Savage Divinity – Chapter 448


Art!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wooooooooooooo!

We have another submission from Rocky, this time of a naughty little exchange between our boy Rustram and Sai Chou 😉

Thanks so much Rocky! Always happy to see your art, and the same goes to SD art from ANYONEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE else. :D. Am Greedy, More Plz.

As for the rest of you non artist, thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the chapter!


 

Humans are not rational creatures.

 

All too often, we make unreasonable and illogical decisions based on emotion or in opposition to fact, but it’s not always a bad thing. Yes, sometimes we do stupid things like drink ourselves into stupors or ignore reason to follow our instincts, but irrational behaviour also drives us to do incredible things. If we were rational beings, we would rarely explore the unknown, run into burning buildings to save people, or stand up for our beliefs against a greater power. Some of the greatest acts in humanity’s history have arisen from illogical decisions, and when they work out, they’re celebrated as acts of courage and bravery, and promptly forgotten when they don’t. The person who chases after a murderer and apprehends the criminal is a hero, while another person who does the same and dies is a fool with more courage than sense. Someone who wins the lottery is envied, but someone who makes a less risky but calculated gamble and loses out is labelled a buffoon who threw all their money away.

 

Even judging things by their outcomes is irrational and stupid, but isn’t that what it means to be human?

 

Thus, when faced with the emergence of a tunnelling mole-Demon at the tail end of my bowel-movement, instead of doing the logical thing and vaulting away or calling for help, I instead wipe my ass and pull up my pants. While not the most rational decision I’ve ever made, I’ll be damned if I die with my pants around my ankles and a shit-stained ass-hole.

 

Whilst fumbling with my belt and wholeheartedly regretting my decision, I lock eyes with the mole-Demon and sense the cold hatred and burning fury contained within, though whether this is because of my apparent indifference or merely its regular attitude, I couldn’t say. Regardless of how it feels, the wrinkled, shit-covered creature lunges forward to take my life with talons ready and jaw unhinged. Its square, yellowed teeth and gaping black maw grow larger in vision and I raise my arms to block it, even though logically, it makes zero sense to do so. My vision blurs and the world shifts, after which I miraculously watch the Demon soar through the space I occupied only microseconds before.

 

Wow, that’s a big mole. Moley, moley, moley, mole.

 

Two figures materialize out of thin air before my eyes and move to engage the Demon with their woefully inadequate short swords, and through the haze of shock and confusion, I recognize my saviours as the unfamiliar soldiers I’d spotted earlier, then immediately forgot about after the Wraith attack. With his hand on my chest, the third mysterious soldier positions himself between the Demon and myself, moving me away from the battle to keep me safe. Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re here to protect me, and I mutter a small prayer of thanks to whomever might be listening. While I’m still not entirely convinced of an all-powerful being watching over me from above, it doesn’t hurt to show proper appreciation.

 

Chaos ensues as Argat and the Death Corps rush into the tent to join the fray, but luckily, my newfangled guardians are stronger than expected. Working in tandem, one distracts the Demon while the other attacks from behind. Leaking Ichor from a handful of wounds after their brief exchange, the Demon fails to land a blow on either nimble warrior and promptly retreats, crashing through my tent and pulling up the stakes as it’s driven away. Instead of pressing their advantage, my saviours draw away to my side and settle into a defensive position around me and my Death Corps guards, leaving Argat to engage the Demon all by his lonesome. Finally remembering to draw my weapons, I strap Tranquility in place and say, “Not that I’m ungrateful or trying to tell you how to do your jobs, but I’m safe enough with the Death Corps here, so could you go help Argat?”

 

Silence is my only answer as my saviours drag me away, but I stubbornly dig in and refuse to leave. Though it seems like he’s got things under control, Argat is clearly outmatched by the Demon as he’s focusing solely on defence, so it’s best if I stick around to lend a hand. Dodging nimbly about, the half-monkey Khishig ducks, dips, and dances around the Demon’s earth-shattering attacks, unable to find an opening to retaliate because a single connecting blow would turn him into a bloody pulp. A swipe of its talons rends a furrow through the dirt, forcing Argat to pole-vault away and leaving the Demon free and unhindered. Talons digging into the dirt, it launches itself like an arrow towards me with startling speed, and if I were facing it alone, I fear this would spell my end, but my silent guardians save me once more.

