Savage Divinity – Chapter 389

 

Most days, I have no issues waking up on time, but rather the bigger problem is falling asleep and staying asleep. The moment I lie down or have nothing to do, my brain fixates on one of three things: things already going wrong, things which could go wrong, and things I have yet to realize have gone or could go wrong. Sometimes, it’s helpful and I come up with a brilliant solution to ease my worries before moving on to the next problem, but most of the time, it’s an unhealthy obsession over things I can’t control or are unlikely to happen. Lately, I’ve been particularly engrossed in imagining what would happen if bugs learned how to use Chi and turned into hive-minded monstrosities hell-bent on scouring humanity from existence.

 

Rename my retinue to the Roughnecks and tell everyone to aim for the nerve stem is the answer I came up with. I have no idea what any of it means or why it makes me smile, but there’s nothing I can do about the senseless memories lingering in the back of my mind.

 

When sheer exhaustion overcomes crippling anxiety and I finally fall asleep, then it becomes time to deal with the inevitable nightmares. Whether I’m battling the shades of my victims in the darkness of the void, or stalked by an unseen predator whom I cannot escape, or back in the slave pens with Gortan tormenting me, it always ends the same way. I come awake with a start, my mouth dry and blankets damp with cold sweat, heart pumping and chest heaving as I try to make sense of my quickly fading dreams. Usually, this boils down to about four or five hours of sleep a night, and for years, I was fine with it, but lately, I’ve been feeling more exhausted than normal. Naps and chronic masturbation weren’t helping the issue, and I’ve always been leery of taking medication to help me sleep, partially because it’s too effective and you never know when you’ll need to be alert in the middle of the night, but also because I know myself and don’t want to add ‘drug addiction’ to my long list of character flaws.

 

But that’s all in the past. After last night’s incredible events and my pillow-side confession, I experienced the best sleep I’ve ever had since coming to this world. Turns out, the solution to my sleeping problems was simple and effective.

 

I needed to get laid.

 

It sounds crude to say it like that, especially since there’s so much more to it than sex. It wasn’t about the physical release else trusty old lefty would’ve cured all which ails me years ago. Last night with Yan was more than merely sex. We started as two individuals yearning for one another, but as the night wore on, we tore down the barriers between us and forged a connection, one stronger than I ever believed possible. Amidst the heat of our flesh and the cadence of our moans, we made ourselves vulnerable and shared our most intimate sides, a surreal experience which made all my trips to the Golden Swan Pavilion seem empty and meaningless in comparison. I’ve had sex before, but I’ve never made love, not until yesterday.

 

Still deep in the throes of restful relaxation, I yawn and stretch in the warm comfort of bed, so tranquil and carefree I’m at risk of falling asleep once again. Only a constant, steady beat of water sloshing around keeps me from drifting off, as the sound fills me with a vague sense of unease for reasons I can’t explain. Chalking it up to pressing bodily needs, I put off emptying my bladder and starting the day in favour of languid idleness, hugging my pillow close to savour the lingering scent of my absent lover.

 

Ha. My lover, Yan. It sounds so deliciously sordid when I say it like that. Lover.

 

There’s a small part of my brain dying in embarrassment from my goofy and somewhat cringy thought process, but for once, I’m too happy to care because I just had sex, and it felt soooooooo good! I’m clear-headed and carefree for the first time in years and it feels right, like I’m finally who I’m supposed to be instead of pretending to be someone I’m not. There’s still so much I have to get off my chest, like Baledagh and (maybe) my questionable origins, but I’ve decided to tell her all (most?) of my secrets, and it’s liberating.

 

This is me, this is my life, and things are going great.

 

Well, let’s be realistic. Things are going okay. I mean, the sex was amazing and kicks things up a few levels, but it doesn’t change the fact that Mahakala died and I’ve incurred the Legates displeasure. Seriously, the ego on his Imperial Highness, getting his panties twisted out of shape because I’m not tripping over myself trying to kiss his royal ass. On one hand, I understand he was probably born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has come to expect the adoration of the masses, but he should learn how to deal with disappointment. Life doesn’t always work out the way you’d expect, and if Shen ZhenWu orders a killing spree every time someone doesn’t fall in line, he’s gonna have a bad time.

 

Or maybe not. Maybe it all works out for him because life’s not fair and he’s blessed by the Heavens, the lucky bastard…

 

Whatever, don’t let it spoil your mood. How easy his life is has nothing to do with you. Things are looking up, and you’ve got plenty to be happy about, so enjoy the moment while it lasts. Not long, since that stupid water noise is making you need to piss. Slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh, what the hell is making that sound? It’s not a leak because you don’t have running water, and while it kinda sounds like the rabbits are drinking, you didn’t leave anything out for them to…

 

Oh no…

 

No, no, no…

 

Not like this… Not like this.

 

My fears are confirmed as I open my eyes and find my bunbuns converged in an adorable mosh pit, pushing and shoving in a desperate effort to slake their ravenous morning thirst, their tongues working with reckless fury to create the ominous din which disturbed my slumber. There’s nothing wrong with them having a drink, except I didn’t leave water out for them to drink. Besides my washbasin, which sits empty atop my dresser, the only other source of water my bunbuns could drink from is Pong Pong’s poop pan.

 

Which is exactly what they’re doing.

 

“Stoooooppppp!” My wretched, high-pitched shriek does nothing to dissuade the bunbuns from their voracious, poop eating ways, and in my haste to stop them I forget my body’s current state of disrepair. Putting all my body’s weight onto the raw, tender stump of my foot, I let loose with a choked screech as I fall face first into the floor. To compound my misery, in order to break my fall, I smash the stump of my wrist against the bamboo mats and my vision goes dark as the pain overwhelms my consciousness.

 

Startled awake by a cold, wet nose on the back of my neck, a weak groan slips out as I push myself to my knees and offer the concerned Mafu a reassuring pat. Crawling on hand and knees, I head over to put a stop to the bunbun scat-fest, but it’s easier said than done. Having only one hand to work with makes fighting off the horde of parched bunnies a challenging feat, moving them aside one by one while avoiding their dripping wet manes and the poop-smeared bunny kisses they’ve learned to give when they want something. Having recovered from her Algae coma, Mama Bun’s front paws cling to the pan as I lift it away, her hind legs dangling off the ground as she fights for a taste that sweet, poopy goodness. Ignoring her as I fend off her filthy, affectionate babies, I fail to notice Mama Bun losing her grip on the pan until it’s too late. Freed from her considerable weight, the sudden release causes me to fling the pan up and scatter the filthy water and surprisingly large turtle turds across the room, tainting everything and everything I hold dear.

 

Everything. Is Covered. In Poop!

 

With a quiet sob, I give up and watch the bunbuns race to lap up the puddles, while also ignoring Pong Pong and the quins as they silently judge me for my disgusting habits. Zabu and Shana even gather up the pups to keep them from joining the bunbuns in their coprophagic frenzy, while Mafu utters a stream of squeaks to protest of my unsanitary actions. After a long bout with self pity, I dry myself off the best I can and put on a clean robe before shooing all the animals out of my yurt.

 

Standing guard outside my door are four Death Corps soldiers, all stoic and impassive as ever. Usually, they’re content to silently lurk about while I go about their business, but today, all four guards turn and fall to their knees, offering a salute with head bowed and eyes down. “Great One,” they say in perfect unison, their voices rough and grating from lack of use. “This slave has failed in their duty and begs Great One to pass judgment and present punishment.”

 

“Uh…” As solemn as this all is, the line of bunnies hopping down the stairs and into their enclosure sort of ruins the gravitas of the situation, and it’s all I can do to keep from giggling. “What do you mean, failed?”

 

After a long, silent pause, the closest soldier on my left lowers his head even further as a show of obedience before saying, “This slave begs permission to speak.”

 

“Well… sure, but like… I asked a question, so you don’t really need permission… Not that you ever need permission. I encourage you all to speak your mind whenever you think it’s necessary.” It’s exhausting dealing with the Death Corps, which is why I’ve been putting it off while I deal with my own shit. And now, Pong Pong’s shit too. Disgusting. Note to self, don’t leave Pong Pong’s toilet pan out where the bunbuns can reach. Also, burn everything you own and chuck that stupid turtle back into the sea.

 

“This one thanks Great One for his instruction. Last night, Great One dismissed us from our post, so we beg Great One to punish us for our failings. We are sworn to defend our charge and have been lax in our duties.”

 

“Oh.” So this demand for punishment is sort of like a minor protest, telling me they don’t like to be dismissed from Guard duty. “No, it’s fine, you didn’t fail.” Tired of talking to the back of their heads, I add, “Stop kneeling and stand up. You did nothing wrong.”

 

As I watch them bolt to their feet in their haste to obey, I finally realize why the Death Corps soldiers make me so uncomfortable. It’s incredible I never noticed it earlier, the clues are so obvious now that I know. Minor things like the hunch of their shoulders or how they shuffle their feet, their sweat covered brows and whitened knuckles as they trade anxious glances or steel their nerves. Taken alone, it doesn’t mean much, but put it all together and the message is clear.

 

They’re afraid. Afraid of me, afraid for their lives and helpless to do a thing about it.

 

I can’t blame them either. The Death Corps stood before me and I saw highly trained Martial Warriors, but I forgot they’re also slaves, ones trained from birth no less. They were raised and taught to serve a purpose, but since coming into my employ, they’ve been given no orders or direction, left rudderless to do as they please. Most people would be happy if left alone, but the Death Corps are slaves and possess a slave’s mindset. I know it well, for a slave without purpose might as well be a corpse, so they’ve been going through the motions day after day, training and guarding in an effort to prove their worth while I ignored them to deal with my own issues and left them languishing in uncertainty. Sure I had my reasons, but these are living, breathing people standing before me, and if I want the world to treat slaves like people, than I should start by setting an example.

 

For the first time since they arrived, I take a good long look at my guards, not as a cadre of elite Death Corps soldiers, but as living, breathing humans. Like most Martial Warriors, my four guards are easy on the eyes, though their black metal helmets go a long way towards obscuring their fair features. On closer inspection, I realize the four guards are not all men and count two women among their number. It makes sense Luo-Luo’s honour guard would include women soldiers, but again, I wasn’t really looking and treated them like a crowd of faceless soldiers here to bolster my ranks. Strip away the armour and the Death Corps mythos and I’m left with four shockingly young warriors whose ages range between eighteen to twenty five years young, little more than children really. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re fresh out of Death Corps training and out on their first tour of duty, unsure of the ways of the world and mistaking my general lack of interest for disdain or contempt, not where you want to be with the person who literally holds your life in the palm of his hands.

 

Poor Death Corps soldiers… Is it strange I find them oddly adorable now? They’re like lost little orphans appearing at my doorstep, eagerly fighting to do the chores and prove their worth in hopes I’ll treat them well.

 

“Listen up.” In defiance of the laws of physics, the four guards somehow find it in them to straighten up even more, their eyes wide yet still averted while they await their orders. “I know I’m not what you expected, and truth be told, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with you and your comrades.”

 

Moving in perfect harmony, all four guards lower their heads and salute. “We live to serve, Great One.”

 

“Er… yea, stop bowing please.” As they look up and face me, I continue, “See, the thing is, I don’t need an honour guard around me at all times.” Well, maybe I do, but I don’t want one. It’s constraining. “Truth is, I don’t agree with slavery on general principle, so I’ve been conflicted on how to handle this. Let’s start over. What are your names?”

 

The four of them list off their names in succession, starting with the male guard who spoke earlier.

 

“This slave is designated Red One.”

 

“This slave is designated Green One.”

 

“This slave is designated Yellow One.”

 

“This slave is designated Orange One.”

 

“…Uh, okay, but what are your names?”

 

Blinking in confusion, the four leaders trade glances before Red One responds, “This slave has no name.”

 

A measure to dehumanize them, I suppose, which is both pragmatic and depressing. “The rest are named in similar fashion? Four units of ninety soldiers each?”

 

“Yes, Great One.”

 

Luo-Luo told me all this on the first day we met, but I put no thought into. The Death Corps have no officers, so I’ll have to supply ten ‘Lieutenants’ and one ‘Captain’ to complete each one-hundred man unit. At least I’ll finally have something to keep Bulat and Ravil occupied, I always feel uneasy when I see them sitting idle. As for the other two Captains… Well, I’ll figure it out later.

 

Running my hand through my hair reminds me I could really use a bath, so I try and hurry this along. “Well, it’s nice to meet you all. Like I said when we first met, you’re all members of my retinue, which means we’ll be fighting alongside one another soon enough. As you’ve already seen, my style of command is rather laid back, so there’s no need for any of you to be on edge. Also, I’d prefer you use my name, or if you insist on protocol, then you may refer to me as boss or by rank. For now, bring your comrades to find Bulat and Ravil and inform them they are to be your Captains and responsible for integrating the Death Corps into the retinue. I’ll provide two more officers after thinking things through.”

 

“Yes, Imperial Consort.”

 

Fuck. That wasn’t the rank I mean, but it’s so heartening to see their spirits lift from these orders, I can’t bring myself to correct them. It still bums me out to order slaves around, because like they said, they literally live to serve. Seeing as they’re still standing around, I realize they’re waiting for me to dismiss them, so I throw another request their way. “On your way over, could you also tell Alsantset, the half-tiger lady by the campfire there, that I need a bath prepared? Don’t order her to prepare one, she’s not a slave or a servant, just… kindly inform her I requested she ask someone to help draw me a bath.” This is difficult. “You know what, tell her I need to speak with her. Actually, no forget it, I’ll shout. It’s fine.”

 

The last thing I need is for my scary older sister to think I’m giving her orders.

 

Perhaps emboldened by how I’ve treated them, Red One hesitates briefly before offering yet another salute. “If it pleases Imperial Consort, this slave requests permission to draw Great One’s bath and tend to his needs. Each member of the Death Corps is well-versed in attending to whatever needs Great One has, for in times of battle, servants are often in short supply.” Well… that’s… useful. Would I be a horrible person if I accepted their help? I mean, he looks so scared and eager, it’s almost heartbreaking. As if sensing my wavering resolve, Red One leans closer and whispers, “Whatever needs.”

 

Oh. That’s less adorable.

 

Since it’d just be soldiers filling my bath regardless, I shake my head and smile. “Err, well if you don’t mind, then yes, please prepare a bath. Just the bath, mind you. A small one will do, and a screen so I’m not scrubbing down in front of the entire camp.”

 

“Yes Imperial Consort.”

