progress, and it is long past time his reign comes to an end.

 

In short, today, I fight for freedom, freedom for the entire human race, for we have suffered the Eternal Emperor’s boot for far too long, and I invite the heroes of all humanity to fight alongside me.

 

The call goes out again through the Energy of the Heavens, and the first to answer is a familiar face which appears at my side, one I saw only moments ago. Even though I was expecting something like this when I hatched my harebrained scheme, it still pains me to see my suspicions confirmed, almost as much as it warms my heart to know that Yazhu can be depended on in life as well as in death. Born a lowly cobbler’s son, he was the first to come to my aid in JiangHu, and he is the first to come to my aid here today, clad in his Stormguard armour while waving a spectral copy of the bowtie-bunny banner he left behind alongside his cold, dead body on the ramparts of Shi Bei. Death hasn’t stopped his soul from answering my call however, but what pains me most is that I can tell that he’s not here because he believes in my cause. No, he’s here simply because I called, and he’s here to support me to the bitter end, for better or for worse, because that’s all the reason he needs. He saw what I stood for long before JiangHu and decided I was a man worth fighting for, worth dying for, so even though he’s fought and died for me once already, he figured once wasn’t enough to repay the debt of gratitude he holds for me.

 

Except Yazhu owes me nothing, not in my books. I helped open a door, but he found the courage to walk through it and forged his Path all on his own, but now his loyalty has cost him his life, and might well cost him his soul as well.

 

Many other fallen Stormguards gather around my banner, but most of those who appear are wholly unfamiliar to me. Rather than armour and weapons, many of them wear simple clothes and carry a vast array of common implements, everything from shepherd crooks and pitchforks to fishing nets and threshing flails, though a good number of them carry the repeating crossbows they carried in life. These individuals were Irregulars no doubt, common men and women lacking the gifts of Heaven yet blessed with courage and determination unmatched. They saw the war efforts firsthand and knew the dangers they faced, yet they steeled their nerves and joined up to run towards the problem, rather than away, because that’s what heroes do.

 

No small number of soldiers and Warriors form ranks alongside me, but many who’ve come to my aid make no effort to gather around my banner, and instead find their own place in the Void. Most are Warriors and look the part, so full of vim and vigour with their noble demeanours, an individualistic minded bunch who resent the Eternal Emperor’s oppression every bit as much as I do. Their desire for freedom is not lacking in comparison to mine, though their freedom is defined by their Dao, whereas I am the other way around. At the end of the day however, it matters not why they chosen to come and fight at my side, only that they have, and for this, I am grateful. Though few in number compared to the soldiers, Stormguard, and Irregulars, I recognize most, if not all of them as famed Warriors one and all.

 

There’s the married Exarches Bralton and Eriene, resplendent in their tribal headgear wielding long spears measuring one and a half times their height, united together in death as they were in life and ready to fight alongside me for no reason other than our similar, rustic origins. That’s how they’ve always been, friendly and supportive to a fault, a simple and straightforward couple who fought for the betterment of the Empire because they love it as much as I do. Their carefree smiles tell me all this and more as they ready to fight alongside me once again, one last hurrah before they’re forced to part ways through the cycle of reincarnation.

 

The Fiery Star Song Qing twirls her signature meteor hammer overhead with eyes narrowed in the personification of wrath, while her hulking younger brother hovers protectively at her side, with head lowered and shoulders hunched to avoid being brained by her weapon, while his eyes are firmly fixed upon her. Neither one cares to spare me a glance, which tells me they’re not here for me. In fact, they died before I even arrived in Shi Bei, the younger dying for the elder before she lost herself to grief, yet now they have returned to even the score now that the true Enemy has been revealed. This is personal for them both, and they will have their pound of flesh, or close to it as they can get, and I am in no position to be turning down their help, even if I wanted to.

 

Never one to stand out when he could blend in instead, I almost overlook Ryo Geom-Chi as I scan through the crowd, and I’m struck by a wistful sense of loss and regret for never having gotten to know the man before he was killed by a Half-Demon. Though we never really sat down and got to know one another better, what I do know is that Geom-Chi seemed like a stand-up guy. Although he and Tam Taewoong got in a fight with Fung and BoShui their first day in Nan Ping, Geom-Chi never held it against them, nor did he ever treat me with any hostility or disdain that I so commonly get even from my so-called allies. In fact, knowing what I know now, I like him even more, because I suspect he was against Seoyoon’s betrothal to Yong-Jin simply because he knew his sister was in love with Fung. That explains his absence from the meeting with Shuai Jiao and the Legate, as I suspect they kept him away because they were worried he’d mess the plan up by warning me through Sending. Unfortunately, it’s too late to ask him now, but as I meet his piercing gaze from across the Void, I offer him a small nod of heartfelt respect and an unspoken promise to look after his loved ones should I make it out of this alive, because it’s the least I can do for leading him to his death.

 

Northern Sentinels and former bandits who’ve ridden at my side since Sanshu. Western vagabonds without a home to return to but have found meaning in the promises I’ve made. Southern soldiers here to serve a cause they don’t entirely believe in, yet fight for all the same to ensure the safety of the Empire overall. Central patriots defending their borders from a threat which has changed their entire way of life. Some I recognize at first glance, while others possess identities I can only guess at, for the appearance of their souls do not match the appearance they had in life. Situ Chi Gan, for example, whom I only recognize due to his longsword and cloak, a twin for the black and gold one Nian Zu wears bearing the Situ Crest. Ishin Ken Shibu is almost unrecognizable without the face paint, which he wore even into battle after I foisted the title of “Painted Dancer” onto him, a name he came to wear with pride, and one I will see raised to the highest honour as thanks for his service in life and in death. These men were never what I would call close allies, and were even at odds against me most of the time, but they both understand the value of putting aside grievances for the greater good.

 

A reasonable and impartial take, all things considered, and Bai Qi is nothing if not both. The Lord of Martial Peace stands apart from the rest, his Green Crescent Dragon Blade at the ready and a small cadre of loyal supporters behind him. These devoted Officers still follow him even in death, men and women who trusted him to lead them to victory time and time again, until he lost his Path. I can hardly blame him either, because everything Bai Qi worked for, fought for, all the peace and prosperity he dared to dream and hope for, all of those decades of lies came crashing down in the span of a single day. The Enemy he fought was nothing compared to the enemy he found hidden within his ranks, the Mataram Clan working with the Defiled to serve up the West on a platter. In this moment of weakness, Bai Qi succumbed to his inner darkness and turned Defiled to fight for the Enemy, but judging by the palpable aura of serenity emanating from where he stands, it would appear that he has since come to terms with the Truth and found peace within himself, which is more than what most can ever hope for.

 

These are the heroes who answer my prayer, ones who fell upon the field of battle in Shi Bei and Meng Sha both. Imperials. Defiled. Nobles. Peasants. Warriors. Commoners. Though their numbers are not few, there are not so many as to blanket the Void, some thousands of souls belonging to the dead who’ve yet to move on and pass through the cycle of reincarnation, for their lingering grudges and unresolved grievances have kept them nearby, ready and eager to answer the call as soon as I made it. Less than I would like, yet more than I ever expected, for it requires a special sort of hero to fight on even after death, a true nobility of spirit that has won my admiration and respect.

 

The twin fires of courage and confidence burst up from within just in time for my Natal Soul to finish delivering his line, warning our foe that all his efforts were merely a distraction. Not entirely, since I was hedging my bets and hoping one of my Natal Souls might come up with something I could use to hurt the Eternal Emperor, but that still remains to be seen. Recalling all my remaining Natal Souls to me, I drop Concealment and reveal myself still standing high above the Emperor’s court alongside an army of heroic spirits I am honoured to stand with.

 

And best of all? Despite wanting nothing more than to meme on the Emperor just for shits and giggles, I find it in me to retain a modicum of dignity and take the high road instead.

 

Would ya lookit that. Miracles do happen.

 

“Heroes of humanity,” I begin, pointing Unity at the Eternal Emperor as I unleash my Emotional Aura to bolster my allies and supress the puppeted souls of the Emperor’s court. “There stands our Enemy, an undying relic of ages past who works against us to hinder our Path by filling this world with needless suffering. It is he who united the Defiled against us, and he who spurred them onto violent action, but that is not all. He drove our supposed allies to inaction and convinced them to hinder our reinforcements, a manipulative schemer who cares not for the lives of humanity save to see them as pieces upon a chessboard for him to sacrifice as he pleases. He thinks himself as the rightful sovereign of all mankind from now unto eternity, shepherd to a flock whom he guards from themselves, but he is nothing more than a blight upon humanity, a parasite feeding off our collective experiences in the self-entitled pursuit of a lie, one I will not stand for any longer. I alone am not strong enough to defeat him, but together, united in purpose and intent, let us strike him down and free all of humanity from the shackles he has cast upon us.”

 

There is no cheer to follow my speech, no battle-cry to bolster our spirits, for there is no need. Here in the Void, we are all creatures of Spirit, some more than others, and as such, it is our emotions which speak loudest. Righteous fury and brutal rage come to the forefront first, a palpable wave that sets me back on my heels, followed by a collective determination to see this through to the end. Without flesh to hold them back, their indefatigable purpose shines through as we charge forth as one to do battle with the true Enemy of mankind and his captured souls. Though we are outnumbered, we are far from outmatched, for there is a marked difference between an enslaved puppet fighting because they must, and a heroic spirit fighting for a just cause.

 

…That being said, I still maintain this would’ve been equally awesome if I’d memed on the Emperor instead of giving a whole speech, if not even more awesome.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The Undying Savage.

 

A misnomer, as far as this Sovereign was concerned, if not the misappropriation of a lofty and exalted title by a transmigrator with delusions of grandeur. A paltry understanding of Healing enabling one to mend wounds in the midst of battle was hardly enough to be considered ‘Undying’, and barely even counted as enduring. Falling Rain was dogged and persistent, of this, there could be no denying, but to truly be considered ‘Undying’, one should at the very minimum attain an existence comparable to this Sovereign’s current state, an eternal being of spirit who’d witnessed more than a million sunrises and sunsets over the course of countless millennia. Mortals did so love their hyperbole, which explained why others called Falling Rain the ‘Undying’, but this Sovereign was even more confused as to how the boy earned the moniker of ‘Savage’.

 

Though hailing from a tribe of outlanders who’d long since made the Empire their home, Falling Rain was too well-spoken and well-educated to be dismissed as a mere savage, for if he were an uneducated brute, then the greatest scholars of the Empire’s history were only a single step removed from illiterates. The same could be said of the majority of his tribesmen, seasoned hunters and disciplined Warriors the equal of any elite military force the outer provinces could muster. Though their armour was made of treated leather rather than heavy steel, this was by necessity so as not to overburden their preferred mounts, the slender and powerful roosequins who the outlanders of old used so well to avoid this Sovereign’s slower, yet more powerful warhorses. Their steel weapons were of high-quality and craftsmanship, with an abundance of first-rate Spiritual Weapons scattered amongst them, the majority of which were polearms made from what appeared to be a natural vein of Spiritual ore. Not metallic, but mineral, yet one that blended well with steel and had been forged by gifted Divine Blacksmiths with skills that were no inferior to the grandmasters this Sovereign had come across in all his years. While such matters were outside his area of interest and expertise, he knew enough to see that Falling Rain’s people were far from the tribal savages his title depicted them as.

 

Any fool could have arrived at the same conclusion within seconds of interacting with Falling Rain, as there was nothing tribal or primitive about the boy or his people, so why then was he known as the Undying ‘Savage’?

 

A question this Sovereign never cared enough to investigate, but the answer presented itself forthwith as Falling Rain charged into battle at the head of his army of itinerant souls. During their previous exchanges, the transmigrator displayed a cunning and determination that matched well with his perceptive eye and inventive mind. His past life’s memories were significant, as they provided him with a perspective of the Dao unattainable by any other being currently existing in this world, but those memories only offered him an additional advantage which his clever self took full advantage of. One only needed to look at how quickly he adapted to know how formidable a foe he was, for upon seeing Sovereign’s memories, he responded with his own in an effort to shake this Sovereign’s Dao foundation. A weapon provided to him by the Heavens and fate itself, but one he used well by slowly building up this Sovereign’s expectations and leaving him no room for denial throughout the carefully controlled narrative. Then, when his gambit ultimately failed, he responded with a most appropriate question which allowed him to take control of the conversation once more, and he even knew enough to strike while the iron was hot, forcing this Sovereign to split his attention several ways whilst struggling to come to terms with the truth. Most impressive of all was all the improvements Falling Rain had made over the course of their exchanges these past few minutes, going from a feeble mortal largely ignorant of the Dao to a true Nascent Immortal learning how to wield the power of Creation and Destruction with little more than a thought.

 

All told, this Sovereign saw Falling Rain as a calculating man, a Warrior who relied largely on cunning, intelligence, and sheer determination to overcome the trials and tribulations before him, an impression which fell apart as the transmigrator shed all pretense of propriety and civility before diving headlong into the fray. There was nothing rational about Falling Rain as he did battle with this Sovereign’s captured court, no sign of the calm and collected young Warrior he once appeared to be, and in his place was a feral and untamed Warrior who fought with reckless and nigh on suicidal abandon. Every move he made was full of unchecked aggression as he led the charge from the vanguard, the tip of the proverbial spear wielding his sword and shield like twin blades to carve through his foes in a kill or be killed fashion. With a cruel smile etched across his face and a cold-blooded ferocity emanating from his gaze, he swept through the ranks of this Sovereign’s captured souls with the force of a typhoon and faded away like the receding tide, emanating a rousing tune of jubilant rhythm and triumphant glory all the while as he targeted the souls most capable of resisting. Sword Intent alone was not enough to destroy this Sovereign’s captured souls, yet it was more than capable of disturbing their carefully fixed states of Balance, for how could a soul be expected to hold onto Empty Balance when their entire existence erupted into agony enough to threaten eternal Death and Destruction?

 

A wolf among sheep, that was the impression Falling Rain gave off as he ran roughshod over this Sovereign’s court, a conquering hero no less influential on the battlefield than this Sovereign in the prime of his mortal life.

 

Watching him fight here was like seeing a consummate master of the arts at work, his actions and decisions seemingly so logical and ordinary yet rendering such unbelievable results. A single chop reduced a former Saint to nothingness the moment before he was about to unleash a powerful Earth-Blessed strike, for this was the very same Saint who raised the mountains Falling Rain hailed from. His second strike did away with the hundred and thirty seventh Emperor, a formidable Warrior Blessed by Darkness who possessed a considerable advantage here in the Void, yet Falling Rain’s Sword Intent cleaved clean through his defenses as the boy slipped through the battlelines like a fish in water. Though his attacks were undoubtedly powerful, there were souls far more capable than he, yet he picked them out and struck them down with almost laughable ease in a manner this Sovereign was unable to wholly explain. The boy understood warfare not on an intellectual level, but an instinctive one, capable of pinpointing weaknesses and targeting wherever his presence would have the most impact despite never having engaged in a battle quite like this.

 

In truth, this was a first for this Sovereign as well, for never before had he met a foe in possession of an army of vengeful souls, the remnant shards of itinerant Will left behind by the recently dead. Falling Rain’s army was comprised of Spectres by another name, only ones more complete, for time had yet to wear away at their Wills and consign them over to an Imbalanced existence. As if this were not enough, Falling Rain’s summoned souls possessed all the Prana they had left in life, the ineffable power of Life and Death that even Fifth Brother had been unable to quantify save to acknowledge its existence. While a living creature could not survive without Prana, this was merely a measure of their natural lifespan, meaning that those who died of unnatural causes like a spear to throat would likely have plenty of Prana remaining.

 

And in contrast? The vast majority of this Sovereign’s court of souls had long since expended the lion’s share of their Prana, for though he had claimed their lives well in advance of their natural end, resisting his efforts to control them expended their Prana at a rapid rate. As such, even though this Sovereign’s court held the numerical advantage, they were largely a spent force, save for those collected in recent centuries who were as rare as qilin horns and phoenix feathers. Aside from the Solitary Sword Zhang Jun Bao, whose soul had been claimed little more than a week prior and was still struggling against this Sovereign’s Will, the most recent soul to enter into this Sovereign’s collection was the host’s soul, Liang Wu Sheng. The others had been in his possession for at least a century, for this Sovereign had grown highly particular regarding which souls were worthy of entering his collection. At the beginning, he took in every soul that caught his interest, but as time passed, he discovered that a flawed perspective could do more harm than good, so why partake of spoiled wine when one could study it with the other senses instead?

 

Oh how it pained him to see his collection destroyed out of hand, the souls of Emperors’ past consigned to oblivion by sword and spear. Useless though they might be, each and every one of those souls were a marker of his legacy, a step along his Path which brought him to where he stood now. Try as he might to engage his hateful opponent to stop him from destroying this Sovereign’s legacy, it was all he could do to stand firm against the torrent of vengeful souls assaulting him from all sides. It wasn’t their weapons which wounded him so, but rather the powerful Intents behind them, and not Weapon Intents either. There was power in Death, this much was known, and even more so in violence and hatred, so in spurring this army of itinerant souls to action against this Sovereign, Falling Rain had inadvertently harvested the fruits of what Death had bestowed upon his allies. All the hatred and animosity those vengeful souls possessed in life was now directed towards this Sovereign, all their enmity, grievances, ill-will, and resentment turned into weapons most potent, Manifesting as Intents which imbued their attacks with all manner of unresolved emotions and unfulfilled regrets which rent this Sovereign’s Will apart time and time again.

 

The rage of a father who’d buried three sons.

 

The hatred of a woman who’d lost her innocence to Defiled.

 

The passionate fury of a noble unresigned to death.

 

The all-encompassing contempt of a Warrior willing to die for a cause.

 

This was but a minor fraction of the emotional assault hammering through this Sovereign’s very existence, threatening to Unbalance him and topple him from his Path, if not destroy his foundation all-together. The itinerant souls channeled their emotions in reckless ignorance of what it would do to their eternal existence, unaware of the price they paid to launch this ultimately suicidal assault, but this Sovereign suspected that even if they knew, these vengeful souls had lost any and all ability to hold themselves back after Falling Rain spurred them on to action.

 

A cruel act, to fool these souls so, wholly out of character for someone as naïve and compassionate as Falling Rain, which meant the boy had done so in ignorance. “Fool!” This Sovereign howled, his very existence imbued with agony and suffering both as he struggled to hold firm to his Dao. “Do you know what you’ve done? What price your comrades will pay?”

 

“Pray tell.”

 

So wry and smug, Falling Rain’s tone almost sent this Sovereign over the tipping point but he held firm to his conviction and screamed, “So brave in your ignorance, so cruel in your disregard, to treat your allies so. In victory or defeat, these souls will be naught but empty shells, spent vessels incapable of entering the cycle of reincarnation once more. In summoning them here to fight, you have stolen their chance to be reborn anew, consigned them to an eternity of oblivion, nihility and nonexistence.”

 

There was nothing left to say, and a good thing too, because this Sovereign could no longer find it in him to speak as the chaos came to an abrupt standstill. Bent double under the weight of emotion, he shouldered the dying regrets of thousands heaped upon him in less time than it took to blink an eye and was found wanting. Straining to retain sanity under this deluge of sentiment, he fixed his gaze upon Falling Rain who’d ceased his assault and recalled his army to his side with a concerned frown, for the idealistic little worm could not bear to sacrifice a few thousand dead souls for ultimate victory.

 

“Life Force?” The boy arrived at this answer almost immediately, before shaking his head in rejection, for he knew enough to know there was more to Prana than just life. “Not Death force either, nor is it Immortal Energy. Mortal Energy? Whatever, the name, it exists, and they don’t have much.” Casting his gaze across his army of souls, he studied the unchecked emotions etched across their faces for long moments in silence. Slowly but surely, his features stiffened as fell into a focused trance, no doubt having gleaned something from his thoughts in a moment of Insight or intuition. Raising his shield overhead, he held it not like an armament to attack or defend, but rather more like a symbol or emblem, the same way an Official would hold their Seal of Office up for all to see whilst delivering an order to the masses. “I will bear the cost of your efforts,” the boy declared, and a ripple emanated outwards from all sides, one which washed over his army with startling effect. One moment, those souls were full of hatred, rage, and grievance, and the next, their expressions all softened into ones of peaceful tranquility, a riotous mob calmed in an instant as they partook of Falling Rain’s Prana. “You have done more than enough,” Falling Rain continued, bowing his head in thanks as his army turned to regard him with reverence and respect unmatched. “I, Falling Rain, thank you for your assistance, and bid you all go in peace. May your next lives be better than this one.”

 

To think, this Sovereign had been brought so low by someone of such lacking determination, but he would be victorious at the end.

 

The army of souls offered the boy their respects before fading into the Void to be reincarnated anew, and soon enough, Falling Rain stood alone against this Sovereign and his court of souls. A much-reduced court, as more than half of those near empty husks been expended in the brief but intense battle and had faded into nothingness. No matter, for so long as Liang Wu Sheng’s soul remained untouched and this Sovereign’s sworn brothers intact, then all else could be sacrificed here today. Such was the price this Sovereign was willing to pay to see Falling Rain captured and tormented for millennia to come, to the point where he even intended to expend the Prana of his current and future hosts more liberally so that the worm could spend more time immersed and aware of his suffering.

 

Mastering his Will with sheer discipline and determination alone, this Sovereign drew himself up to full height to face his hateful foe, making no attempt to hide his contempt and derision. There was no regret on Falling Rain’s expression, but no caution either as he stood a man alone before this Sovereign’s army as if he held the upper hand. His shoulders relaxed and lips quirked in a knowing half-smile, he flourished his blade about in reflex, the very picture of casual contempt. “Don’t start gloating just yet,” the boy began, forestalling this Sovereign’s attempt to do just that, an alarmingly predictable habit he’d fallen into thanks to his Natal Soul’s undue influence. “They might’ve moved on, but the damage they’ve done is significant.” A fact this Sovereign could not deny, and one which almost sent him spiralling into a rage, only for the flames of anger to be doused in cold fear by Falling Rain’s following declaration, delivered in his customary egotistical fashion.

 

“Besides, that was only the first wave, and the real stars of the show will arrive soon enough.”

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 835

 

Pride.

 

Contentment.

 

And complete, utter insanity.

 

There were no other words to describe the scene unfolding before this Sovereign’s eyes, one buried behind Falling Rain’s cold, distant gaze and deep within the confines of his deranged mind. The transmigrator made for an uninspiring sight, hanging limp and slack in this Sovereign’s grasp with ribs, chest, and back shattered and lungs filled with more blood than air, yet his amber eyes burned with defiant impudence even at the bitter end. A half-smile graced his bloody lips, not a warm, amused smile or heated, defiant one, but one overflowing with scorn and mockery as if he held the upper hand here, rather than the reverse. This was not courage or bravado, for though the boy had plenty of both, he lacked the fearless spirit of a dauntless hero willing to die for a noble cause. No, this was a gaze of reluctant resignation, a begrudging admission of defeat he was unwilling to wholly embrace. Falling Rain had given this effort his all, fought tooth and nail in an ill-conceived attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, one so overwhelming he knew he’d never had any hope of victory to begin with, yet he cared not for the consequences of his failure because he believed it merely a single step back in his Path, rather than the obvious end this Sovereign intended.

 

What was this if not insanity, Falling Rain’s total lack of any awareness regarding his current, dire circumstances and a rejection of reality without blinking an eye?

 

A special sort of madness this, the ability to see the facts laid out before him and arrive at an absurd and illogical conclusion. Despite having witnessed this Sovereign’s strength first-hand, Falling Rain was still indignant over his loss, for the transmigrator possessed arrogance unmatched and believed himself superior to this Sovereign in every way except age. This unfounded hubris would almost be comical were it not also infuriating to the extreme, for this Sovereign could have killed the boy a thousand times in a thousand different ways during their first exchange, and countless times thereafter. Only this Sovereign’s magnanimous curiosity allowed Falling Rain to struggle for so long, that and the hidden Nascent Immortal protecting him, and yet the boy wholeheartedly believed that he could have emerged victorious if not for luck and happenstance.

 

Why else would he be so unresigned to his fate? Even now at the moment of his death, Falling Rain maintained that he’d achieved some small measure of success, having succeeded in the role laid out for him by the Heavens Above and thus deriving satisfaction from this insignificant accomplishment. A most vexatious and illogical outlook regarding his ultimate defeat, one which robbed this Sovereign of much satisfaction, for he had been eagerly awaiting the moment when Falling Rain’s hateful smirk fell away and the rage in his eyes gave way to desperation and despair. This Sovereign had expected him to struggle to his last breath, perhaps even plead for mercy or appeal to this Sovereign’s grace and goodwill. Instead, Falling Rain made peace with his fate and maintained that his efforts had planted a seed of progress and potential, one which would eventually see the populace rise up to topple this Sovereign from his throne, a transition inevitable as the changing of the seasons from which there was no escape.

 

Or at least that’s what the transmigrator wholeheartedly believed, demonstrating a level of blind faith and baseless conviction which went beyond the fanatical.

 

In reality, while the boy’s book of ideas and innovative spirit had already spread like wildfire across the Empire, it would amount to little in the end. Weapons like crossbows and Runic Cannons would certainly place more power into the hands of mortals and their ilk, but Falling Rain was downright delusional if he believed this Sovereign would be overthrown so easily. Even if the powerful weapons depicted in the transmigrator’s memories were to become widespread, this still wouldn’t be enough to vanquish him on their own, for this Sovereign was the Eternal Emperor, a Nascent Immortal who had long since cast off the shackles of mortality and was no longer beholden to the cycle of reincarnation. Even if a thousand Runic Cannons firing in concert were to render his physical form to a pulp, this Sovereign could find a new host to inhabit as easily as turning a hand. A fact his foe should have accounted for, considering how he unravelled the mystery of this Sovereign’s eternal existence so quickly, almost as if he’d been expecting it all along. Another mystery that, but one this Sovereign was confident he would solve in time, unlike the growing enigma which was Falling Rain.