 

By pulling me aside and leaving the Death Corps to die in my place.

 

Tearing through armour like paper, the Demon barrels through my devoted guards and turns them into a mist of gore and blood. Sliding across the grass, the creature snarls and turns to gather itself for another pounce while more Death Corps stream in to block its path, yet another illogical decision considering the scene they witnessed. No, not illogical, because to the Death Corps, it makes all the sense in the world. I can see it in their eyes, for there is no fear or hesitation, only grim determination. This is their purpose, to give their lives in defence of my own no matter the odds stacked against them, and the odds are dire indeed.

 

“Back!” I shout, and the Death Corps are forced to obey. “Retreat to a hundred paces.” They can’t do anything except get in the way, and I’ll be damned if more of them die for nothing, but where they faced the prospect of death with grim smiles, my orders to disperse are met with crestfallen faces. Putting their damned honour out of mind, I clutch Peace and Tranquility in hand and once again execute Balance on Windy Leaf, charging the Demon in deranged defiance of the odds.

 

I promised myself I’d never do this again, but fuck it. This thing killed my soldiers, and it will die for it.

 

Despite my frenzied madness, I still have enough presence of mind to angle my charge, so instead of crashing headlong into its open mouth, I’m poised to skirt along its side and carve into its flesh. With its talons dug into the dirt, the Demon is helpless to defend itself from my charge, or so I think until it stretches its neck to snap at me instead. Inside my Natal Palace, the Star sparkles with blinding light and the Hammer strikes with a bone-shaking clang, while out in the real world, Tranquility smashes into the Demon’s face. Despite Reinforcing and Amplifying for all I’m worth, it feels like hitting a steel wall. The jarring collision knocks me off my feet and sends me hurling through the air, smacked aside like a pinball by its powerful neck. Rolling backwards with the fall, I go head over heels multiple times before coming to my feet, just in time to see Argat drive his spear clean through the Demon’s spine, eliciting a hair-raising shriek as the tip emerges from its chest and pins it to the ground. Not a cry of pain, but anger, for the creature is enraged by this injury which stops it from killing me. Standing on the Demon’s back, Argat clings to his spear and slams his feet atop the flailing creature’s head, keeping himself safe from snapping jaws and grasping talons.

 

Bucking and shaking to dislodge the unwelcome passenger, the Demon’s furious motions only serve to tear itself apart on Argat’s embedded spear, its wrinkled flesh giving way before the smooth, metallic haft and widening its wound from chest to belly. Greenish-yellow Ichor spurts from the wound and blackens the grass around it, but even though the widening wound offers it more freedom, its movements grow sluggish and listless with time. Since my silent guardians seem unwilling to lend aid, I move in to offer what little assistance I can, but they quickly close in to stand in my way and hold me back without laying a hand on my person or even looking my way.

 

I don’t know who these Experts are, and they did save my life, but it pisses me off how they’re prioritizing my safety over Argat’s life.

 

Before I lose my temper and threaten them with bodily harm, Lei Gong arrives in a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, his scintillating cane smashing into the Demon’s head and electrifying its entire body even as Argat leaps away, an effort hopefully coordinated through Sending else I’ll have to have words with Lei Gong. I might have words with him regardless, because it’s almost been a full minute since the Demon emerged and he’s only arriving now, one of the many reasons why I didn’t feel safe leaving Song under his sole protection. The old drunk is hardly reliable. He didn’t even show his face in the aftermath of the Wraith attack, and now here he is showing up late to a Demon-killing party. I’m hoping the Tyrant has a more dependable work ethic, but her pierced nipples and near-compulsive research don’t exactly scream ‘responsible’.

 

I can’t believe I’m even thinking this, but I wish Daxian were still here…

 

With the Demon dead and no longer a threat, my guardians lose all interest in holding me back. Pushing past with an irritated grunt, I run over to Argat lying on his side in the dirt. Despite his valiant efforts, his legs are splattered with caustic Ichor which has eaten through his leather boots and trousers to attack the vulnerable flesh beneath. The smell of burnt hair and charred flesh mingles with the stench wafting up from the latrines as I scrape Ichor off of his leg using the rim of my shield. “Water,” I yell, wishing I hadn’t ordered the Death Corps to back so far away. “Someone get me water!”