 

I regret this already. Whatever, I need to wash the turtle shit out of my hair and get to Healing my foot and hand, not to mention talk to Mila and Lin about my fun times with Yan. “Dismissed.” As they march away with a spring in their step, I question if I’m doing the right thing or if I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. I’d love nothing more than to free them from the chains of slavery, but even if I could, I don’t think it’d be a smart move. I need soldiers and while they may be slaves, the Death Corps rank among some of the finest soldiers in the Empire. Regardless, I can’t tell them how to live their lives, so if they’re happy with a little purpose and direction, then who am I to deny it to them? All I can do is treat them like any other soldier and try to see past their unfortunate status. They’re slaves. It sucks, but without a systemic, ideological shift in the way the people of the Empire think, there will always be slaves, and I’ll have to live with it.

 

A wise man once said, “Be the change you want to see, and if that doesn’t work, then nuke the shit out of everyone.”

 

…That doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know enough to dispute it.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 388


Art! No time to chat cuz I’m already late, but it’s drawn by Rocky from discord, and it’s a LEWDDDDDDDDDDDDDD Yan

TOTES NSFW

Those deer noises… umff…

I’ll be in my bunk


 

 

Dazed and out of breath, Yan fell into Rain’s comforting embrace. Quivering from head to toe, she savoured this moment and engraved it into memory, enjoying the soothing sensation of his hand running slowly up her back and down again, the simple movement so soothing and reassuring. Somehow exhausted and invigorated at the same time, she kissed him between laboured gasps and was delighted to discover he still yearned for her touch, despite being too exhausted to continue. Much like his preferred fighting style, Rain’s performance appeared inelegant and unpolished at first, but he was a quick learner and soon uncovered all her weaknesses without need for question or guidance. Coupled with the fabled stamina which won him the title of ‘Undying’, Yan was soon rendered helpless before his charming smile and attentive efforts.

 

Mother above, he did all this while he was crippled, so what would it be like when he had both his hands and feet?

 

Her voracious appetite sated, Yan entwined her arms and legs around Rain while running her hands over his naked body, mentally marking all the changes since they last met. So soon after their repeated bouts of frenetic activity, his robust heart had already slowed to a steady beat, pulsing powerfully inside his chiselled chest. With pecs firm as iron and a wiry, sinewy frame, his broad shoulders and narrow waist made him look even leaner than he already was, a powerfully built foundation which could use a little more padding for comfort and aesthetics. Regardless, she loved the feel of him, of his sculpted muscles and washboard abs, his smooth, supple skin and soft, silky hair, those hungry, affectionate lips and his pulsating, throbbing…

 

Grounding herself with a deep breath, the musky scent of their intermingled bodies delivered her a heady rush and only debilitating fatigue and aching muscles kept her from mounting him once again. Instead, she settled for a contented nuzzle and buried her face in his neck, which earned her a throaty chuckle and a question asked in jest. “Still not enough? Heaven’s save me from this insatiable woman. Mercy Yan, I beg you, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 

Giggling at his terrible joke, she kissed the hollow of his neck and faked a sigh. “Well, top marks for effort, I suppose. I expect a better performance from you next time.”

 

“Ha.” Punctuating the laugh with a slap of her buttocks, Rain embodied pride incarnate as he said, “Don’t play coy. We both know you enjoyed it.”

 

Unable to resist needling him, she replied, “Never said I didn’t, but there’s always room for improvement.”

 

“Of course. For starters, I’ve learned we should lay towels out beforehand. Scootch over will you? It’s like I’m lying in a puddle over here.”

 

Her cheeks set ablaze, Yan was too embarrassed to respond. She’d only noticed it after the fact and had been so mortified she almost panicked and ran away, but Rain only laughed and held her close, explaining it wasn’t what she thought it was, only a natural bodily response and a sign he was doing things right. Shifting over so he needn’t lie in a pool of their bodily fluids, she buried her face deep into his neck, not only to hide her shame but also because her horns would force him to crane his neck at an awkward angle, her minor vengeance for his barbed jab.

 

She couldn’t even bring herself to lie and say, ‘What next time?’, lest he bring up more embarrassing examples of her hedonistic gratification, or worse, play along and force her to beg next time they…

 

“It’s not fair,” she growled, pressing her horns just a little harder against him, enjoying the warmth seeping through to her forehead. “You have an overwhelming advantage in both practice and experience, a seasoned veteran matched against a wide-eyed innocent.”

 

“Innocent? My, how you’ve changed Lady Du Min Yan. Whatever happened to the shameless, salacious, ribald little she-devil Adujan? When you left, I said a prayer for all the handsome young men of Central, for I believed we were introducing a fox to a hen house. Or should it be a duck house?”

 

Outwitted once again, Yan stopped arguing and fell silent, content to bask in the moment and settle the score when her mind was fully functional once more. It had been her intention to find a young handsome buck or three to romance and seduce, but between her lessons and dealing with Grandpa’s aggravating family members, there was little time left for social pleasures. Even if she had the time, Central wasn’t the same as back home, where no one cared about the horns on her head. She’d lost track of how many times she’d been mistaken for a slave or how many arrogant young idiots she’d been forced to beat up, though she took a small measure of satisfaction at the absurd prices they offered for a single night in her company.

 

At least Yan knew if her Martial skills failed her, she could always switch to lucrative career as a courtesan.

 

Feeling her eyes growing heavy, Yan cautioned herself to stay awake. As much as she wanted to fall asleep in Rain’s embrace and resume their lovemaking in the morning, she couldn’t stay the night for propriety’s sake, not to mention how she wasn’t ready to face Lin, Mila, or worst of all, Alsantset in the morning. To keep her mind active, she returned to cataloguing the changes in her lover, a difficult prospect with her face pressed against his skin, but his body wasn’t the only thing which had changed in her absence, but his personality too. Though too preoccupied with their reunion to make note of it earlier, the differences were stark and obvious now that she had time to think. He was more confident now, standing taller and retorting faster, a proud, self-assured warrior instead of the timid, unsure young boy she’d left behind, and she wanted him all the more for it.

 

Granted, she wasn’t pleased with all the changes. Rain was colder now, rougher and more callous in demeanour as evidenced by his exchange with Jin Tok earlier tonight. Everyone present, Yan included, thought Rain meant to slaughter the snivelling little idiot out of hand, playing his part perfectly as a cold and merciless individual to whom life meant little. Were it anyone else, Yan would not think twice about his newfangled ruthlessness, especially considering his sudden rise in power, but this was Rain they were talking about, a man who rescued wildcats and cripples for Mother’s sake. Thankfully, upon seeing the horde of bunnies sleeping in and around his yurt, Yan knew Rain was still the same sweet, affectionate person she’d fallen in love with, only he’d gotten better at hiding what some would call his deficiencies.

 

Never her though. Those frail insecurities were what she admired most about him, because despite all his fears and worries, he never surrendered and always pressed on. Without fear, there could be no courage, so if one were to measure courage by the extent of one’s fears, then Rain was easily the most courageous man in the world.

 

Deciding he’d been punished enough, Yan freed Rain from the threat of her horns to gaze upon his handsome face. Even at his most relaxed, he still grit his teeth and she imagined he would grind them in his sleep, but no one could be perfect. His beautiful amber eyes were open but unseeing, staring at the ceiling while lost in thought, his brow furrowed with concern as he considered the future. Another thing which hadn’t changed, his penchant for worrying, and the familiar sight brought back memories of simpler times, when she was merely an orphan and he a foundling, both struggling to find their place in this chaotic and punishing world. They’d come so far since those simple days, suffered through trials and tribulations to emerge as Lady Du Min Yan of the Hwarang and Imperial Consort Falling Rain, but their feelings for one another had survived the test of time and separation, and now they were together once again.

 

Imperial Consort or not, Rain belonged to her.

 

Nipping him on the cheek, Yan laughed as he jerked in surprise like a startled little lamb. Kissing him to make up for the love bite, she murmured, “What’s on your mind, lover?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

His reply came too quickly, but she couldn’t call him out on it since he turned to kiss her. Thoroughly enjoying his efforts to distract her, Yan waited until he broke the kiss and whispered, “Liar. Something’s obviously bothering you. I said it once and I’ll say it again. If you don’t want to talk about it, then say so, but if you keep being evasive, then I will never let it go.”

 

Still hesitant, Rain looked away and said, “I don’t want to ruin the moment.”

 

Turning his head back to face her, she kissed him and replied, “You couldn’t even if you tried.”

 

“Is that a challenge?” For a second, Rain’s eyes lit up in mischievous delight as he forgot about all his woes and worries, but he soon returned to his thoughtful brooding. “Sorry I’m so distracted. I want to tell you everything but I’m having trouble framing my thoughts into a coherent narrative. There’s still so much to cover, so many more secrets to explain, and I don’t know where to start or how to say it.”

 

Oh? He still had more secrets? And from his hesitation, it seemed like he considered them worse than almost being Defiled? What could it be? While considering the possibilities, Yan touched upon an old fantasy of hers, a guilty pleasure she only thought about when alone at night, one involving Rain, Fung, and Big Huu in a most provocative scenario. Could it be true? While she was gone, did their friendship cross over into forbidden territory? Perhaps that’s why no one could tell her why Big Huu was behaving so coldly and refused to show his face at the banquet. Was he angered and ashamed by the memory of their shared debauchery? How did it even happen? Knowing their personalities, Fung undoubtedly instigated things with Rain, who was curious and played along, but then their twosome soon became boring and dull for men of their appetites. She could imagine it now, where during one of their drunken revelries, Rain and Fung take advantage of Big Huu’s inebriated state and…

 

Well, well, well… Perhaps Yan would have her harem after all…

 

“You know, the Bekhai tried to exile me.” Indifferent and impassive, this earth-shattering news was delivered in unflinching deadpan and pulled Yan out of her sordid fantasies. With a careless shrug, Rain continued, “They didn’t because my family threatened to leave with me, but the problem is, I think the Bekhai were right. They should have exiled me regardless, or worse.”

 

The Bekhai. Not the People, but the Bekhai. The same word, pronounced the same way, but Yan could hear it in his tone. Rain no longer considered himself one of the People, and it pained him more than the loss of any limb ever could, because he blamed himself for the divide, believed he was too dangerous to be around and worried his actions would bring Imperial Justice crashing down on those he loved.

 

In a strange way, she was glad to see his casual arrogance hadn’t changed.

 

“Rain,” Yan said, keeping her voice quiet and steady. “If you ever proved yourself a danger to the People, I would kill you with my own hands and follow you soon after.” After letting her words sink in, she continued, “Notice how you’re still breathing? Trust in my judgment, my pretty, cynical, worrisome man.”

 

“You say this because you don’t know the whole story. No one does.” Staring at the stump of his right arm, he sighed and added, “And now the person who knew the most is dead and gone.”

 

Knowing Rain needed time to gather his thoughts, Yan silently watched him flex fingers which were no longer there, the muscles in his forearm shifting with almost hypnotic fluidity. Combined with the adorable rabbit snores and sleepy quin squeaks, she almost fell asleep despite the severity of the situation, and only his constant false starts and tired sighs kept her awake. After an eternity, Rain Sent, “Be warned, it’s a long story. Have you heard of the Penitent Brotherhood? Well…” In his customary rambling fashion, Rain told her all about the Monk and what happened earlier tonight, veering off in the middle to explain about the droplet of Heavenly Water he found in Sanshu, then even further back to talk about how he rejected his first Awakening, which occurred merely days after her own, because he didn’t like what it showed him. Her mind reeling from revelation after revelation, Yan soon had trouble fitting the pieces together, though not for lack of trying. “… the Monk died trying to bring my would-be murderer to justice, which coupled with my inability to save him makes me responsible for his death.

 

Hang on.” Closing her eyes, Yan sifted through memory wondering if she’d fallen asleep and missed something. No, Rain’s explanation was seamless and without interruption, but his leaps of logic were mind boggling and bizarre, to say the least. “You said you only met the Monk a week ago?”

 

Evidently too tired to keep Sending, Rain closed his eyes and nodded. “Yea, give or take.”

 

“And you trusted him enough to tell him all… this?” Monk or no, Rain telling a stranger he had almost turned Defiled was insane, even for him, not to mention being in possession of a drop of Heavenly Water named ‘Blobby’.

 

“It’s not the same. I felt I could talk to him because he was a stranger. I didn’t care about his opinion, so I wasn’t afraid of him judging me.” It made sense in a twisted way, but Rain wasn’t finished. “Besides, the Monk figured out most of it on his own, or at least he guessed it, and I figured if he wanted to hurt or kill me, there are much easier ways to go about it, especially considering he was a Divinity, whatever that means.”

 

“It means strong enough to turn you and everything around you into meat paste with a flick of his finger.” Which meant Rain had a point about trusting the Monk, except at the time, he had yet to learn the Monk was a Divinity. Her poor, sweet, trusting Rain, so stupid and naive. Imperial Consort or not, he would need more help than Yan could provide to survive the world of cut-throat politics he’d been thrust into. “Do you know how conceited you sound? Taking responsibility for the death of a Divinity? The Monk died because the Defiled killed him. A room full of Divinities couldn’t save the Monk either, so why blame yourself?”

 

“Because he was there to protect me, and because I could have saved him if -”

 

“If what? If you weren’t you? If you’d made a different choice years ago? If you’d known in advance what you know now? What if Taduk were a thousand times better at Healing? What if the Azure Ascendant had gone with the Monk instead of doing Heavens knows what around Nan Ping? What if the Monk hadn’t forced the Immortal’s hand? What use is there in playing this game?” Blowing out a sigh, Yan shook her head and continued, “What I don’t understand is how you could trust the Monk after only knowing him for a week, but couldn’t talk to Mila or Lin, Alsantset or Charok, any one in your family or circle of friends?”

 

Yan wasn’t angry at him, but herself for leaving and at everyone else for not seeing how much he was suffering. So full of pain and self-condemnation, the look in his eyes made her heart ache with misery as he answered, “Because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of looking into your eyes, or Mila’s, or Lin’s, and seeing horror and disgust. I’m afraid of giving my family more reasons to regret saving me, of proving them wrong for standing by me. I’m afraid of being abandoned by my family and friends, left alone to face this world without their love and support, the only reasons I’ve made it as far as I have…”

 

“It’ll never happen. We love you too much.”

 

“You say it and I want to believe it, but my fear has long since left the realm of rationality.” Smiling weakly as he hugged her close, he added, “I’m trying my best to work through it. This was progress, but believe it or not, there’s still a lot to cover. Take a break and pick up where we left off in the morning?”