 

As absurd and illogical as the transmigrator’s confidence and conviction might be, there was a quality to Faith that one should always be wary of. One could not reason with faith, nor could one easily go against it, for the faithful paid no heed to logic or rationale. That was the definition of faith, to hold complete trust or confidence in a belief, without any need for proof and at times in spite of it. In recent centuries, the Brotherhood used charity and beneficence to wrest the hearts of the people away from this Sovereign’s grasp, which was why he took steps to remove their influence from the Eastern Provinces, and then the outer provinces in turn, but they were merely the latest in a long string of would-be religions cropping up within the Azure Empire. At first, he took a hard stance against all religions and sought to uproot all denominations of faith wherever they sprang up, but one might as well try to remove all the air from a room or empty out a lake with two hands. In time, he learned to change tack and quietly did away with all the sham religions and pagan beliefs of yesteryear by encouraging the now wide-spread but vague belief that the Emperor was the Chosen Son of Heaven, and in turn, the Mother Above. Not only because the common people of the Empire rested easier by believing in a higher power, but also because in this Sovereign’s eyes, this was merely the truth. The Heavens had blessed him with the strength to conquer the Azure Empire and sheltered him from the calamity that rendered the rest of this world’s landmasses only a half-step up from uninhabitable.

 

Might made right, this was an undeniable fact, yet in spite of having learned this lesson repeatedly today, Falling Rain refused to accept the facts as they were. The boy’s faith in technology and collective humanity were fallacious and even somewhat self-contradictory, for there were plenty of logical arguments against them. How many innocents would die once his crossbows and Runic Cannons made their way into the hands of warlords and bandits? How many non-combatants had died to those city-destroying explosives depicted in his conjured memories? What of the progress lost in terms of the Dao once humanity’s focus was split along two divergent Paths? This Sovereign could argue until his voice grew hoarse and spring turned to autumn, yet he suspected Falling Rain’s conviction would not be shaken, for there was a power inherent in faith that this Sovereign was unable to wholly quantify, an allure to it that every mortal in existence was susceptible to. Faith was almost necessary for most human existence, for faith represented an unending wellspring of hope and a reason to aspire to more than mere survival.

 

Or in Falling Rain’s case, a reason to fight on to the bitter end in spite of all the odds stacked against him.

 

Once again however, the transmigrator boy evaded death by the narrowest of margins for this Sovereign wanted to use him to draw the hidden Nascent Immortal out of hiding, and once again, Falling Rain used his continued existence to annoy this Sovereign to no end. Rather than quietly accept his defeat and submit to his unenviable fate, the fool rushed headlong towards it, disappearing from this Sovereign’s grasp and appearing within his host’s Natal Palace. A feat so unexpected this Sovereign stood stock still for a half-second in shocked surprise, unable to come to terms with what just unfolded before his very eyes. This should have been impossible, for how could one bring the material into the immaterial whilst remaining unchanged and unaffected by the transition? Had Falling Rain merely dispatched his soul, then there would be no need for surprise, but the transmigrator had made his way into Liang Wu Sheng’s Natal Soul in body, mind, and soul combined, somehow slipping through what should have been an impassable blockade in ways this Sovereign could only imagine. What’s more, this marked the second time today that Falling Rain’s soul passed through the barriers formed by Liang Wu Sheng’s Domain as if they didn’t exist. A barrier created for the express purpose of stopping this very thing from happening, and one which Falling Rain treated like air, coming and going as he pleased without so much as leaving a ripple in his wake.

 

A wave of horror and nausea almost brought this Sovereign to his knees as he considered the implications of this act, one which shook the very foundations of his Dao. Could this Sovereign have erred in his Path? Falling Rain’s Refined Physique was already superior by every measurable metric, and he was even able to bring his combined body, mind, and soul into the Void with seemingly little more than a thought, a feat this Sovereign would never had dared to even think of, much less attempt on his own. The dog was capable of doing the same, for this Sovereign realized how the floppy-eared hound was able to phase through the sand at will and emerge unscathed. The creature wasn’t hiding under the ground to avoid attacks, but rather leaping over to the Void and reappearing in reality a short distance away, a distinction which made all the difference in the world. One foot in both worlds, straddling the divide between the real and immaterial, was this the true meaning of One with the Heavens and One with the World? If so, then this Sovereign had stepped foot down a dead-end Path, for he had long since abandoned his physical form in exchange for an eternal Spiritual existence, one which had served him well for all these millennia, or so he thought. Was his lack of a physical form to call his own the reason for his lack of progress and inability to even discern the next step? If so, how could he remedy this? What should be his next step moving forward? Would he have to abandon all these millennia of preparations and accumulations to start over anew?

 

This crisis of conviction in this Sovereign’s personal Dao was only exacerbated by his Natal Soul’s amused derision, cackling up a storm in the back of his mind while mocking this Sovereign’s panic and lacking comprehension. There was a sense of superiority as well, as if his Natal Soul had known these facts all along, but those memories were guarded too tightly to access without time and effort both, and this Sovereign had none to spare. Putting aside his crisis for the moment, he retreated inwards whilst leaving a strand of Will behind to control Liang Wu Sheng’s body and guard against surprise attack, for the hidden Nascent Immortal was likely still lurking about just waiting for an opportunity to strike. Why he or she had not attacked already was a mystery to be sure, but now was not the time to contemplate the thoughts and motivations of an unseen assailant, for there were more pressing matters to attend to. All this Sovereign could do was ready himself for an ambush, for fleeing outright might well embolden his hidden foe and spur them into attacking.

 

Arriving within Liang Wu Sheng’s Natal Palace at the speed of thought, this Sovereign personally secured his throne against intrusion before fixing his attention upon the invader, Falling Rain. It irked this Sovereign to look up at the transmigrator, for he’d chosen to float above the court rather than appear upon it as a petitioner, a conscious decision which spoke volumes to his inborn arrogance. That being said, even though Falling Rain was ostensibly here in body, mind, and soul, this Sovereign would never have been able to guess it, for the transmigrator appeared no different now than he did in life, like a bloodied, bedraggled prodigal son dressed in poorly fitted robes and lacking any and all adornments save for the hairpin just barely holding his hair together in a bun.

 

No, that wasn’t entirely true, because there was as profound significance to his presence that was not there before, an invisible pressure that both emanated from him and drew everything in towards him. This wasn’t the weight of presence this Sovereign was more familiar with, one which hinted at the attainments and accumulations of one’s Dao and their compatibility with it, but rather a more subtle veracity to Falling Rain’s existence that was difficult to determine much less define, as if everything in the Void was slightly blurred and indistinct save for his presence and his presence alone.

 

A subtle yet unequivocal distinction which remained in place even after Falling Rain divided himself into an army of ten-thousand amber-eyed Natal Souls.

 

Ten-thousand exactly, no more and no less, information gleaned by this Sovereign’s Spiritual Senses the instant those Natal Souls appeared within Liang Wu Sheng’s Natal Palace. An impressive feat considering Falling Rain had already divested himself of an untold number in reality, a last-ditch effort to swing the battle of Shi Bei in his favour despite knowing that this Sovereign intended to kill or capture any and all survivors. More evidence of the boy’s insanity, yet a high-functioning one as his Natal Souls wasted no time in launching a barrage of wildly varying attacks all directed towards this Sovereign’s throne.

 

Credit where credit was due, it all made for a most impressive sight. There was no rhyme or reason to the manner in which this army attacked, no discernable pattern or coordination to be found as each individual Natal Soul struck in whatever manner they pleased. The majority were Manifested shards of Sword Intent, most of which were shaped as such, but only a handful resembled the sword he wielded in the physical world, and only one was an exact match. Most of those replicas were larger and more ostentatious, with some being entirely different in shape and appearance, with short swords, long swords, curved swords, wavy swords, almost every conceivable type of sword under the sun. There were also a number of shields and glaives mixed into the attacks, but the attack they dispatched were functionally no different from the swords. There were some weapons which were not hurtling towards this Sovereign like an arrow in flight, and instead arcing towards him as if to chop him down where he stood, while a select few remained in the hands of their wielders and emitted glaring beams of light or some other such nonsense. One sword’s blade even stretched out into a flowing curtain of water, water which was sorely lacking in attainment and comprehension compared to the flowing barrier maintained by the hidden Nascent Immortal, an attack which would amount to almost nothing even if this Sovereign allowed it to strike him.

 

A far cry from the three Natal Souls who transformed into the weapons themselves, a single sword, shield, and glaive to perfectly match his weapons which radiated threat and death comparable to what this Sovereign sensed in reality.

 

While sword attacks were most common, there were also plenty of rifles, Runic Cannons, crossbows, and even hunting bows scattered amongst the Natal Souls, which this Sovereign could not afford to treat lightly. Having learned his lesson more than once, this Sovereign fixated not on the ranged weapons themselves, but rather on the projectiles said weapons deployed. There was one, singular bullet radiating with the same overwhelming Intent of death and destruction which almost claimed Liang Wu Sheng’s life, but the rest varied wildly in perception, a similarity shared by the swords which this Sovereign only now just noticed. As noted before, Falling Rain’s Sword Intent was calm and serene, or at least it had been before the final Refinement of his physique. Though the various strands of Sword Intent imbued into the myriad weapons before him still gave off a sense of tranquil composure, there was now a fathomless depth and intensity to the calm serenity, a weight to the Sword Intent that made it no less unyielding than Solitary Sword Zhang Jun Bao’s fierce and deadly Sword Intent. It was the difference between a sheathed sword held at the ready and a drawn sword pointed in threat, both conveying the same general message in their own unique ways.

 

And now Falling Rain’s Sword Intent had transformed yet again, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Falling Rain transformed it. Some of those Intents became even more gentle and placid, while others became berserk and uncontrolled, and still others tread a fine line between restrained and unchecked, as well as variations representing a wide range of everything in between. The same could be said of his projectiles, with a handful exuding a wild, uncontrolled Intent of almost pure Destruction, while others quietly emitted an air of Death and finality, so infinitely close to touching upon the secrets of Death Energy and Destructive Intent yet at the same time seemingly far from success. Difficult to say, for this Sovereign’s attainments in both areas were inferior to the examples seen here, though this was not to say that the boy’s attainments surpassed his. No, this was mere luck and happenstance, a frantic, final attempt to defeat this Sovereign by trying everything all at once.

 

It wasn’t just Sword, Destruction, and Death Intents on display here, but also a myriad of other Intents scattered across a wide range of Daos, ones this Sovereign had no name for but recognized all the same. The Unravelling force which rendered Runes impotent and ineffective shaped in the form of cloud, a pure force of physical might cycled and Amplified a dozen times over before being unleashed with a fist-like Plated Domain, the overbearing force of a tidal wave of Water Chi bearing down upon the Natal Throne, these were the most potent threats among Falling Rain’s eclectic arsenal. Then there were the more eclectic attacks, such as one Natal Soul whose arms had transformed into those of a bear which he intended to use to pummel this Sovereign, or another driving an armoured carriage that appeared imposing and impressive at first glance, but was merely an empty shell devoid of all comprehension and attainments regarding the contraption’s inner workings. There was a Natal Soul hurling a javelin thicker than most men, one with a rounded tip and fins on the base to ostensibly stabilize it in flight, while another hoisted a hammer bristling with electricity in a pale mimicry of the blonde, Lightning Blessed Warrior this Sovereign saw depicted in the boy’s memories.

 

In truth, this display left this Sovereign no choice but to acknowledge Falling Rain as a formidable talent, one unlike any since the dawn of the Empire, for only a handful of individuals were able to push him this far in a battle of life and death. If given another thousand years, Falling Rain might well rise up to challenge this Sovereign as his peer, or perhaps even surpass him at that, but alas, the boy’s attainments were diverse in scope and shallow in depth, a flaw he tried to mend far too late. The boy had reached into his armory and thrown everything all at once, hoping there was something in there that would prove powerful enough to secure a victory, but he might as well have prayed to the Heavens above and plead with them to strike this Sovereign down. Impressive as this array of attacks might be, all it showed was that Falling Rain’s comprehension was sorely lacking, and because of this, he’d erred from the very first step of his last, desperate stand.

 

This wide-range of attacks proved he possessed the ability to injure this Sovereign if given the chance, for there were a number of examples that might well have grievously injured his Eternal Soul. Doubly so considering this Sovereign’s current state, making this a most daunting tribulation indeed, if not for the fact that every last one of Falling Rain’s attacks was powered by a mere one ten-thousandth of his Will. A laughable fraction of a meagre amount to begin with, Falling Rain would have been better served placing all his hopes and dreams into one, singular attack back by the full weight of his Will. Only then would he have had a chance to grievously injure this Sovereign, assuming it actually hit. With Falling Rain’s cumulative strength divided between ten-thousand Natal Souls however, a singular attack would find it difficult to break past this Sovereign’s defenses even without the advantage of holding ultimate authority within this Natal Palace, to say nothing of his Imperial Robes of Office which served as a Dharmic Icon here in the Void, and were far more powerful than the Runic Robes of Office he wore in reality.

 

That being said, he still dared not take any of these attacks head on, for he’d erred before by misjudging gauging the strength of Falling Rain’s attacks twice before, and this Sovereign cared not to make the same mistake thrice. To deal with the vast majority of Falling Rain’s attacks, a wave of this Sovereign’s hand was all it would take, a singular effort of Will to bring his Authority to bear, but even as he exerted his Will and anticipated the boy’s crushing look of disappointment, he found that the attacks were not so easily dismissed. Despite this Sovereign’s Will rising up to meet them, the myriad of desperate attacks continued bearing down upon him, a most menacing sight even weakened and divided as they were, forcing this Sovereign to take extreme measures to defend himself.  

 

Left with no other palatable choice, this Sovereign could only expend a modicum of effort and resources to ensure victory no matter the cost. With little more than a thought, the denizens of the silent court of souls moved to intercept the attacks, targeting the ones this Sovereign was certain were unable to hurt him as well as the ones he was unable to determine. Matching like with like, this Sovereign regretfully manipulated his captured souls to deploy all manner of Weapon Intents to counter Falling Rain’s attacks, expending what little remained of their Prana with no intention or ability to make up for the loss. First Brother Wu Shen’s soul countered a thousand Sword Intents all on his own, while Yang Kai’s flames rose up to consume no less than eight-hundred attacks, a number which could have been much higher if not for the fact that this Sovereign was forced to empower their souls with Prana drawn from Liang Wu Sheng. Unwilling to overtax his current host’s life force, this Sovereign could not allow his sworn brothers to shoulder the entire burden of defense, forcing him to spread the responsibilities out among more of his souls so as to make certain nothing unexpected was able to break through.

 

A most regrettable action, since this would render many of his collected prizes inoperative and functionally worthless, little more than empty shells that would fall apart without this Sovereign’s Will to hold them together. At least he could draw some solace from the fact that he could demonstrate ability comparable to Falling Rain’s accomplishment of controlling thousands of souls all at once before emerging victorious in a battle of divided Wills.

 

The second Emperor of the Azure Sea was an individual whose soul had been supplanted by this Sovereign’s Natal Soul whilst still in the womb, meaning the Third Emperor Jian Chen was the first individual to ascend to the Thone after this Sovereign. At the time, he had yet to master the art of subjugating a host soul while leaving it intact, something which required a more subtle touch, and as such, Jian Chen’s soul had been damaged beyond repair in the ensuing struggle for control. A damaged and broken husk of soul, it was no match for the proud and defiant man he was in life, one who staked it all to claim the throne, and in doing so invited calamity down upon him. Not much of his attainments had been left behind, but this Sovereign had seen enough of the man’s Dao to drive it in his place as Jian Chen drew the massive, two-handed sword hanging off his shoulder and brought it down to meet an anemic arrow hurtling feebly towards this Sovereign’s throne. The two forces clashed, and the sword emerged victorious, scything through the force of Will holding the arrow together and eliminating it from existence, whilst Jian Chen’s soul remained untouched.

 

Evidence of how weak the arrow was, rather than the strength of Jian Chen’s sword, but this Sovereign had chosen this match-up specifically because he was unable to comprehend the attainments behind the arrow, and the exceedingly remote possibility of losing Jian Chen’s soul was an acceptable risk. Though the specifics differed greatly, the same general scene unfolded itself a thousand times as this Sovereign’s captured souls dealt with the vast majority of Falling Rain’s attacks in the blink of an eye, leaving only the most dangerous instances behind. Namely the three Natal Souls who’d transformed into the Weapons themselves, three distinct projectiles emanating pseudo-Destructive Intent, pseudo-Death Essence, and a mix of the two respectively, and the other three eclectic attacks he’d noted before. These he dealt with himself, paying special attention to each one as he focused his Will upon them.

 

The sword came apart at the seams and dissipated into nothingness under the weight of this Sovereign’s Will, while the shield and glaive resisted for a moment longer before dispersing in the same manner, but if he were to do it again, this Sovereign would have chosen a different tack. A minor clash was all they exchanged, and yet the Sword Intent imbued into those three attacks had been strong enough to pierce through his Will and cause minor injuries to his soul, and in turn, his body and mind as well. Little more than a slight discomfort, not even enough damage to be considered an actual wound, but unpleasant all the same. As for the bullets, those he avoided outright by Deflecting away, only to discover that they were being Guided unerringly towards him by the Natal Souls who delivered them. Rather than waste the effort to block those formidable projectiles, this Sovereign dispatched Fourth Brother Tian Yi to deal with the Natal Souls instead, a job far beneath the greatest assassin this Empire had ever seen, but one he accomplished with next to no effort at all.

 

As for the remaining three attacks, this Sovereign allowed himself a moment to better study each of them in turn, for they were all of great interest to him. The secrets behind Unravelling remained closed to him for now, but it was only a matter of time before he uncovered those secrets for himself. As for the powerfully Amplified fist, this wasn’t Fist Intent, but rather an extreme form of Amplification that empowered a single attack through the use of containment, proper timing, and directed flow. An impressive achievement making full use of almost every facet of Amplification, but in this Sovereign’s eyes, there were better ways to achieve the same amount of force, since this required something along the lines of several seconds to unleash outside of the Void. As for the tidal wave of Water Chi, this Sovereign could well have sent any Elementally Blessed Soul to easily counter it, but he left it untouched so he could study Falling Rain’s comprehension of the Dao of Water, which as expected was mediocre at best. There was too much wasted effort trying to control the tidal wave and not enough spent embodying it, making the Water Chi a pale reflection of the actual water it was supposed to mimic. This in turn took away from the strength of the attack, which was only so formidable because Falling Rain committed a larger portion of his Will to Manifest it here inside this Sovereign’s Natal Palace.

 

All this took a long time to describe, but transpired in an instant, a single moment of chaos which erupted into calm stillness once the threat was readily dealt with. As the denizens of this court of souls fell back into their ranks, this Sovereign hid his fatigue and exerted his Will once more to place himself above Falling Rain, for the ten-thousand Natal Souls had all been spent, leaving only a single Refined body, mind, and soul behind, one which was here in the flesh as well as the spirit in some incomprehensible way. The boy’s wounds were still Healing, but slowly to match the speed of mending in reality, and with perceived time moving at the literal speed of thought here in the Void, it meant Falling Rain’s wounds might as well not be Healing at all. A pleasant surprise all things considered, since this meant this Sovereign could now afford the luxury of capturing the boy alive. The hidden Nascent Immortal had yet to act, and even if they did, it would only take an instant to subjugate the boy here in Liang Wu Sheng’s Natal Palace, a moment this Sovereign was more than willing to spare alongside a little extra so that he could revel in his moment of triumph.

 

“Such hubris, such sin,” This Sovereign crooned, sneering down at the hateful transmigrator who’d brought him so many grievances and frustrations. “To challenge this Sovereign within his Domain where his authority reigns supreme. You were defeated in reality, but you had no hope of victory here in the Void, for this Sovereign’s attainments in the soul far outstrip his attainments in the body and mind.” A mistake to mention this disparity, for it brought back his crisis of conviction which he had yet to resolve, one he’d set aside for the moment using sheer force of Will and nothing else. To distract himself, he continued to disparage his foe by pointing out the error in his thinking, saying, “Your greatest attack might cause this Sovereign some discomfort, but one ten-thousandth of your strength is not enough to even scratch an itch.”

 

“Quantity has a quality of its own,” Falling Rain replied, his measured cadence a match for someone quoting a phrase. A nugget of misguided wisdom gleaned from his past life’s memories no doubt, one based on a flawed comprehension of strength and the Dao both. “But it’s okay.” Still calm and confident as ever, the boy stood there with shield and glaive in hand while his sword floated overhead. Time slowed as his armour formed around him, a set based on Imperial Armour worn by the favoured sons of the Supreme Families, but rather than the dragons those Noble Scions favoured, Falling Rain’s armour bore depictions of his favoured pets. A fly in the ointment of what would otherwise have been a dignified appearance, one several steps up from his dishevelled, ungainly appearance in reality, but even without the armour and trappings, Falling Rain’s Natal Soul possessed poise and gravitas that his physical self lacked. Odd considering how he was technically here in the flesh, but this Sovereign cared not to understand why as he readied to capture his prize in hand before returning to deal with the hidden Nascent Immortal in reality.

 

Only to freeze in surprise as the boy continued, “This is all a diversion anyways.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

A calm serenity washes over my body, mind, and soul as time comes to a standstill.

 

Not across all reality as we know it, but within the confines of my mind as I push the State of Enlightenment to new limits made possible by the completion of my Refined Physique. Bullet time, as I like to call it, for reasons I cannot remember, yet I find amusing all the same, but now is not the time for mirth and merriment. My inability to take things seriously and resist the urge to crack wise has bitten me in the ass before, but here and now, I cannot afford to make any mistakes, because the chips are down and I have everything riding on success. Thus, in accordance with my recent revelation regarding cultivation requiring a thorough understanding of one’s self in order to understand the Dao, I need to be serious for a moment and face a harsh truth about who I am if I am to have any hope of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  

 

Namely the fact that I am arrogant beyond all belief.

 

Granted, I’ve already acknowledged this as an issue more than once, and yet I have never taken any steps to correct it. Why? Because in my infinite arrogance, I figured I had good reason to be arrogant. I am a man with memories of another world, a world which has far surpassed this one in almost every conceivable metric. I’ve seen grand works of art made by the most celebrated artists, and listened to the greatest symphonies of the ages played by the finest musicians of my time. I’ve studied or borne witness to all manner of momentous occasions, and am more educated than most nobles would care to endure. I have scoured the dark depths of the world wide web and seen all the horrors it has to bear, whether it be lemon parties, blue waffles, or two girls with one cup, to say nothing of all the hateful rhetoric and ignorant echo chambers I’ve had the displeasure of stumbling across. I’ve also seen the wonders to balance it out, from people helping people to all manner of adorable animals curled up in blissful harmony, plus hilarious memes and other miscellaneous good shit.

 

So you could say that I am a man who has seen more than the denizens of this world could ever imagine, and because of this, I have always maintained that I know better.

 

Not in an obnoxious, ‘um ackchyually’ sort of way, but rather in a sense where I rarely care for the opinions of others and tend to go my own way once my mind is made up. That’s on me mostly, and not just because of my past life’s memories, but rather a character flaw I developed all on my own, with a little bit of help from my deadbeat Defiled birth parents. They wanted me to compete, to fight for resources in order to survive, but I decided that was stupid and I would much rather die, a decision I made long before I became reacquainted with the glory of indoor plumbing. Since awakening to my past life’s memories however, I have identified with Rayne far more than Amigui, because let’s be honest, Rayne had a lot more going for him. That isn’t to say Amigui has nothing to offer, but if given a choice, I would much rather be a transmigrated fish out of water than the boy who murdered his brother in order to survive, only to immediately give up on life once again, but alas, I am both Amigui and Rayne, a truth I continue to reject even now. Harsh facts, but ones which I must face in order to move forward from here, because like it or not, my arrogance has grown into a massive problem which needs to be resolved.

 

Because in my arrogance, I have placed the memories of my past life up on a pedestal, extolling their virtues and the lessons they’ve taught me, while ignoring most of what I’ve learned over the course of my current life. I have come to accept that I am no hero brought forth by the Heavens to right all wrongs and bring Balance to the world, that I’m just a guy, ya know, as opposed to that guy, and that’s okay. So what if I’m not destined for greatness? Even if I die here today, this world will survive without me, but more than that, life will go on. Since I’m not some hero of destiny, my failure does not mean the end of the world, so it’s not as bad as I’ve built it up to be. Sure, death will suck, and many people will die alongside me as the price of my hubris, but such is life. I’ve done my part, lit a figurative spark which could one day grow into a blaze of progress and advancement, one brought about by the people of this world even if I’m not there to lead them every step of the way. I’ve shared my perspective, put my ideas out there, and hopefully, society as a whole will see that there is something of value to be gleaned from what I’ve shown them and the ideas I’ve introduced will become more widely accepted.

 

So why is it that even after acknowledging that I am no one special, that I am not, in fact, a hero fated to save the world, do I continue to insist on shouldering the massive burden of defeating the Eternal Emperor all by myself?

 

In a word? Arrogance.

 

I still want to be the hero, but like I said, I’m not that guy, so while my army of ten-thousand Natal Souls serves as distraction, I Conceal my true self and do something I should’ve done a long time ago, but in my arrogance, refused to.

 

I bow my head, press my hands together, close my eyes, and pray.