 

“Forget the water,” Argat says, gritting his teeth in pain. “Can’t wash Ichor away. Scrape what you can and cut the rest before it gets down to the bone. Your Mentor will have our hides if both Jochi and I get sent off for Healing and leave you without a nanny.” Ignoring his jab, I work quickly as I can and fight a losing battle against the destructive Demonic fluids. Finally, a Death Corps soldier arrives bearing multiple water skins and I dump most of my Chi into the first bag using a precious minute of time, turning the Chi-infused water into counterfeit Heavenly Water before pouring it over the Ichor still plastered to Argat’s flesh. Unlike with Wraith poison, the effect is instantaneous as the insidious fluids lose cohesion and colour, crumbling apart and falling to the wayside like clumps of harmless wax. Sucking in a pained breath, Argat bites off an angry curse as he sees my Blessing at work, and the tension drains from my body to be replaced by sweet relief.

 

It’s about time something worked out the way I think it should. Counterfeit Heavenly Water is a go. I should probably change its name to something snappier, like Blessed Water. No, let’s go with Purifying Water, not as religious. I don’t need more people like BoShui and Dastan staring at me with wide eyed reverence.

 

Making a mental note to hand out containers of Purifying Water to my friends, I set to cleaning and bandaging Argat’s legs. Sporting no less than nine irregular flesh wounds, it’ll take a day or two of self-Healing before he’s back on his feet, though it would’ve been much worse without my efforts. Impressed with my accomplishments for a change, that promptly changes with Argat’s Sending. “Idiot boy, what’s the matter with you? What are you thinking using the Heavenly Tear in plain sight? What if someone’s Watching and sees? Hurry and cover my legs, assuming it’s not already too late.

 

Ah. Right. It’s not Blobby, but I suppose my enemies won’t believe me or it’d already be too late even if they did. So I guess that’s a no on handing out Purifying Water? I hate having to keep all these damned secrets. It’s no wonder the Empire’s stagnating, they keep killing people off every time someone comes up with something new.

 

With the floodgates opened, Argat continues to berate me for my actions through Sending. “Another thing: what were you thinking when you charged a Wraith? You were lucky to spot it, but did it ever occur to you that it might have been a trap? What if it showed itself to lure you away from your guards so one of its cronies could kill you? And why’d you send the Death Corps away? They’re there to protect you, not twiddle their thumbs and watch you die. What if those three strangers had a change of heart and stuck a dagger between your ribs? You don’t even know their names yet you put your life in their hands, but that’s not enough. No, you left them behind too, this time to charge a damn Demon. I swear on the Mother Above, you pull another stunt like this and you can find yourself another damned protector, one stupid enough to take on this impossible job.

 

Trying to get a word in edgewise, I Send, “Sorry, but I was just trying to help.” And I did help… I distracted the Demon long enough for Argat to impale it.

 

Indignation diminishing ever so slightly when he realizes the same, Argat closes his eyes and sighs. “Look… I’m just saying, it’s stressful keeping you safe when you run headlong into danger every chance you get. Even if you’re not afraid to die, think about what’ll happen if I survive and you don’t. Shit, they’ll probably blame me for slacking off even if I lose my arms and legs trying to save you.

 

Sorry.” Though to be fair, it’s not my fault he has a less than stellar track record. The first time I needed their help, they were getting drunk in a tavern while I fought assassins in the streets of Sanshu…

 

After a pregnant pause, Argat Sends, “I’m not telling you to stop being all heroic and challenging the odds, but just… pick your fights better. You’re a rare talent kid, but you’re not invincible. Even Nian Zu almost died to Wraiths, and you’re still a long way from matching even the weakest of Demons.” Snorting, he adds, “Give yourself another year or two. At the rate you’re improving, I’ll be looking to you to protect me by then.

 

Surpass Argat in a year? Yea right. The Demon tossed me aside like a wet rag using only its neck, but Argat stomped its head into the dirt more than once. Not only is he physically stronger than I am by several orders of magnitude, I don’t even know how it’s possible. We both use Reinforcement and Amplification, but he hits so much harder than I do it’s absurd.