 

Ignoring his vulgar leer which filled her with burning desire, Yan kissed him and said, “I want to, but I can’t stay the night. I haven’t told Grandpa about us and I want him to hear it from me.” Grabbing him by the chin, she forced him to look her in the eyes and said, “Don’t you dare think even for a second I’m leaving because you’ve scared me off. Du Min Yan is not so easily dissuaded. You are mine and I love you, faults and all. Understand?”

 

“…Understood. I love you too. And I’ll talk to Mom and Dad about marrying you soon as I can.”

 

How adorable, he was calling them Mom and Dad now. “You better. Now close your eyes.” Still not ready to leave his embrace, Yan rested her chin on his chest and added, “I’ll stay until you’re asleep.”

 

“Then I won’t sleep.” Contrary to his declaration, Rain’s eyes were barely still open, ready to nod off at a moment’s notice. “Don’t want you to go.”

 

“Nor do I want to leave, my sweet Rain.”

 

“Gotta say, I’m loving how possessive you are. Are you gonna start a fight with Mila? A sexy fight, with hair pulling and shirt ripping…” And with that, Rain fell asleep before Yan could inform him she knew better than to start a fight with Mila, but if he wanted to see her slap one of his wives around, then Yan would happily oblige if pitted against his new concubine, the oh-so-perfect Zheng Luo.

 

Hmph. Mila and Lin were one thing, but for this complete stranger to swoop in and try to steal Yan’s lover?

 

Unforgivable. The big-breasted hussy would have to learn her place, and Yan looked forward to teaching her.

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 387

 

There is something profoundly wrong with me.

 

I have a good life. Better than good. A great life, with so many people who love and care about me. In this room alone, I have the radiant Mila with her lustrous red hair, a perfect match for her fiery personality which had her ready to rend flesh and break bone as retribution for my injuries. With one arm wrapped around my waist, she uses the other to feed me spicy fish balls and salted fried squid, knowing I’ll need more calories in the coming days to regrow my missing hand and foot. Meeting my grin with a ferocious scowl, her button nose scrunches up in darling disapproval as my hand slides down her lower back and under her long shirt. Shoving a piece of squid into my mouth, she none-too-gently directs my gaze away with her chopsticks, wielded deftly in her left hand to reveal yet another of her hidden talents.

 

While doing nothing about my hand clamped to her firm yet supple butt cheek.

 

Turning my attention to the other side, Lin happily nibbles away while snuggled in my (fortunately handless) embrace, wholly unperturbed by my raw and exposed injuries. Never one to sit still, she bounces in place to an unheard beat, her head bobbing from one side to the next as she thoroughly enjoys the late night snack and company. Unable to resist her charming allure, I plant a kiss on her temple and smile as she leans into it, favouring me with a contented grin before reaching for more food, moving carefully so not as to disturb the snoring Mama Bun or reveal the adorable Pong Pong resting in her embrace.

 

While the powerful turtle and sleepy bun buns aren’t interested in our late night snack, the same can’t be said for the rest of my pets. Creeping closer in hopes of a treat, they lick their jowls and nudge our arms until Li Song reveals a bag of dried meat hidden in the folds of her blanket. Doling them out with a ghost of a smile, Li Song is rewarded with nuzzles and headbutts which she accepts with impassive serenity. The massive gulf between us still exists, but it’s shrunk considerably since we first met, seeing how she no longer insists on treating me like a dangerous predator and can relax in my presence, not to mention endlessly nag me about brushing my floofs. There’s still a long way to go before either of us are willing to even consider Lin’s notion of us as a happy couple, assuming she’s the mysterious candidate for my fifth wife. Either way, I’m glad to have her around since I’d get nothing done if it wasn’t for her helping out with my pets, and if things develop further, well… I’d count myself lucky to call this beautiful, stoic, half-cat my wife.

 

Though less lucky if our marriage is a loveless, sexless sham…

 

Speaking of sham marriages, Luo-Luo sits with perfect posture on the other side of the table, droning on about the political climate and whatnot. Wrapped in a soft summer cloak, it’s not enough to hide her voluptuous frame, so tantalizingly displayed by the sheer, seductive nightgown underneath. I know this is important and I should listen to what she says, but it’s hard to concentrate when the mere act of breathing makes her exposed body jiggle in so many enticing ways. Sometimes, I wish she had a horrible attitude or a grating voice, some negative trait I can focus on to keep her at arms length, but between her melodic articulation and eager willingness to please, only my illogical prejudice and dumb luck have kept me from succumbing to her considerable charms.

 

Not even the nauseating memory of what happened in my poop tent is enough to diminish my enthusiasm…

 

“Lord Husband? Is this permissible?”

 

Abandoning my efforts to peer through her nightgown, I look up and almost lose myself in her eyes, as deep and fathomless as the Azure Sea. Thankfully, in her moment of triumph, Luo-Luo’s mask slips and she allows herself a smug smirk of self-satisfaction which douses my ardour with cold clarity. For all her beauty and charms, I cannot forget she is a cunning and conniving social chameleon, one trained to use her brain, body, and beauty as weapons only marginally less dangerous than sword or spear. Who knows if she’s really a nervous, apprehensive young woman caught out of her element, or a devious trickster playing me like she (presumably) plays the zither. The Legate and his Seneschal were clear about their intentions, which means Luo-Luo’s true loyalties are still suspect.

 

I can almost see it. Her robes need to move a half – no, a quarter centimetre to the side all will be revealed…

 

“Yea…” Drawing out the single word, I shake my head and say, “The gift and apology are fine, but leave out the bit about proving my loyalty. I wouldn’t want to give him the wrong idea. I mean, it’s nice having the Legate in our corner, but I want nothing to do with his plans and schemes.” Speaking over Mila’s indignant surprise and Luo-Luo’s fretful agitation, I push on and explain, “Oversell and under deliver, it’s the oldest trick in the book. The Legate’s offer sounds nice, but what is he actually promising? Fame and reputation? Pass. Imperial secrets to make me stronger? I doubt they’ll come without a steep cost, one I’m unwilling to pay. So what’s left? I get to be his morale-raising figurehead, a beacon of hope for the hopeless masses. So bothersome. I’ll do it if that’s what’s best for the Empire, but I’d really rather not.” Stifling a yawn, I conclude, “I’ll happily cooperate and work alongside him, but if he expects blind, unquestioning loyalty, then he’s setting himself up for disappointment.”

 

Cutting through Luo-Luo’s shocked silence and Mila’s miffed mutterings, Lin’s chiming tittering is a balm for the soul. “Rainy’s the best,” she declares, popping up to kiss my cheek. “He doesn’t need any stinky Imperial secrets to become strong, he’ll get there himself, ya?”

 

I’m not gonna lie, I was thinking the same thing, but I’m too modest to say it outright. I mean, even knowing a reliable path to martial greatness exists is enough to ignite my inquisitive spirit. What’s their secret? Is it drugs? Secret Forms? Time dilation chambers? Memory transmission? Who knows, but I’m raring to find out. I already know I’ll need a massive Natal Palace, so I’ll take it one step at a time and see where it goes from there.

 

“So what is Lord Husband’s plan of action?”

 

Sputtering my lips, I respond to Luo-Luo’s question with a helpless shrug. “Dunno. Send him the letter and a gift I guess. Maybe delay our inevitable falling out for as long as possible and pray the war ends before it happens. You think he likes roosters? There’s one carved from jade in the wagon somewhere, or are jade roosters grounds for a grudge-ing?”

 

Unamused by my flippant attitude, Luo-Luo quietly says, “This one urges Lord Husband to rethink his decision, for men like Shen ZhenWu do not respond well to disappointment. There are many benefits to be gleaned in his service, but should he deem Lord Husband a threat, then we can only wait for death.”

 

God dammit. Since they were called away to an important, military meeting, I never got a chance to talk to Akanai or Baatar about the Legate. Taduk passed along the broad strokes through Sending, but they only responded with a simple, “Do as you see fit,” which I find grossly irresponsible of them. Then again, if they were in my place, I’m almost positive they’d reach the same decision I have. They’ll work with the Legate, but not for him.

 

“Look at it this way.” Doing my best to ease her worries and maybe convince her of my motivations in case she’s passing info back to the Legate, I shrug one more time and say, “If he’s the sort of person to get all worked up over something as minor as this, especially in our current dire circumstances, then he’s not a man I’d want to serve. My decision stands. With luck, he’ll put the good of the Empire over this petty grievance and we can all work together and come out of this as winners. Otherwise…”

 

I really hope it doesn’t get to otherwise, because I don’t know what comes next. Murder the Legate, I suppose, though that seems counterproductive.

 

With a mournful sigh, Luo-Luo agrees with my choice of gift and asks about the language I’d like to use in my apology, but I wave her questions away and tell her to write whatever she thinks is best. Though ready to keel over in exhaustion, I don’t want to send anyone away, especially since who knows when the next opportunity to caress Mila’s butt will come around. Sadly, my beloved can read me like a book and elbows my hand away before declaring I need to rest, and my tired mind is unable to come up with a coherent excuse to convince any of them to stay, especially after I notice Luo-Luo bidding me goodnight with a seated bow, which offers an unobstructed view of her bosom as her physics-defying robes finally fall out of the way.

 

As I burn the image into memory, I thank the Heaven’s I lopped off my right hand instead of trusty old lefty…

 

So utterly entranced by the visual feast, I fail to notice Lin and Li Song stealing away my bears and wildcats, leaving me with only the quins and bun buns to snuggle with. Disappointing, but it’s only fair. I can’t expect to have five wives and monopolize all the floofs, but I’m still sad about sleeping alone without Aurie sprawled across my legs or Banjo spooning me from behind. My good mood vanishes in an instant and I sit there in the flickering torchlight wondering why I’m never happy.

 

It brings me back to my earlier thought, of how there’s something wrong with me, with the way my brain is wired. Even though Yan clearly has no romantic feelings for me and the jury’s still out on Li Song and Luo-Luo, I’m doubly blessed to be loved and in love with both Lin and Mila, not to mention having a wonderful family who were ready to uproot their lives and join me in exile. Now, I’ve validated their decision to stand by me. I’m an Imperial Scion, the Number One Talent in the Empire, the youngest Second Grade Warrant Officer in history, and poised to become the most politically influential member of my generation, but even with so many reasons to be happy, all I can focus on are the negative aspects of life. It’s like I’m actively trying to be sad, because I can’t be satisfied unless I’m miserable.

 

Why can’t I just be happy?

 

The answer eludes me for long minutes as I sit in utter silence, my mind blank and eyes unseeing. So engrossed in my non-thinking, I almost jump out of my skin when a Sending arrives and shocks me out of contemplation. Heart pounding in my chest, I struggle upright with the help of Mahakala’s Spade and hobble over to the door and dismiss my Death Corps guards. Hopping back to the table, I settle down and pray I stop trembling before my guest arrives.

 

My prayer goes unanswered as the door cracks open and my guest slips in, so quietly I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t staring directly at it. Flashing a wry grin as she takes a seat beside me, Yan brushes her bangs aside and says, “Good to see you? You’ve had weeks to prepare and that’s the best line you could come up with?”

 

“Yea. Sorry.” God she’s beautiful. Stop staring. “Wine?” Blushing like a schoolgirl, I reach for the pot to pour myself a cup, having forgotten about my missing right hand. Despite having been lopped off, moving my non-existent fingers sends a jolt of pain shooting up my arm. Working on pure reflex, I grit my teeth and clench my toes to soldier through the discomfort, which sends a fresh wave of agony lancing up my leg, courtesy of my missing foot. In my rush to retract my foot, I bump the stump against the table and am treated to yet another wave of agony, and the world goes dark and spotty. Breathless from my repeated bouts with unexpected and self-inflicted torment, I fight to stay upright since I’d rather not curl up into a ball and cry in front of Yan.

 

Chopping limbs off sucks balls.

 

Growing limbs back is worse.

 

When my vision clears, I find Yan’s concerned gaze centimetres away from my face, my head resting on her shoulder and her arms wrapped over mine. Dramatically sagging into her embrace, I affect a feminine sigh and fan my face while speaking in falsetto. “Why thank you kindly young hero, I don’t know what came over me.” With a coy smile, I add, “How can I ever repay you?”

 

Rolling her eyes, Yan gently helps me sit up and pours two cups of wine, shaking her head the entire time. After downing her cup without offering a toast, she refills it and says, “Mother’s sagging tits, it’s been what, two hours since I last saw you? Take my eyes off you for one second and you slip off to lose a hand.”

 

“A foot too. Found my waistline was getting out of control and figured this was the easiest way to lose weight.” Tossing back my drink to dull the pain and misery, I ask, “So… You can Send now, that’s incredible. How have you been?”

 

Though obviously curious about my missing body parts, Yan graciously drops the topic and smiles. “Good. A little lonely, but good. Grandpa treats me well and I love him dearly, but I miss the village and feeling like I belong to something. Here in Central, I’ve learned to trust no one and suspect everyone, a tiring way to live.” Without skipping a beat, Yan refills my cup one last time before hoisting the pot for a toast. “Enough about the past. I think our little reunion deserves a toast, don’t you?”

 

“Of course.” My tired, drunk brain has finally figured out why Yan is here, why she came to visit at this late hour and seems every bit as nervous as I am. I still can’t figure out why she gave me the cold shoulder earlier tonight, but honestly, I don’t care. She’s here, she still cares about me, and that’s all that matters. Lifting my cup, I tap it against the pot and say, “Bottoms up.”

 

It doesn’t take long for me to empty the tiny cup, leaving me plenty of time to watch Yan finish what remains in the pot. It’s not an insignificant amount since I was the only one drinking and had less than half, so by the time she’s finished, her cheeks are flushed and skin glowing. Placing the pot aside, she looks me up and down with a smirk while gently nudging me with her shoulder, skirting a little closer as she does. “I’m glad to see you took my advice. You’re taller now, and with more meat on your bones too.” Pointedly glancing at my missing hand, she adds, “Though I see you skipped the part about having more bones for meat to go on.”

 

“Not entirely by choice.” As happy as I am to see Yan being her usual, smarmy self, my spirits remain low as I brood over how I failed to save Mahakala. Even after I chopped my hand off, I can still feel his hand gripping mine, holding tightly for dear life as he confesses his deepest regrets. I should have saved him, would have if I weren’t such a massive screw up. Not rejecting my first Awakening, not losing Blobby a second time, not thinking to immediately bring Pong Pong to save him, there were so many things I could have done differently…

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

Forcing myself to smile, I look Yan in the eyes for a brief second before glance away. “It’s nothing.” Don’t ruin this idiot.