 

Not to the Heavens, or to the Mother Above, or to any other god, deity, devil, or otherwise who may or may not exist and be listening from on high. This prayer is nothing like the ones I make so often, appeals to a higher power to just make all my problems go away. A contradiction, I know, because I have a bias against all religion in that I am almost completely certain that no higher power exists, and yet I often beseech said higher powers for help all the same. Why? I suppose because in the grand scheme of things, I find comfort in the prospect that the possibility still exists, that there could be some all-powerful being looking out for me from on high. In truth, even though I believe none of my previous prayers have ever been answered, it would be inaccurate to claim that the Heavens, or the Mother, or some other deity has never offered me a helping hand, because I don’t know that for a fact, not beyond the shadow of a doubt. Over the course of my many trials and tribulations, I’ve had more than my fair share of dog-shit luck to get me out of some really tight spaces. My little brother’s mercy, my father’s greed, my slavers’ incompetence, and stumbling across what might well have been the only group of people within a thousand miles willing to help out a sickly and tormented slave, these are but a few of the happy little accidents that helped me get to where I am today, to say nothing of my good fortune of stumbling across Blobby and Pong Pong in succession.

 

So yea, it is entirely possible that there really is some higher power looking out for me, albeit one far more tolerant of pain and suffering than I would care to endure.

 

That being said, even if this is the case, my prayer now is not for them, or even an anthropomorphized Energy of the Heavens which may or may not possess a form of Will all of its own. Instead, I pray to humanity, because I have always had faith in other people, because when you get right down into the brass tacks, humans are generally pretty okay. Hardly a glowing recommendation for us as a species, but a fairly impressive accomplishment, all things considered. Sure, humans are capable of great evil and destruction, but most people are a pretty decent bunch, a fact which I have empirical proof to back because if they weren’t, the Empire would have a hell of a lot more Defiled and Demons running loose. The Eternal Emperor and the powers that be like to think that fear and a lack of strength keeps us all in line, but that’s like saying most people are going around thinking, “I could steal, murder, and rape so much if not for those stupid laws.” Which is dumb, since most people refrain from doing those things because that would be a dick move, and not solely because some higher authority tells us it’s wrong.

 

So people are generally good, and while there are many, many, many exceptions to the rule, you also have to remember to focus on the good, which will almost always far outweigh the bad.

 

This is the premise upon which I pray, though I suppose prayer isn’t quite the right word for this. I’m making an appeal to all of humankind, or at least, those close enough to hear me, a plea delivered through the medium of Heavenly Energy. There are no words I have to share, no rhetoric to rattle off, just an emotional entreaty for aid against an enemy who would see us all dead, a call to band against a foe too powerful for me to face on my own. The Eternal Emperor is a genius cultivator and undefeated tyrant with tens of millennia of experience and accumulations in the Dao, and yet, at the end of the day, still just a man, and no man is an island. If little old me was enough to cause him trouble, then with enough like-minded Warriors to stand alongside me, I’m certain we will be strong enough to shoulder the weight of the Heavens and bring him down together, because like my Natal Soul just told the Eternal Emperor, quantity has a quality of its own.

 

Okay yea, it sounds stupid when you lay it all out, but at this point, I’m willing to try anything. There’s so much more to this than an empty plea however, a logic that I cannot entirely put into words just yet but trust all the same, and as time stands still within the confines of my mind while my Natal Souls buys as much time as they can, I pray with all my heart in the hopes of finally hearing an answer for once, else all my hopes will soon come to an end.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3 Prob NSFW? I dunno man, stop reading at work.

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 834

 

A single attack to turn the tides, a single strike to end this war.

 

That’s what I was going for, but it turns out I’m not that guy.

 

The Eternal Emperor is just better. There. I said it. The bitter admission does little to affect my courage and resolve, but it’s something which has to be said in order to temper expectations as I crash into the desert sands below. The impact alone might well have been enough to kill me, but thankfully Pong Pong’s protective sphere of flowing water cushions my landing enough so as not to exacerbate my already grievous injuries. My limp frame slides a fair distance before coming to a gradual stop, and my broken bones shift ever so slightly leaving me in an agony so complete I can barely form a coherent thought except to lament my miserable state.

 

So yea. I’m a little out of my depth here. No shame in admitting it.

 

The Energy of the Heavens flows through me in accordance to my Will, Healing what ails me as quick as it can, but with my chest caved in, lungs punctured by broken ribs, and upper spine shattered into literal pieces, it’ll be a minute or two before I’m ready for the next round. Probably much longer actually, since I failed to factor in my new and improved physique, one which will take significantly more effort and energy to Heal despite offering no real advantage against my formidable foe. My tough skin, dense muscles, and sturdy bones might as well be made of wet paper for all the good it did me, though in hindsight, I suppose there’s a good chance I would’ve died if I’d taken this attack before Ascending to Divinity.

 

Whoop-de-doo. I can survive a single punch, a haphazard, impromptu counter delivered carelessly without a proper follow through. In contrast, I spent several seconds putting everything I had into a single Chi bullet which I unleashed with the barrel literally in the Eternal Emperor’s face, but he took it like a champ and put an early end to any offensive momentum I might’ve built up. Pretty sure that’s all she wrote now, because not only do I know he’s better and faster at Healing than I am, but now that I think about it, he probably doesn’t even need his body to be in full fighting condition before he can get back up and end my existence. You know, on account of how he’s puppeting a meat suit rather than walking around in his own skin, which is just totally unfair.

 

I mean c’mon. I’ve powered up like three times today and I’m still out of my league, so in over my head I can’t even see the surface. Not because I’m weak, but far from it in fact, because as far as I can tell, I could probably put up a decent enough fight against most Demonic Divinities even without relying on Pong Pong or Cleansing. I’m not saying I can cut them down like chaff, because that is most definitely not the case, but I’m confident I could keep myself safe while fighting your standard feral Demonic Divinity, with enough attention to spare to keep it from nuking me to oblivion. Again, this is without Cleansing, and with it, I could end every Demonic Divinity here in Shi Bei in under a minute so long as they don’t scatter and run. Buddy has already shown what he can do, but he’s a dumb dog acting on pure instinct, meaning he is approaching this in what might well be the stupidest and most inefficient way possible. Rather than seek to isolate the Demonic Divinities in ones and twos, I would instead work with my allies to corral our foes all into one group so I can get in real close, Manifest my Natal Palace, and drag them all down into the depths of my Natal Sea in one fell swoop. Once there, their corporeal bodies will promptly be Cleansed and dissolved into goop while their Spiritual bits are rendered into usable Heavenly Energy for me to squander as I please, ending the Demonic Divinity threat and freeing up my allies to resume battle against the Defiled Divinities still lurking about.

 

I’d love to know how I measure up against a regular Divinity too, but in spite of my… not better, but more complete Ascension, I doubt I’d fare too well against the Enemy Divinities here in Shi Bei. While Demonic Divinities are formidable, they’re largely feral and stupid to boot, so even if they are stronger and less restrained, once you remove the risk of incidental nukes, a regular Divinity makes for a far more dangerous threat. Only the desire to minimize the risk to their lives has kept the Defiled Divinities from joining hands with the Demonic Divinities to slaughter the remaining Imperial Divinities of Shi Bei, an outcome which might well have already come to pass if not for the latest addition of the Empire’s newest Divinities.

 

Who I helped Ascend, so technically, I should get at least half the credit for their efforts.  

 

First and foremost is the formidable Shooting Star Nian Zu, with his meticulously groomed beard in impeccable condition despite enduring a siege for the better part of two weeks and fighting for the last several hours without rest. The same can’t be said for his signature and now battle-worn gold and black armour, or his fluttering cloak embroidered with the Situ crest. Both have seen better days, yet this does nothing to lessen the imposing presence of the highest-ranking Officer on this battlefield. The first time I met him, I likened him to a hero straight out of a kid’s book, a robust, aged gentleman who exuded power from every fibre of his being. His presence alone demanded obedience and threatened violence without having to so much as move a muscle in threat, yet when he finally spoke, it was accompanied by booming laughter and a warm expression, while his subsequent words and actions told me he was a man of principle I could trust without having to utter those actual words.

 

And today, he proves it yet again, not just to me, but to every soldier in Shi Bei as he hurls the Shooting Star clean through the head of an unsuspecting Defiled Divinity and injures four others standing nearby with the resulting explosion.

 

The hostilities between Divinities came to a crashing halt so that they could all watch my Ascension, but Nian Zu is a grizzled veteran who knows it is always best to strike first, strike hard, and show no mercy. As a Martial Warrior and Peak Expert, he rose to fame with this signature move, one powerful enough to flatten a palatial manor as a mere mortal. Now that he’s Ascended to Divinity, Nian Zu’s offensive capability has improved by leaps and bounds, but his pride, honour, and adherence to the treaty keeps him from unleashing hell upon the mortal Half-Demons threatening the lives of his soldiers in Shi Bei. The frustration radiates off him in dark, malignant waves as he charges shield-first at the Demonic Divinities he only just scattered with his mace, leaping feet first into the fray with a heroic bellow of rage and fury both as he himself becomes the Shooting Star. The air shakes, the sand explodes, and the fabric of reality itself threatens to unravel and implode as he descends upon the desert below as violence incarnate. Before the dust has time to settle, his target shoots out in an arc through the air, ostensibly leaping away from the point of impact with help from its quick reaction, but even then, the Northern Colonel General’s attack forced the Demonic Divinity to leave its two legs behind.

 

This marks two and half Demonic Divinities he’s killed since the battle began, which doesn’t seem like much until I remember that they’ve only been around for a few minutes at most. Nian Zu himself has only been a Divinity for a little longer than that, and his achievements are all the more impressive when compared to most other Imperial Divinities. Not necessarily the ones who Ascended alongside him, but rather those supposedly formidable Ancestral Beasts who acted all high and mighty in Nan Ping. The Ancestral Bull Niu Mowang makes for an impressive sight in his full suit of Runic plate armour, but even though the hostilities have only just resumed, he’s already being battered around by two Demonic Divinities who’ve surrounded him. While the Imperials are outnumbered by the Demons in the battle of Divinities, Niu Mowang only has his own lacking combat sense to blame for his lamentable plight as his foes lead him about by the nose, taking turns to capture his attention while the other deals him a heavy blow. Despite falling far short in terms of skill, timing, and preparation, the Ancestral Bull tried to emulate Nian Zu’s actions rather than support him from behind, and in doing so has landed himself in a hot mess which the Weasel Divinity Fu Zhu Li is fighting to help extricate him from.

 

Which just goes to reinforce everything I said about Fung being a more suitable main character than me, because he even has a Divinity for a manservant.

 

I always knew there was more to the ‘half-weasel’ manservant than meets the eye, especially after he admitted that even Guard Leader couldn’t stop him from killing me if he pleased, but despite his agile and spirited movements on the battlefield, his prowess in actual combat leaves much to be desired. This isn’t to say he’s weak, because far from it, but rather that he could be using his formidable speed and strength in a much more effective manner if he spent a few hours every day practicing the Forms. Even though his movements are fluid, natural, and graceful as can be, it’s clear that it’s been a long time since Fu Zhu Li has been in a fight. A moment of hesitation here, a hair too slow to react there, his actions give off a general sense of indecision and unfamiliarity as he fights with twin daggers that I suspect aren’t even Spiritual Weapons, but just regular steel weapons Plated in Domain, without any Dagger Force or whatever to support him.

 

The same general lack of skill and familiarity can be seen in many other Imperial Divinities as well, like Mama Gam dancing around three Demonic Divinities and has yet to utilize her Blessing of Earth because she’s too focused on dodging the next attack to plan ahead, or Matchali and Da Hui, the Ancestral Tiger and Ancestral Grizzly from the Saint’s Tribulation’s Mountains who throw slow, powerful haymakers or telegraphed, sweeping kicks and wonder why they’re unable to hit the Bristleboar Divinity, whose bulky, rotund frame is more agile than it appears. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be so surprised since most Divinities lack the opportunity to test their strength and hone their skills, as opposed to the newly Ascended Nian Zu who dedicated most of his century of life immersed in bloody conflict, be it against Clan, Society, rival, or Defiled.

 

Of course, there are exceptions, like the golden-furred WuKong, Argat and Jochi’s father who fights like a Warrior born with a dazzling smile etched across his handsome, round face. Though he’s only killed one Demonic Divinity so far, he’s also under more pressure than Nian Zu as Mataram YuKon has the Monkey Divinity set in his sights. The traitorous Divinity makes his move as WuKong is mid-way through what would be a killing thrust delivered towards a helpless Demonic Divinity, if not for the fact that it was all a feint meant to bait his cunning opponent in. Staff meets spear with a resounding clash, and they exchange moves faster than my eyes can follow, though my Spiritual Senses paint a picture in my mind which offers far more details than I can process. Mataram YuKon exhibits consummate skill while WuKong counters with unrivalled familiarity, their sublime movements concealing a myriad of subtle and not so subtle nuances which speaks volumes to their expertise. There’s a manufactured deadliness to the Mataram founder’s movements, for in becoming One with the Weapon, he has himself become the spear, yet this stands in stark contrast to WuKong’s approach to the same step. Rather than become the staff, it would be more accurate to say that the staff has become a part of him as the golden-furred trickster twirls and flings it about, treating it no differently from his limbs or tail. As he backpedals away from YuKon’s offensive, WuKong pushes the butt of his staff against the sand like a paddle to hasten his retreat, only to jam it down to stop him in place and spin about to avoid an otherwise unavoidable thrust. Placing both feet against the planted staff, he uses his weapon as a springboard to propel him to one side before utilizing the same motion to fling a wall of sand at his foe, which he follows up by delivering a blind, yet accurate thrust through it. Even though Mataram YuKon is wholly capable of matching these movements, he’s never seen anyone fight like this in an actual life-and-death match, which means that he is slow to react to his opponent’s unpredictable style and takes the thrust head-on without raising a defense. Alas, the traitor’s instincts are razor sharp and he twists at the last moment to turn it into a glancing blow, while his Runic armour is enough to ward off the remaining force and use the momentum to beat a hasty retreat while the Demonic Divinity keeps WuKong from chasing after.

 

The Old Wolf would be equally impressive, if not for the significant handicap Buddy entails. Powerful as my doggo might be, he doesn’t know how to pick his moments, meaning the Old Wolf has his hands full keeping my sweet puppy safe as he runs headlong into danger in pursuit of his delectable Demonic treats. As for the remaining established Divinities, few stand out enough to notice, though the ones still fighting are heads and shoulders above the cowards who’ve already booked it, like Gang Shu and the stupid Ancestral Rhino with all his talk of righteousness and justice. As such, even though she has only recently Ascended and was grievously wounded by Zhen Shi shortly after, the Sword Empress Jeong Hyo Lynn has become a core fixture of the Imperial defenders, one even more significant than Nian Zu. While the Colonel General boasts of unmatched offensive prowess, Jeong Hyo Lynn fights in a more defensive style as she flits from one encounter to the next to lend aid to her beleaguered allies. Her trio of swords form a scintillating storm of steel and sand as they descend upon Demonic and Defiled Divinity alike, parrying, Deflecting, or outright blocking what could potentially be killing blows while setting her ally up for success.

 

A tactic chosen out of necessity rather than effectiveness, but she’s made the most of what she has available, and I can understand why her offensive strength is so lacking compared to Nian Zu. It all has to do with Intent, in that Jeong Hyo Lynn relies too much on her sword to convey it, for in her eyes, the sharpness and violence inherent in the weapon itself is enough to reap lives with little more than a flick of the wrist. While that would have sufficed against mortal foes, her opponents are Divinities now and made of sterner stuff, so she’ll need to come up with a real killing move if she wants to contribute to the tally of dead Enemy Divinities.

 

Then again, she might not have to because Akanai has her covered and then some, an unstoppable force on the battlefield as she runs rampant through the Enemy forces despite having three Demons and two Ancestral Beasts dedicated to keeping her in check. For all their efforts to keep her contained, my Grand-Mentor and Mother-in-Law needs only a single moment to break free, and once that moment is over and done with, an Enemy Divinity will either be wounded or killed. Akanai’s signature Ground-Shrinking Strike is just too fast for the Enemy to keep up, enabling her to almost freely pick and choose her targets as she pleases, placing ample amounts of pressure on the Enemy Divinities who would otherwise hold the upper hand. Though the Demonic Divinities might be reckless enough to risk their lives, the Defiled Ancestral Beasts and Human Divinities have much more to lose and thus are keeping a close eye on her at all times, meaning Akanai’s presence alone is enough to keep her foes in line. No one has killed more Divinities than Akanai on this battlefield here today, not even Buddy, and she looks to raise her body count to eight as she swings her ax-lance like a baseball bat at her oncoming assailant. A Defiled Ancestral Beast with twin horns protruding from the base of his forehead and an obscene smirk smeared across his face, the former of which identifies him as Yan’s sire, Surkithyr. His rugged, porcelain features are twisted with hate and make the Defiled taint all the more obvious, his skin no longer flawless, his nose just a hair too bulbous, and his face slightly asymmetrical unlike those of his Imperial counterparts. While still a handsome and downright beautiful man on all accounts, there’s an ugly cast to it all that sours the overall effect, a subtle droop of a cheek here and a slight curve of the eyelid there that sticks out like a sore thumb.

 

And as Akanai’s pole-ax hurtles towards his midsection, Surkithyr’s disproportional eyes widen in surprise and despair as he comes to terms with what is likely his impending death.

 

Alas, the odds are too stacked against her as another Defiled Divinity interferes, a once-human Chieftain covered in the hides of his foes and wielding a massive bone club in both hands. Primitive and crude though his appearance might be, his skills are nothing to sneeze at, honed over a lifetime of conflict bloodier than I could even imagine that has shaped him into the consummate Warrior that he is today. Between him, Surkithyr, and the three Demonic Divinities, Akanai has no choice but to retreat before their frenzied assault and seek allies to help extricate her from her plight.

 

The others are all busy with their own fights, but Akanai’s dilemma does not go unnoticed, for despite the bitter fighting on the Walls of Shi Bei, Husolt has never once shifted his attention away from his beloved wife. Four hundred plus years they’ve been together, and he loves her now more than ever, with a burning passion and adoring devotion that few will ever truly know. The heights of his love are only matched by the depths of his self-loathing, coupled with several unhealthy extra portions of rage, anger, and hatred in general. Despite accompanying her down the mountains and standing at her side every step along the way, he is no longer capable of supporting his beloved wife, and for this, he clearly blames himself. It’s not the fact that he’s weaker that bothers him so, because he’s proud of her strength, skill, and ambition. He’s always known she was meant for greatness, knew it right from the start, because she’d always been the more talented and devoted one, while he kept up by virtue of sheer necessity with more than a little luck and guidance to help him along.

 

Except now, he can’t even stand behind her, much less beside her, because not only is he incapable of providing any assistance, his presence would prove a hindrance to Akanai’s actions and a weakness for her enemies to exploit. All he can do is watch in impotent rage as the love of his life struggles against foes too strong for him to face, and he hates himself for being too weak to lend a hand when she needs it the most. If only he’d learned to master his emotions, to set his rage and hatred aside, a trial and tribulation he’s contended with for more than fifty years now, and still has yet to wholly overcome. For these five decades, his beloved wife has been nothing but supportive, never once losing faith that he would recover in time, but she’s also quietly shouldered the fate of the People and the Saint’s Tribulations Mountains both all by her lonesome. Even though he was always there to help if she needed him, she never once faltered or wavered without his support, proving once and for all that he’d only ever been holding her back, the same way he held her back in Central.

 

If not for him urging her to swallow her grievances and play it safe in Central, their enemies would never have been so bold as make an attempt to capture her in broad daylight, leaving her no choice but to kill her assailants in self-defence, most of whom were spoiled scions of wealthy and powerful familes. Were this a private feud, there still might have been room for both sides to step back, but with so many witnesses to the incident, their enemies had no choice but to react with aggression in an attempt to regain lost face. Husolt’s soft-minded ways led to three promising young Sentinels dying in Central, and his wife took grievous injury to boot, so every time he saw the scar over his left eye, he saw the faces of the dead and the bloodied features of his battered wife, which ignites his rage anew.

 

And so when Akanai Ascended to Divinity and left Husolt so far behind, he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, his incompetence could no longer bring her any harm, but she was also left wholly without support and understanding. Proud as he was of her accomplishments, he cannot find it in himself to look past his self-hatred and just be happy for how far she’d come. All he can do was think back about the times when her would-be admirers said she was a flower planted in bear shit and lament at the waste, a hurtful statement he can no longer deny, for she has always been too good for him.

 

Much as I want to help my Father-in-Law with his inner turmoil, I dare not offer any advice, because in spite of my new and improved perspective of Balance, I don’t understand it well enough to convey it in words or emotions. That’s why the severed Natal Soul assigned to Husolt is helpless to help him, and the same can be said for the one assigned to Huushal, who similarly hates himself for being too weak to save his uncle Kalil during the fighting around Sanshu. That hatred has built up a pyre of anger which blazes with full force as he rides through the Half-Demon cavalry, a paltry few riders who number a few hundred in total yet are holding back the combined might of tens of thousands of Imperial riders seeking to support the defenders of Shi Bei. Huu doesn’t really care about all that, doesn’t care about the big picture or winning the war, because he has his sights set on the man who killed his Uncle Kalil, and come hell or high water, my friend is determined to have his vengeance or die trying to claim it. Rage consumes his every thought as he charges headlong towards the mounted Half-Demon, unknowingly flanked by his wives and mother, Yesui, Yosai, and Ghurda. These three women fight with frantic desperation in their efforts to keep up, yet Huu doesn’t even notice their presence, or the fact that they’ve saved him from otherwise certain death several times now as he fixates on his foe at the expense of all else. The Spectres continue to spur him on, new ones and old that he never got around to fully divesting himself of, and even though my Natal Soul is in there with them, his voice of reason is drowned out by the Spectres spurring Huu onwards towards self-destruction.

 

Oddly enough, Huu’s nemesis is similarly conflicted as he fights with axe in hand. Vithar is his name, a Chieftain lost in the throes of delight amidst all this battle and bloodshed, yet there’s a sense of disorientation emanating from deep within, one my Natal Soul picked up on and tried to bolster. At first, Vithar’s transformation filled him with pride and elation as he fought to his heart’s content, but now he’s trying to remember why he’s still here, fighting in a war he no longer believes in. Despite their reputation of war-loving savages, the Defiled are only driven to fight so often because usually they have no other choice. There are limited resources to be had in the ruined wastes outside the Empire’s borders, so without enough to go around, conflict becomes a necessity. This is doubly true when the bodies of allies and enemies alike provide sustenance to the survivors, yet Vithar is one of a select few Defiled who yearn for something more. Where I see the arid deserts of the Western Provinces as a land of death and sandy suffering, Vithar sees it as paradise compared to the frozen tundra of the north, a utopia in which he and his fellow tribesman can grow fat and happy without struggling to survive every damn day of their lives. Yet as he looks around this most glorious battlefield encased in Demonic Armour of his own creation, he sees none of his tribesmen fighting at his side, none of the people he cares to fight for, which elicits a profound yearning and sentiment I would’ve never expected from a murderous Defiled Chieftain covered in the blood of my allies.

There’s a woman on his mind, one he loves as much as he knows how to, and a child they were meant to raise together, one he looks forward to teaching without having to worry too much about the price of failure. There is no more reason to fight, no objective to accomplish here in Shi Bei or comrade to save, so Vithar wonders why he is still fighting with nothing to gain. Then Huu’s sabre is upon him, and he has no time for distraction anymore, because even though the Defiled Chieftain is far stronger than my friend, he is not strong enough to kill Huushal out of hand, much less disregard Yesui, Yosai, or Ghurda close behind. To make matters worse, his instincts are blunted and his actions unsure, because in his confusion, the voice of the Demonic Spirit inhabiting his armour and directing his thoughts has grown quiet and subdued, while Vithar has yet to obtain new Spectres to spur him to hatred and bloodshed.

 

Each of these issues from Husolt, Huushal, and Vithar, they all stem from a lack of Balance, yet the Balance they need is unique to themselves, or at the very least, completely different from mine. Where I often find myself at the whims of my compassion and empathy, their issue is largely with rage and anger, so while we might have some overlap between us, there is no cure-all solution I can provide to help them through this. My particular brand of Balance is just something I stumbled across in a moment of Insight, an ineffable feeling and sensation that just seems right, but how can I be sure it would help someone else?

 

Which means these troubled individuals are all shit out of luck, because I have no idea how to help them.

 

There are many others who share similar issues with Balance, too many for me to list out, though there are a few who deserve an honourable mention. Mao Jianghong for example, whose burning hatred for the Empire is dwindling fast as the Demonic Spirit within his armour forces him to relive the memories of the worst day in his life, all in a ham-fisted attempt to elicit more grief to turn into rage. Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs as it were, so eager to squeeze out more emotion that the Demonic Spirit doesn’t notice how Jianghong has become numb to it all, and therefore more clear-minded and able to think. Then there’s the man who sired me, except his problem isn’t a lack of Balance, but rather that his Balance is so extreme that he oscillates from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other without so much as blinking an eye. The man who is my father feels so proud of Gerel, so pleased to see his cherished son has grown into a capable man, and he wishes his wife was here to see it. The wife he sacrificed so that he could have himself a shiny new set of Half-Demon armour, yet still loves and cares for all the same, which is why he’s so eager to kill Gerel, so that she can be reunited with the son who missed him so, so much that no other child could replace him in her heart no matter how much they tried.

 

As for my brother, Gerel is similarly struggling with Balance as he watches our father fight his father-figure, my Dad Baatar whose second-wind is soon fading as exhaustion sinks in once more. If he were stronger, Gerel could help shoulder the burden, but he’s seen enough to know that trying to step in now might well cause both his and Dad’s death. All my brother can do is support Dad from the side and hate himself for being weak, while Naaran does the same whilst nursing his wounds and cursing his age, incompetence, lack of dedication, and a thousand other minor complaints. This more than anything proves that I was born into the world, rather than transmigrated, because now I see that gloom and self-loathing runs in our blood, though my sire seems deluded enough to have avoided this particular pitfall, or he makes up for it in other ways.