 

With Argat’s injuries tended to, I task a few Death Corps soldiers with getting him back to his yurt before dealing with the chaos of camp. My saviours have all disappeared and left no trace behind, though I suspect they’re still lurking somewhere nearby. I don’t know why they were watching me poop, but despite their uniforms and Khishig leathers, I’m certain they weren’t Bekhai, which means they weren’t sent here by Dad or Akanai. I don’t even think they were Northerners because they had the naturally tanned skin, slender eyebrows, and narrow facial features found commonly in Central’s peasant population. Thing is, why would a bunch of Central Experts guard me in secret? Maybe they’re Colonel Hongji’s people, or maybe the Legate is nicer than I thought, or maybe it’s one of a thousand other possibilities I can’t think of. Either way, they’re on my side, so I’m not too too stressed about it and only moderately worried.

 

Desperately hoping they’ll never speak about what happened inside my poop tent, I make a note to ask the Colonel about the enigmatic protectors while grieving for my lost soldiers and waiting for news from the other camps. It turns out I wasn’t the only one to come under attack, nor was I in the most danger. Yan, Zian, and BoShui were visited by three Wraiths each but escaped without injury, while Wu Gam got twelve Wraiths and three mole Demons, all of whom were taken care of by the Original Gam, a warrior who not only makes Lei Gong look neat and tidy, but apparently also puts the Lord of Thunder’s strength to shame. Maybe that’s the secret to Martial Strength: a slovenly appearance. I mean, we have Lei Gong, Guan Suo, and now Original Gam, all slobs and degenerates hiding considerable skills.

 

If I fail to become a peak Expert, then I’ll blame Luo-Luo for making me dress nice.

 

The Demon corpse continues to blacken the earth, turning green grass into brittle ash as the Ichor seeps into the soil. Considering Argat’s angry reaction to cleansing the Ichor on his legs, I doubt he’d be pleased to learn I cleansed the Demon corpse too, so I leave it where it lays as Lei Gong advises me to do. It’s not too big a loss since I don’t know how to turn Ichor into Heavenly Energy, but it pains me to watch the mole-Demon’s corpse desecrate the earth. Technically, it was a mole-rat Demon, but I honestly don’t know the difference, other than one being fluffy and the other bald. Why this makes them mole-rats instead of bald moles, I couldn’t say, but apparently, the Enemy has a lot of them because there’s a bat-shit crazy mole-rat Divinity lady who raises them like they’re her children, one who bears a grudge with the Original Gam for killing her babies back at the Canston Winery.

 

Poor little mole rats. They’re ugly, but that doesn’t mean they’re evil. I don’t know how the Defiled Ancestral Beast turns them into Demons, but I doubt it’s a pleasant experience.

 

The Wraiths also targeted other camps and officers, but the only other officer to be attacked by Demons was Colonel Hongji himself. There’s been no word of deaths or injuries, but standard military protocol is to keep things like that quiet for the sake of morale. Aside from a brief public appearance from Hongji to order everyone to remain calm and secure their camps, there’s little else for my people to report, so I set about doing as I’m told. Bringing pen, ink, and paper outside, I settle down with Song and Ping Ping (and by extension, Guan Suo) to eat jerky while replenishing my Core and brainstorming ideas to uncover Concealed Experts.

 

Aside from scattering flour around or installing squeaky floorboards, my mind draws a blank. I suppose I could get a smaller poop tent so I can be closer to my guards at all times, but then they’re gonna hear me poop. They probably hear it regardless, but at least with a big empty tent, I have the illusion of privacy. Scribbling “indoor plumbing” onto the parchment and circling it multiple times, I lament my lack of useful memories once again before turning to my option of last resort. “Venerable Guan Suo,” I call, using the title I heard Akanai and Song use. “Would you be so kind as to offer this lost soul your invaluable guidance?”

 

“Pei.” Upon hearing his customary response, I circle around Ping Ping to find the grumpy half-panda relaxing against the big girl’s shoulder with a cloud of dark smoke hanging over his head. “What do you want now? Not satisfied with keepin’ an old man from his sleep with your displays of Purity, now you want to natter at him too?”

 

Honestly, his grouchiness is almost endearing. If he didn’t want to answer, he could’ve just stayed hidden, but he didn’t. I think he likes our little conversations and just doesn’t want to admit it, but I’ll play along. “My profound apologies Venerable One, but could you explain Concealment and maybe offer suggestions on how to defeat it?”

 

In the blink of an eye, Guan Suo’s playful grouchiness disappears and is replaced by outright hostility. “No,” he snarls, baring his teeth in threat. “Now fuck off.” Shooting to his feet, he disappears from sight and refuses to respond to my pleas again, though why, I have no idea. I suppose Concealment is one of those things he doesn’t want to talk about, probably because he likes his privacy. I mean, willingly revealing himself for a chat isn’t the same as me seeing through his Concealment and forcing him to talk, so I shout a heartfelt apology before going back to my brainstorming.