 

“I don’t believe you.” Throwing her arm over my shoulders, Yan hugs me close, and without thinking, I slip my arm around her waist. “If you don’t want to talk about it, then say so. Don’t lie or sidestep around it with stupid jokes.”

 

“Hey! My jokes are not stupid. They’re hilarious.”

 

“You see me laughing?”

 

“It’s not my fault you have no sense of humour.”

 

“Rain…” The frustration in her voice is clear, and even though I know I could end this conversation with a simple ‘I don’t want to talk about it’, the truth is, I do want to talk about it, but I don’t know where to start. There’s so much I need to confess to, so much I want to tell her… Oh hell, she doesn’t know I was almost Defiled. How will she react? What if she goes running off into the night, screaming my secret for the world to hear? What if she recoils in terror, or worse tries to kill me? Do I let her? It would certainly solve all of my problems, and the Legate’s too. Yan would make a perfect replacement, since not only is she more talented and hardworking, she’s also –

 

Interrupting my spiralling panic with a tired sigh, Yan hugs me tight and says, “Remember what you said before we parted ways?”

 

“Yea. I said you should live your life and enjoy yourself, meet -”

 

“After that.”

 

“Fall in love, start a family -”

 

“After.”

 

“Uh… I don’t think there was anything else.”

 

Smacking me on the side of the head with her horns, Yan fills in the blanks for me. “You told me that when we see each other again, we’d pick up our friendship where it was back then, and tell each other all about our experiences. I’m sorry Rain, I forgot to ask. How have you been?”

 

Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I open my mouth to lie, but the truth slips out instead. “Not well.”

 

And just like that, the dam breaks.

 

Still cognizant enough to switch to Sending, I free myself from Yan’s embrace and turn to face her. “For the longest time, I was on the brink of turning Defiled.” It takes every iota of courage I have to keep from closing my eyes or turning away, so terrified of seeing anger, disgust, or hatred flash across Yan’s face, but it’s too late for regrets now. I’ve made my choice, and now I must live with it, for better or for worse.

 

Pursing her lips, Yan’s eyes widen ever so slightly in surprise before returning to normal. “Yea, I thought you might, but you’re fine now.”

 

Not a question, but a statement, a minor difference which means the world to me.

 

I came close.”

 

But you’re fine now.”

 

Only due to luck. How’d you put it? Like meat pies falling from the skies.

 

Even without luck, you would’ve been fineYou’re too stubborn to turn Defiled.” Tilting her head, Yan asks, “What else you got?

 

Completely blown away by her nonchalance, I blurt out, “I love you.”

 

Not my proudest moment.

 

“I love you too.” Hopping to her feet, Yan holds her hands out to help me up. “Now get up. I didn’t sneak out to sit around and chat. I was too indecisive before we left, but I won’t make the same mistake twice. Injured or no, you’re mine for tonight, so lose the clothes and get under the covers.”

 

Taken aback by her forward declaration, I shy away ever so slightly. “Erm… As much as I’d love to oblige, could we take a time-out for a second? I haven’t exactly discussed this with Mila and Lin, and it wouldn’t be right to do this without knowing how they feel.” Lin isn’t a problem, but Mila is a jealous and prone to extreme violence.

 

“Lucky you.” Pulling a letter out of her pocket, Yan drops it into my lap to read. Unfolding the parchment reveals a letter from Mila, in which she informs Yan of her desire to be sister-wives. There’s plenty to go through, but the gist of it is, Mila and Lin know Yan and I are in love, and they’re both okay with it. As a footnote, Mila adds that she hasn’t told me about this letter and is waiting for me to bring the matter up with her. Should I fail to do so and make a move on Yan, or should Yan make a move on me and I succumb without mentioning my other betrotheds, Mila asks to be informed of my wicked ways so she can ‘break me’.

 

Oh thank the Heavens.

 

“Wow, I really dodged… a…” My words trail off as I look up to find Yan lying on her side in bed, wearing nothing but a sultry smile and a hungry gaze.

 

Like I said, life is good.

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 386

 

There was a storm brewing over the horizon, a coming calamity from which Luo-Luo feared she could not escape from. The signs were all there, a glance here or a smile there, minor things when taken separately, but when put together, they painted a most ominous portent. Luo-Luo did her best to maintain composure, but the more she looked and remembered, the more ouclues she uncovered, and she soon worked herself into a nervous tizzy imagining all the worst case scenarios her mind could come up with.

 

As much as she wished it were otherwise, she knew her fears were well-founded because they made too much sense. Earlier, she’d ironically been pleased by Lord Husband’s attention to his manner of dress, arriving at her hut without prompting to request she help choose his outfit. She’d taken it as a sign of improvement, but sadly, Lord Husband had an ulterior motive, one which revealed itself to Luo-Luo after he disappeared mid-banquet.

 

An impressive feat considering he slipped away with the Guardian Turtle in tow.

 

Given how concerned he was with ‘looking nice’ and his lusty nature, Luo-Luo had a good idea why Lord Husband made an escape, but no idea which harlot he snuck away with. Her first guesses were Du Min Yan or Ryo Da’in, because of the former’s supposed history with Lord Husband and the latter’s shameless and brazen display of interest, all but stripping Lord Husband bare and ravaging him with her eyes. At least Du Min Yan showed a modicum of propriety, but in Luo-Luo’s eyes, this was merely a ploy, feigning disinterest to entice Lord Husband to join the hunt. Judging by Lord Husband’s obvious disappointment at her cold reception and his ravenous stare, the horned hussy’s ploy worked fabulously and Luo-Luo feared for her already tenuous place at Lord Husband’s side.

 

A most formidable foe, this Du Min Yan. Strong, beautiful, and confident, ‘Yan-Yan’ already had Mila and Lin-Lin’s blessings, though Luo-Luo took a small measure of satisfaction at seeing her rebuffed by Li-Li. From what she could piece together from overheard snippets of conversation, Yan grew close with Lord Husband while under pursuit from their enemies and fought side by side in battle, long before they experienced their meteoric rise to fame. Had she not been selected as Du Min Gyu’s Terminal Disciple and adopted Grand Daughter, then Yan would have most likely already been betrothed to Lord Husband, a stunning revelation which left Luo-Luo seething with jealousy.

 

Were she wedded to almost anyone else, Luo-Luo would hardly bat an eye at how many wives or lovers her Lord Husband took, but Falling Rain had strange views on love and marriage, namely being that marriage required love. While love had its place, Luo-Luo was taught that marriage was largely a political tool, and should love blossom from such a union, then she would be doubly blessed by the Mother. Now, not only did she yearn for her Lord Husband’s love, she worried he would have none left to spare after doting upon Lin-Lin and Mila. What would it be like if a third, fourth, or fifth wife was added to the mix? Luo-Luo hated being the outsider looking in and now it seemed she was fated to be pushed away ever further to make room for the accomplished and talented Du Min Yan, or whatever temptress succeeded at stealing him away during the celebration.

 

And to think, Luo-Luo foolishly believed she was making good progress with Lord Husband…

 

So engrossed in keeping up a brave front, Luo-Luo almost missed the startling change in the banquet’s atmosphere. By the time she noticed, many of the most prominent guests were already on their way out, while onlookers gabbed and gossiped about this stunning breach in etiquette. At first, the whispers attributed the departures to Du Min Gyu’s disappearance, having abandoned the festivities to sort out his family matters, but this rang false to Luo-Luo, especially given the aged hero’s recent contribution and glowing endorsement from the probable heir to the throne. Leaving a party would hardly be enough to upset any politician in their right mind, and considering most were leaving together, this meant the exodus was either a coordinated show of disdain for a living legend, or some matter of the utmost importance had drawn all these powerful men away.

 

Calmly making her way to Mother Sarnai’s wheeled chair, Luo-Luo quietly shared her observations, but Mother merely smiled and patted Luo-Luo’s cheeks. “No need for you to worry girl,” she said, brimming with confidence as her eyes narrowed in joyous anticipation of the unknown. “Even should the sky fall, there are taller and broader shoulders around to bear it.” Despite Mother’s assurances, Luo-Luo noted Father Baatar and Mother-in-law Akanai looked none too pleased as they too made ready to leave.

 

Retaking her place at Mila’s side, Luo-Luo arrived just as they were bidding their hosts farewell. “… and come visit soon, ya?” Still nestled in Yan’s (insignificant) bosom, sweet Lin-Lin seemed unwilling to part, so enamoured by the pale, short-haired beauty, though why, Luo-Luo couldn’t say.

 

“I will, I promise,” Yan replied, squeezing Lin-Lin tight with a knowing smile, and Luo-Luo suspected it’d be sooner rather than later.

 

Mila also shared a hug with Yan, but when Li-Li’s turn came around, the half-cat girl rebuffed her with a preemptive martial salute, which was perfect since Luo-Luo was having difficulties feigning a smile. With all the grace and charm she could muster, Luo-Luo curtsied before Yan-Yan as proper decorum demanded, but it went unnoticed as Yan-Yan frowned at Li-Li’s back, utterly befuddled by the half-cat’s cold attitude. Using this to her advantage, Luo-Luo offered her thanks and slipped away before Yan could recover, less of a slight than Li-Li’s outright disdain, but Luo-Luo had to tread carefully. If the talented Du Min Yan took offence, there was little Luo-Luo could do but cower and plead for mercy.

 

Gnawing on her lip the whole ride home, Luo-Luo decided she could no longer afford to be subtle. While she’d all but thrown herself at Lord Husband already, if she wanted to win his affection, she would have to be even more shameless than her competition. Seeing how Zabu and Shana travelled with Yan for more than a year, Luo-Luo could easily see her or Ryo Da’in forcing their way into his bed, possibly even conspiring to do so together. Well, they weren’t the only ones who could tempt Lord Husband with quantity, Luo-Luo’s handmaidens would undoubtedly leap at the chance to serve Lord Husband in a more intimate fashion…

 

Cheeks burning from her forward imagination, Luo-Luo put her plan into motion the moment they dismounted outside their yurts. Feigning a modest yawn, she turned to Lin-Lin and said, “Today’s excitement has driven Luo-Luo to exhaustion. This one begs leave to retire early.”

 

“Silly Luo-Luo, you don’t hafta ask permission, ya? Goodnight, see you in the morning.” With a cheerful farewell, Lin-Lin gathered all the animals and marched off with Mila and Li-Li in tow.

 

Right into Lord Husband’s hut.

 

“Ah, where are you going?”

 

Luo-Luo blurted out the question before she could think better of it, but Lin-Lin replied with a cheery smile. “We’re gonna wait up for hubby cause Mi-Mi wants to know where he ran off to. I told her not to worry about it, but you know how Mi-Mi gets.”

 

Thickening the skin of her face, Luo-Luo pretended as if the idea never occurred to her and said, “Oh, then allow this one to join you in waiting.” Struck by a sudden flash of inspiration, she added, “Perhaps we should all change into something more comfortable first?”

 

If Luo-Luo had to debase herself and find partners to entice Lord Husband with, it would be much better to join hands with her senior sister-wives instead of introducing even more women into the fray.

 

Thankfully, Lin-Lin, Mila, and Li-Li were all too kind to bring up Luo-Luo’s sudden change of plans, though the first two tried to talk her out of joining them, but Luo-Luo would not be dissuaded. After throwing on a sheer, seductive night-robe which left little to the imagination, Luo-Luo wrapped herself in a cloak and made her way over to Lord Husband’s hut, keeping her eyes down so she wouldn’t have to face any leering stares from nearby soldiers. It wasn’t her imagination, for she heard the two guards snicker as she closed the door behind her, and her cheeks burned with shame. “There is nothing to be ashamed of,” she silently told herself. “You are Lord Husband’s concubine and this is perfectly natural behaviour.”

 

Perhaps that last bit was a stretch, but she’d learned early on how to adapt to new circumstances.

 

As last to arrive, all eyes were on Luo-Luo as she turned around, studying her choice of outfit while she studied theirs. Wearing a loose, long sleeved tunic with her white scarf wrapped around her, Lin-Lin looked darling as she snuggled with the sleeping Mama Bun, so charming and defenceless despite the complete lack of eroticism in her choice of outfit. Beside her, Mila sat in an over-sized shirt with bare legs folded to one side and a single freckled shoulder also on full display, so similar to what she usually wore but somehow more enticing than usual. Li-Li had also changed out of her party clothes and sat wrapped in a blanket with two wildcats, the third off in the corner sleeping with the bears, quins, and rabbits. While there was nothing overtly enticing about Li-Li’s outfit, her actions were a distinct change from her usual aloof demeanour, showing a touch of vulnerability which even Luo-Luo found hard to resist.

 

Not for the first time, Luo-Luo marvelled at Lord Husband’s eclectic and varied tastes.

 

With so many women and animals crammed inside, Lord Husband’s large hut seemed a little cramped for what she had planned, but Luo-Luo could make do so long as the animals kept their distance once things were put into motion. She’d been taught to expect and accommodate a multitude of perverse desires, but hopefully, Lord Husband loved his pets and didn’t love his pets…

 

For some odd reason, everyone was behaving more subdued than normal, especially sweet and adorable Lin-Lin, who kept sending wary glances Luo-Luo’s way while shifting Mama Bun around in her arms. As Luo-Luo moved to sit beside her, Lin-Lin’s eyes widened in alarm and she shrank away. “Ah, no Luo-Luo. Go away!” Hurt and confused, Luo-Luo shrunk back and gawked as Lin-Lin corrected herself. “I mean… um… there’s no room here, so go sit with Li-Li yea?”

 

Even as she spoke, Lin-Lin shifted over into the space Luo-Luo had been about to take, and Mila and Li-Li soon followed suit. Unsure why she was being bullied so, Luo-Luo accepted her place without question and sat in hurt silence for the next few minutes, wondering what she could do to mend this divide. Were her clothes too scandalous, even for a concubine visiting her husband? Or was she intruding on some unspoken alone time for Lord Husband and his proper wives? Or had Lin-Lin realized her marriage bed was getting too crowded, and thought to get rid of Luo-Luo to make more room for ‘Yan-Yan’?

 

Before Luo-Luo could decide whether it’d be better to stay or retreat, she heard Lord Husband’s voice from outside the door. “Jochi, Argat,” Lord Husband began, greeting his guards like close friends. “Glad to see you both still here. Sorry for the bother. Anything happen while I was gone?”