 

And here I am, a fresh True Divinity (I think), broken and helpless to act, unable to even share my perspective for fear of leading these troubled friends down the wrong Path.

 

Even if there is no wrong Path, there are some mistakes you can’t come back from, so between the bitter fighting and the permeating air of desperation, I am unwilling to take this risk. My Balance is too poorly defined to share, too uncertain and unproven to be of any use, so all I can do is swallow my pride and scour my mind for a solution I am unable to find.

 

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom in Shi Bei, as there are plenty of success stories to bolster morale, like Tenjin’s acceptance of himself and the freedom he personally desires. A different form of freedom from the one I pursue, but a freedom all the same, and one he feels has been denied him because of the Path he took in life. The Firebirds he crafts from the flames represents the carefree skies he yearns for, where he can put away the heavy burdens of expectations laid upon him, and he has finally come to see this. What’s more, he senses a camaraderie with his firebirds he never felt before, and unbeknownst to him, if he should put time and effort enough into his hopes and dreams, then perhaps one day he will create a Spiritual entity with a soul of its own, and maybe even a body and mind if he is able to find the Path to True Divinity himself.

 

Grandpa Du feels younger than he ever has before as he trades blows with the traitor Mao Jianghong. Which honestly works against him, because if Grandpa Du eased up a little, then his opponent might just defeat himself, but the pressure placed upon Jianghong is too much for him to give in wholly to his thoughts. Grandpa Du doesn’t care however, because he’s here to kick ass and take names, and he’s aiming to add Mao Jianghong to his list before what he believes is his last wind plays out. The good news is that Grandpa Du is not, in fact, on the brink of death and using up the last of his strength in one final burst. No, he’s feeling younger and stronger thanks to a collaborative effort between my Natal Soul and Buddy. See, in his infinite doggy wisdom, which I sometimes confuse for stupidity, Buddy has already figured out the secrets to life force while I still have yet to come up with the right questions to ask. Thus, with so much to spare, he is more than happy to share some with the wrinkly human who doles out treats every hour like it’s Halloween, an expression I put together for Buddy’s burning excitement to introduce himself to someone he’s already decided to love.

 

Though she still grieves for her fallen brother, Ryo Da’in finds comfort in the happiness her little sister has found on the battlefield, and has committed to finding her own happiness no matter the cost, one she will bear on her own shoulders if she is able to, or die trying. Though she has yet to work out all the details, her willingness to follow her heart has enabled her to become One with the Self and One with the Sword as the Sword Princess shows the Enemy why she has long since been considered the undisputed Number One Talent of her Generation. Whereas Fung is on the cusp of forming Sword Intent, Da’in’s Domain erupts with it, Materializing a whole armoury of radiant swords in the skies the same way her father did in the Central Citadel, only for them to rain death down upon her foes to keep her little sister and her lover safe.

 

The sight fills Kyung with warm pride and eager yearning, one he embraces as he Cloud-Steps over to Da’in’s side, cutting down a Half-Demon intent on mutually assured destruction to bring down the new Sword Queen. Their eyes meet for all of a moment before they both turn away out of embarrassment, but neither one retreats as they fight side by side, for they are both finally willing to face their fears and risk it all for love.

 

There are countless stories like this, and many more that end in tragedy as Imperials and Defiled alike die in droves on the walls of Shi Bei. Unlike the match between the Eternal Emperor and myself, the battle below is still anybody’s game, so I’m putting my last-ditch efforts to use where they might actually make a difference. I know this sounds like I’ve given up and called it quits, but I haven’t. I’ve only acknowledged the fact that I have no way of defeating my monstrous foe, which means I’m probably gonna die and become the newest prisoner in his court of souls. As such, I am doing everything I can to make a difference before my inevitable end, because the battle for Shi Bei can still be won so long as my opponent adheres to the Treaty and leaves the mortals to their own struggles. A part of me hopes the Eternal Emperor will be content with his victory and leave my loved ones alone, a small, quiet, stupid part that the rest of me envies, because I know my foe is a petty, small-minded, vengeful asshole who will delight in tormenting me because I dared to challenge him.

 

A challenge I will soon lose despite having given it my best shot, meaning I have failed to live up to the expectations of everyone who supported me.

 

The price of my failure will not be borne by me alone however, so I am not ready to give up just yet. I will struggle to the last breath, but given the limited window of opportunity left to me here in Shi Bei, I don’t have time to indulge in feel-good moments. I need to focus on those struggling to survive and punch out as many problems as I can before the Eternal Emperor stands up again, which will be long before I am ready to do the same. I haven’t exactly been just twiddling my thumbs all this time, as I’ve been Healing as quickly as Panacea will allow, but this is nowhere near quick enough given the speed at which my foe’s face knits itself together. That’s the difference between guided direction and just letting the body take care of itself, but given my lack of practice with Healing, any attempt I make to speed things along will almost certainly end in tumorous disaster. To make matters worse, Taddy and Hua Lie haven’t been standing around either, and have in fact been trying to end the Eternal Emperor’s reign once and for all, but despite missing a good three-quarters of his face, the rest of him seems more than capable of avoiding their attacks, while simultaneously Concealing himself to hide for a moment or two before being discovered yet again.

 

Seriously, why won’t the Emperor just die? He’s been around forever and done nothing worthwhile with his life, so I don’t see how he hasn’t just shrivelled up and died out of sheer shame.

 

Short of another miraculous bout of Balance heralding yet another Ascension for me to partake in that will power me up enough to finally defeat the Emperor, I’m pretty much screwed. Rather than dwell on my impending defeat and spiral into doom and depression, I’ve decided to focus on managing my army of Natal Souls and solving the problems they bring to me. Alas, they are me, which means any problem they can’t find a solution for is probably beyond my abilities as well, meaning that I’m mostly running circles around inside my head trying to go beyond my meagre reach. The limited omniscience of my Ascension has long since faded and gone, though when I lost it is difficult to say, yet I fear that even if I were able to find it again, the Heavens Above won’t have a solution in store for me. As far as I can tell, the Eternal Emperor’s status quo is an acceptable form of Balance to the powers that be, or more accurately to the natural fail-safes set by the laws of the known world.

 

A slow and suffocating Balance that makes light of humanity’s nigh endless potential, but a Balance all the same.

 

As if to punctuate the accuracy of the statement, the Eternal Emperor arrives before my still mangled body and picks me up by the throat, forcing me to look him in his disfigured face which has still yet to wholly Heal. Honestly, doesn’t look half-bad for a guy who took a bullet to the head, with most of the meat and bones all back where they belong, though still missing some chunks here and there. A lot of skin too, which makes his wide-eyed stare the creepier, almost protruding out from the sockets and kept in place by veins and nerves alone. “Your futile struggle will now end,” the ghastly, half-healed Eternal Emperor declares, his upper row of teeth and gums exposed due to a lack of nose and skin.

 

Using this time wisely to check on Taddy and Hua Lie, I find them being kept at bay by two Demonic Divinities, except I can tell my Teacher is only holding back so he can buy time to prepare a more powerful attack. Hoping to distract the Eternal Emperor and delay him a few moments longer, I scour my scrambled brain for a witty retort, but after pushing through the searing agony and the flood of information being sent back by my Natal Souls, the best I can come up with is, “Oh good. I was getting real sweaty lying in the sand.”

 

“The courage of youth and ignorance,” comes the Eternal Emperor’s predictable reply, so happy to gloat and preen whenever he has the upper hand. “But this Sovereign shall soon teach you the true meaning of regret.” Casting an arm out to gesture at the battle below, he offers me a smug, ghastly grin so full of teeth and bones. “How does it feel to know all your efforts have only served to doom them all? Though it is almost certain you have no intentions of seizing a new host to inhabit, this Sovereign will not risk having to contest against your Natal Souls after another century has passed. The seeds you have planted here will not be allowed to flourish, your hopes dashed and your isolation complete, for everyone you know and love will die before your eyes. Sacrificed, in truth, the first of many lives to be reaped in the name of this Sovereign’s progress, but not before they suffer through agonies beyond your feeble imagination.” As he looms over me for full effect, patches of skin crop up and radiate outwards in no discernable pattern, showing that even his half-hearted Healing is beyond anything I can match. “Oh? Nothing to say, worm? No clever gibe or insolent retort to pass along in your moment of defeat? Come now, this Sovereign expected more from a foe so troublesome to defeat.”

 

“…You thought I was troublesome?” Psh. Yea right. “I troubled you? Me. Trouble you. Wow.” Shaking my head in honest disbelief, I chuckle beneath my breath while coming to terms with this simple, yet honest truth, one delivered straight from the horse’s mouth. The Eternal Emperor, who has been around for Mother knows how long and has strength beyond anything I can match, found me troublesome to defeat. I mean, I lost in the end, but that’s still nice to hear. Seeing his confusion, I offer him a genuine smile that I couldn’t keep off my face if I tried. “You asked me how I feel? Honestly, relieved now. I did my best and got some good hits in, which is really all anyone can ask for.” Gesturing at the Warriors below, I reiterate the truth the Eternal Emperor only just admitted, but from a different perspective. “More importantly, I showed you and the world the potential humanity has to offer, which is a truth you can try to erase, but even if everyone here in Shi Bei doesn’t live through the day, the ideas and possibilities I’ve introduced will still persist, ones which will eventually raise a generation of heroes strong enough to succeed where I have failed.”

 

Judging from his gaze, it’s clear the Eternal Emperor thinks I’m referring to crossbows, Spiritual Rifles, and Runic Cannons, but I’m talking about so much more. Paper money, fair wages, better working standards, compound interest, glass, concrete, the list goes on and on, but even if we take away the inventions themselves, there’s still the general concept of improving one’s lot in life by way of technological progress. Maybe most people won’t realize it, but I’ve given them a glimpse at how I see the world, atop the shoulders of giants who came before me, one the Cao-Cao’s, Liu Xuande’s, Diyako’s, and other geniuses of the Empire can use to shape the future before them, one which will no doubt deviate from the Eternal Emperor’s vision. Then there’s the fact that Liang Wu Di no doubt intends to use the wealth of the Liang Family to pump out Runic Cannons en masse, else why would the Liang Baldy and the Yang Prime Minister be lurking in the wings, watching the Tyrant OuYang Yuhuan like a hawk?

 

Even though my efforts as a Martial Warrior and True Divinity have come up short, I accomplished plenty in my time here in this world. In fact, I daresay I accomplished more as a cripple than I could ever match as a Warrior with a lifetime spent on the battlefield. It’s not much, but it’s an accomplishment I can take pride in, so even though I have ultimately failed the people who have come to rely on me and my story will soon end in abject defeat, I can take solace in the fact that my actions have already planted the seeds of eventual victory, ones which will flower into trials and tribulations even the Eternal Emperor cannot overcome. I am only a man, and no man is an island unto himself, both in the army and in the collective human race. I see this now, accept that I alone would never have been enough to turn the tiller of progress, but with enough like-minded individuals working towards a goal and an inordinate amount of time and bloody, hard-fought revolutions sprinkled into the mix, then maybe, just maybe humanity has a chance after all.

 

That being said, I have never been one to give up without a fight, and this revelation has even inspired me to try one desperate last resort, a scheme based on so many wild assumptions and hinging on a multitude of optimistic hopes that it has almost no chance of success. With nothing left to lose however, I figure I might as well give it a shot, because what’s the worst that could happen? While my foe is still busy trying to puzzle out the meaning of my words, I task a few Natal Souls to pass along my last will and testament before steeling my nerves for one, final Hail Mary of a play.

 

It’s a long shot, but when the bases are loaded with two outs in the ninth, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve struck out or fouled before. All you can do is swing for the fences and hope for the best, so here goes nothing.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 833

 

To cultivate is to nurture the truth.

 

What truth? The Truth of the Heavens, the Truth of the World, and the Truth of the Self.

Two statements and a question this Sovereign had replayed in mind countless times, ones he still did not dare to claim he wholly understood. These words belonged to Fifth Brother Di Zi, spoken countless times over the years they spent together, but this Sovereign remembered two occasions in particular. The first being the day they met, shortly after this Sovereign’s Ascension to Nascent Immortality which brought them together for the first time, and the second during their final exchange just moments before Fifth Brother Di Zi’s consciousness retreated inwards into his soul in order to conserve what little Prana he still had left. The same words used as both introduction and warning, and though nothing had come of it in the millennia since, this Sovereign was loathe to let his guard down against his enigmatic fifth Brother just yet. Not without reason, for though the foreign outlander was a man of peace who abhorred bloodshed and never joined in their sparring matches, this Sovereign suspected the portly man capable of far more than he ever let on.

 

Even when it came time for their final battle, it always felt like fifth brother Di Zi was holding something back, though it would have done nothing to change his inevitable fate. Were he to somehow have miraculously struck this Sovereign down, then Fifth Brother would not have been long for this world either, his soul cast into the cycle of reincarnation to be born anew again.

 

Unfounded suspicions aside, Fifth Brother Di Zi possessed a unique role within their brotherhood, one not of rival written friend, but that of a teacher and mentor. This was only possible due to his high affinity and control over the Energy of the Heavens, skills which enabled him to carry out all manner of complex experiments and exercises the others could only dream about. Then there was his gifted mind, one capable of making the complex seem simple and the simple complex as needed, a brilliant Cultivator who bestowed logic to the Dao in a way none could ever match. It was Fifth Brother who took this Sovereign’s words regarding his experiences along his Path and translated them into something the others could use to Ascend in turn, and he who designed the Royal College’s curriculum which taught mortals how to become Cultivators and guided them to the Dao. During the Warring States Era, an army would be considered blessed to contain more than one Cultivator, and most had none to their name, for experts of such calibre were as rare as qilin horns and phoenix feathers. Hence why this Sovereign was able to dominate his opponents on the battlefield with relative ease, though as time passed, even the armies with multiple Cultivators were unable to prove much of a challenge. Upon founding the Empire, there were perhaps two dozen Cultivators this Sovereign could call upon, a number which dwindled after a hundred years of peace and prosperity, yet fifty years after the first outlanders invaded and the founding of the Royal College, this Sovereign had an army of ten-thousand Cultivators at his beck and call.

 

All of which was made possible by Fifth Brother’s shining brilliance, a rare genius of the Dao who found his own Path without relying on guidance from the Heavens above.

 

Even though the foundations laid by Fifth Brother’s teachings were inherently flawed, it was not because he’d erred in his interpretation of the Dao. No, the error lay in the fact that his teachings were based on this Sovereign’s perspective of the Dao, and therefore unsuitable for the masses. To follow in his footsteps was akin to asking a fish to fly using wings they did not possess, an impossible feat to accomplish without undergoing a staggering and impossible transformation. Though a fish was capable of flapping its fins in close approximation of a bird, there were fundamental differences between the two that would prevent any further progress, an issue which remained hidden until the first batch of new-age Cultivators reached the pinnacle of their flawed Path and were unable to Ascend to Nascent Immortality.

 

This Sovereign remembered those days well, of sitting in on the lessons with Fifth Brother’s students in hopes of uncovering a method to help these Cultivators Ascend. Every spoken word made perfect sense and adhered to his Dao, so he knew not why the others could not find the Path forward. Alas, several centuries passed before this Sovereign realized the error of Fifth Brother’s ways, and by then, the outland threat had long since resolved itself and he’d fallen out with his sworn brothers to boot. Despite all this, Fifth Brother’s teachings were only flawed when viewed from a perspective that was not this Sovereign’s, and thus were still wholly applicable to his Dao, so he often referred to those lessons rather than his own memories and testimonials because Fifth Brother often said it better.

 

The Truth of the Heavens was the first step, an ineffable Truth words could never do justice. It was a Truth one had to discover for oneself, else you would forever be denied the chance to Ascend to Nascent Immortality. Once you stumbled across the Truth however, then it was possible to become One with the Heavens and discover the Truth of the World, at which point a Cultivator would open themselves up to Heavens and harmonize their breathing with the World in order to lay the groundwork necessary to become a Cultivator. At first glance, these two steps appeared to take place simultaneously, or at worst in quick succession, but this was not the case. The Truth of the Heavens could simply be distilled down to the awareness of Heavenly Energy, the ability to perceive this power and affect its flow with your Will alone, yet this alone was not enough, for one’s perception of their personal Dao played a large role in what would come next.

 

Once you uncovered the Truth of the Heavens and the Truth of the World, you could then become One with the Heavens and One with the World, beginning the long and arduous process of Cleansing one’s physique. This was a crucial step, and a different step from Refining the body, mind, and soul, which was akin to gathering all the required materials and building a seven-story pagoda, while Cleansing one’s physique comparable to redecorating and realigning said pagoda in accordance with the Heavens and the World. Fifth Brother Di Zi called this Cleansing step Foundation Establishing, for it was here one would establish the foundation upon which one would build their Inner Core during their Ascension to Nascent Immortality, but much like ears or fingerprints, there were no two foundations which were wholly alike. The Cultivators who took up Fifth Brother’s teachings possessed only a superficial understanding of the Truth of the Heavens, and thus were destined to fail from the very first step, as they went on to Refine their bodies, minds, and souls and Cleanse their physiques in accordance with this Sovereign’s Path rather than their own, resulting in a flawed foundation incompatible with their personal perspectives of the Dao. This differed from the error this Sovereign’s sworn brothers made, wherein they erred in the step thereafter, Forming their Cores based on information gleaned from this Sovereign’s foundation rather than matching it to their own. Though the flaws were not obvious at first glance, there would eventually come a time when their mismatched Cores would prove more hindrance than boon as the misalignment caused impurities to build up within their Cleansed physiques creating blockages and interfering with the flow of Heavenly Energy through them. For this reason alone, this Sovereign had long since considered himself the only True Nascent Immortal in all of history, while his five sworn brothers were False Core Immortals at best, ones who would eventually have been forced to remake their Cores and start anew in order to progress any further, had they not fallen in battle first.

 

But from the looks of things, the world would welcome in a second True Nascent Immortal today, albeit a short-lived one if this Sovereign had anything to say about Falling Rain’s success.

 

Third, came the internal retort, a stubborn and subdued reminder of his Natal Soul’s success, but this Sovereign would remain skeptical until he had time enough to review those memories. It wasn’t that he was looking down on his Natal Soul, for even a cursory study of the scattered memories available showed that there was much to be gleaned from his Natal Soul’s experiences, but it also revealed a plethora of pitfalls to avoid. What’s more, this Sovereign’s Natal Soul had clearly embarked along a different Path, meaning its chances of successfully Ascending to become a True Nascent Immortal were miniscule at best, given how it had forced itself to pursue a different Dao in order to experience a different perspective. Lastly, the results spoke for themselves, and they were not promising, for how could a True Nascent Immortal have fallen to the machinations of one Falling Rain who had yet to even Ascend himself?

 

These thoughts stirred up a storm of bitter resentment and contrary belligerence, but with no logical argument to counter it, this Sovereign’s Natal Soul could only keep silent and accept the Truth.

 

Falling Rain however was a man wholly in accordance with the Truth of the Heavens, one unique to him and him alone. An impossible accomplishment, given what this Sovereign knew of the transmigrator’s Dao of Freedom and the inherent paradox ingrained within, but there was no denying the veracity of Falling Rain’s Ascension. The inviolability of space was merely the beginning, and not indicative of the legitimacy of his Ascension at all, for even the birth of a Transcendent could accomplish as much, since this was merely a side effect of merging one’s body, mind, and soul with the Heavens. According to the memories of this Sovereign’s Natal Soul, Falling Rain had begun this process in Meng Sha, only to stop before proceeding down the dead-end path all the so-called Divinities stumbled across, a sign that the transmigrator understood the fallacies of the Martial Path and had since made the proper adjustments. What those adjustments might be was impossible for this Sovereign to glean, nor could he even begin to guess at how the transmigrator had known to stop himself before making his mistake, but his competence made him all the more dangerous and reassured this Sovereign of his decision to eliminate the threat before he grew too strong to easily manage.

 

For despite having only just achieved One with the Heavens and One with the World in their entirety, Falling Rain started and finished establishing his foundation in less time than it took to blink an eye.

 

An unprecedented achievement for a human cultivator, and something this Sovereign would have believed impossible had he not witnessed the birth of an Ancestral Beast first-hand. Since that fateful day amidst the rivers and hills of his birthplace, this Sovereign had spent the better part of eight decades slowly establishing his foundation, allowing the Energy of the Heavens to surge through him and seep into every last crook and crevice of his very being to temper his body, mind, and soul while widening his meridians and acupoints. This was akin to smelting iron to remove the impurities before refining it into steel, except rather than an ingot, you were working with an iron sword that had already been forged and needed to keep in working order. Thus the need for painstaking care and effort, a slow and gradual process that improved one’s physique bit by bit, like removing one plank from a ship and replacing it before removing the next plank, until all the original planks had been replaced.

 

This was not the case with Falling Rain’s Refinement, if it could even be called such a thing. Rather than improve upon what was there, this was analogous to a rebirth as the Energy of the Heavens surged through and around the transmigrator until it thickened like molasses, a womb within which he would be reborn anew. The Energy of the Heavens was still formless and colourless, but this Sovereign’s Spiritual Senses were no longer able to pierce through the solid curtain, leaving him with only his physical senses to parse through what came next. A cycle of Destruction and Creation, one in which every fibre of Falling Rain’s body was destroyed and formed anew in the blink of an eye, so fast that it appeared as if nothing had happened save for a healthy sheen cast over his closed-eyed expression, yet so complete there could be no other way to describe it. The solid curtain of Heavenly Energy dissipated into nothingness, consumed in the process of nourishing his Refined physique, which was then Cleansed of impurities by the first revolution of Heavenly Energy surging through him.

 

Which was exactly how Ancestral Beasts were born, albeit as False Core Immortals who had yet to determine their Dao, and never would due to the conflict between their human and bestial instincts.

 

Physically, Falling Rain’s appearance had not changed from the diminutive, unremarkable youth whose only saving grace was his distinctive amber eyes. His hair was half-brushed and in disarray, a half-bun coming apart at the seams, while his plain black robes hung loosely from his gaunt, angular frame, largely due to the poor tailoring and his refusal to tighten his sash as decorum demanded. Add in his slack expression, eyes closed and mouth half open in complete relaxation, and he possessed the air of a disgraceful young noble returning from an exhausting visit to the local brothel, half-drunk with no regard for face whatsoever. This Sovereign’s Spiritual Senses told an entirely different story however, determining that Falling Rain’s physical form had been improved in a myriad of subtle and not so subtle ways. His pale, unmarked skin was still soft and supple, yet tougher than even the thickest of bestial hides without affecting his sensation of touch. Steel swords would find it difficult to break skin, and impossible to cleave through his solid, sturdy bones, assuming they could even carve through his dense yet surprisingly elastic muscles, but this was merely scratching the surface. He wasn’t just stronger and more durable, but he would have more stamina as well, his blood and lungs so efficient that he could likely run for hours before breaking a sweat or losing his breath, and poisons might as well be water where he was concerned, broken down by his organs before they would have a chance to act. 

 

It had been quite some time since this Sovereign had possessed a wholly Refined Physique, as there was no point putting in all the effort to lead a borrowed body to the Peak of the Dao, but as far as he could tell, even his original body might not be a match for Falling Rain’s, which hid a myriad of improvements that were not obvious at first, second, or even third glance. First Brother’s physique was the strongest out of all six sworn brothers, as befitting of the Martial God of the Warring States Era. His comprehension of the hidden complexities of the human body surpassed even that of Fifth Brother Di Zi’s, even if his understanding fell far short, yet Falling Rain’s wholly Refined Physique seemed every bit as flawless, if not superior to First Brother Wushen’s, though this Sovereign lacked the ability to tell which one was truly better.

 

A most unsettling discovery indeed, but there was still more to come. The body was but one part of the whole, and the spirit another, yet Falling Rain’s meridians were a veritable work of art. While unable to visually map them, this Sovereign was more than capable of perceiving the flow of Heavenly Energy moving through them and drawing conclusions from there, but he soon became lost in the vast network of meridians that were wider and more complex than anything this Sovereign had ever experienced before. If his own meridian network was comparable to a single towering tree, a living, breathing organism capable of infinite growth and advancement with branches and roots spreading out in all directions, then Falling Rain had raised himself a veritable forest, a complex ecosystem of various flora and fauna that existed in perfect harmony and possessed no discernable limits or shortcomings. In this, he easily surpassed Second Brother Liang Bo, whose innate understanding of flow, rhythm and harmony was second to none thanks to his attainments in the Dao of Music. That was what most failed to understand, how the flow of Heavenly Energy was not just about speed and direction, for there was an artistry to the timing, movement, and changes that went beyond the concepts of measured motion and shaped patterns to step foot into the realm of abstract conceptualization.

 

In short, this meant Falling Rain’s comprehension of the Dao likely surpassed this Sovereign’s by no small margin, while in practice, it was difficult to say what changes this might bring, for even Fifth Brother Di Zi had yet to wholly unravel the mystery of meridians. Suffice it to say that this Sovereign was most displeased to have been outdone by a mere child, even one who possessed memories of a different world with a different Dao and the widened perspective that came with it. Luckily, comprehension did not equate to strength, and Falling Rain would need time and practice to familiarize himself with his newly acquired power, luxuries he could ill afford. Gathering even more power into his fist, this Sovereign readied his most powerful strike in lieu of the casual attack he’d intended to deliver, for he could no longer look down on Falling Rain, who would soon be a Nascent Immortal in truth.