 

The problem is, I don’t know enough about Concealment to counter it. I mean, it makes people overlook your presence, but how? Maybe I should ask Lei Gong, but he’s another old grouch who likes to stay hidden. I suppose I’ll just have to wait until Argat is better to work on anti-Concealment methods, which means there’s nothing for me to do except make more Purifying Water and figure out how to use External Water Chi. I mean, it’s awesome that I can Externalize it, but the process is slow, Chi intensive, and of no real value whatsoever, so even though I’ve taken a critical step along the Martial Path, my strength hasn’t improved by a single iota, which was the whole point of this endeavour.

 

Argat thinks I’ll surpass him in two years, but even if he’s right, I don’t think the Empire has that much time…

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 447


Happy Easter!


 

Lifting Peace into my trembling hands, I hold my breath and commit this image to memory, how the iridescent dewdrops scatter the sunlight over the flat of my blade, a deluge of melded pinks and blues with hints of yellows, greens, and purples which shift with every bump and jolt of my unsteady grip. So reminiscent of my latest attempt at a Keystone, I watch the colours and reflect on what emotions they evoke for future reference, though I should go over this again when I’m not woozy with delight. Too afraid to blink for fear the Water Chi will dissipate, I stare until my eyes grow dry and cheeks strained, wearing a smile so wide I can hear the wind whistling between my teeth.

 

So this is what success feels like. It’s nice. I should succeed more often.

 

After circumstances and biology conspire and force me to blink, my joy redoubles when I find the Water Chi still there and I find the courage to stand in place. Doing my best to keep Peace level, my careful efforts prove unnecessary when my leg cramps up and I stumble in place. Despite a near vertical dip, the glimmering beads remain affixed to the sword as if magnetized in place, a scattering of droplets across the metal surface rather than coming together as a whole. Seems odd that my Water Chi is peaceful and tranquil but not united like I’d envisioned it, but I’ll take two out of three for now. Maybe I didn’t put enough Chi in the effort, though I lost a good tenth of my Core in crafting this half-teacup of water. The important thing is I can manifest Water Chi, and while it took a lot of effort to produce so little liquid, not to mention how it has no real applicable use (yet), this is merely the first of many steps towards becoming awesome.

 

Next up is to do what Guan Suo suggested and figure out how to use Chi to manipulate my Water Chi, then work on using Chi-infused water, but all things in good time. For now, I should share my success with Yan and Song.

 

Tearing my eyes away from my sword, I glance around in search of the lovely ladies, but they are nowhere to be found. Viyan, Birca, and Argat stand in a loose triangle around me, their heads sweeping back and forth to keep me safe while I parse through the mysteries of the Martial Path. Not to be outdone, four Death Corps soldiers also stand guard a little further out, while soldiers continue to train and spar on the fields behind me. BoShui is still hard at work, now trading pointers with Dastan and looking good while doing it. Though Dastan has improved by leaps and bounds over this past year, BoShui has come into his own since binding his third and fourth Spiritual Weapons, a pair of honest to goodness combat boots. Well, greaves would be the technical term, a pair of fitted, metallic footwear complete with sharp edges, barbed spikes, and most importantly, shin protection. Using his equally pointy gauntlets to defend and devastating kicks to attack, BoShui fights like a different warrior now that he doesn’t have to risk losing a foot every time he kicks out, a minor change which makes him a warrior to be reckoned with. Where he once ranked amongst the weakest in our little clique, he’s closed the gap significantly and could probably give Zian and Song a good run for their money considering how deftly he dismantled my offensive rush during our spars earlier today.

 

In my defence, I’m a slow learner and still suck at duelling with Unity. I might do better with Peace and Tranquility, but if I’m being honest, probably not by much.

 

Double-checking to make sure the Water Chi is still there (it is), I check the sun and only now realize it’s been hours since I sat down. Yan’s probably having lunch now, a hot meal cooked over a portable stove instead of the hardtack and dried jerky I’ve been eating all week. Kind as she is, she would’ve offered to share with Song who would’ve happily accepted since she hates eating travel food even more than I do, and Guan Suo would’ve undoubtedly joined them along with Ping Ping and the rest of my pets. The big turtle is much less clingy of late, probably because I’m overfeeding her with Chi Tea, but that’s neither here nor there. I should wait until after lunch before showing off my new skills, because if I go see Yan and Song now, I won’t be able to turn down a hot meal or trying to partake in a different kind of treat.