 

“Nope.” Luo-Luo didn’t know which guard answered, but she could hear the hidden mirth in his voice. “Nothing happened, nothing at all.”

 

“Don’t you worry about us, boss,” the other guard said, seemingly on the verge of laughter. “You head on in and get off your… foot.” The first guard snickered while the other continued, “You need a hand?”

 

“Hilarious.” Lord Husband’s tone said otherwise, but it all seemed in good fun. It baffled her why he let his subordinates speak with such familiarity, but it wasn’t her place to criticize. Nor did she understand what all the mirth was about, at least not until the door swung open to reveal her tired, blood covered Lord Husband standing in the torchlight, his right hand lopped off at the wrist and his right leg amputated just below the knee.

 

Drowning out Luo-Luo and Lin-Lin’s horrified gasps, Mila’s feral snarl spoke volumes as she leapt to her feet. “Who did this?” the red-haired heroine demanded. “Who hurt you? I’ll kill him!”

 

“Really?” Supporting himself with a polearm, Lord Husband flashed a wry smile while pretending to cower. “In that case, I beg for mercy, beloved. Spare my dog life, I beg you.”

 

“You mean you did this to yourself?” Rushing over to help steady him, concern and disbelief warred across Mila’s lovely face. “Why?”

 

“Long story, but no need to worry. I’ll tell you all about it, but you mind if I sit first?” Shaking his head, Lord Husband muttered, “Can’t trust those idiots with anything. They only had one job: Let no one in my yurt, but they couldn’t even do that.”

 

“Sorry hubby.” Uncharacteristically subdued, Lin-Lin remained seated the entire time, still cuddling Mama Bun in her arms. “I forgot about… yanno… but it’s okay because…” Almost as terrible a liar as Lord Husband, Lin-Lin’s actions gave away she had something she couldn’t talk about, but Luo-Luo magnanimously pretended not to notice. Perhaps it had something to do with whatever Mama Bun had hidden in her paws, but Luo-Luo was too relieved to care. At least now she knew her sister-wives weren’t scheming to get rid of her, though she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t hurt by their lack of trust.

 

As Lord Husband found a seat beside Lin-Lin with Mila’s help, Luo-Luo’s handmaidens brought in food and wine before making themselves scarce, as per Luo-Luo’s instructions. While pouring wine into five cups, she avoided looking anyone in the eyes so as not to give away her plan, hoping to lower everyone’s inhibitions before making her indecent proposal. Undeterred by Lord Husband’s missing hand and foot, Luo-Luo intended to strike while the iron was hot, or before she lost her nerve, and there could be no better time than now, whilst Lord Husband was tired and vulnerable.

 

Draining not only his cup, but also everyone else’s, Lord Husband politely gestured for more, but Luo-Luo hesitated to obey. Experience showed he couldn’t hold his liquor, and five cups was already four too many since she wanted him drunk, not comatose. Still, something in his eyes told her not to argue, his pain and sorrow visible for all to see, so she poured him yet another cup as he told his tale. Thankful he merely played with his cup instead of emptying it into his gullet, but Luo-Luo’s relief was short-lived as she listened in fearful apprehension, cursing Lord Husband for focusing on all the wrong details as he glossed over the broken Treaty and an entire room filled with Ancestral Beasts and Imperial Dharma Protectors.

 

She didn’t know the portly monk who’d attended her wedding banquet was a Dharma Protector, but she’d heard tales of their legendary prowess. The finest warriors in all the Empire, a Dharma Protector was a title reserved for those a half-step away from harnessing the pure Energy of the Heavens. Even longer lived than normal Martial Warriors, they were on par with Ancestral Beasts and reportedly powerful enough to be mistaken for living gods. Even the Emperor only had a single Imperial Dharma Protector guarding him, so for a vagrant Dharma Protector to take an interest in Lord Husband showed just how important he really was.

 

Only now, his Dharma Protector was dead…

 

“… and I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.” With his head resting against Mila’s, Lord Husband nuzzled Lin-Lin’s ears and sighed. “Either I keep my word and anger the Legate, or I ignore a dying man’s last wishes and become the Legate’s designated ass-kisser.”

 

“Don’t worry about the Legate hubby,” Lin-Lin exclaimed, her lips set in a darling little pout. “You do whatever you think is best. If he turns against you, then… Hmph.”

 

Mila did not agree. “Is the message really so important? You said yourself, it was more a personal confession rather than anything of grave importance. Can it not wait until later? It’s often said Imperial Scions are stronger than most Martial Warriors, but it’s always been attributed to their superior bloodlines or the Mother’s favour. If there really are Imperial secrets, then this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Can you really afford to pass it up just to deliver a message?”

 

“Hubby doesn’t need their stinky help, he’s…”

 

As Lin-Lin and Mila argued back and forth, Lord Husband sat in silence, but Luo-Luo didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After going over his words a second time, she waited for a lull in the conversation before tentatively asking, “Er… Lord Husband, perhaps Luo-Luo is slow and foolish, but this one doesn’t understand why the decision must be one or the other.”

 

“What do you mean?” There was no anger in Lord Husband’s voice, only confusion. “I can’t stay here and deliver the Monk’s message, they’re two mutually exclusive decisions.”

 

“…Could Lord Husband not send a message?”

 

“No, like I said, the Monk specifically told me the message must go from my lips to the Abbot’s ears.”

 

“Yes,” Luo-Luo replied, wondering if she was making a fool of herself. It was so obvious a solution, but no one else had mentioned it, so there must be something she couldn’t grasp. Nonetheless, Luo-Luo pushed on and asked, “But if Lord Husband sent a message explaining his current predicament and asked the Abbot to come to us, would this not solve the issue? As a Junior Officer, being unable to travel freely in a time of war is a reasonable excuse for the imposition, is it not?

 

Lord Husband’s open-mouthed shock made Luo-Luo think he was about to scold her for being an empty-headed concubine who should know better than to open her mouth, but instead, he groaned and tried to palm his face, forgetting his right hand was missing as he smacked his chin into the tender wound. Wincing in pain, Lord Husband took a deep breath, then another, then a third before declaring, “Wow. I’m an idiot.” The tension melting from his shoulders, Lord Husband favoured Luo-Luo with his charming smile and said, “Thank you. Got any other really obvious solutions I’ve overlooked? Any advice at all, really.”

 

“This one is always happy to be of service.” Taking a second to calm her beating heart and gather her thoughts, Luo-Luo resisted the urge to clap in delight before explaining, “Even should Lord Husband remain in Nan Ping, some damage has been done to your relationship with Shen ZhenWu. For a man as powerful as he, it’s beneath him to even need to persuade Lord Husband. In his eyes, Lord Husband should be honoured to be his servant, so…”

 

While this wasn’t exactly the night she had planned, Luo-Luo found things had worked out even better than expected. Though she might not have his love and affection, at least she’d won his respect while keeping the tattered remains of her dignity intact.

 

Now if only she could get him drunk enough to forget about the toilet incident…

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 385

 

A withered, blackened husk is all that remains of the once bulky and enigmatic Monk, his body ravaged by the Demonic Gunk and his soul’s ultimate fate left unknown. A horrific and terrifying end, yet all I can think of is the Monk’s teary smile because I called him a coward and wishing I could take it back. He died because he was trying to protect me from the Confessor, and even though I resent him for giving up, I know how difficult it is to keep going in the face of abject failure. Hell, it’s not like that’s the only reason he had for giving up, he saw the writing on the wall and accepted his fate with grace and aplomb while still resisting until the bitter end despite how futile it must have seemed. I didn’t know him well, but he struck me as a flawed man doing his best to better himself and the world around him. It makes me wish I knew more about him, had trusted him sooner and listened to his advice or learned more about him. We only had one, real conversation together, but in that one exchange, he forced me to face a hard truth about myself and I’ll always be grateful for his help.

 

Thank you and goodbye Mahakala. Hopefully, your struggles are at an end and you’re resting peacefully in the arms of the Mother while awaiting your next turn at the wheel of life instead of being devoured by the feral Spectres and consigned to oblivion, or worse, joining their ranks like some zombified, ravenous ghost.

 

 

Well, that’s a depressing thought.

 

With Taduk’s help, I grab the Monk’s inert Spiritual Spade and hop out the room, regretting my choice to sacrifice my right hand and foot. Not the sacrifice itself, since I’d do it again if given the choice, only I’d be smart about it and cut off my right hand and left foot instead of taking both from the same side. At least then I’d be able to hobble around with a crutch, but alas, I am not a clever man. Doing my best to ignore all the confused stares, I leave it to Taduk to explain my disabled state, which he does with a simple statement. “The Dharmapala has passed away, and the substance is much hazardous than I first suspected. Although it corrodes all manner of materials, it would appear it feeds primarily upon human flesh, or perhaps even Chi. Easy there, Rain my boy, there you go.” Plopping me down on a bench beside the wall, Taduk gestures to GangShu and continues. “After we left the room, the substance’s speed of replication increased exponentially and infected the boy here. I’m uncertain if the timing is coincidental or if it was waiting for us to depart, but either way, this is a most troubling discovery.”

 

“How, pray tell, did it spread to his foot? Why did he take off his shoes in the first place?” One Beardie seems utterly confused, but thankfully, everyone else ignores his question.

 

Stroking his beard alongside the rest of his look-a-likes, a second Beardie asks, “Is there no way to combat this vile substance?”

 

Having been warned by Taduk to keep Blobby and Pong Pong’s existence secret, I keep my mouth shut as GangShu answers in my stead. “Short of a possessing an Elemental Spirit? Don’t get hit, I suppose.”

 

Well, at least now I know what to call Blobby’s siblings, assuming I ever stumble across one. I’d settle for Blobby back though. Stupid teardrop, running off at such an important time. I could have saved the Monk if Blobby was around, or if I hadn’t rejected my first Awakening and had more time to practice, or…

 

Breathe, Rain. Breathe. No point playing this game. Things happened. You can’t change it, so deal with it.

 

Grimacing at GangShu’s levity, a second Beardie chimes in. “This is a national crisis, and you of all people should appreciate the gravity of the situation. If the Medical Saint’s hypothesis is correct then the Defiled are now in possession of a weapon which can kill a Divinity.”

 

Is he calling the Monk a Divinity or is he speaking hypothetically? C’mon Beardie, be more clear about it.

 

“An understatement, if anything.” Withdrawing the copper vessel from his sleeve, the Legate gingerly places it on the table and the others instinctively recoil from its presence. “If the boy’s scouts saw true, then this is a weapon which can be mass produced and wielded by commoners. Imagine an army of Defiled lobbing these canisters towards you, or Wraiths hidden in the shadows while waiting for you to lower your guard. Small wonder Zhu Chanzui and the Defiled care nothing for the treaty. This insidious weapon affords them every advantage in a battle of Divinities, and until proper countermeasures are in place, who would dare ride out to meet them?”

 

The room falls silent as everyone considers the implications, myself included. It’s funny, I’ve been trying to find a way to even the odds and right the balance of power, but it looks like the Defiled beat me to it. I want to tell them about the Feral Spectres and what the Monk said about this gunk being Anathema and whatnot, but it would mean explaining how I ended up in the Monk’s Natal palace and he was pretty clear in warning me I should keep it a secret.

 

Wait… When he said ‘this ability’, was he talking about my Natal Palace diving thing, or the Devouring thing? Or maybe it’s the whole Water-Chi cleansing thing, or the Blobby thing… Dammit, I have too many secrets, be more specific with your final warnings! Well… whatever, one secret, four secrets, what’s the difference?

 

The silence is broken as a teacup shatters in the fox-lady’s grip, and she growls in frustration. “If I had known things would turn out like this,” she says, dabbing away at her soaked, ragged robes with a towel speedily provided by the Seneschal, “Then I’d have crushed that haggard mole-bitch like a bug.”

 

Shaking his head, the half-bull says, “Better had we heeded our absent friend’s advice and taken her hostage. There are still many questions to be answered.”

 

Yea, like who’s this mole-bitch and who are all of you? Also, where do I find the Abbot? That seems important, but more of a me thing as opposed to a group discussion.

 

Clenching his fist, the half-rhino speaks through gritted teeth. “It matters not. The Enemy has broken the Treaty, and in doing so, they have sealed their fate. We stand on the side of righteousness and those who were once neutral will flock to our side, and together, we will destroy the Defiled once and for all. This substance will not be enough to save them from the iron fist of justice.”

 

It’s adorably naive he actually believes that… If anything, I feel like revealing how dangerous the Demonic Goop is will encourage neutral Ancestral Beasts to go deeper into hiding, if not outright join the Defiled in the interest of self-preservation.

 

The half-bull agrees with my unspoken thoughts. “Assuming said neutral parties uphold the end of the Treaty.” Sipping his tea with a dainty slurp, the half-bull looks at no one in particular as he asks, “Well? It was not a rhetoric question. Answer wisely, for those who do not stand with us…”

 

With all the subtlety of a brick, the half-bull Expert leaves the rest unsaid, but GangShu laughs in response. “I’d always heard you were an arrogant idiot, but the rumours don’t do ye justice. Say I refuse, what’re ye gonna do? Fight me with the largest gathering of soldiers in the Empire’s history sitting outside the gates? You ever heard the term ‘collateral damage’? Talk about cutting yer nose to spite yer face.”

 

Shrugging, the half-bull smiles in response. “Is that a refusal?” he asks, putting his teacup down to crack his neck, and suddenly, his actions don’t seem delicate or dainty at all. “If so, I’ll happily teach you which of us is the arrogant idiot. I should thank you in advance. Only yesterday I told you I was growing bored, and now you’re kind enough to provide me with this much needed distraction.”

 

You know… Seeing how eager he is to go toe to toe with Ancestral Beast GangShu, I’m starting to think he’s not a half-bull after all…

 

Holy shit… is this a meeting for Divinities? Is that Mama Gam? What constitutes a Human Divinity? Why don’t I feel like nuzzling any of the Ancestral Beasts besides GangShu? And did he just imply he’d fuck up the millions of soldiers camped around Nan Ping? How strong are Ancestral Beasts, and how massive must Guan Suo’s balls be to sit at this table and smoke his pipe? The man gives zero fucks, and even as a fight between Divinity brews right beside him, he’s still puffing away without a care in the world.

 

Then again, it might be whatever he packs into his pipe. I still can’t get a read on him, but at least he’s on my side. Or Ping Ping’s side, and she’s on my side, so same thing.