 

The Energy of the Heavens slackened for all of an instant before returning with more intensity than ever, like the drawing of a deep breath as Falling Rain readied to form his Inner Core. The first step was to extend one’s Domain to its utmost limits, though for what reason was difficult to say, for despite having each extended their Domains to different lengths, there was no discernable difference between the Inner Cores of this Sovereign and his sworn brothers. While this Sovereign had not thought to measure the range of his Domain during his Ascension to Nascent Immortality, Fifth Brother Di Zi was two kilometres away from the palace when this Sovereign’s Domain encompassed him and attracted his attention before continuing beyond the limits of his Spiritual Senses. This meant this Sovereign’s Domain had measured three kilometres in radius at the very least, though to maintain such a sizable Domain for any amount of time was still beyond his abilities. In comparison, none of his Sworn Brothers were able to push their Domains beyond a single kilometre, save for Third Brother Yang Kai whose Domain stretched so far this Sovereign was unable to find its limits even after Cloud-Stepping fifteen kilometres away. As for Fourth Brother Tian Yi, his Domain barely even measured a single metre at the time of his Core Formation, which prompted the rest of them to tease him incessantly, even though there was no real correlation between strength and size of Domain.

 

But even so, this Sovereign inadvertently let out a sigh of relief when he discovered Falling Rain’s Domain had barely gone past his skin before sinking back down to Form his Golden Core. At least now he knew the transmigrator was still fallible and flawed, yet to uncover all the secrets of Heaven and reach the pinnacle of the Dao to challenge this Sovereign for ultimate Authority.  

 

A truth made all the more evident as Falling Rain’s gathered momentum came to a crashing halt.

 

The Energy of the Heavens continued its turbulent flow, yet it was clear Falling Rain had arrived at an impasse, a moment of hesitation in the wake of his narrow success as he struggled to uncover the next step. A step which had thus far eluded even this Sovereign, so how could this stranger from a foreign world succeed? For all his strength and progress, Falling Rain’s accumulations were still meagre at best, a mere two decades of experience following what was largely a flawed Path, one of division and separation rather than unity and harmony. With the formation of his Golden Core, he had touched upon the limits of the Heavens, and they would no longer guide him, for if he were to proceed forward from here, then he would touch upon the pinnacle of the Dao and challenge the Heavens themselves, which they would not allow. This Sovereign had struggled with this next step since Ascending to Nascent Immortality himself, unsure what direction to go next. The Truth of the Heavens referred to Foundation Establishment, the Truth of the World paired with Essence Cleansing, but what of the Truth of the Self? At first, this Sovereign believed it referred to Core Formation, but the Core was merely the natural culmination of Essence Cleansing, for once one’s meridians were cleansed and acupoints condensed, one finally possessed the qualifications to perceive the existence of Immortal Energy within this world, like a faint, distant scent or a barely audible tune just at the edge of one’s perception.

 

What was the Truth of the Self? Fifth Brother Di Zi had never gotten that far in his lessons, for the Cultivators were never able to succeed at Core Formation, and this Sovereign had never thought to ask until after their final exchange. There was a small part of him that had hoped Falling Rain would provide the answer, a quiet longing for an alternate Path to the one he’d only just decided on, a Path of life which would allow this Sovereign to preserve the Empire he’d created and maintained for all these millennia, but this was not to be. The Heavens would brook no challenge to their supremacy, and thus would never provide their subjects with so easy a Path to Ascend, leaving no choice for this Sovereign but to pave his Path in blood and suffering so that he might uncover the secrets of life and death.

 

That was the key to Ascension, this he wholeheartedly believed, for despite having deemed himself worthy of the lofty ambition nestled within the term, ‘Nascent Immortal’, this Sovereign had yet to wholly free himself from the shackles of mortality. True Immortality would only be his when he possessed an eternal body, mind, and soul, one capable of withstanding the pressure associated with charging past the barrier beyond the Void which separated this world from the next without succumbing to the cycle of reincarnation. Falling Rain’s soul had somehow traversed through this barrier intact, but not unscathed, for it was clear he behaved more like a youth of twenty than the erudite master of culture and the arts that his memories made him out to be. This was not the Ascension this Sovereign sought, a partial and imperfect expedition that would leave him fractured and incomplete, for what purpose was there in Ascending if he was no longer the Eternal Emperor he’d always been?

 

No matter though, for the answer was so close at hand, the missing pieces of the puzzle no doubt hiding within the accumulations of his Natal Soul or the memories of Falling Rain.

 

All this and more took effect in an instant, yet as the end drew near, the moment stretched on into eternity as this Sovereign waited with bated breath. Not to say he stood idle all this time, for the Transcendent Divinities under his control were positioned to intercept Falling Rain should he attempt to flee, assuming he survived the initial barrage of attacks of course. Otherwise, capturing his errant soul would be easy as turning a hand once his body was destroyed, for even a refined body, mind, and soul required a vessel to inhabit. As the Energy of the Heavens dwindled away to nothingness, this Sovereign readied to give the order to attack, only to stop short as the Energy of the Heavens surged once more and Falling Rain rallied as if to charge ahead along his Path. The moment of Insight had come and gone, but his Ascension had yet to complete, and this Sovereign’s stomach churned in abject denial as the boy further Refined his Physique to even loftier heights. Though this Sovereign yearned for answers, in truth, he was unwilling to see someone else succeed in his place, for he was the Eternal Emperor, the only True Nascent Immortal for untold millennia and a man second to none.

 

And yet, despite not knowing what the Path ahead might be, he saw a glimpse of it in Falling Rain as the transmigrator cast his gaze over the army before him and solidified his Will, one so firm and fixed this Sovereign was almost able to catch a glimpse of his foe’s Dao forming around him. A Dharmic Icon, of sorts, but different in a fundamental and significant way, for this was not a Rune meant to convey his Intent to the Heavens above, but one which embodied it in body, mind, and soul. A Dao Icon then, one representative of his perspective, and should he successfully wholly Materialize in reality and the Void both, this Sovereign suspected this it would empower Falling Rain with the ability to overturn the Laws of Heaven, for the Authority contained within seemed to supersede the Authority of this plane of existence itself, one which might well enable him to wield the Energy of Immortals itself.

 

This was the culmination of Falling Rain’s Dao, the very pinnacle he could reach without breaking free of the confines of this realm, and this Sovereign marvelled to gaze upon it. Thankfully however, Falling Rain’s Dao Icon was still vague and indistinct, a hazy, ill-defined blob of black and white. From this, this Sovereign could infer that his foe’s Dao consisted of two opposing forces in contention, so similar to this Sovereign’s Dragon and Phoenix sigil, which he had long since used as a Dharmic Icon of his Authority. The Dragon on the right, the Phoenix on the left, circling one another in a counter-clockwise fashion with a single dot of gold in the centre to represent his throne. This same sigil was emblazoned upon his Imperial Seals, golden robes of office, and the back of his jade throne, to say nothing of its ubiquity in the seals of countless Imperial Officials all across the Empire, ones who wielded their authority in his name, and his alone. From this one, singular glance, this Sovereign could see the Path to True Divinity unfolding before, and his spirits soared at the prospect of progress after so much time spent in preparation, even as his heart faltered at the thought of seeing someone else Ascend before him.

 

But the Heavens were not blind as they led Falling Rain astray. Rather than focus on the Path before him, he was too fixated on the battle below, a stupid child bound by chains of sentiment which he even now refused to sever. Instead, he mutilated a portion of his Refined body, mind, and soul to create a veritable horde of Natal Souls imbued with the tiniest slivers of Immortal Energy, whom he then dispatched to lend aid to his struggling allies. A fool’s errand, for he could have used this power to attack this Sovereign or the Transcendent Divinities encircling him whilst still guarded by the inviolability of the Heavens, but instead, he wasted his one chance of survival on what might well be the most inefficient use of power in history. With Immortal Energy at his beck and call, he could have destroyed the entire army of Ascended Transcendents with a wave of his hand, but instead he split it up to share with so many unworthy mortals, like a man dying of thirst sharing his last cup of water with the masses one drop at a time in the futile hopes of staving off their collective, inevitable death.

 

Contempt and disdain flowed through this Sovereign as he gave the order to attack, timed perfectly so the barrage of strikes would land just as Falling Rain’s cloak of inviolability fell off. So lost in his insignificant concern for the mortals below, he failed to notice the impending danger until it was far too late to defend, though he had time enough for a brief show of surprise and denial before this Sovereign’s billowing Domain-Plated Fist Intent slammed home. The attacks from the Transcendent Divinities followed immediately after, and this Sovereign set his Spiritual Senses to locate the transmigrator’s soul. A moment passed, then another, and another, until almost a half-second had gone by without success, only for the dust and turbulent energies to settle and reveal an unscathed Falling Rain hiding behind a sphere of flowing Water Manifested into reality, a Barrier comprised of interwoven currents sliding around one another in perfect harmony and encapsulated him from head to toe. Surprise flitted throughout every fibre of this Sovereign’s being, a sentiment echoed upon his foe’s youthful features as he stood there with arms raised and head tucked in what should have been a futile defense, one which instead somehow blocked a volley of attacks which even this Sovereign would have struggled to defend against.  

 

As their gazes met through the shimmering aqueous barrier, one visible to the naked eye yet imperceptible to his Spiritual Senses, they shared a moment of confusion and lacking comprehension before the boy’s amber eyes lit up with unfathomable comprehension, only to raise his arms over his head and let loose a whoop of pure joy. “Whoooooooooooo! Power of Friendship! Fuck yea!”

 

A baying howl of glee and gluttony rose up in response as the battle between Divinities resumed forthwith, the hound leading the charge with the old wolf at his heels and throwing this Sovereign’s Transcendent Divinities into disarray. Even with a sliver of his Will firmly holding onto their reins, their fear of the Predator was too deeply ingrained for this Sovereign to wholly control them, and they scattered before the floppy-eared dog like a brainless flock of birds. As for Falling Rain, he wasted no time charging headlong at this Sovereign with glaive in hand, appearing instantly before him with a thrust. One which pierced through the Manifested Water Barrier as if it didn’t exist, while his sword and shield plummeted down from the skies above where they’d been lying in wait all this time. Reacting on instinct in spite of his surprise, this Sovereign parried the glaive with a hand and side-stepped the shield and sword both, utilizing his Domain Deflection in all three cases to ensure success. No longer did he dare meet the boy’s attacks head on, for not only was his physical strength far more formidable than before, this Sovereign sensed danger lurking within the Sword Intent, though he knew not if it was truly there or if his fear was playing tricks on his imagination.

 

Nothing could be left for chance, not after what he just witnessed. How was it possible for this child to enact so powerful a defense at a moment’s notice, and maintain it even now as he fought?

 

As Falling Rain unleashed a flurry of strikes, the Barrier of flowing water proved no hindrance to his attacks, flowing harmlessly around the metal weapon and at times even lending strength to it. In contrast, this Sovereign’s counterattacks were unable to find purchase and glanced harmlessly off the surface of the surging defense. Honed chops infused with Sword Intent, Amplified Reverberations delivering ambient Death Energy, Reinforced punches infused with merged Fist and Palm Intent, borrowed Elemental Essences from the various Transcendent Divinities around him, all of this Sovereign’s efforts to pierce through the Barrier proved wholly ineffective, and he was unable to determine why. Despair took root in his heart as he lamented the inevitability of defeat, for the secrets hidden within this impervious aegis of flowing Water were so profound and fathomless this Sovereign could only speculate as to how it was possible, making wild guesses which threw his mind into disarray as his foundation of knowledge and experienced came apart around him.

 

For long millennia now, this Sovereign saw Elemental Blessings as a mere Conceptualization of the basic forces, a necessary crutch for the frail human mind to wield the power inherent to nature and the world around them. A Blessing was merely a different form of Authority granted by the Heavens above, one which granted the recipient Insight and dominion over a Primal Dao. The Blessing of Fire for example was an amalgamation of a multitude of fundamental forces which came together to form the Primal Dao of Fire, yet if one could master those fundamental forces, then one could theoretically incorporate the Primal Dao of Fire into their own Dao without any Blessing from Heaven. In other words, even though this Sovereign was incapable of summoning flames himself, this Sovereign was able to Manifest the Energy of the Heavens to behave in a similar destructive manner as easily as turning a hand, and he was able to do the same with the other Elements, to some extent. There were limits of course, since this method relied on one’s comprehension of the natural forces and how they all come together to form the four Primal Elements, but this Sovereign saw little reason to pursue this line of study. There was no benefit to be had in emulating the Elements, because more often than not, this method lacked efficiency, adding an extra step where none was needed. Take the destructive Wind Blades delivered by the aged Warrior below, one fighting with a sabre and battle-fan in each hand. Powerful though his attacks might be, this Sovereign could easily do the same by Materializing his Domain and infusing it with Sword, Sabre, or Axe Intent, among many others. A far simpler method to achieve the same effect, and with a large enough effort of Will, he could even Plate his Materialized Domain to wield his Weapon Intents like a weapon in hand, so why bother going to all the extra effort of mimicking the properties of Air beforehand just to obtain an arguably inferior outcome?

 

Except now, he saw that his vision had been far too narrow, a frog in a well unable to see how vast the Heavens truly were. The same could be said of every other Elementally Blessed individual he’d ever come across, save for Falling Rain standing here before him. Much of this transmigrator’s success could be attributed to his memories of a past life, one lived in a different world with a different Dao that enabled him to see further than most, yet nothing in those shared memories revealed a reason for his unmatched attainments in the realm of Water. The shimmering sphere of Manifested Water hinted at a mastery of Water beyond the concept of a Blessing, one which had crossed over into the realm of Intent, one of Tides, Density, Tension, and other various concepts which this Sovereign dared not even try to put a name to, Intents brought out in full force thanks to a natural and intrinsic Materialization that went beyond anything this Sovereign could match.

 

Because as far as he could tell, this flowing barrier was not comprised of Heavenly Energy behaving like water, but was instead made of pure, natural, plain water created by the Heavens themselves, which was then controlled by the Will of a Cultivator. A difference without a distinction, one might think, but this was a difference of night and day, for the former relied on an understanding of the Concept of Water to bestow the properties of such upon the Energy of the Heavens, while the latter required a consummate mastery of the Dao of Water to Materialize it into existence. Though Cultivators and Martial Warriors were able to accomplish seemingly Heaven defying feats using the Energy of the Heavens and Chi, the truth was that none of it would be possible without the Authority granted unto them by the Heavens above. All was within the scope of the Heavens, which would brook no transgression against Natural Law, meaning everything cultivators and Martial Warriors were capable of had to remain within the constraints of this purview. As such, even after obtaining the Authority of the Heavens to Develop a Domain, Manifesting one into reality would always be seen as a minor trespass of Natural Law. Not enough to break it, but bend it at the very least, an infraction the Heavens were willing to overlook so long as one kept to reasonable limits and paid the appropriate price.

 

What that price might be, whether it was Prana, emotion, soul, or whatnot, even this Sovereign was unable to determine, not beyond the shadow of a doubt at least. However, this water barrier before him was so in accordance with Natural Law that the Heavens and the World itself mistook the water as part and parcel of their own. This was more than just Manifestation, the Water melding seamlessly with reality and the Void both by mimicking a natural force with near flawless perfection, and the price required to circumvent Natural Law and bring this barrier into existence was likely as close to negligible as one could get. This lent the barrier more presence and mass, made it more real and substantial to the point where this Sovereign suspected a third party could sustain themselves by drinking this Water, a feat so infinitely close to an act of pure Creation, a genesis and inception of matter out of nothingness, an act which stood in stark defiance of Natural Law as this Sovereign understood it. The only way this could even theoretically be possible was if one had Ascended beyond the limits of Nascent Immortality and become something akin to a True Deity, a Transcendent being capable of breaking free from the shackles of this world to soar into the next.

 

And this was merely scratching the surface, for there was so much hidden within this demonstration of what this Sovereign considered the basic concept of Water, so much to study and glean, it opened up a whole host of new possibilities which he’d never considered before today.

 

And yet… this depth and profundity of attainment was utterly inconsistent with Falling Rain’s martial abilities, his Sword Intent so shallow and basic it was surpassed by this Sovereign’s latest addition to his court of souls. Solitary Sword Zhang Jun Bao’s Sword Intent was fierce and unyielding, a deadly blade scintillating with lethal threat and hostility, whereas Falling Rain’s Sword Intent was calm and serene, which amounted to the difference between a swordsman chopping off heads and a chef slicing onions. Technically the same general principle, yet wholly different in almost every conceivable way, a disparity that only grew as Falling Rain’s offensive faltered for lack of momentum and harmony.

 

Talented? Undoubtedly so. Dangerous? Absolutely. Capable of enacting this deeply profound impenetrable defense? Impossible.

 

A fact further supported by Falling Rain’s lackluster and uninspired attempts to utilize Materialized currents and tendrils of Water to limit this Sovereign’s movements. The transmigrator’s attainments in the Dao of Water were so pitifully shallow that this Sovereign barely had to exert any effort to counter them, meaning there was no possible way Falling Rain possessed the ability to Manifest this Water Barrier protecting him. The boy was formidable, but he needed time to acclimate to his new physique and assimilate his attainments before he could grow into a real threat, which was the only reason this Sovereign had yet to take injury in his confused distraction.

 

Once again in accordance with his Dao, he held firm to unfailing logic and extricated himself from the pits of despair, the result of a subtle and pervasive Aura that he only now just noticed. This combined with the boy’s words meant there was another combatant present here, a powerful presence this Sovereign had overlooked all this time and even now was unable to uncover, for his suspicions had yet to be proven. Unnerving as the prospect of a hidden third party might be, this Sovereign was able to regain his composure now that he’d made sense of the madness, even going so far as to comb through his memories to find even more evidence of this interloper’s ingenious intervention. The billowing barrier of Water was the easiest clue to seize upon, one which had defended Falling Rain before, but had not been so complete so as to make it seem as if the boy had enacted it himself. The pervasive Aura was another thing, for Falling Rain was incapable of such subtlety, his every attempt to use Aura akin to hammering this Sovereign with emotion, which made it all the easier to guard against it. What other strengths had this Sovereign attributed to Falling Rain but in truth belonged to this third individual? Difficult to say, but this Sovereign was much relieved to know that he had not been surpassed by another in a mere two decades.

 

There was a weight of accomplishment and attainment to these subtle Aural attacks and forthright Water defenses that made it obvious this was a seasoned foe, but there was no need to fear an opponent so cowardly that they refused to even reveal their own presence and make a move themselves. Since he was unable to directly break through the defenses, this Sovereign set his mind to seeking out his true opponent in this battle to put an end to this once and for all, but despite possessing the knowledge of Fourth Brother Tian Yi’s unparalleled comprehension of Concealment, he was still unable to find this hidden foe. This Sovereign’s Spiritual Senses swept across all of Shi Bei and its surroundings, searching through every shadow and crevice someone could conceivably hide in, yet no matter how many times he checked and rechecked, he found no hidden expert lying in wait. Frustrated by his lack of success, this Sovereign tried a different tack and offered Falling Rain a smirk instead. “Your cowardly ally will not save you here today,” he began, and the boy’s obvious surprise and chagrin all but confirmed this Sovereign’s suspicions. “Not while hiding in the shadows, too afraid to show themselves. Come, let this Sovereign gaze upon the face of the consummate expert standing behind you, and perhaps an accord can be made.”

 

“You want to meet him?” The boy’s lips quirked in a smile, amused by the demand for some inconceivable reason. “Sit down, have a nice talk, and maybe come to terms?”

 

“There are no eternal allies or perpetual enemies,” this Sovereign replied, “Only eternal and perpetual interests. You yourself are unworthy to stand with this Sovereign as equals, but your hidden ally might well possess qualifications enough. We Nascent Immortals are a rare breed, three when this morning, this Sovereign believed he stood alone, so why not see if we can come to an accord, one that will benefit us all in the end?”

 

An offer made in genuine honesty, one this Sovereign only belatedly realized, for he had stood alone for far too long and truly desired a peer to discuss the Dao with. Falling Rain was unworthy, a fool who refused to divest himself of the red dust of the mortal world, but the Nascent Immortal protecting him was undoubtedly someone worth befriending. Perhaps this mysterious expert was only aiding Falling Rain in hopes of obtaining a peer as well, so why go to all that effort if this Sovereign was already available?

 

“No eternal allies or perpetual enemies,” the boy repeated, still grinning like the fool he was. “Only eternal and perpetual interests. Well said, but alas, I don’t think you have the capacity to provide my ‘hidden ally’ with what he desires.”

 

“This Sovereign is Emperor of the Azure Sea, the ultimate authority under Heaven.” Bristling with indignation at Falling Rain’s implication, this Sovereign drew himself up to full height whilst still avoiding the boy’s flying sword and shield. “With one wave of this hand, this Sovereign can call the winds and summon the rain. With one finger, the entire Empire will kneel before me, one command and they will strive to meet my demands. What have you to offer that this Sovereign is lacking?”

 

“In a word?” The hateful sneer showed itself once more as the boy looked down his nose at this Sovereign, so full of disdain for the power and authority he’d amassed in all his years of existence. “Friendship. Bitch.”

 

The fact that he answered with two words notwithstanding, Falling Rain’s tone was one of complete contempt and condescension. When was the last time this Sovereign had been disrespected so? Even in his bid to seize the throne, Liang Wu Di knew to give face to one such as he, for he was the Eternal Emperor who’d united the Warring States and held the ultimate Authority under Heaven. In this moment of rage and indignation, this Sovereign’s Natal Soul rose up to seize control, and in a most calamitous twist of fate, Falling Rain chose this moment to act, raising his rifle to his shoulder to deliver yet another Chi projectile. A single moment of hesitation, that was all it took, as this Sovereign wavered between suppressing his Natal Soul or avoiding the boy’s attack, and in the end, he made the wrong decision. His Natal Soul was the more dangerous threat, this he wholeheartedly believed, until Falling Rain’s projectile emerged from the tip of the hollow shaft and exploded with power and deadly Intent. There was nothing calm and serene about this, so utterly unlike his Sword Intent, for this was a projectile crafted with the express purpose of claiming this Sovereign’s life and nothing else. The Destructive properties of this unnamed Intent surpassed even this Sovereign’s merged Weapon Intents, an Intent that came infinitely close to becoming pure Destruction and Death while falling just slightly short in both realms.

 

The projectile pulsed with lethal purpose as it passed through the Water barrier, so antithetical to life and nature that it disrupted the flow of the hidden expert’s efforts to bring down the Water barrier in an instant, a portent which boded poorly for this Sovereign’s hastily raised defenses. The projectile arrived before his Domain could even Materialize, much less become Plated to offer any protection, whereupon it passed through the barrier encasing this Sovereign’s entire body by Unravelling the Runes of his Robes of Office without even touching them. Pain was too simplistic a word to describe the sensation as the projectile pulped flesh, fractured bone, and left a crater the size of fist on this Sovereign’s face, but the physical damage was merely the least of it. The agony this projectile delivered radiated through his mind and soul both, ravaging the landscape within the Natal Palace of his host’s soul, and in doing so rending apart the vast majority of this Sovereign’s soul contained within. Only his vast accumulations and willingness to bear the brunt of this damage at all costs kept his court of souls untouched, for they represented countless lifetimes of achievements and a vast range of perceptions he required to maintain and advance along his Path.

 

But through the agony of this attack, this Sovereign saw an opportunity and seized it in hand, launching a counterattack infused with all the combined Intents he could muster. A force erupted from his closed fist and slipped through the opening created by Falling Rain’s projectile to land home against his chest, and this Sovereign was rewarded with the sensation of broken bone and punctured flesh. An eye for an eye, and if the boy survived, then his hidden ally would be hard pressed to keep him alive, buying this Sovereign the precious moments needed to curb the destructive energies running rampant through his body, mind, and soul before putting an end to this conflict once and for all.

 

No matter the odds against him, this Sovereign would emerge victorious, for Falling Rain was a foreign interloper and his ally a coward to boot, while this Sovereign was the Chosen Son of Heaven, whom would not allow him to fall. If the Heavens should abandon him, then in his rage, he would destroy the Heavens, one final act of defiance which no one would survive, which was why they would not allow him to die.

 

Such was life, trials and tribulations, but for better or worse, this trial would soon come to an end.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

Previous Chapter Table of Contents Savage Divinity – Chapter 834

Savage Divinity – Chapter 832

 

Failure. Wastrel. Disappointment.

 

Lies and slander the lot of it, for this Sovereign knew well his own worth and the validity of his Dao, so there was nothing his Natal Soul could do or say to change this. If there was a flaw to be found in this Sovereign’s Path, it would be found in his faulty implementation, for his methods and goals had always been in accordance with his Will. Now he accepted the errors of his past and understood the steps he should have taken instead, but while he acknowledged that he could have done better, could have made better choices, could have been more effective and efficient, this was not enough to deem him a failure, merely someone whose success was less than optimal. Thus there was no sense in abandoning the Path he’d set out to conquer so long ago, for the issue was not with his goal, but rather the means he used to achieve them. A logical and rational argument made which blunted the fangs of his Natal Soul’s verbal assault, leaving it without any ability to shake this Sovereign’s foundation and overwhelm him with emotion, for there was no long any substance or significance to its claims. All the Natal Soul could do was parrot Falling Rain’s arguments and distract this Sovereign with a deluge of intrusive thoughts and observations, but the subtle manipulation combined with impeccable timing made for a most vexing tribulation in combination with the information he’d gleaned from studying the Predator’s inconceivably powerful Dao.

 

A far more dangerous tribulation laid out before him, for this was a Dao so simplistic and effective that this Sovereign was no longer so certain of the legitimacy of his own.