 

Thankfully, in the midst of all this tension, the Legate keeps a cool head. “Please, Great One,” he says, standing to bow at the bull. “Antagonizing our allies serves no purpose.” Turning to GangShu, he offers a second bow, though this time not as deep. “It is not the Empire’s intention to force you to a decision, not yet. This one has sent word back to the Emperor, Blessed be His name, and must await further instructions. Whether we invoke the Treaty is still yet to be decided, but should such a day come, it would ease many troubled minds to know where the Great One’s stand.”

 

“Haven’t decided,” GangShu answers, giving no face as he slides his empty teacup forward, indicating he’d like it filled.

 

Foxy Mama Gam offers more than a non-answer, but hardly what the Legate is looking for. “My boys won’t be leaving any time soon. One dreams of dying in glorious battle while the other yearns for honour and infamy, so I too will remain to guard them, but for me to submit to Imperial authority? An unlikely prospect.”

 

No one else speaks, but the Legate’s grimace deepens as he nods in reply to a Sending (or pretends to for the sake of ignoring GangShu’s teacup). After a short pause, he salutes everyone in turn and says, “Then this one will not keep you all any longer. Forgive me for not seeing you out, as matters of national security demand this one’s attention.”

 

As handy a dismissal as any, but I still have to ask him about taking leave to deliver the Monk’s message. Pushing myself to my… foot, I call out without thinking. “Hang on.”

 

Without pausing his footsteps, the Legate fixes me with a disgruntled glare, none too pleased at being stopped in front of all the gathered Divinities. Standing at his side, the Beardie who asked about my missing shoes snarls and asks, “Audacious! Watch your tone, boy. Who do you think you’re speaking to?”

 

I could blame it on the bloodless, pain, or grief, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t care enough to play games right now. “I’m speaking to the Legate.” Hopping closer to stand before him, I ignore Chief Beardie’s glare and bow deeply to the Legate, or as deeply as I can without toppling over, and pray he doesn’t have me killed out of spite. “Sorry for my blatant disregard for protocol, but in my condition, I worried I wouldn’t be able to chase you down. The Dharmapala has entrusted me with a message for the Abbot, so I will be leaving Nan Ping at dawn.”

 

Belatedly, I realize how poorly worded my statement was. I should have presented it as a request instead of merely informing the Legate of my departure like I don’t care about his opinion. A minor discrepancy in my eyes, but it could also be construed as a complete lack of respect and face. Combine this with mouthing off to a Divinity, and it’s possible I’ll find out first hand if Mahakala made it to the arms of the Mother after the Legate orders my execution, a real possibility considering Shen ZhenWu’s heavy breathing and angry silence. Gesturing for me to follow behind, he strides out the room and I do my best to keep up, but even with Taduk’s help, the Legate is left standing in the courtyard for several seconds before we catch up. Before stumbling down the stairs, I turn back to find Guan Suo and GangShu following closely behind, with no sign of the other Divinities to be found.

 

Snapping his fan open, the Legate draws himself up to full height while displaying the stylized, painted dragon, though the whole image is ruined by Ping Ping sitting in siege mode behind him. “What message does the Dharmapala have for the Abbot?”

 

Too tired to bow again, I feign breathlessness while thinking about how to best frame my answer. “My apologies, but the Dharmapala’s message involves secrets of the highest order, and he was adamant I deliver the message in person, from my lips to Abbot’s ears and none other. Command it, and I will gladly reveal its contents, but otherwise, I am bound by my word.”

 

“Hmph.” Chief Beardie offers another snort of disdain. “What secrets could he share with a child outside the order?”

 

“None.” Nodding sagely, I continue, “So it’s a good thing I am a member of the order, acknowledged and admitted by the Abbot himself. The Dharmapala claimed he chiselled my Dharma name into the wall with his own hands, and told me I stand second only to the Abbot and none others.” With a half-hearted shrug, I add, “I don’t understand it myself, but that’s what he said. I can swear an Oath and verify my words if you’d like.”

 

The antagonistic Beardie trades a surprised glance with the Legate before asking, “What is the nature of your relationship with the Dharmapala?”

 

With another shrug, I stick to the truth. “We don’t have one, not really. He showed up a few days before the Conference began and told me he was here to act as my Dharmapala, along with everything else I just shared. I don’t know why and if I’m being honest, didn’t entirely buy into it either, but he died trying to bring my poisoner to justice, so passing on a message is the least I could do.” Sensing it’s now or never, I ask, “Who’s the Confessor and why is he trying to kill me?”

 

Ignoring my question, Chief Beardie and the Legate exchange yet another glance, but the Seneschal is kind enough to provide an answer. “You met his Disciple in Sanshu, Han BoLao. As for why he wants you dead, I imagine it has something to do with her death.”

 

“… Oh. I see.” Please don’t piss your pants in front of the Legate. Or while leaning on Taduk. He won’t hold it against you, but it’s still embarrassing.

 

After a short and silent discussion, the Legate closes his fan and tucks it into his belt. “I will not command you to reveal the contents of your message, nor will I forbid you from delivering it. However, I will urge you to think twice before committing yourself to this path. The Empire needs its heroes now more than ever, and Falling Rain of the Bekhai stands high among them.”

 

Having said his piece, the Legate turns around and leaves with his Chief Beardie, but the Seneschal remains behind. Waiting until they’re both out of sight, the Seneschal leans in close to look me in the eye and say what the Legate will not. “Boy, feel honoured, for my young master has great plans in store for you. Think. Why would he award you with such a great honour, one never before bestowed upon an outsider? Surely you’re not foolish enough to believe your strength warrants it?”

 

It takes longer than I’d like to admit to figure out what honour he’s talking about, so unused to seeing Luo-Luo’s presence as a good thing. “Well if I had to guess? It’s because he knows the Bekhai and Akanai in particular have no interest in politics, which means improving my social standing and future prospects comes at little to no cost since I’ll be unlikely to use it.”

 

Smiling at my blunt reply, the Seneschal shrugs and replies, “I won’t lie and tell you you’re wrong, but you’re not entirely correct. My young master expects great things from you, even after seeing your reduced state. You must understand, Sinuji was meant to be our command post in the war against the Defiled, and once word of its destruction spreads, the people’s faith in the Empire will waver. We need heroes young and old to bolster their confidence and keep them from succumbing to despair, for every citizen who turns Defiled is one more threat brought to bear against us.”

 

With a wary glance at Taduk, Guan Suo, and Gang Shu, the Seneschal gingerly places a hand on my shoulder and smiles. “My young master believes none better suited for this than you, but it cannot happen if you leave now during this most critical of junctures. Remain in Nan Ping and my young master will raise you and the Bekhai to heights unheard of. You think yourself strong? There are young talents in the East who will put your skills to shame, but should you learn our secrets under the Imperial Protector’s tutelage, which we can freely offer now that you are an Imperial Scion, you will rise up to surpass all others and truly become the number one talent in the Empire. More than that, your meteoric rise will leave the Empire in awe as you surpass your Mentor in two decades, and your Grand Mentor in three. Given time, you might even grow to become a Divinity yourself, a supreme warrior standing at the peak of the Martial Path, but only if you choose to stay. Leave, and we must offer this chance to another, but think twice before you do. The quickest way to raise a young warrior’s reputation is by treading upon yours. This is no threat, only the cold, hard truth, for such is life, my young friend, and though you are our first choice for this honour, never for a moment think you are our only choice.”

 

…Wow. The Seneschal’s sales pitch is convincing, but I’m not the wide-eyed youth I appear to be. He offers secrets and strength but makes no mention of cost or sacrifice. I don’t see them offering Imperial secrets for free, not all of them at least. They’ll give me a small taste and my strength will rise by leaps and bounds, but then I’ll plateau or reach a bottleneck and the Imperial Protector will have a solution, but not one he can share without consequence. An Oath of fealty, he’ll suggest, and I’ll resist, but then he’ll offer me another choice, a lesser Oath perhaps, or something else to prove myself. Slowly, but surely, they’ll drag me deeper into their clutches until I’m a warrior bound to obey the Legate’s will as surely as any slave, and I’ll thank them every step of the way.

 

Raise me to Divinity? Maybe they will, but only if it serves their purpose.

 

Even knowing how things will likely turn out, I still find myself wanting to accept their offer. Not because I necessarily want the Legate as my backer, but mostly because I don’t want him as my enemy. I don’t trust him, but I don’t mind working with him, so long as our goals are aligned. Offering them one more out, I swallow my trepidation and say, “It is not my intention to refuse the Legate’s goodwill. I am grateful for all he has done, and were circumstances different, I would gladly do as you suggest. However,” I stress, hoping he understands that the ball is in the Legate’s court, “Failing this, I must stay true to my word and fulfill the Dharmapala’s dying wish. I will travel with the utmost haste and endeavour to return as soon as possible, but if the Legate does as you’ve said and chooses a new partner to work with, then know that I will help in whatever way possible to smooth things along. I will bear no grudge for I know he acts with the Empire’s best interest in mind.” Or at least I hope he does.

 

“Disappointing.” Shaking his head, the Seneschal says, “I urge you to consult with your Mentor and Grand-Mentor before committing yourself to this path, for those who do not stand with us…”

 

Like the Ancestral Bull, the Seneschal leaves the rest unsaid, but I complete it for him. “Stand against us? Not always true. Some people only want to be left alone.”

 

With a sad smile, the Seneschal turns away and leaves. “Even if you mean it,” he Sends, “My young master’s enemies might think to use you against us, and we cannot afford to let this happen. Blame your own talent, Falling Rain, for it makes you too dangerous to leave unchecked.”

 

Burying my face in Taduk’s robes, I close my eyes and sigh.

 

Politics are the worst.

 

“Well Teacher,” I say, feigning a smile. “Let’s go tell Grand-Mentor the good news and see what she has to say.”

 

Seriously though, I would really love it if someone older and wiser made this decision for me.

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 384

 

Hiding a bloody stump behind my back, I lean out the half-opened door to find the entire room of Experts turned towards me with questioning gazes. While I don’t specifically know who all these beardies and halfies are, they’re important enough to have their tea poured by a Legate which means it should probably greet everyone politely so they don’t take offence, but ain’t nobody got time for that. Pretending I don’t notice their stares, I make eye contact with Taduk, who’s standing between the seated Guan Suo and dainty-mannered half-bull. “Teacher, your aid is required.”

 

I wonder… Did the Legate pour Taduk’s cup of tea? Probably not seeing how my teacher doesn’t even warrant a seat. Psh. Experts. If any of them ever need Healing, Taduk should turn them away at the door, but he won’t. As he rushes over with teacup in hand, I notice the heavy bags beneath his eyes and the enervated slump of his shoulders, drained by his efforts to save the Monk yet still soldiering on without question. Once he’s through the door, I shut it behind him and scurry to keep up with my speedy teacher, grabbing his wrist with my remaining hand and Sending, “Hang on. I think I have a way to save him.”

 

“…What happened to your hand?”

 

Flushing with embarrassment, I explain, “The Monk passed out and I couldn’t get free. It’s fine, I’ll reattach it later.” Assuming I can finagle it out of Makalaha’s grip. Malapaka? I’m never gonna get it right, so I’m gonna call him the Monk, at least until I meet another monk. “I have some Heavenly Energy saved up, not a lot, but more than nothing. Would that help?”

 

“Doubtful.” After glancing over the trapped and dismembered hand, Taduk takes my stump and inspects it. “Even with a limitless flood of Heavenly Energy, I can’t Heal faster than the substance replicates. Forget about reattaching your hand, it’s already been compromised.” Though I see no black gunk on the severed extremity, I trust Taduk’s judgment and thank the Heavens I was feeling too magnanimous to cut the Monk’s hand off instead. His brow furrowed in worry, Taduk pulls me away from the Monk and mutters, “It’s even more insidious than I’d thought. Was the substance hiding its full capabilities earlier or has it reached a point of critical mass?”

 

“Teacher, focus please.” As much as I’d like to know if the scary black goop is sentient, there’s more important things to worry about, like keeping the Monk alive. If Heavenly Energy isn’t enough, then maybe I can cleanse the gunk with Water-Chi, assuming it’s made from Demon Ichor like I hypothesized. With no time to explain, I Send, “Is it safe to touch him?”

 

Though I can see he’s curious, Taduk knows time is of the essence and doesn’t ask questions. “Safer not to, but if you must, then be ready to amputate your hand at a moment’s notice.” With an apologetic shrug, he adds, “I’d do it for you, but I don’t carry a blade.”

 

Right, unlike that sadist Tokta, who loves cutting people apart so much he has a surgical knife as a Spiritual Weapon, my teacher is a Medical Saint, a man who refuses to harm even his most hated nemesis, a Bicorn Bunny. “Understood. I’ll be careful.” Unfortunately, I have yet to learn how to control my Water-Chi after it leaves my body, so I’m gonna hafta touch the goop infected Monk to cleanse him. Reaching out with my only remaining hand, I recoil as an important fact crosses my mind. “Erm, I can’t amputate my infected hand without a second hand to hold my sword.”

 

“Yes, good point.” Pondering the question for a half second, Taduk’s tired eyes light up and he Sends, “Use your foot. Problem solved.”

 

After kicking off my boots and remembering to roll up my pants, I lean against Taduk for balance and hover my bare foot above the Monk’s stomach, where the concentration of gunk is highest. I really don’t want to lop my foot off too. Just because I do it often doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. Growing appendages is the worst, since the pain of raw, exposed nerves firing on all cylinders can’t be dulled until they acclimate and settle down, but it’s a pain I’m more than willing to accept if it keeps the Monk alive. Swallowing my fear and trepidation, I close my eyes and prepare for the task at hand, unsure if I’m up to snuff.

 

Honestly? Probably not. For starters, Water-Chi feels and behaves differently from normal Chi, but it’s hard to place exactly how. Denser, perhaps, with more inertia. The difference isn’t massive, but regular Chi flows easily with a thought, as does Water-Chi, but the latter feels like it has more resistance as it moves through my body, or it has more weight to its passing, but it might be my overactive imagination at work. What isn’t my imagination is how Water-Chi resists or ignores my commands. It won’t adhere to the surface of my sword and form a whirling, razor-sharp edge through Honing, nor will it infuse my muscles with vigor and potency through Reinforcement. In similar fashion, I can’t use Water-Chi to Amplify, Lighten, Deflect, or any of the other plethora of uses I have for regular Chi. In fact, thus far, I’ve only found one use for Water-Chi which wouldn’t be considered a party trick, and that’s cleansing the dormant Spectres lurking about my Natal Palace.

 

Which brings me to the second reason I don’t think I can do this. While I might be able to cleanse the Demonic Goop from the Monk’s body, I have no way to control it while carrying out the task. Once the Water-Chi leaves my body, it reverts into Heavenly Energy and mundane water, which means if I want to save the Monk, then I need to figure out how to control Chi externally, and fast.

 

No amount of positive mental attitude will make this better. The Monk’s probably doomed, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

 

Wait… Maybe I don’t have to use Chi externally. Back in Sanshu, Blobby hid in my Spiritual Body and used me as a delivery system to get into Yo Ling’s Natal Palace. Could I do the same with my Water-Chi and the Monk? Pulling my foot back, I ask Taduk where lowest area of Demon Gunk concentration is and laugh despite how serious the situation is when I hear the answer. Shifting aside, I mutter a silent apology and plop my bare foot on the Monk’s bald head, praying he’ll understand the urgent need after I save his life.

 

Don’t worry, it’s totally clean. I took a bath before the party, with soap and everything.

 

Reach for Balance and fall forward into the Void. The curtain parts and I find myself in an unfamiliar plane. The sun shines overhead and a massive statue sits cross-legged before me, each toe wider than I am tall and its face shrouded in shadow, a lean, muscular sculpted defender. Clothed in bright yellow monk robes, the statue’s hands are folded in quiet contemplation while a loud, resonating baritone chants rhythmically in the background, a sound which is both soothing and ominous at the same time. Aside from the statue, there’s little else of note. The floor is packed dirt and the landscape bare and empty aside from two visible pillars off in the distance, and I assume there are at least two more on the other side of the statue, holding back the writhing darkness of the void.

 

Wait a second… Writhing?

 

No matter how hard I strain my eyes, I’m unable to confirm my horrified suspicions and I don’t know if I should be annoyed or thankful. Instead of uselessly staring at the nothingness, I set out to find the Monk. Heading right because one direction is as good as the other, I run as quickly as my Spiritual legs can carry me, reminding myself the whole time I don’t need to breathe so there’s no way I’m out of breath. Feet ‘thumping’ against the packed dirt as the ‘wind’ rustles through my hair, a quick glance at the statue tells me I’m not actually going anywhere, still standing dead centre between its toes. Maybe I am moving and the statue is bigger than I thought, so it feels like I’m not moving at all. Then again, who’s to say the Monk is even in here? I remember noting that my ‘Brother’ persona disappeared every time I went to sleep, but I’m not sure if I should draw lessons from my schizophrenic episodes.

 

Still futilely running in place, because why not, I yell, “Hello?” Dammit… what’s his name again? Right, Mahakala. Say it just like that. Ma. Ha. Ka. La. It’s easy. Four syllables is nothing, who cares how similar they are? It shouldn’t be a problem for a big-brained hero like you. Don’t think about screwing up, say it with confidence and you’re good. “Maha-ph-shll?” I mumble, wincing at my abject failure. “It’s me, Falling Rain. I’m here to save you, but I need your help.”

 

The booming chanting drowns out my voice, so loud I can barely hear myself yell much less expect anyone else to hear me. That said, this isn’t the real world and physics need not apply, so shouting probably isn’t the way to go about it. Thinking back on my encounter with Pong-Pong, I try to remember exactly what I did to catch his attention. I was standing on his shell without knowing it was a shell, wondering why the water was back in my Natal Palace. Then I thought ‘fuck it,’ and sat down to meditate and… Pong Pong sensed and found me.

 

Slowing my steps, I face the statue and sit down, mostly because I don’t feel comfortable staring at the encroaching darkness. I swear it’s not paranoia, and despite not having any empirical evidence to support my findings, I can feel it closing in around me, a menacing, ponderous presence which means me harm. Shit, I didn’t think things through well enough. It’s entirely possible the Monk’s not in here, on account of being passed out or not being crazy and leaving split personalities in his Natal Palace. If he’s not in here, then I might be stuck, which means I get to find out what happens if I’m still here when the darkness arrives.

 

Nothing good, because when is it ever? Just once, I’d like the ominous darkness to hold something nice, like fluffy bunnies or gorgeous, sex-starved, adventurous women.

 

Concentrate. Time constraints and impending doom, remember?

 

Quashing my growing urge to panic, I close my eyes, take a deep breath (despite not needing to breathe) and settle in to meditate. The Energy of the Heavens flows into my Core to be converted into Chi, a process I’ve experienced thousands of times before, but this time it feels… wrong, as if I’m drawing something wicked and unclean into my being, unpleasant and unpalatable to the soul. My meditative trance ends with a pained gasp as I open my eyes and shudder, trying to scrub the memory of filth and contamination from my mind. With nothing else to focus on, my mind fixates on the measured cadence of the chanting as I disgorge the wrongness from my soul. Time becomes meaningless as I lose myself in the chant, and when I come to my senses once more, I find myself chanting along as the wrongness dissipates, my voice deeper and more resonant than I’d ever thought possible. The words are still gibberish, but I can follow along and know what comes next without thinking.

 

What’s going on? Did I just learn a new skill? Battle Chant. No, Spell Song. No, sanity Hymn! Ah, that’s stupid. Whatever, I’ll figure out the name later.

 

The silence is deafening as the chanting comes to an abrupt end. The shadows shift and the world darkens, but thankfully not the pitch-black darkness of the inhabited void. Raising my head, I find the statue looming above me as it studies my tiny form, its face still shrouded by inviolable darkness. There are no eyes to gaze into or expressions to read, so I put on my best smile and wave at the behemoth, kicking myself for not realizing it soon. “Hi Mahakala.” Nailed it! “I’m here to save you.”

 

“Here to save me are you?” the Monk asks, his voice impassive and composed as always. “You’ve come to whisper your lies and offer me salvation? A chance to live with power untold waiting only for me to reach out and grasp it?” Leaning closer, the shadows darken and his voice drops. “You think me a fool?

 

I don’t know why, but this blank face is more terrifying than his angry one, and the Monk has a top-tier angry face. It’s all in the eyes and how wide they get compared to their normal size. “Wait, hold on, I’m not a Spectre. It’s really me, Falling Rain.”

 

Returning to his seated position, the Monk dismisses me with a harrumph. “I know not how you penetrated my defences, but you’ve constructed a poor ruse indeed. You wear a poor copy of Brother SanDukka’s form, too old and ugly, yet you expect me to welcome you with open arms? You still exist only because to smite you would only add to my sins, so begone apparition, before my tolerance is spent. Mahakala may be dying, but he is still far from dead.”

 

“No, I get it, Spectres are lying scum, but seriously, it’s me.” Ugh, this is so frustrating. “I told you all about my problems with Baledagh, remember? You helped me then, so now it’s my turn to help you.” A thought strikes me and I study the Monk’s behemoth form from head to toe, noting the vast discrepancy between this massive body and his real one, a big reason I never considered the statue might be the Monk.

 

“Hang on a second… how do I know it’s really you, and not a Spectre pretending to be you? I mean, I can’t see your face and you’re…” Glancing up and down at his body, I try to think of a proper way to frame it and fail horrifically. “Not fat.”

 

The towering Monk pauses and shakes his head, though I sense it more than I see it. “You’ve got his rude mannerisms down, if not his image, but as you so aptly pointed out, one’s mind’s image does not always match reality. Come, spew your lies and play your tricks, apparition. Mahakala will see through them.”

 

“Ugh, I don’t have time for this. You’re dying and I can save you, but I need you to bring me to the edge of the darkness so I can cleanse the Demon Goop from your body.”

 

“Ha.” Gesturing around, the massive Monk asks, “Why must I bring you? The darkness has already arrived.”

 

Fuck. Apparently, while lost in my meditative trance and subsequent cleansing, the darkness snuck up behind me. The pillars, once distant landmarks, are now almost close enough to spit on, or at least hit with an arrow, and my fears are proven true as I spot the Spectres squirming about the void. How long have I been here? Has the Demon Gunk reached the Monk’s head, and therefore my foot too? Damn it, how am I supposed to explain a missing hand and foot to the Legate? ‘I touched the Monk by accident, then took off my shoes and poked him for good measure’?

 

Whatever. One problem at a time.

 

Seeing how I no longer need the Monk’s help, I head towards the void with my eyes averted, unable to stomach the unsavoury, twisting patterns of the writhing Spectres, so different from what I expected. These Spectres have no cunning or intelligence behind their eyes, a silent, uncoordinated horde pushing and clawing at an invisible barrier, driven to madness by ravenous hunger as they seek to consume the Monk’s Spiritual Body. Mine too, judging by their heightened frenzy as I approach the barrier, but luckily, I came prepared.

 

Wishing I knew a better way to transport it, my Spiritual Body regurgitates all the Water-Chi I have stored, which turns out to be less of a flood and more of a trickle. Granted I only bound one container of water, but Blobby is a droplet and he flooded Yo Ling’s Natal Palace. Still, disappointed as I am with the volume, the results are everything I hoped for and more. Crashing into the darkness, my Water-Chi washes over the tightly-packed Spectres and sweeps them away, dissolving them into sweet, Heavenly Ene –

 

Hey!

 

What the fuck?

 

Where’s my Heavenly Energy? Why are the Spectres dissipating into nothingness? I was banking on the Heavenly Energy to keep the Monk alive, help Mom get back on her feet, and maybe give myself ten or twenty centimetres if there’s still some left over. Why isn’t it working like before?

 

It gets worse. I didn’t consider that Blobby is an endless font of Heavenly Water whereas my Water-Chi is both finite and consumed in the cleansing process. The maddened apparitions hardly seem to notice as more surge forwards into the space left by their dissolved comrades, and I’m forced to retreat before the darkness engulfs me. Taking shelter by the Monk, I massage my forehead and try to come up with another solution. “Okay,” I say, thinking out loud. “That didn’t go as expected. You ran out of Water-Chi, because Blobby is a butt and left on sabbatical. Also, there’s something wrong with these Spectres. Usually, you kill a few Spectres and the rest go running, but this time, these ones don’t give a flying fuck. So aside from being weird, creepy, and contorty, these Spectres have no sense of self-preservation. Now I know. Don’t know how it helps, but you know. So what next?” Eyeing the unsavoury horde, I wince and say, “Devour them? I could always cleanse them later after I bind more water or find Blobby.” Oh, I could get Pong-Pong to do it!

 

“No Brother SanDukkha.” Engulfing me with his massive hands, the Monk gently lifts me to eye level and treats me to a glimpse of his face. It’s younger and thinner, one suited for the body it sits on, handsome but not to excess, with an honest smile and carefree gaze. “You are truly a child of many mysteries,” he says, studying my Spiritual Body with a keen eye. “How did you make your way into my Natal Palace?”

 

“It’s something I do. Mostly involuntarily, but I meant to do it this time.” Waving away his questions, I continue, “There’s no time for this. I came up with another way to save you, but -”

 

“Do not devour these apparitions, Brother SanDukkha. They are not the Spectres you’ve faced before.”

 

Thanks, I realized. “No, but -”

 

Heedless to the time sensitive nature of our plight, the Monk continues “These are the itinerant souls I spoke of, and it seems the Enemy has found a way to weaponize them. They are Anathema to matter and life itself, driven to consume everything in their path until nothing remains.”

 

“…Then why does it need sunlight to work?” My question gives the Monk pause and affords me the opportunity to keep speaking. “Whatever, we’ll figure it out later. Right now, you need to send me away. I can still save you, but I need to go get something first.” How do I hide Pong Pong’s presence from all the Experts outside the door? One problem at a time. “Hurry, we don’t have time to spare.”

 

Unfazed by the urgency in my tone, the Monk continues to lecture me. “Brother SanDukkha, this too must reach the Abbot’s ear. What I warned of was nihility in a spiritual sense, but this weapon, this ‘Demon Gunk’ as you’ve termed it, this will bring nothingness on a more tangible scale.”

 

“Got it, will tell him, but first, send me out so I can SAVE YOUR LIFE!”

 

Smiling at my desperate pleas, the Monk shakes his head and refuses to do as I ask. “Waste not your efforts. My time is at an end, for even should Mahakala survive, he lacks the resolve to continue. Pride was my downfall, and to believe myself capable of mending my ways would be to make the same mistake again.”

 

“No! You can’t quit, not now. You can tell the Abbot yourself, and you can help right the Balance or whatever you think you’re doing. Don’t give up, the world needs you.”

 

I need him… Who else can I talk to about Baledagh?

 

With a contented sigh, the Monk leans back to stare at the sky, peering past the impenetrable cloud of Spectres at something I can’t see. “Perhaps it is selfish to leave this mess to you and others, and for this, you have my heartfelt apologies, but Mahakala is not strong enough to see this through. The Heavens call to me Brother SanDukkha, but your trials have yet to end.” Looking at me once more, the Monk smiles and says, “Mourn not for my passing, for death is merely a new beginning, a chance to start anew.”

 

“Mourn you? You’ll be lucky if I don’t curse you! Stay and fight, you coward!”

 

“Then Mahakala can only beg your forgiveness.” Though still smiling, the Monk is hurt by my condemnation and a single tear drips down his cheek. “Do not let your disdain affect your decision. The Abbot must be warned. One last matter, Brother SanDukkha: Never reveal this ability to the Legate or any member of the Imperial Clan, else they will stop at nothing to control or destroy you.”

 

And with this ominous last warning, the Monk sends me away, and I open my eyes back in reality, my foot still resting atop his fat bald head while I lean against Taduk’s chest. Blinking tears out of my eyes, I right myself and Send, “I couldn’t save him, but Pong-Pong can. We need to go get him quickly, there isn’t much time.”

 

“Rain my boy,” Taduk whispers, patting my head. “I’m sorry, but he’s gone.” Clearing his throat as I stare at the Monk’s corpse in disbelief, he adds, “I know you’re in shock, but you need to lop off your foot first else you’ll soon join him.”

 

And to think… this morning, I thought things were looking up.

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 383


Rejoice, for Jess has graced us all with yet another dazzling piece of artwork for everyone to salivate over. In case some of you have missed it, recently, Bowserette has taken the internet by storm, the King Koopa turned into blonde bombshell. I’ll leave it to you to google Bowserette on your own, but I will warn you to wait until you’re at home and alone to do so, for obvious reasons (It’s mostly porn). That said, the Peach crown has made it’s way into SD and now we have fem Legate to feast our eyes upon.