 

Though unable to replicate the Predator’s Dao, seeing it was enough to show this Sovereign a multitude of areas wherein his Dao was sorely lacking. For too long, he’d sat idle waiting for the Heavens to guide him along his Path, to bring him to the answers he sought in the perspectives of others. A mistake, for this passive investigation was based on secrets others had stumbled across, when instead he should have set out in pursuit of the truth so that he could experience those secrets for himself. There was still time to correct the error of his ways, which were understandable considering his love of his Empire. If not for the fact that he’d been too busy protecting the last bastion of humanity to allow himself the freedom to cultivate without care, he would have discovered the error of his ways soon enough and corrected himself without need for an outsider’s perspective, even if that perspective was from his own Natal Soul. Once his flaws were mended however, he expected he to reap fortune from disaster and benefit from Liang Wu Di’s well-orchestrated insurrection, one which had set this Sovereign and the Empire both back on the correct course.

 

For countless millennia, this Sovereign had played guardian and shepherd to his flock, protecting them from the dangers around them and the dangers they posed to themselves, but for what? Nothing but scorn and resentment. The people of the Empire did not appreciate his efforts, nor did they care for everything that he’d sacrificed in their name. One could at least lean upon a shepherd’s crook to rest and recover, but the mantle of leadership weighed heavy on his shoulders, a burden he bore without complaint for millennia untold, yet never once did his people thank him for it. Instead, they coveted his power because they thought they could do better, for they were courageous in their ignorance and knew not how high the Heavens truly were. Though Liang Wu Di might well be celebrating his unprecedented achievement at this very moment, this Sovereign knew full well that the Empire was coursing headlong towards disaster.

 

In truth, this Sovereign needed only be patient and the throne would return to him in time. Though the Five Families had united against this Sovereign in order to depose him from his throne, this unity would not last now that he’d peacefully stepped down. If one Emperor could be deposed, then why not another? This was the thought plaguing the minds of every prospective heir and Family Head, so it would remain to be seen if Liang Wu Di survived to ascend to the throne he’d worked so hard to claim. Like a stone cast into a still pond, the aftereffects of today’s events would be far-reaching indeed. It would not be long before the foolish ambitions of the Supreme Families came to a head, each one seeking to dominate the others in a war fought in the shadows. From there, their conflicts would inevitably spill out into the light, where they would soon divide the Empire itself in a bitter war for the throne. The once pristine fields of the Eastern Province would be ravaged by war once more, bringing blood and death to the rolling hills and flowing rivers of this Sovereign’s home state of Qin and beyond, lands which had sat peaceful for so long. They knew not the price this Sovereign paid for such peace, knew not the loss and devastation the coming war would bring or the sacrifices such an all-encompassing conflict would demand. It was impossible to claim that they were all entirely ignorant of which way the winds blew, and the Five Families were no doubt already preparing for the coming internal conflict, but numbers on parchment meant nothing compared to the countless lifetimes of experience under this Sovereign’s belt.

 

No doubt Liang Wu Di thought himself clever and had contingencies in place to see that he would become the next Emperor and reach the Heavens in a single bound, but it mattered not. Whatever schemes he played or tiles he’d hidden away, it was all but guaranteed that he would underestimate his rivals. The Five Supreme Families had prospered since the founding of the Empire, and each on had their own hidden secrets just waiting to be unveiled. Countless generations of wealth and nepotism allowed the Liangs to win over the outer provinces, but coin was a weapon far too ineffective and unwieldy to reliably secure the throne for long, for greed would bring about their downfall before long. As for the Yangs, their progress in Runic talismans was far more reliable, having led to the development of cheap and easily produced paper scripts which could be torn apart to unleash a myriad of different and potentially devastating effects. Not quite as devastating as Falling Rain’s Runic Cannons, which the Yang Runic Craftsmen were no doubt scurrying to replicate even now, but the paper talismans had their own strengths which made them useful in other ways. Then there was the Xing Family’s hidden death soldiers, fanatical Warriors raised in secret using forbidden training methods developed by their founding Ancestor, the Martial God Xing Wushen, methods which drew upon one’s Prana to boost one’s strength at a significant cost of lifespan and potential. In manpower alone, the Xing Family was the equal to all four other families combined, yet only a quarter of their strength was visible from the surface, with another quarter subtly hinted at in order to keep others from looking too closely. The Tian Family assassins were another open secret, but little did the other Supreme Families know about the spies embedded within their midst, families of agents and informants who could trace their lineage back a hundred generations within the various Supreme Families themselves. Should any of the Supreme Families even consider turning against them, the Tian’s would know the moment the matter was even brought up in discussion, and in war, information was a potent weapon greater than any sword or spear, to say nothing of all the potential hidden daggers nestled within the strongholds and safeguards of the other Families.

 

Then there was the Di Family, who appeared like the weakest of the Five Families but wielded political power unmatched. In truth, it didn’t matter what weapons the Di Family kept hidden away, for their coveted ability to cultivate Spiritual Plants and Spiritual Beasts made them indispensable allies to every other Supreme Family, yet the same could not be said in reverse. Should the Di Family ever intend to make a bid for supremacy, they would find allies aplenty outside the Five Supreme Families by simply offering to share their bounty, or possibly even their secrets should circumstances become dire enough to warrant it, and even dragons would eventually fall to fang and fury when faced with wolves in numbers enough.

 

Yes, this decade leading up to the succession of the throne would be a tumultuous one indeed, culminating in the eruption of a civil war that would sweep across the length and breadth of the Empire and leave peace but a forgotten memory. Falling Rain claimed this Sovereign had lost sight of his Path, that he believed the Empire prosperous only because he himself had never experienced true prosperity, but the transmigrator had similarly never known the true horrors of war. The depictions within his memories lacked the raw authenticity of a first-hand experience, for in those scenes, war was glorious, honourable, and necessary, but humans were creatures of conflict and competition even when there was plenty for all to share. This war against the Defiled was the bloodiest in living memory, yet it paled in comparison to even a minor border conflict between two unremarkable kings in the days of this Sovereign’s youth. There’d been few Martial Warriors then, so armies were largely comprised of callow youths of meagre strength carrying spears they barely knew how to wield, going up against other youths who would much rather be home with their families.

 

Which made for a bloody, chaotic conflict wherein the victors were largely determined by luck and happenstance rather than skill and tactics, or at least it was so until this Sovereign took to the field and changed the landscape of war.

 

Falling Rain was outraged by the death and suffering of this Sovereign’s Empire, but little did the optimistic fool know how blessed he was to have been born in this era as opposed to the Warring States. How many conflicts had this Sovereign’s continued presence prevented since he united the provinces? How many lives were saved because fathers, brothers, and sons were free to stay home with their families instead of being conscripted to wars fought by bloodthirsty kings? This was the rationale for his existence as the Eternal Emperor, for others lacked the strength necessary to keep all sides in check, a fact Falling Rain overlooked in his desire to reshape this world into a mirror of the one he’d transmigrated from. Might makes right, so this Sovereign would use his strength to show the world and Falling Rain both that his Path was correct, one which would lead him past the pinnacle of the Dao to ascend to a higher plane of existence.

 

There was one fact this Sovereign could not deny however, one truth he had no choice but to accept, that he had long since stalled in his Path. Following the successful unification of the provinces and the eradication of the outlanders, he’d grown complacent and was all too happy to maintain the current state of affairs while resting on his laurels and waiting for Insight and Enlightenment to present themselves to him. This would change soon enough, for he knew the error of his ways and had taken steps to correct them, no longer valuing the complete perspective of others as highly as he once had. Though he still intended to uncover all of Falling Rain’s secrets and study them in depth, as well as the secrets of so very many other prospective talents, like the Medical Saint, this generation’s True Divine Musician, the Abbot Akupara, and of course, Falling Rain’s dog, the Predator, this Sovereign was doubtful they would provide him with the answers he sought.

 

No, the knowledge he needed was most likely to be found in the memories of this Sovereign’s Natal Soul, of this, there could be no doubt. There was much to be gleaned from studying Zhen Shi’s progress and the trials and tribulations he overcame along his Path, for his attainments had been accrued over long millennia of incremental progress with decisions made in accordance with this Sovereign’s own perspective. Though their experiences differed greatly ever since their separation, this Sovereign’s Natal Soul offered him a glimpse at how his Path would have developed had he failed to unite the provinces under his rule. Because of this, he somewhat sympathized with his Natal Soul, for it was indeed true that they had once been one and the same, but their reunion did not necessarily mean the death of the entity known as Zhen Shi. This was not an end, but a new beginning, one they would embark on together as the complete person they always should have been. Not as Soul and Natal Soul, but as the Eternal Emperor who bears the title of Divine True Corpse. All these long millennia of suppression and safekeeping had amounted to naught, so it was high time this Sovereign tried a different tack, one brought to him by his Natal Soul who’d stumbled across potential unlimited and power untapped. This Sovereign had given this Empire countless lifetimes of service, kept his people safe and sound beneath his guiding hand, but he’d gained nothing from all his effort save for the contempt of his ‘most loyal’ subjects. Thus, he would seek to recoup his losses in another way, and take back all the years of peace and prosperity he’d bestowed upon them, for he would be their shepherd no longer and return to his roots as a dragon among men, one who would use his rebellious subjects to fuel his ascent into the Heavens.

 

Yes, yes, he could see the Path unfolding before him, each step laid out in crystalline clarity as he organized his pieces and arranged them on the figurative chessboard of the world in preparation of taking on the Five Supreme Families, the Imperial Clan, and the outer provinces all at once. Though he’d sworn an Oath to no longer meddle in the affairs of the Supreme Families, this was contingent on the premise that they paid no mind to him and his, yet he was the Eternal Emperor, Heaven’s Chosen Son, meaning everything under the Heavens was his birthright. The moment Liang Wu Di or another rival claimant publicly ascended to the throne, they will have impugned upon that which rightfully belonged to this Sovereign, and in doing so free him from the shackles of his Oath exactly as planned.

 

Yes, these ten years would be most fruitful indeed, and his patience would be well rewarded. First, he needed to secure Falling Rain, then come back to collect the others who’d caught his eyes, before closing himself off to contemplate his findings and solidify his foundations for what would come next. Then, while the Supreme Family exposed their strengths and expended it upon themselves, this Sovereign would quietly make plans to harvest the lives of his citizens to seek Insight in their torment and suffering, slowly gathering his strength and putting his pawns in place before enacting a massacre unlike anything this Empire had ever seen. Oh how sweet it would be, the entirety of the outer provinces consigned to death and suffering in an orgy of debauched depravity, a ritual of slaughter and sacrifice which would throw back the veil covering the secrets of Heaven for his full review.

 

This Sovereign would use the blood of billions to cleanse himself of the red dust of this mortal world before Ascending to the next, a world of Immortals within a higher realm of existence which he would then conquer in turn.

 

The details still needed to be pieced together, but ten years was time enough with the foundation laid by this Sovereign’s Natal Soul. Even as the plan came together in mind however, an obstacle cropped up in his Path as Falling Rain harmonized his breathing with the rhythm of the world and moved forward on his Path towards Nascent Immortality. The Energy of the Heavens surged and swelled like a drunk sailor in the midst of a barroom brawl, leaving this Sovereign no choice but to release his grip upon Falling Rain’s throat. In merging his body, mind, and soul with the Heavens to Ascend to Divinity or Nascent Immortality, the very space around Falling Rain became inviolable to all, a Law even this Sovereign could not breach, leaving him naught to do but stew in his rage while watching his foe Ascend.

 

No matter though, for even if the transmigrator could mend the flaws of his fractured Path and become a Nascent Immortal in truth, he would still be ten-thousand years too early to defeat this Sovereign, but he had not lived so long by taking risks. Proclaiming his intention to resume hostilities and freeing himself from his Oath of accord, this Sovereign set his Will to Concealing the incident from the feeble mortals below, though no amount of effort could hide this from the Divinities gathered in and around Shi Bei, nor did he try to. The battle between Divinities in Shi Bei came to a standstill, for even the Ascended Transcendents could sense the secrets of the Dao hiding within the chaotic turmoil of Heavenly Energy centred around Falling Rain, a fortuitous encounter for all involved.

 

Including this Sovereign, but there were more pressing matters to attend to. While the soldiers battled against the Ascended Transcendents for the useless prize of Shi Bei and the gathered Divinities watched the Ascension with bated breath, this Sovereign committed it all to memory while carrying out a multitude of tasks necessary to seize victory from the jaws of disaster. First, he seized control of the Transcendent Divinities with a focused effort of Will, then made contact with the allies gathered by his Natal Soul, organizing them all to ready a barrage of attacks meant to claim Falling Rain’s life the moment his Ascension completed. A precautionary measure, since there was a good chance the transmigrator would fail and die in the process, for his attainments in this life were far too shallow to offer any real hope of success. Since that was the case, this Sovereign no longer cared to capture his foe alive, because much as it would pain him to lose so complete a specimen, Falling Rain’s soul would provide perspective enough to make up for this Sovereign’s losses.  

 

Balance settled upon his shoulders like a cloak draped over his very being, his calm returned to him now that his Natal Soul had been placated and his Path forward made clear, so he allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction in celebration. The plan was coming together and his pieces all falling into place, so this Sovereign readied to act in the moment of Falling Rain’s success or failure, and then move forward from there.

 

For he was the Eternal Emperor, the Chosen Son of Heaven, a man who would Ascend to True Divinity or destroy the world in his attempt.  

 

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As the secrets of the Heavens unveil themselves before me and I proceed along my Path, it takes an effort of Will not to hide my face in my palms and utter a groan of unmitigated regret.

 

All this time, I’ve been so close, and yet so far from the truth, the answers all laid out for me to take in hand, except I was never able to put it all together in a way I could understand. Balance is a part of it, but not just the internal Balance of a single individual, for though we each must forge our own Path, we are never truly alone. The Heavens have always been here to guide us, but not in the way I expected, wherein an omnipotent being is sitting on high and doling out hints for us meagre mortals to pursue. No, the information we’ve all needed has been here all along, sitting there right in front of our eyes, only in a form we’ve been unable to make sense of. The secrets of Heaven have been baked into our very existence, waiting for someone, anyone to slowly unravel, and the answers are all made clear as I Refine my body, mind, and soul to completion without having to direct a single action or understand what’s happening.

 

But this knowing without knowing come not from the Heavens above, nor is it the Mother’s voice whispering to me from on high or the Father’s minions empowering me to better serve His needs. No, the information all comes from within, from my body, mind, and soul itself, in a form I even recognize and am familiar with. The memories of my previous life tell me that humanity had already stumbled across these secrets and given them a name, the blueprints of life itself. Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or more simply, DNA, but what they people of my past live have yet to discover is that there are counterparts to the mind and soul as well. It’s that simple. All the information we could ever need, hidden within every cell and constituent part of our body, minds, and souls. Even in my past life, humanity was a long way away from unlocking all the secrets hidden within our genetic code, and I myself am nowhere close to smart enough to figure it out on my own, but I don’t have to. I have the limited omniscience of the Heavens on my side, which enables me to make use of this information hidden in plain sight to Refine my body, mind, and soul to the pinnacle of human potential. It’s like a cipher to the code which doesn’t really tell me anything in a language I understand, and it is both beautiful and frustrating at the same time.

 

There are no long, drawn out explanations regarding what I must do, no measurements or ratios to adhered to, no numbers provided to give me perspective on how much I’ve improved, or how the physical and spiritual are able to merge into something that is of both worlds and neither. Instead, there is only a sense of right and wrong as I muddle through this Refinement in a wholly natural and instinctive manner, with my Will providing the impetus, my DNA providing the blueprints, and the Energy of the Heavens doing all the heavy lifting, in a manner similar to how Panacea Heals without any real direction.

 

No, not Panacea, but stem cells, meaning Heavenly Energy might well be the ‘stem cells’ of the universe. Not electrons, neutrons, protons, or whatever, for those form the building blocks of reality, but the Energy of the Heavens are the building blocks of all creation, which includes the physical and metaphysical both. Hence why I’m able to Refine my Mind and Body as well, but I know even less regarding those subjects and can only watch without any understanding whatsoever. This is how Ping Ping Ascended, how Buddy created his body from scratch, and now I follow in their footsteps to Ascend to Divinity and perhaps become the first Ancestral Human in existence, without really knowing what in the fuck is going on. My connection to the Heavens can’t tell me if there have been others before me, because the Heavens don’t understand what being an Ancestral Human means, which is why I called this limited omniscience ‘limited’ to begin with. It has all the information regarding everything that has ever happened, and could accomplish almost anything with the right impetus, but there is a failure to communicate between myself and the Heavens, a fundamental difference in understanding. I, being a lowly mortal, require structured words and explanations in order to know what is happening, but the Heavens only require incentive. This is a natural force, one I have harnessed with my Will without truly understanding it, the same way you can use fire to cook without really knowing the science of what’s happening.  

 

That being said, as my Refinement progresses, I find myself uncovering the buried memories of the first time I experienced this returning to me in full, and I curse myself for not figuring it all out sooner. I’m not talking about my depressive breakdown in JiangHu, because even though I wielded power unmatched, that was merely a fraction of the power I hold now. The difference lies in the approach, for in JiangHu, I divested myself of emotions and fed them to the Heavens, like a fisherman putting bait on a hook and dragging his line through the waters. Here today in Shi Bei, I have given the Heavens nothing and merely opened myself to them as I struggle against and surrender to emotion in whole, completing the first milestone along my new Path which I started in Meng Sha. This is what it means to Shatter the Void, wherein I lower the barriers between my body, mind, and soul to Refine them all and become One in every sense of the word, merging the physical and metaphysical to create a Spiritual System and open up my Spiritual Senses. One with the Heavens, a big first step to take, wherein you start off as a mortal residing in the physical realm possessing a soul populating the spiritual, linked by a mind that is part and parcel of them both. By Refining these three distinct segments of self into one however, you then become something more than mortal, a denizen of the physical and spiritual realms both, with the foundation necessary to progress along the Path to True Divinity.

 

And now, with this first step finally complete, I continue to open myself up to the Heavens in a bid to become One with the World, discarding my individual oneness to become a greater part of a whole.

 

This is the second milestone along my new Path, but even knowing everything I know in this very moment, with the limited omniscience of the Heavens to help guide my comprehension, I still find it difficult to describe the process in a way my mortal mind could fully comprehend. There are just so many ideas and concepts unfolding behind the scenes to make this happen, ideas and concepts which I don’t even have words to define. I understand how my body, mind and soul united as one, became more than the physical or spiritual vessels they previously were, but what is the word to define the process of a metaphysical spirit sublimating to take on physical characteristics? What about the reverse, wherein my physical body takes on spiritual characteristics? This blending of the physical and metaphysical, the material and immaterial, reality and the Void, it all took place once before when I Shattered the Void to Refine my body, mind, and spirit, and now it’s happening again only on a much grander scale as I tap into the cosmos in a way I never knew was possible.

 

Because before, I was me, Falling Rain, and everything that entailed, but now I am also a fraction of a whole.

 

Not in the sense of a whole person, or even an entity, but a rather a part of the world. Yes, I was a part of the world before, but this world exists in more than just the physical. Reality and the Void are connected together in more than just a passing sense, but rather they are interwoven together so tightly that they might as well be one and the same. It shouldn’t surprise me, seeing how Zhen Shi was able to dispatch Gen’s Soul to contact me from so far away, and in turn guide my soul over into his Natal Palace after a little bit of trickery and deception, and yet I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the concept. It was easy enough to envision reality and the Void as two separate planes of existence, perhaps even with one layered atop the other like strata in a cake, but now I see that this is not the case, because they are no more separate than my body, mind, and soul, wherein reality and the Void are two separate realms, yet melded together in a way I cannot entirely define.

 

It’s like how everyone refers to ‘Heaven and Earth’ like it’s one thing, meaning everything within this world, a single, interconnected system that appears to be divided in two parts, but the distinction is no more real than arbitrary lines drawn on a map. Buddy gets it, which is how he’s able to move in reality and jump over to the Void without thinking twice to escape danger at any time, and technically, I should now be able to do the same, but seeing how even Zhen Shi and the Eternal Emperor haven’t shown signs of such mastery of space, I reckon it’s a concept far beyond my meagre understanding.

 

What I do know of this One with the World is that I have now become intrinsically linked to the world around me. Not just the physical world, but the metaphysical world too, as they overlap and come together all throughout reality and the Void at the same time. I am still me, and the world is still the world, and the Void still the Void, yet I understand the part I play in all this a little better. Not enough to even begin to define my purpose or place, but enough to know that I have one, and it is wherever I will make it. If the world were a human body, then I would be one of a bajillion cells, one which has not yet specialized to become a part of an organ, a specific tissue, or any other specific purpose, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have one. I am here to find and fulfil my purpose, and whatever I choose to do will become that purpose, for I am a part of this world and I always have been.

 

It’s not the purpose I yearned for whilst grieving my lost brother, nor the purpose I questioned while suffering in the mines, but it is still a purpose all the same, one I am free to define. Not right now, and perhaps not ever, if I should so choose not to, but the choice is still mine all the same.

 

In discovering this Oneness, I harmonize my everything to the rhythm of the world, not just the tempo of my breathing or the cadence of my thoughts, but with every fibre of my being as I meld seamlessly into the flow of the world in a myriad of inexplicable and ineffable ways. Before, I was a ship being cast about on stormy seas, but now I have melded with the currents and can navigate them as I please, able to become One with the World and separate from it as needed. In response to this change, I am more in tune with the Energy of the Heavens surging through me, which is now Cleansing my Refined body, mind, and soul and improving it in every way, widening the channels of my Spiritual System and strengthening the muscles of my body along a myriad of other things, all in preparation of the power I will one day wield.

 

An effect that is only possible because I have become One with the Heavens and One with the World, for reasons I cannot quite understand, yet make perfect sense to me, like two pieces that fit so perfectly together the appear as if they were made to connect.

 

As mentioned before, this is the second milestone along my path, one of gathering and amassing not the Energy of the Heavens, or even of emotion to wield it, but of something else, a higher form of energy which I can just barely perceive as it courses through me and enacts changes beyond my scope of comprehension. Though still One with the Heavens and One with the World, I sense a qualitative change in the Energy of the Heavens as it cycles through my Cleansed Spiritual System, through all the minor and major passages I carved out when Shattering the Void. There is a growth associated with this flow, an accumulation and sense of amassing power with each complete revolution, revolutions somehow linked to my state of mind, my state of Balance, and the physical act of breathing which I’ve synced with the rhythm of the world itself. The vast majority of Heavenly Energy passes through me like water through a sieve, yet something of itself is left behind, a miniscule, almost negligible fraction of a fraction which contains unfathomable power hidden within, power which has always been there, yet I have only now become aware of.

 

Power which might well escape if I do not take measures to contain it, and just like that, the next step comes to mind and I set out to take it in stride.

 

One with the Heavens and One with the World saw me become part of something greater than myself, but I aspire to be more than a mere cog in the system. That’s how the Heavens sees us mortals and beasts, as beings who play a vital role yet individually are wholly replaceable parts in the all-encompassing machine that is reality and the Void both. For most living creatures, they are born, they live, they die, and little to nothing changes, which is exactly as intended, but humans are unique in that they possess the potential to achieve so much more. For better or for worse, to such extremes that we could very well become world breakers or world creators, wielding the twin energies of Creation and Destruction alongside whatever else lies within reach, but such extremes are too far away for me to consider just yet. Instead, I need to learn how to hold onto this power bestowed upon me, the meagre fractions of unfathomable potential currently drifting aimlessly on the currents of my Spiritual System. Invisible, intangible, and almost indecipherable from the Energy of the Heavens themselves, I nonetheless can differentiate the two and set my Will to gather all this power in one place. Where will I keep it? In my Core of course, a golden orb of Domain condensed from my body, mind, and soul, but not one meant to contain the Energy of the Heavens. No, my golden Core remains permeable to the Heavens and the world around me so as not to affect the flow, yet its borders are impermeable to the nameless power I can only barely perceive. This is only possible because I have achieved One with the Self, to contain without containing in order to keep what is needed and let go of the rest. Within my Core lies a realm within a realm and a plane within a plane, seamlessly divided and connected again to create a Core that is not a Core, a distinct Domain in which my Authority reigns supreme, and my Authority alone, without ever disconnecting from reality and the Void itself.

 

How does it work? Fuck if I know, but in my Domain, I make the rules, meaning that if I should one day amass power enough, my Core might well transform into a world unto itself, one bound not by the laws of physics, thermodynamics, or any other physical or spiritual laws, but rather by laws set down by my Will.

 

Not something I can accomplish any time soon, or perhaps even ever, but still a possibility to keep in mind, for I see now that what lies at the end of my Path goes beyond True Divinity, with the potential to become a god myself. Which leads me to wonder if I was wrong. Maybe the Emperor didn’t come up with the Mother and Father. Maybe they did truly exist, though I doubt they care much about the world they left behind. Even if there are deities out there who came from this world, they are not the all-knowing, all-powerful gods I would imagine. They’d just be normal, everyday people who surpassed the limits of mortality to become something more, beings so powerful I can only imagine the limits of their strengths.

 

Or maybe this universe is merely a world within the Core of a being so powerful I cannot even begin to comprehend its existence, and to Ascend beyond the limits of this world is the process of being born into the next, the world of the existence I cannot comprehend. Who knows.

 

This is the third milestone along my Path, and for creatures like Buddy, Pong Pong, and Ping Ping, the last milestone in theirs, for though they are capable of taking this step, they lack the ambition to pursue the next. This isn’t a knock at animals, merely an indisputable fact, because why else would so many animals choose to remake themselves in the image of humans if not for this limitation? No, this isn’t right, because all Paths lead to the Dao, so who am I to say there is no Path forward for Divine Beasts? I merely cannot see what it might be, nor am I able to sense the next milestone for me as the surging Energy of the Heavens slows to a trickle and signals the beginning of the end. This is as far as I can go for now, but there is most certainly still a long way to go from here, just as soon as I figure out the right path to take. Even as I resign myself to accepting the facts as they are however, a fire erupts within me and sets the Energy of the Heavens to churning once more, a fire of indomitable Will born of need and desperation for I will need more power still if I am to defeat the Eternal Emperor.  