Spoiler: Probably NSFW, so better safe than sorry. Here’s the link.

I love the colours and style of this so much, but I also especially love the booty. 😀

For those of you who were speculating the Legate is secretly a woman, well… here you go. Your dreams made true.

Thanks so much Jess, it’s always a delight to see your work.


 

Despite the dire circumstances I’ve found myself in, I can’t help but resent Guan Suo, my only ally in all this. With Ping Ping in tow, we follow Daxian the Virtuous through the busy streets of Nan Ping, and it soon becomes clear no one notices our passing. Normally, everyone stops what they’re doing to gape, pray or scurry out of our way, but tonight, everyone goes about their business as usual, paying no attention to the giant turtle in their midst. It’s almost surreal seeing people unconsciously flowing around us, our bodies invisible but our presence noted. Coolies and rickshaw runners zip right by Ping Ping’s legs while children dart beneath her without ever noticing her majestic self, much less Guan Suo, Daxian, or myself, as if we’re ghosts wandering among the living or the world around us is merely a projection rather than reality itself.

 

Honestly? It’s awesome, but I’m irked because if this is possible, then why doesn’t Guan Suo do this all the time? If Daxian can do it, I refuse to believe the grumpy old red-panda can’t, and it would’ve made travelling through Nan Ping so much easier…

 

After a few minutes, our destination becomes clear and my heart skips a beat. “We’re going to the Magistrate’s Palace?” This can’t be good. What are the chances the Legate isn’t involved? Ancestral Beast or not, I doubt even GangShu could evade detection from the Legate’s protectors. I mean, why would Ancestral Beasts sign a Treaty if the Imperial Clan wasn’t strong enough to enforce it?

 

My question earns me a harsh glare and a silent warning from the oh so Virtuous Daxian, which is a stupid title to begin with. He’s a former soldier turned bandit, so how virtuous can he be? Maybe he’s a certified, card-carrying virgin so they call him the virtuous, though I don’t know why anyone would want such a shitty title much less wear a breastplate proclaiming it to the world. Resisting the urge to draw Peace and hamstring the uppity bandit, I clench my fists and swallow my anger for Taduk’s sake. My teacher has been taken hostage and killing Gerel-lite here won’t do either of us any good, assuming I could even pull it off.

 

Bah. I should have told Guan Suo to snap the bastard’s neck when I had the chance, or better yet, left Lei Gong and the Tyrant to drown in the Azure Sea. This is how they want to repay me? Well, courtesy demands reciprocity, and the same can be said of discourtesy. I don’t give a shit if GangShu is an Ancestral Beast or if he has the Legate’s backing, if they hurt Taduk, I’ll make them pay. I can’t beat them in a stand up fight, but I bet a bullet to the head or heart will ruin their day.

 

Ah, shit. Really wish I’d grabbed Unity from Zabu’s harness on my way out…

 

Whatever happens, you must endure. Smile, nod, go along with their demands, do whatever it is you need to do to get out alive, even if it means you have to give them Pong Pong. Then, after the dust settles, you can firebomb the whole fucking palace if that’s what it takes to get even.

 

 

Woah, calm down, murderous subconscious me. You haven’t figured out explosives yet, remember? No worries though, your enemies aren’t the only ones who know how to use poison, and if that doesn’t work, then head back to the mountains and bide your time. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

 

Wow, even my logical half is starting to sound murder-hobo-esque. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but its GangShu and the Legate who’ve pushed me this far, so they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. If this is how they’ll treat me and my loved ones, then the Empire can go fuck itself.

 

Taking a circuitous route through an underground passage I didn’t know existed, Daxian brings us under the walls and into the Magistrate’s Palace, emerging in the courtyard of what I assume is one of the guest manors. Ping Ping voices her displeasure when I follow Daxian into the main house, but thankfully, instead of throwing a fit, the big girl settles down with a thud, glaring at me and Guan Suo as we leave her behind.

 

Poor girl, but perhaps this is for the best. I don’t know what’s waiting for me inside, and I’d rather Ping Ping not get wrapped up in all this.

 

Opening the main door, Daxian stands aside and gestures for me to go through. “Mind your manners,” Daxian Sends, remaining outside as he closes the door behind us. “Not even you can get away with mouthing off in there.”

 

Well, that’s not foreboding at all. Gathering my courage, glance at Guan Suo and say, “You know, it’s not too late for you to back out. I appreciate your help, but you don’t have to be here. In fact, I’d feel better if you brought Ping Ping away to safety, not that I can order you around or anything.”

 

Raising one bushy white eyebrow, Guan Suo asks, “Safety? Pei. She’s safer sitting in that courtyard than anywhere else in the world right now, boy. What do you think is happening here?”

 

“Uh… my teacher was taken hostage by an Ancestral Beast?”

 

With an uncharacteristic smile, Guan Suo pats my back and pushes me along. “Your teacher is fine, boy. Go on in, time is wasting and in short supply.”

 

Confused and relieved, I head into the manor’s sitting room to find the Legate drinking tea with what can only be described as a smattering of eclectic Experts. The Legate’s usual guards are nowhere to be found, though the four human Experts on either side of him are on full alert. I specify human because the remaining three Experts are half-beasts, which is surprising considering the general sentiment towards half-beasts. More surprising is that the Legate is playing the part of junior in all this, filling everyone’s tea cups without complaint or grievance, even the cups of his Expert guards. Taking a careful look at the Experts, I commit their faces to memory on the off chance I see them all again. The human Experts are all cut from the same cloth, slender, bearded men with grumpy expressions, but the half-beasts are a varied bunch.

 

As usual, the sole woman in the group catches my eye first, a bushy-tailed half-fox with an ageless grace, a lovely, white-haired beauty who could pass for anywhere between forty and seventy years old. Unfortunately, her heritage combined with the ragged robes and quarterstaff tells me she’s in league with the Gams, which means I want nothing to do with her or her odd, half-brothers. Beside her is a stately, long-horned half-bull dressed in luxurious, embroidered robes, a hulking warrior who looks ridiculous sipping at his dainty teacup, but I’ll leave it to someone braver or stupider than me to inform him. The third half-beast is a little more difficult to place from his ears alone, but his colourful armour marks him as a Southerner. Add this to his wide, bulbous nose with a tiny, almost imperceptible white bump on the end of it makes me think he’s a half-rhino, and until someone tells me otherwise, a half-rhino he will be.

 

Unsure how to proceed, the decision is made for me as the Legate’s Seneschal bars my path and drags me away from the table of Experts, heading towards a room deeper inside the manor. “You do what needs to be done, boy,” Guan Suo Sends, and I glance back to see him join the other Experts while the Legate smiles and pours him a cup of tea. “I’ll be out here if you need me.”

 

Once again, I’m forced to reevaluate Guan Suo’s standing, but there’s precious little time to think. All but shoving me over the threshold, the Seneschal bows and shuts the door behind me, leaving me trapped in a room alone with GangShu. No, not alone, as Taduk is toiling away over a bed in the corner, using Chi, scalpel, and medicine to tend to a bruised and battered warrior, missing so many chunks of flesh it seems more corpse than man. So covered in blood and injuries, I barely recognize the monk laying right before my eyes, and only piece the clues together after seeing the Spiritual Spade leaning against the wall beside him.

 

Now I feel bad about wishing him harm for running out after my wedding banquet…

 

Tearing my eyes away from the bloodied monk, I turn to GangShu for answers. Ignoring the urge to run over and hug him, I place my hand on his forearm and Send, “What happened?”

 

“Near as I can tell, Zhu Chanzui happened.” Shaking his head, GangShu sinks into his chair and sighs. “What a day. Losing my Runic Barge and the chance to find a drop of Heavenly Water was bad enough, but now I find out the Immortal is Defiled as they come and strong enough to reduce the Dharmapala to this… Mark my words boy, dark days are coming ahead. The Treaty is broken, and all hell will break loose.”

 

I fucking knew that pig was no good. “I don’t understand. Why did Big Poppa Piggy attack the… Dharmapala?” The Monk had nothing to do with what happened at the Winery. More curious is how the monk called himself my Dharmapala, or Dharma protector, so why does GangShu say it like it’s a title?

 

Snorting with laughter, GangShu smiles and Sends, “Big Poppa Piggy, I like that. Think I’ll use it the next time I see him.” Shrugging, he continues, “Few days ago, the Dharmapala dropped by to tell Wugang he was chasing down the Confessor. Said the old coot tried to kill you again, so he was off to smash the crazy bastard into meat paste. Fer a self-professed pacifist, the Dharmapala seems like an ornery feller, but I ain’t one to judge. Then, half an hour ago, he turns up looking like that and stays conscious long enough to tell us Zhu Chanzui’s Defiled, broken the Treaty, and that Sinuji ain’t there no more.”

 

… Who the fuck is the Confessor and why is he trying to kill me? What does that have to do with the Defiled Big Piggy? Also, Sinuji is on the border between Central and West, clear half-way across the province from here, at least ten days by boat, but the Monk’s only been gone for four days. What the fuck is going on here?

 

“Rain my boy.” Looking up from his work, Taduk calls me over to the Monk’s side. “Come. He wants you to hear his last will and testament.”

 

With a heavy heart, I kneel at the Monk’s side and take his hand, knowing that if Taduk can’t save him, then no one can. Only one of the Monk’s eyes is opened, the other sporting a lump so large he can’t see past it, a minor injury compared to the missing chunks of flesh dotted across his body. To one side lies a shred of cloth covered in a familiar black gunk, now inert without the light of the sun shining over it.Turning to Taduk with a raised eyebrow, he confirms my suspicions with a helpless sigh. “It’s the same substance your people found at the winery, but its far more dangerous than we gave it credit. Jorani’s quick thinking saved your soldier’s life, for the longer this dark substance remains on the afflicted, the more dangerous it becomes. Not only does it eat away at flesh and bone, it uses whatever it devours to multiply and spread. He’s too far gone for me to save, as the substance is deep in his organs and replicating faster than I can remove it.”

 

And judging by all the scattered bits of flesh and organs around us, Taduk gave it his best.

 

Opening his cracked and bloodied lips, the Monk locks his one eye on Taduk and utters, “Privacy?”

 

“No one will hear what you say,” Taduk assures him, patting my head as he steps away. “Not even myself. I swear it upon my honour.”

 

Waiting long enough for Taduk and GangShu to leave the room, the brutalized Monk deflates as he pulls me close, his voice barely above a whisper as he speaks his last. “Brother SanDukkha,” he wheezes, his voice filled with urgency, “You have yet to take the vows of the Brotherhood, but this one must burden you with my dying words. Swear you will bring them to the Abbot, for he must hear them.”

 

“I swear, I’ll send word -”

 

“No!” With startling strength for a dying man, the Monk sits up with a glare. “The words must go from your mouth to his ear, understood? No other is to hear what I am about to say, for they concern secrets of the highest order! Swear brother, this one begs it of you.”

 

Unable to bring myself to refuse, I nod and say, “I swear it. I’ll tell him everything in person, but I can’t promise it’ll be anytime soon. All out war is about to begin, so I can’t just wander off to go visit the Abbot.”

 

“Tell the Legate what I’ve asked you to do and he will grant you permission.” Taking it as a matter of fact, the Monk settles back down into his pillows to gather his thoughts, and I busy myself making him comfortable. Just as I’m about to check if he’s still conscious, the Monk whispers, “Tell the Abbot Mahakala has failed, and to use my story as a warning to all others. Goujian was to be my Disciple, my successor, but instead, my teachings turned him into the Confessor, a reprehensible murderer and torturer. Such is my greatest shame, but not my greatest failure. My greatest failure lies rooted in pride, which kept me from correcting the error of my ways. Pride kept me from asking the Abbot for his help, and pride kept me from doing what I knew needed to be done, to give up salvation in this life and put down the monster of my own creation. How many thousands of lives could I have saved in exchange for a mere two, his and my own? How many lives were ruined by my pride, by my refusal to see what was clear to all? And once again, pride has brought me low, for I believed myself stronger than Zhu Changzui, and arrogantly announced their plans for all to hear. How many more died because of my actions? Such pride, such sin…”

 

Though having trouble following along, I commit the Monk’s every word, inflection, and micro-expression to memory using my Natal Palace, so I can listen to it over and over again and pass it along without a single mistake. Shaking his head with a sigh, the Monk continues, “Devoted as I was, I could never truly adhere to the precepts or keep to the Eight-fold path. I’m sure the Abbot could see a path to take, a way to fix everything without death or violence, but again, my pride blinded me to it. Mahakala holds more seniority, so why was he not chosen as Abbot? Mentor, your Disciple is blind and is not worthy of your teachings, but I now see the wisdom behind your decision.” Fixing me with his steely gaze, he says, “Remember, Brother SanDukkha, no matter what trials or tribulations you may face, the Mother always leaves a path to salvation. Our world is imbalanced, and it is the Brotherhood who strive to fix it. No longer trapped by the cycle of samsara, itinerant souls seek to break through the barrier of existence and end it. If everything is in nihility then time and space become meaningless. An end to suffering yes, but an end to all else, the desperate last effort of the lost and destitute, Eh-Mi-Tuo-Fuo.”

 

…See, I understood all those words, but I have no idea what he just said. “Uh… Okay?”

 

“Learn from Mahakala’s mistakes,” the Monk insists, his steely grip crushing my hand. “Do not let pride and arrogance bring you low, as it has done for me. Trust in the Abbot, and trust in those around you. Remember my words, and act on them, whether you be SanDukkha, Falling Rain, or Baledagh.”

 

Closing his eye, Mahakala slumps back into the pillow and passes out, his breathing labored and nearing its last. We didn’t know each other well, but I trusted him, enough to share one of my deepest, darkest secrets with him. Is that what his warning was about? Trust those around me and tell them how thoroughly broken I really am? Easy to say, but if it was so easy to follow through, I’d have done it years ago instead of living a lie.

 

What am I doing? Deliberate later, we could still save the Monk. I have a tiny bit of Heavenly Energy, and while it’s not enough to heal him to full, maybe it’s enough keep him alive so Taduk can work his magic. Unfortunately, I’m unable to free myself from Mahakala’s iron grip, and since my Teacher promised not to listen in, all my yells for help go unnoticed. Knowing time is of the utmost importance, I’m left with a sinking sensation as I ponder a somewhat difficult decision to make.

 

In order to possibly save the Monk’s life, do I cut off his hand, or mine?

 

Chapter Meme

 

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