 

I can no longer afford to simply accept things as they come, for I am fighting not just for my life, but for the lives of everyone near and dear to my heart. For this reason, I draw upon what I learned from Akanai’s Ascension and continue to Refine my physique even further, pushing myself to the very limits of potential rather than accepting those imposed upon me by the Heavens above. There are people down in Shi Bei counting on me to lead them to victory, and I refuse to disappoint them with failure, but I cannot succeed without giving it my all. Even this continued Refinement is not enough, because if I should stop here and now and accept my progress as is, I will lose all the momentum I have already built up, and all that awaits me is inevitable defeat, so it’s high time I looked my fears in the eyes and pushed on through them regardless of my doubts and apprehensions. I am in control here, not my fear, so I will continue forward no matter the cost, because I cannot afford to do otherwise.

 

Except… how can I seize the power I need if I do not understand how to claim it? Even the limited omniscience of the Heavens is unable to provide me with the answer I seek, save to hint at the fact that it lies in this nameless, transcendent energy which supersedes even the Energy of the Heavens, yet is nothing like anything I understand. It’s not Life Force or Death Force, nothing like Sword Force or any other Weapon Force, lacking even any similarity to the eight basic Chi Skills which I now know represent the fundamental forces of the universe. This is something else entirely, something more, something unnatural and all-powerful, an indescribable, divine energy which I am not qualified to even guess what it might be, except that I know it is not something a mere mortal can wield.

 

So… Immortal Energy? Though the Abbot would disagree with me and say I am needlessly making the simple complex, I would argue that names have power. Not in the sense of summoning or controlling something with its name, but by bestowing a name upon this nameless energy makes it easier for me to conceptualize and analyze with my feeble mortal brain. It’s the same reason why I feel the need to differentiate between Chi and Heavenly Energy, Water Chi and Chi Tea, and Sword Force versus Spear, Sabre, or any other Weapon Force, because the name helps me keep it all apart.  

 

What’s in a name? Well, a distinctive and hopefully unique qualifier that makes it easier to talk about than simply describing the concept in its entirety each and every time, so Immortal Energy it is.

 

The Immortal Energy I possess isn’t enough to even fill a thimble, or at least that’s what it feels like to my admittedly untrained Spiritual Senses, yet I trust my gut feelings which tell me there’s something familiar about this Immortal Energy, something I’ve come into contact with before. There’s a short list of possibilities for where I might have encountered something like this, a list that starts and ends with Blobby. Once that connection is made, it’s a simple effort to ask Buddy if he has any advice to share, though it takes some effort to figure out how. As my dog digs his paws in the sand out of utter frustration since the old wolf is no longer willing to lead the charge against the delicious and dangerous Demon snacks just idling nearby, I send him the tiniest bit of Immortal Energy I have to see how he’ll react. Unsurprisingly, my dog’s first response is to ask if I have anything for him to eat, and his second to inquire if I could go get him something to eat, since the food is right there just waiting to be eaten. Not exactly useful, but also not entirely unexpected as I endeavour to struggle and surrender to Balance to keep the torrential waves of Heavenly Energy surging through me.

 

It appears that Buddy doesn’t really care for Immortal Energy, meaning the same goes for Blobby inside him, or merged with him or whatever. Still not entirely clear on that, and the Heavens have no answers for me, but I have more pressing questions to unravel, namely how in the fuck am I supposed to use Immortal Energy and how do I get more of it quickly? As far as I can tell, the next milestone most definitely has something to do with Immortal Energy, a milestone I hope to achieve here and now, but alas, I am at a complete loss on what to do next. Why doesn’t Blobby care for Immortal Energy? I’m pretty sure there was some scattered within the usable Heavenly Energy he left for me to use, yet why would he discard so valuable a resource? Or am I looking at things from the wrong perspective? Maybe Blobby wasn’t discarding it per se, but rather the Immortal Energy was simply a by-product of the process he used to turn Spectres and Demons into Heavenly Energy, and he shows no interest because he himself is an entity of Immortal Energy and has as much as he could ever need? Yea, that makes more sense, because Blobby’s usable Heavenly Energy was no different from ambient Heavenly Energy, but it was separated from the cumulative ‘mass’ of Heavenly Energy for reasons unknown, so maybe this Immortal Energy is the reason for it, like adding a powder to dirty water to make all the dirt and particulate sink, which is something that happens which I can’t really explain. This means that Immortal Energy should theoretically enable me to wield Heavenly Energy with a higher degree of precision and control than what mere Will can afford me. Course, there’s only one way to prove that theory right or wrong, so I might as well get to it then. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

…I am defeated and my soul kept prisoner in a torturous dream world alongside the souls of everyone I love and care about. So yea… don’t fuck this up?

 

Unwilling to just let go of the surging waves of Heavenly Energy, I set my sights on the battle still unfolding below and sever a whole host of Natal Souls without a second thought before dispatching them to lend aid to the battle below. Unlike before however, I feel no significant drain on my Life Energy and suffer no ill-effect from the severing, though I’m unsure if this is because I was able to gather Life Energy as part of my Ascension and just never noticed, or if Pong Pong gave me so much that I haven’t noticed the loss. I don’t blame the little guy for legging it, and I never have, but his gift of Life Force pretty much cements him as the best bro ever. Pong Pong already went above and beyond in his duties as a Divine Turtle and close friend, so wherever he is, I wish him all the best.

 

Tearing my focus away from the battle below, I turn to face my foe while wracking my brain for something clever to quip. Round…. Like eight or something now, is a possibility, though the number might be higher, since I stopped keeping track a while ago. Nah, too overused and too indefinite, since I’ll probably die of embarrassment if the Eternal Emperor corrects me. Something about weight classes, or seeing how it is to pick on someone his own size? Nope, too arrogant, and worse, I’ll look so stupid if he immediately smacks me down. How you like me now? I’d probably be met with silence and confusion, though to be honest, even having given the reference myself, I wouldn’t know how to respond if I were in the Eternal Emperor’s shoes.

 

Things would be so much easier if I had a cigarette, because then I could take my time lighting it while I come up with something to say.

 

Having settled on a nonsensical statement of, “Yippie Kayaks Other Buckets,” I open my mouth to deliver the line only to suck in a deep breath of surprise as a volley of powerful, reality shattering attacks are directed my way. A welcoming gift from the waiting Defiled and Demonic Divinities, one which takes shape before my enhanced Spiritual Senses to reveal the destructive energies contained within. Dark Domains imbued with lethal intent manifest as glinting claws, shimmering swords, incandescent talons, and other shimmering effects as the attacks converge upon me, none of which are visible to the human eye yet are revealed to my senses in a way my mind can comprehend. There are varying degrees of danger to each of these attacks, and as I seek out an answer as to how to defend myself, I find that the limited omniscience I relied upon to Ascend to Divinity has been lost to me in my distraction, an outcome which should have been wholly expected yet surprises me all the same. Though it all takes some time to describe, and I am able to process it all in extensive detail, there is nothing I can do but stand frozen in shock as my inevitable death draws near, one ensured by the formidably dense, fist-shaped construct launched by the Eternal Emperor containing a myriad of deadly forces that congeal into a deathly, destructive massive just ready to explode.

 

And the worst part? If I were the Eternal Emperor, this would be the perfect opportunity to make some crack about fisting my opponent. That sounds wrong now that I think about it, but in my head, it’s fricking hilarious, but possibly only because I’m in abject denial of my impending death.

 

I always knew that people calling me the ‘undying’ would come back to bite me in the ass one day…

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 831

 

The warm, red glow of courage and determination as I resolve to give this everything I have, in spite of the sickly, greenish yellow of bitter, vitriolic antipathy I sometimes feel for this world, one which I have come to love in spite of all its flaws.

 

A fluttering light pink tinged with a hint of red of love and passion for my beloved wives fighting on the wall, followed by the darker pink of the general love and affection I hold for my family, friends, and floofs. 

 

Nauseating orange anxiety as the reality of the situation rears its ugly head, no longer willing to be kept contained within the back of my mind as I deal with the more immediate problems before me.  

 

Then a radiating crimson darkness, the raw, burning anger and hatred I bear for my foes. Not just the Defiled Half-Demons, who continue to throw themselves at the Walls of Shi Bei with reckless abandon, but also the Eternal Emperor and the Supreme Families who allowed matters to escalate so far, endeavoured to engineer all this death and suffering in order to benefit themselves or prevent others from benefiting in their stead.

 

Followed by a cold, navy blue surge of disdain and frustration as I struggle to rein in my hatred of the Defiled at the very least. At the end of the day, I cannot help but sympathize with them because I know most are not in their right minds, and many are victims of circumstance and indoctrination themselves. The Defiled are not the Enemy, merely a sickness infecting the body, minds, and souls of humanity, so I should not hate them any more than I would hate a rabid dog.

 

Pale, coral pity floods through me to wash away my hatred and disdain, but the frustration remains firmly in place as I gaze upon the faces of the Defiled before me and wonder if any of them are my brothers by blood. Baledagh was the only one who cared to help me, but I had other brothers too, similarly neglected by our parents and raised to become the monsters I see before me.

 

A thought which gives rise to the hideous greenish-purple gradient of guilt and self-loathing, because only luck and happenstance has led me to stand where I do today, and if things had gone slightly differently, I might well have been fighting for the other side. Why do I deserve to be so blessed by fate, when so many others were dealt a complete shit hand?

 

Which brings me back to the warm red glow of courage and determination as I remember what’s at stake here today, and eventually comes around to an even deeper pit of guilt and self-loathing, one that goes down into the dark depths of bitter, black despair. A vicious cycle I’ve been through many a time before, a one-man echo chamber of emotion from which I extricate myself before things spiral out of control. Not without effort, because even though I’ve realized this reckless Balance is not entirely right for me, I still find it difficult to struggle my way out from the comfortable surrender I’ve embraced, one so very different from the Balance I’ve become familiar with since setting foot on the Martial Path. The power of this new Balance is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, for the Energy of the Heavens is more eager and insistent than ever to comply with my Will, one I have yet to provide because I must first forge my own Path.

 

Surrender to emotion whilst struggling to maintain a complete lack of Will, this is the Balance I reach for today, and the Heavens are not pleased. They love the Balance I’ve attained, but with no Will to fulfil, the Energy of the Heavens in unable to share in my emotions, save for what little they can sense emanating throughout me, like the delectable aroma of a sumptuous feast which they can neither see nor taste. If given a chance to share in my emotions, the Heavens would find it a far sweeter nectar than the unwanted, discarded sentiments I cast away in JiangHu, for they only got to experience those emotions second-hand, while here they have a chance to taste them straight from the source itself.

 

A chance I have thoroughly denied the Heavens, because I am not yet ready to Ascend.

 

Despite having resolved to take the next step, to push forward no matter the cost, I cannot quite bring myself to wholly accept the Path laid out before me just yet, namely the Martial Path I have pursued for over a decade now. The Energy of the Heavens surges and swells, promising power and knowledge unrestricted should I choose to embrace it, yet I have seen where the Martial Path will lead and I care not for it. False Divinity, a harsh term, yet an apt one, for even if I should Ascend here and now, I would still not have the power necessary to overthrow the Eternal Emperor, who is no True Divinity yet. This is the impasse which holds me back, an impassable and insurmountable barrier I unconsciously placed between myself and the Heavens when I first Shattered the Void, and a bottleneck I must first break down before I can take this next step in confidence. Fear is what led me to raise this barrier, paired with no small amount of arrogance and disdain, because despite the staggering amount of power False Divinity can deliver, I know I can do better.  

 

Why do the Heavens crave emotions so much? The romantic in me wonders if it’s because much like the Spectres, the Heavens also yearn to experience life once more, while my inner scientist suggests it might be a requirement to create more Heavenly Energy, like how plants require sunlight and carbon dioxide to make oxygen. Whatever the reason, this form of Balance offers the Heavens an all-natural, unadulterated taste of emotion, and they promise power unmatched in return.

 

And yet, still I hesitate, because a step taken in fear is no better than a step avoided because of it. I cannot rush into this, because a partial success will lead to the same result as a complete failure. My goal is to defeat the Eternal Emperor, for only then can I survive. For this reason and so many more, I hold firm to logic and strive to make sense of the madness and find the courage and conviction to proceed. In coming to terms with who I am, I have uncovered a new Path to tread, the right Path for me. Not the Martial Path, but another one, a Path dictated by my Dao which I can only define as freedom. This much I know, but I am compelled to seek out the details of my new Path, for reasons beyond my understanding. Probably because I’m neurotic like that, but also because I feel like if I go in blind, then I am destined to fail, since I was never all that good at adapting to circumstances on the fly. I need a plan, or at least a general outline of what to do next, and that means I need to make sense of this madness, or at least enough sense so that I feel brave enough to move forward from here.

 

So.. what’s changed since I affirmed my Dao?

 

Balance has changed, or rather my perspective on Balance. Originally, I saw it as a fixed state to strive for, an established foundation of unshakable emotional stability wherein I could emote without being overcome by them. I’m not talking about the Empty Balance I strove for in JiangHu, the Balance of nothingness and abandon I erred in reaching for, but rather a Balance of Oneness in which every emotion is kept in its rightful place, or failing that, a Balance of immediate disregard in which I shutter all my emotions for the present time so that I can better control my Chi. Oneness was what I aimed for, immediate disregard is what I usually accomplished, but the end goal was always to create a perfectly Balanced system capable of regulating my emotions accordingly, matching a negative to a positive in order to stabilize, minimize, or even neutralize the effect said emotions would have on my mental state.

A flawed Balance, I see this now, because this is not a Balance within mortal means. This is the cold Balance of emotional regulation, not quite the same as the Eternal Emperor’s suppression and disregard, yet every bit as dispassionate and detached. A calculated Balance of positive and negative, which makes sense from a scientific and mathematical perspective, but not an emotional one. What is the opposite of love? Hate? Apathy? Sorrow? Fuck if I know, and it only gets more complicated from there. There is no algorithm I can adhere to in order to perfectly Balance one emotion with another, no perfect mathematical equation to provide me with the answers needed to maintain this scientific take, meaning this sort of Balance is great in theory, but falls woefully short in actual practice.

 

Even if it were theoretically possible to achieve this Balance, it would be practically unattainable for any human in existence. Though we like to think of ourselves as higher beings, all the facts point towards the same conclusion, that humans are creatures of emotion, full stop. We are compelled by it, bound to it, driven to seek it, and defined by it, to the point where a person who lacks the qualities of compassion and mercy would be labelled as ‘inhuman’. Granted, in the pursuit of Divinity and the Dao, it would make logical sense to strive for becoming more than just human, more than a creature of base emotion, but one of logic and reasoning unaffected by emotion. This is the rationale behind the Eternal Emperor’s suppression of emotion, but he is not the only one to pursue the Dao in this manner. Zhen Shi tried to do the same, treading the Razor’s Edge to indulge in emotion so that he could inure himself to it and rise above and beyond emotion, like building up a tolerance to emotion until it would no longer affect him. The Brotherhood shares a similar philosophy, in viewing the Three Poisons as the root of all suffering, so if they are able to sever all their earthly desires, they believe they will then be freed from the shackles of emotion and in turn, the cycle of Reincarnation as they ascend to the next plane of existence.

 

At first glance, all three of these Paths appear to make perfect sense, for they all lead to a form of Balance in their own ways, yet I cannot help but feel like they’re all wrong. Not just for me, but for humans in general, because while these forms of Balance are technically possible, they are ill-suited for the human condition. Like I said before, when taken to the extreme, someone who has perfected any one of the aforementioned forms of Balance would no longer be human, and I don’t mean in a mortal versus Divinity sense. I’m talking about in a sense of human versus inhuman, because someone in complete control of their emotional state would be more akin to a robot than anything else. It’s like the all-too-common trope where humanity runs into an alien race that doesn’t understand emotion, and though they appear superior at first glance, their lack of emotion holds them back, so in the end, it’s the emotional humans who save the day. Maybe it’s illogical, but I feel like emotion is part and parcel of the human condition, so even though I seek to Ascend to Divinity, I value my humanity too much to ever give it up, because even though I am plagued by my emotions, they are also the best part of being human.

 

If I were to sever all emotion, why would I still care about the conflict in Shi Bei or the people near and dear to my heart? I’d be no different from the Eternal Emperor and Zhen Shi, psychopaths incapable of empathy and indifferent to the suffering of all, or the Abbot who strives to do good out of some theological sense of karmic Balance rather than for the sake of morality itself.

 

In archaeology, one of the earliest signs of a civilization in a culture is evidence of a broken bone that has healed. Why? Because a broken bone requires about six weeks of rest to heal. In the animal kingdom, this means a broken bone is almost always a death sentence, since this is six weeks in which you can’t run, hunt, or even get up to go to the local watering hole for a drink. As such, you are destined to either become food for your predators, die of thirst or starvation, or succumb to your wounds due to lack of proper rest and treatment. A broken bone that has healed however, means that another person took the time to support and provide for the wounded while they healed, rather than abandoning them to their fate. Sure, maybe logic and facts dictated that it was more profitable to support their wounded comrade than leave them to die, but I’d like to think that the first mended bone was the result of love and compassion. This isn’t to say that animals are heartless, because they aren’t, but emotions are not the pitfall that the Eternal Emperor and the Brotherhood make them out to be, nor are they all bad like I sometimes like to pretend.

 

And so here I am, studying my own emotions in an effort to discover what sort of human Balance I should strive for in my pursuit of Divinity, a decision that might well mean the difference between ultimate victory or defeat.

 

To be honest, I know the kind of Balance I want, I just don’t really know if it’s possible for me nor am I able to wholly describe what it actually entails, or know how to go about achieving it. I want the sort of Balance Buddy has, where he’s so in tune and enthralled by his emotions to the point where he can be ecstatic and excited to be having a treat despite being embroiled in a bitter fight for his life. It’s not that he’s unaware of the danger as he hides between the Old Wolf’s legs to wait until it’s safe to strike, nor is he wholly ambivalent to the threat to his life as his little heart pounds away in his chest and he pants up a storm, but while those emotions are no less palpable than his glee and gluttony, Buddy focuses on what he feels is most important without being overly burdened by the rest. I don’t know how he does it, shunting those unwanted feelings aside without suppressing or ignoring them, but letting it all play out in the background while he focuses on the good bits, on the satisfaction of stuffing his face, the warmth of a full belly, the accomplishment of the hunt, the camaraderie between him and his new hunting partner, and the thrill of rising to the challenge and emerging victorious time and time again. This is a form of emotional surrender without struggle, and a stalwart struggle without surrender too, a paradox of quantum states in which Buddy’s emotions are perceived without influence, expressed without engagement, and experienced without any change to his overall disposition.

 

Or maybe I’m overcomplicating things. Maybe Buddy is just feeling happy and excited because those are the strongest emotions present, stronger than his fear, concern, sorrow, and everything else combined. I dunno. Either way, even after seeing his behavior and sharing in the experience through our bond of emotion, I have no idea how Buddy can immerse himself in so much joy without becoming Unbalanced. If I were to give myself over to any one emotion like he does, I would lose sight of Balance in the blink of an eye, rendering me incapable of driving Chi or Heavenly Energy through my Spiritual System to do anything of note. My emotions might well drive the Energy of the Heavens to some effect, but it would be wholly outside my control and determined by emotion alone, yet Buddy is more than capable of Orating, Deflecting, and Devouring among so many other things whilst immersed in the sheer joy of this very moment. Everything I know regarding Balance tells me this should be impossible, that Buddy has tilted the scales too far in one extreme to be able to control the Energy of the Heavens, and yet there he stands in perfect Balance despite what his shared emotions would indicate.

 

I want this Balance, an unregulated, organic Balance that just comes so naturally to Buddy, without any need to struggle or surrender. All he needs to do is exist, and he is in Balance at any given time, even now on what might well be the happiest day of his life as he Devours the fifth Demon of the day with great relish and delight. I want the freedom to immerse myself in emotion, whether it be joy or depression, love or hatred, rage or contentment, or any other emotion which runs the gamut without having to worry about the consequences. Though the Balance of Oneness seems like the ‘mathematically’ perfect answer, I just like Buddy’s form of Balance so much more, while the Balance of immediate disregard I’m accustomed to just seems so fucking exhausting after having seen what other options are out there.

 

Alas, Buddy’s form of Balance is not for me, but I have no alternative to try. I don’t want to put my emotions aside anymore, because that’s just a temporary solution, leaving those emotions for future me to deal with since I can’t be bothered to deal with it now. Yes, it’s stupid, and yes, it’s worked so far, but I know in my heart of hearts that if I tried to Ascend with the Balance I’m so familiar with, I would fail because the weight of my disregarded emotions has grown too large. This weight is what drove me to such extremes in JiangHu, which almost resulted in disaster as I tried everything I could to abandon this life short of actual suicide. That’s not a healthy way to deal with emotion, but this is all I know.

 

Since I’m unable to put numbers to emotions, I’ve turned to colours instead, which is why I’ve been parsing through all my current emotions in an effort to organize and colour coordinate them, because maybe then I can find a pattern and figure out how to emulate Buddy’s form of Balance in a more palatable, human way. Try as I might however, I make no headway in my investigation, because I am a man who spent two lifetimes embroiled in conflicting emotions, ones I tried my best to ignore, suppress, or just plain deny as much as I could until they became too much to ignore. I’m not great at allowing myself to feel emotions, not like how Buddy does it. Dad too, now that I think about it, who is emanating an Aura of passion, excitement, defiance, and general contempt as he gives himself wholly over to the thrill of battle which has been the love of his life for so long. In many ways, his form of Balance emulates Buddy’s, though not taken to such extremes, and it is only now that I realize I can parse through Dad’s emotions as well. Not just from his Emotional Aura, kindled in a moment of need thanks to a small gift of usable Heavenly Energy from Buddy, but rather from a more intimate source, for his emotions are being broadcast through not only his Aura, but his actions and expressions as well.

 

Everyone broadcasts their emotions all the time. I just needed to learn how to listen, and as I tap into the currents of information flowing out of Dad, I uncover a simple truth that should have been evident from the start. He is harnessing the Energy of the Heavens through emotions, which isn’t anything new, but the manner in which he does so is different from how I would do it. He isn’t severing his emotions and giving them over to the Heavens, he is indulging in his emotions and allowing the Heavens to share in the experience before being driven by his Will. Again, nothing new, but I see now that this is similar to how the Defiled control the Energy of the Heavens, yet falls short of the full surrender and indulgence that would bring him to Divinity. In sort, it’s the same, but different in ways I can’t exactly identify as Dad somehow remains wholly Balanced and in control in spite of the torrent of emotions and Heavenly Energy surging through him.

 

Which just seems crazy to me, because it never ends well whenever I indulge in emotion.

 

Eager for more perspective to help define Balance, I struggle to free myself from the Eternal Emperor’s steely grip, but to no avail. Luckily he seems distracted by what’s happening in Shi Bei and has been true to his word, so he doesn’t react to my efforts. Alas, this doesn’t leave me any less stuck, and without a sexy step-sis or step-mom to lend me a hand. With no other choice, I set to Scrying around Shi Bei which is almost as good as seeing things firsthand, and the first person I check on is not one of my wives or any of my floofs, but my big sister who has done so much for me. Not because I have step-sisters on the mind, or because I’m worried about her. Well, yes, but I’m not more worried about Alsantset than anyone else. My reason for checking on her first is somewhat selfish and self-serving, namely because her Dao is so similar to Dad’s that it should be easy to compare and contrast how they approach Balance and better understand it.

 

So yea, it’s illogical to feel guilty about why I’m checking in on her, but I’m trying something new here and not repressing my emotions, which sucks a big one. Then again, I doubt Alsantset would hold my relative lack of concern against me since she knows I worry enough as is. My big sister loves battle and bloodshed as much as Dad does, but the difference here is that her love of family does not merely match her love of battle, and in fact supersedes it. Not to say Dad loves us less, or Alsantset loves us more, but rather that the absolute values are maxed, only the relative ratios are evenly matched in Dad, while skewed more in favour of family for Alsantset. What does this mean in terms of emotions? For starters, Alsantset’s determination is tinged with fear and anxiety, whereas Dad’s emotions are completely devoid of all doubts and concerns. This doesn’t mean my sister is a coward, nor is she lessened by her apprehension, but rather the opposite. Her fear does not control her, nor does she allow it to overwhelm her, and instead she uses it to hone her courage and determination whilst driving her to new heights of fury and strength. The fear is a part of her she will never deny, and it reminds her of what she’s fighting for, a reminder which emboldens her with the conviction and resolve to stand firm in spite of her exhaustion. She cannot fall here today, because then her children would be without a mother, her husband without a wife, her parents without a daughter, and her brother without a sister. Because of all this and more, she fights that much harder whilst risking her life time and time again, laughing defiantly against the odds because she has something worth fighting for, and more importantly, something worth living for.

 

If Dad’s courage is the bright, burning red of courageous fervor, Alsantset’s is similar but tinged with hints of pink and blue for love and dedication, the courage of a mother, daughter, and sister which surpasses even that of a Warrior, and the Energy of the Heavens responds equally to Dad and Alsantset.

 

Mila’s fiery ringlets are easy to pick out amongst the crowd, her freckled features scrunched up in fetching determination as she hunkers down behind her shield and holds firm against her foes. There is a thread of anger and pique floating close to the surface, a dark green indignation over how this battle is so unfair, but it is drowned out by the light grey of stoic determination as she rises to the challenge and gives it her all. These Transcended Half-Demons surpass her in speed, strength, skill, and more, but she holds the defender’s advantage and strikes at her foes as they land on the battlements in a kill or be killed exchange, one issued and completed before they can find their footing. No battle is without risk, yet Mila defies the odds time and time again as she fights on with the stubborn determination I know and love, emotions tempered with the radiant golden glow of fearless pride and enduring tenacity built on a foundation of hard work and unrivalled talent. Even though she knows she is outmatched, she will never back down, because where there is life, there is hope, and so she fights on without despair. Either the Imperials will win, or she will escape to fight another day, for she is Sumila of the People, a woman and Warrior who refuses to die here today.  

 

Standing beside her, Li-Li’s lithe figure makes for a stunning contrast as she dances about her sister, her feet never slowing and her sabre never stopping even for a moment. Again, she knows she is outmatched, but victory or defeat means little to her, as she has given herself over to the fight and has eyes for nothing else. A pure, luminous glow, one which is absent of all colour, that is how I would describe Li-Li’s single-minded determination, a heroic and indefatigable will which is focused on the moment and nothing else. There is no seed of doubt sprouting in the back of her mind, no concern to be had regarding the ultimate victory or defeat of the Imperials here in Shi Bei. In fact, Li-Li pays no mind to the overall battle save to care about how it will affect her fight on the wall, as she calculates her current move, her next move, and perhaps a handful more while accounting for the actions and reactions of her foes. That is all she cares about, the fight and nothing else, wholly fixated on hindering her opponents for as long as she can and killing them wherever she can. Why? Because she is determined to keep her sister safe, the sister she loves and admires with all her heart, which is all that matters here and now as they fight side by side.

 

Even if she dies here today, Li-Li would die with a smile on her face, because she will have died knowing love and contentment, which is more than she ever dared to dream of.

 

The scything winds cut down a dozen Half-Demons and a small cheer rises up in response, the work of my bold and courageous Yan. Her emotions are far more turbulent and unstable, for despite the assured and somewhat smug expression she wears so well as she fights with all her heart, she has always been one to hide and harbour her doubts. Unlike me however, Yan doesn’t let them shake her will to fight on, and much like Alsantset, she uses her doubts as a whetstone to temper her pride and drive her to even greater heights. Despite being one of the strongest and most Talented Warriors of her generation, she does not see herself as a peerless talent and holds no aspirations to being a phoenix among cranes. No, Yan believes all her accomplishments are the result of training, preparation, and luck alone, and to be fair, that is a large part of it, but she gives herself too little credit and is blind to far too many of her strengths. Another similarity we share, for she is so hard on herself despite her unmatched accomplishments, and even now she is internally chastising herself for not being able to do more. These doubts cast her emotions with a faint hue of unsettling green in an otherwise calm sea of noble blue and courageous red, all dancing atop a field of cold, stoic dark grey that almost appears black at times, one which holds back the surging tides of sorrow and compassion for her fallen comrades. A necessity, this callous disregard for the death of so many, because unlike Mila and Song, Yan is not fighting as a Warrior alone, but as an Officer and leader in command of a thousand Warriors. While Mila commands as well, she does so by virtue of strength, and leaves the minutiae of morale and leadership to her underlings. Not so with Yan, who shoulders the heavy burden with pride and does everything she can to support those who follow her lead, bellowing orders, compliments, and insults as they come to mind. Her efforts are evident to all, and her soldiers draw courage and determination from knowing they are led and supported by a Warrior who sees them as more than just meat for the meat grinder, but one who genuinely cares for them. Though Mila’s Blessing of the Sun has proven equally devastating as Yan’s Blessing of Wind, the latter has won the hearts of the Imperial soldiers because they can see that she has taken it upon herself to become a pillar of the army, a responsibility she holds in the highest of esteem even as she silently mourns for the soldiers she’s lost without allowing her emotions to shake her resolve.

 

Yan is a Warrior born, and a leader to boot, one who will go far in her military career so long as she survives. Mila could do the same, but she has spread herself too thin, meaning in terms of military command, Yan will always be two steps ahead.

 

In stark contrast, Luo-Luo is no Warrior or leader, or so she believes, but as I watch her bleeding fingers pluck away at the Domain-Plated strings of her zither, I wholeheartedly disagree. While she might not have the full training or ingrained instincts of a Warrior born, it is clear she possesses the heart of one at the very least as she plays on in spite of the pain, conserving her Chi so that she might eventually eke out one note more rather than protect her fragile fingers with her Domain. A pleasant, relaxing orange-red ambiance emanates outwards with every note that she plays, one filled with the hope of the rising sun which brings with it a brand-new day, but these are the emotions she chooses to broadcast, not the emotions she herself feels. Those are more difficult to describe, for I sense in her the noble purple glow of pride and conceit without the ugly veneer of arrogance, disdain, or pretension. A result of her bloodline, which she takes great pride in, being only one generation removed from the current Emperor, whatever that’s worth. I don’t put much stock in bloodlines and lineages, but Luo-Luo cares deeply for them, as do many others who see the Imperial Clan and five Supreme Families as undoubtedly superior to the rest. Because of her upbringing however, she embodies the best traits of nobility while eschewing the worst, a kind, considerate, and charitable woman lacking the haughty airs so many nobles succumb to. Others always thought I was taking on too much by trying to single-handedly feed the provinces and raise their standard of education and living, but Luo-Luo went right along with it, because in her eyes, that is what the mantle of nobility entails, the responsibility to make the decisions for the betterment of all mankind, an attitude which makes her inner beauty shine even brighter than her considerable outer beauty. As she plays her best on the walls of Shi Bei, there is no regret in her heart, no sorrow regarding her possibly impending death, no grief or dissatisfaction over having been dragged into this conflict against her will or the circumstances which have brought her here. Instead, she is honoured to fight alongside these heroes of the Empire and proud to provide what little assistance she can, all with a graceful dignity and grand distinguished virtue which I’ve fallen head over heels in love with.

 

Luo-Luo is genuinely too good for me, but then again, all my wives are, which means I need to work all the harder to ensure I never disappoint any one of them.

 

As for Lin-Lin, who I’ve loved for so long, her emotions are all but impossible to describe. There’s a streak of dark fear and gloomy concern, but also radiant glee and glowing pride as she moves to support Luo-Luo, who she only now just noticed was struggling on her own. My sweet, cherubic wifey has more or less mastered the art of transferring Life Force to those she loves, and even though I know she is an Ancestral Beast and likely has more than enough to spare, it pains me to see her giving up what might well be years, decades, or even centuries of life for a cause she doesn’t really care for. In Lin-Lin’s eyes, war is no different from the changing seasons, an unstoppable phenomenon which she tolerates and endures because she has no other choice. There will never be an end to the war against Defiled, but even if there was one, it would only lead to a different sort of war, because that is human nature. Thus, she sees no point in being here, but she supports us all nonetheless, and has never once tried to dissuade me from pursuing my Dao. Because of this, she has suffered through the most turbulent period of her life when she should instead be happy, safe, and cherished, meaning she suffers only for love of me. To make matters worse, circumstances forced her to reveal her status as an Ancestral Beast, so even if we survive the battle here in Shi Bei, she might well be forced to spend the rest of her life running or hiding from pursuers seeking to enslave her against her will. I’ve stolen an untold number of years of safety and anonymity away from her, a debt which I can never repay, yet she holds no grudge against me nor does she blame me for her woes. Instead, she strives to support me and everyone she loves as best she can in spite of the dark future awaiting her, because she would rather live happily in the moment than let what might come next bring her down.

 

Again, Lin-Lin’s Balance is also quite similar to Buddy’s, in which they give themselves wholly over to the strongest emotion present, yet my sweet wifey has never once shown any sign of Imbalance, and might well be the most Balanced person I know. A contradiction which I am still unable to resolve, because in my mind, Balance has been cemented as net-neutral emotion, yet time and time again I am seeing that this is not the case.

 

Which logically means my fundamental understanding of Balance must be inherently and intrinsically flawed.

So what is Balance? The question puts me in mind of a conversation I once had with Fung, and I find him fighting on the walls of Shi Bei beside his lady love. What a match they make, wielding their swords in hand as they support one another against foes far too strong for them to face, moving in near perfect coordination as Ryo Seoyoon follows Fung’s lead without hesitation, the two love-birds glowing with warm pinks and blossoming greens accented by icy-blue determination. My friend has come far since we first met in Shen Huo, and as I watch his sword trace a path through the air and catch the faintest hints of Sword Intent surging within, I am unable to even guess at what heights he will eventually reach. The lyrical lines of his incomprehensible poetry flow out without pause, and the measured cadence of his speech aligns his breathing to the rhythm of the World which empowers him even further as he goes head-to-head with Half-Demon Peak Experts and comes so very close to matching them. Even more impressive is how his poems enable Seoyoon to do the same, but only because she has wholly given herself over to him in mind and soul, if not body, and thus able to match his flow as the Energy of the Heavens surge around them.

 

I have always believed that Fung is one of the greatest talents of our generation, but I never knew how talented until now. If given some more years of conflict to wholeheartedly pursue his Dao, I believe Fung has it in him to become the second Ying Zheng, a Warrior with the strength to conquer the Empire and unite all the lands behind him. No wonder his advice was so sound, delivered so nonchalantly over dinner as we ate around the fire only days after the purge ended, but before the siege of Sanshu had yet to truly begin. “Balance is a concept for which we humans are ill-suited,” he began, his cheeks still rosy-red from laughing at my naivete. “We are fragile, emotional creatures, capable of observation and thought which many scholars believe hinders our progress. Animals naturally seek Balance, but humans must reach for it, struggle to hold it, and there has yet to be a single person who has truly mastered it.”

Because there has yet to be the human equivalent of an Ancestral Beast, a human who reforged their body in the Energy of the Heavens to become something more than what they were before. The human Divinities we know of are false Divinities at best, though one could argue that Ancestral Beasts are also false Divinities, though most certainly less false than human Divinities. Then again, this might no longer be true considering what Zhen Shi only recently accomplished, reforging his body in the image of his soul and therefore the Eternal Emperor’s image as well, a feat I suspect the original was also able to accomplish, though he purposely left the details of his Path vague and indistinct. Thus, my goal is to match them in this, to become a true Divinity, because anything less will not bring me victory against my foe, but first I must answer the question of, “What is Balance?”

 

“You’ve confused Balance with morality.” Fung’s voice sounds out once again as the memory of our talk continues. “There is no right or wrong, no good or evil when it comes to Balance. Life and death are but two sides of the same coin, both required for the world to continue. Take for example a wildfire ravaging through a forest, destroying trees and killing wildlife without mercy. Many would see the flames as evil, but it is also a source of renewal. The dead trees nourish the soil and without them, the canopy no longer blocks out the sunlight, allowing for new growth to flourish. Some trees have even been noted to only produce seeds after a fire, meaning the forest cannot be sustained without the flames.”

 

“So you’re saying fire is good?”

 

That was my question, which goes to show I missed the point entirely, but my good friend answered patiently without judgement. “No, the fire is neither good nor evil, it is merely an agent of Balance. As humans, we allow our morals and philosophies to colour our judgment, which affects our ability to find Balance. Does the rabbit consider the wolf evil? Does a flower hate the deer? Perhaps they do, but each are merely acting in their nature. Morality is a human construct, Balance a natural one. It’s how people like the Shrike and Fu Zu Li retain Balance, they are merely doing what is required of them.”

 

Again, missing the point, I ask, “Then how come anger and rage are so bad for Balance?”

 

“It isn’t. Too much anger is another thing altogether. Take all things in moderation. Laugh when you want to, cry when you must, fight when called upon, and stand up for what you believe.” Shrugging, Fung adds, “It’s all much easier said than done of course.”

 

And truer words had never been spoken. All this time I’ve been struggling to define Balance, but the truth is, there is no definitive answer. Balance is not a set state of mind to achieve, not a condition to aim for, but rather a goal to keep in mind at all times when pursuing the Dao. Balance is simply Balance, without any right or wrong answer regarding how to approach it, because there are a myriad of different ways to find Balance, but the goal is not as important as the steps one takes to reach it. I’ve been asking the wrong question, namely, “What is Balance?”, when instead I should be asking, “What does Balance mean to me?”

 

Take the state of this world for example, which is inarguably in flux as Imperial and Defiled wage war against one another, giving rise to more suffering, more Spectres, and therefore more Defiled, but also Balanced as a whole in that the Eternal Emperor possesses strength and power enough to end the Defiled threat as he pleases. As such, one could argue that the Eternal Emperor is a vital cog in the overall machine that makes up this world we all reside in, the linchpin to ensure Balance is retained regardless of whether the Defiled or Imperials win. The Defiled are the forest fire, the Imperials the forest, and the Emperor some guy sitting on the sidelines who can put out the fire or nourish the forest as he pleases.

 

This is Balance of a sorts, one I do not agree with, yet there is no denying that it is Balance all the same. The Heavens recognizes this, and in its natural pursuit of Balance, it empowers the Eternal Emperor even further, because even with Imperial and Defiled making a mess of things, the Eternal Emperor only needs to shift his weight ever so slightly to tip the scales back to Balance. Is this why the Heavens failed me during my attempt to kill him? Is there a Will of the Heavens working to keep the world in Balance? If so, is that why I have memories of my past life? So that I can act as an agent of the Heavens and bring Balance to the Force – I mean, the world? But if that’s the case, why didn’t the Heavens work with me to kill the Eternal Emperor?

 

No, this is another mistake I’ve made before, and one I continue to make. I have a tendency to anthropomorphize everything, attributing human characteristics to things like animals, spirits, and the Heavens. What’s more, I’ve always been searching for a purpose of my existence, a reason to explain why I transmigrated here with my past life’s memories, but the truth is, I didn’t transmigrate. I reincarnated into this life as Amigui, who is part and parcel of who I am, but a part I continue to reject even after uncovering the truth I worked so hard to forget. I am no traveller to this foreign world, but a native of it. My memories of a past life are unique, but who’s to say I’m the only one with them? There are plenty of other talents out there who might well possess memories of a past life, like Dastan’s uncle Diyako, the ingenious inventor who knows more than he lets on, or Liu Xuande, the Imperial Scion turned brilliant military strategist. What about Gwangjong, the brilliant stonemason who understands more about structural engineering than I could even begin to describe? Or Cao Cao, the brilliant mathematician who does literal magic with numbers and is able to calculate the most efficient method to store goods on a ship or the best route for a caravan to take? Who’s to say none of them have awakened to memories of a past life which have enabled them to excel in their own way? What of those who have memories that don’t really help, like my love of floofs and desire for indoor plumbing? Or those who wake up and feel like life isn’t quite right, yet have no idea what it is they’re missing? All this and more could be attributed to the accumulations of past lives being brought to the forefront of one’s mind, yet not every past life will have something useful to offer. Then there’s also the matter of Ancestral Beasts, who still possess fleeting memories of their past lives as beasts, which isn’t all that different from what I’ve experienced here.

 

Which means that my past life’s memories are a part of me, but their existence can no longer define me.

 

The truth is, ever since I awakened to my past life’s memories, I’ve struggled to find myself and always wondered why I am the way I am. I saw my arrival as the coming of the destined hero, someone destined for greatness, because if not, then why was I brought here in the first place, with memories that only plague me with how much better life could be? The problem is, I wasn’t brought here. I was born here, and I desperately wanted to be the hero, to have a purpose in life, to have a reason for survival so I could feel less guilty about killing my brother, but it’s high time I faced facts. There is nothing special about who I am or how I came to be here. I’m the dude playing another dude, disguised as another dude, with maybe a fourth dude hidden in there somewhere. I dunno, it’s all very complicated, but I can say for certain that I wasn’t summoned here by the Mother or the Will of the Heavens, fated to right all wrongs and bring Balance to the world. I mean, why would they even bother? If there was a deity out there with the power to pluck my memories and personality from my past life and transplant it into this one, all in order to play the foil to the Eternal Emperor and bring Balance to the world, then why wouldn’t said deity just handle this shit themselves? Why would I need to spend so many years suffering and struggling just to clean up their mess?

 

My defiant contempt spills out into the world around me, lifting a weight off my shoulders I never knew was there. All this time, I’ve been setting myself up as the hero of the story and waiting for the Heavens to come rescue me, but no more. Now, I must take matters into my own hands and define my own fate. So what if the Heavens won’t help me? They never helped me before, never rescued me from my father or whisked me away from the slave mines, never comforted me when I cried, consoled me when I was hurt, or guided me when I needed it the most. I wanted to believe in a higher being, but I was never given any reason to, so whether the Will of the Heavens exists or not, I should’ve never been counting on it in the first place.

 

So yea. Even if there is a Heaven, Mother Above, or some Deity on high is looking down on us from another plane of existence, they can go fuck themselves. I’ll figure this shit out on my own, thank you very much, and then I’ll do whatever the hell I please, because fate ain’t got shit on me.

 

Having found some perspective on things and my resolve within, I gather up the emotions I’ve identified and so many more I have yet to parse through and surrender myself to them in full. It doesn’t matter if I have yet to define my Balance, because so long as I hold fast to Balance and trust in myself, then I will have done everything I can and given this effort my all. That’s all I can really ask for, all I can reasonably demand, because at the end of the day, I am still human yet, and I will remain human even if I should Ascend to True Divinity. It’s as simple as that, and more complex than I could ever imagine, but the only thing I have to remember is to remain true to myself.

 

Crippling depression, suffocating anxiety, paranoid delusion, willful ignorance, and awkward humour, by these powers combined, I am Falling Rain.

 

A brief moment of amusement does much to relieve the tension in my chest before a deluge of emotions washes over me and I parse through them all at once. Joy, rage, hatred, love, lust, despair, and more. The colours come together in a jumbled vision of gaudy hues, a giant mess of vibrance and dreariness which threatens to drag me over to Imbalance, yet I do nothing to stop it. This is my nature, a sensitive person who feels emotion too strongly, which is why I avoid them as much as I can. A source of so many of my woes over the years, my inability to just turn off my emotions or let them go. Why should I care about what some random stranger thinks of me? Yet one awkward encounter with said stranger will haunt me for two lives, because I still cringe when I think of the time I said, “You too,” to the waiter who brought me my food and said, ‘Have a nice meal’. I also fall in love easily, but I love fiercely too, without holding anything back. I have so much love to give, I could love a hundred floofs or more without even coming close to my limits, and while I still feel like an asshole for falling in love with so many women, I know I will do everything I can to ensure they know they are loved and hope that it will be enough. I empathize with the beggar I pass on the street, sympathize with the overworked slaves who are mistreated and abused, commiserate with the woes so many people suffer and share. If I see an injustice in the world, I cannot just sit idle and let it pass, because then I will feel like I’ve failed as a person, because a good person would lend a hand to those in need.

 

This is why I fear emotion, because I am too easily compelled by it. Starving kid in the streets? Better feed the whole city. Crippled Warriors without access to healthcare? I should teach everyone how to Heal so they can regrow their own limbs. Slavery and inequality ingrained into the very nature of the Empire? Best plant the seeds of bloody revolution and provide the tools necessary for the working class and slaves to succeed. The Defiled are running rampant in a province I’ve never been to? Well, I’m ready to sally forth and lay my life on the line to go save them all, even though no one wants me to and no one will reward me for it.

 

What can I say? It’s a sickness really.

 

This is why I avoid meeting people and making new connections, because I lack the energy to keep up with all my emotions. Avoidance is no longer possible, and hasn’t been possible for a long time now, so it’s high time I took Charok’s sage advice to heart, delivered so long ago when I first stepped foot on the Martial Path.

 

I cannot let fear and my other emotions control me. Instead, I must take control of my emotions, without closing myself off from them.

 

This is my Dao, the Dao of absolute freedom, freedom even from the Heavens which might otherwise dictate my fate, the freedom to live my life as I so please. Yes, I bind myself in chains of emotion, but I accept those chains freely, for they are no true chains, but rather the benefits of being alive, for life would not be worth living without the people I love and cherish. Thus, even laden down with chains of empathy and obligation, I am still free, for my fate is still my own, one I will forge in pursuit of the truth and in search of answers to questions which might well never be answered. The end goal isn’t important however, nor will the possibility of failure prevent me from trying, because life isn’t about the destination, but rather the journey you take to get there.

 

Balance is truly a concept humans are ill-suited for indeed, and I myself less suited than most, but what works for one might well be impossible for another, which means I need to find the Balance most suited for me. Having gathered so very many different colours of emotions, I still have no idea what form of Balance I should strive for, but the lack of knowledge or understanding means nothing to me. All I can do is allow myself to feel my emotions and act according to my Will, one guided by my morals and integrity, with a hefty helping of input from my guilty conscience and personal views on justice and honour.

 

This is my Balance, one steeped in emotion and driven by it, yet kept in check by the human concepts I hold so dearly in my heart. The Dao of don’t be an asshole, which is far more difficult than it sounds. I must remain true to myself and my morals, uncorrupted by power, wealth, lust, and who knows what else, for I have seen what happens to those who lose their way, like Zhen Shi, the Eternal Emperor, Wisdom Vyakhya, the Confessor Goujian, his Disciple Han Bo Lao, and so many others. Monsters aren’t born. They are crafted by the trials and tribulations of life, so if I am to remain true to myself and my Dao, I must gauge each step with the utmost care and consideration in the years to come. Simple and reasonable though my Dao might seem, there are an infinite number of complexities to navigate through, ones which I can only trust myself to find the best way forward, with help from those I hold near and dear to my heart. There will be many mistakes, but those too will become a part of my journey, because so long as there is life, there is hope.

 

Firm in my conviction though I might be, I find my Will wavering as I struggle to encompass the entirety of my Dao in one, simple concept, something to hold firm in mind as I surrender and struggle to Ascend. My Dao of freedom is of all emotion and none, steeped in logic yet could function entirely without, a Dao which allows me to surrender control to emotion or be controlled by it without ever losing sight of logic and reason, the core tenants of who I am. All this I know in my heart, but it is too complex and indefinite to keep in mind all at once with even a modicum of certainty, for there are just too many variables to keep track of.

 

That is until I gaze upon the jumbled mess of emotional colours and find Insight in a memory from my past life, a symbol which applies so well to this dilemma of mine.

 

The various colours of emotions come together in a circle, forming two teardrop-shaped pools of black and white. Side by side and together, yet separate at the same time, with a single dot of white in the black, and a single dot of black within the white. Despite the apparent lack of colour, I can sense within those pools of black and white the entire rainbow of emotions, melding together not in pairs or opposites, but rather as one, massed conglomerate of stable sentiment. This is not about good or evil, the Mother or the Father, Heaven and Hell, positive and negative, or anything like that, just all emotion and no emotion, all logic and no logic, all colours, and none. A Yin Yang symbol to represent my Dao, which is a little derivative and on the nose, but it enables me to focus my Will and reach out and grasp the Balance I seek. Not the Balance of complete surrender that I’ve seen in Buddy or Lin-Lin, nor is it the indulgence Dad and Alsantset have embraced. It shares similarities with both of the aforementioned concepts, as well as Yan’s Balance of struggle, Mila’s Balance of affirmation, Li-Li’s Balance of single-minded determination, and Luo-Luo’s Balance of obligation and empathy, yet is entirely different as well. There is no math to this Balance, no scales to depict parity or equilibrium to maintain, no emotions to suppress or ignore or be wary of expressing. There is only a natural harmony of emotion for me to settle into like water settling into the lowest possible state. A much more simplistic form of Balance than the ones I’d envisioned, yet also infinitely more complex, because there are no rules to adhere to, no guidelines to follow, no goals to aim for besides Balance, one of Yin and Yang, of black, white, and all the colours and emotions in between as I follow my heart’s desires without ever allowing myself to be controlled by them.

 

The Balance I seek is a human Balance, a mortal’s Balance, one I am unable to wholly define yet is so natural and comfortable it can only be right, for it is wholly in accordance with my Dao, which is why it is so well suited for me.

 

Here in the throes of my newfangled Balance, I am finally ready to take the next step, because only now do I understand what I must do. I must cultivate, must nurture the truth, not merely the truth of the universe, the Laws, the Dao, Balance, the power of Creation and Destruction, or any of that other cool stuff. What I must cultivate is the truth of who I am, what I have set out to accomplish, and how I mean to achieve my goals, because how can one hope to understand the Dao without first understanding one’s self?

 

The Energy of the Heavens surges through my body, mind, and soul as I surrender and struggle before it. Directed by my Will, the barrier between me and the Heavens comes apart as I Shatter the Void in full and finish what I started earlier today in Meng Sha, but stopped out of fear and lack of preparation. Only now have I become One with the Heavens in truth, because before this very moment, I was not yet ready, and now I am. It’s really that simple, yet hides a multitude of complexities, ones I would have never solved without widening my perspective. Having committed myself to Ascend without fear or hesitation, I keep in mind the heavy consequences of failure and give the Heavens no choice but to concede before my Will as they surrender their secrets for my review. No longer do I recognize their Authority, for now I will now forge my own Path to bring me to the pinnacle of my Dao.

 

The Energy of the Heavens continues to surge around me, but I remain undaunted and bend it to my Will, no longer afraid of any Spectres or calling down the gaze of the Father because I am firmly in control. Visualizing my Intent, I embody my greatest desire to save the people I love and become the hero I’d always dreamed of being. One raised not with the support of the Heavens, but in defiance of them, for there is no all-seeing authority watching over us from above, only a natural phenomenon which I now harness for my own use.

 

I am the surging tides of the endless seas, the eternal winds of the stormy skies.  

 

I am the all-consuming blaze of the smouldering forge, the unyielding meteor which pierces the Heavens.

 

And as I take this next step along my Path, I pray to whatever higher power which might be listening that this will be enough.

 

Chapter Meme 1

Chapter Meme 2

Chapter Meme 3

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