 

What a pair Yan and Song make, one pale and angelic with a devilish personality while the other is a busty, bronze-skinned goddess who appears aloof yet is bursting with nurturing affection…

 

Taking a deep breath to cool my ardour, I flex my leg muscles and wait for the swelling to subside before coming to my feet with Peace still held flat in both hands. Though I know the Water Chi is stuck fast to the metal, I’m still irrationally worried about spilling it before someone else sees and then never succeeding ever again and wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing. Unfortunately, before I can give voice to my achievements, Argat Sends, “Good, you’re conscious.” Though casually spoken, his words are laced with tension. “Possible trouble. Check the approaching soldier to my left, the one marching like he’s on parade. He’s wearing Sentinel leathers, but I don’t recognize him. Do you?

 

Usually prone to distraction, the monkey brothers are surprisingly professional once they’re separated, but it’s possible Argat is taking things a little too far. So he doesn’t recognize a soldier, we have over two-hundred new arrivals, and not to be racist or anything, but most of them look alike. While it’s possible to distinguish the people of the Empire by province, the newbies all hail from Sanshu and share a few key similarities, namely being black hair, broad faces, and squarish jaws, all of which amounts to sharper, more angular features than the people of Central. Add in the definitive marks of perfection that separate Martial Warriors from mundane citizens, not to mention the near identical uniforms, and you end up with a lot of faces blending together, even with the picture perfect memory of an Expert.

 

Deciding it’s best not to dissuade Argat’s uncharacteristic vigilance, I slowly move to look but get distracted by the sight of Chun Yimu Junior scurrying over with a terror-stricken expression, his shirt soaked with sweat at the collar and pits. Usually, his truncheon hangs from his belt, dangling from the sword-catcher jutting out from its hilt, but today, he clutches the slim, square-headed weapon in a white-knuckled death grip as he moves towards me like a man possessed. If it were anyone else, I would assume he was here to spar, but Junior is a typical entitled noble, a lazy bum who half-asses everything he can get away with and more than he shouldn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever caught him training when he could be dicing instead, but I’m reluctant to come down hard on account of his namesake. I wasn’t the best underling back in Sanshu, and while most of my insults were unintended, I feel like I owe Chun Yimu Senior a lot for not taking my words to heart. Besides, I misjudged the new Guard Captain of Sanshu; back then, I thought he ordered me out on a suicide mission, but I now know he set me up for success. It’s almost laughable how I thought two-to-one odds were ‘unfair’. I’d kill for those odds now, and anything less than five-to-one feels like a walk in the park.

 

A long, exhausting, deadly walk in the park, but a walk nonetheless.

 

Regardless of his worth, there’s something about Junior’s demeanour that throws me off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. For some reason, I find my gaze sliding away when I try to study him, but it’s like trying to track an erratic fly even though he’s human and moving directly towards me at a hurried walk. Keeping him in my line of sight, I scan the surroundings to check for threats and spot not one, but three unfamiliar soldiers all converging on my position. Opening my mouth to speak, the words freeze in my throat as my peripheral vision picks up a previously unnoticed detail.

 

Junior isn’t alone.

 

Turning towards him, I wonder how I could ever overlook Junior’s companion, a gaunt, hunchbacked figure shrouded in a misty haze of shadow, with pale, pock-marked skin and grungy wisps of hair hanging loosely from his scalp like dead grass left out to dry. As I lock eyes with the mysterious stranger, his pupils widen ever so slightly in surprise, but only for an instant before he reacts with ruthless expertise. Twin ebony daggers appear in his gnarled hands and his lips stretch into a feral grin, relishing the violence he is about to inflict as his weapons lance towards Junior’s neck and liver.

 

My feet move to intercept the Defiled assassin before I can think twice. Executing Balance on Windy Leaf, the Hammer strikes and Anvil rings my Amplified steps propel me into battle, showering my startled guards in an obscuring cloud of dust and dirt. Upon my approach, Junior’s eyes widen in fear as he futilely screeches, “Wait,” though how he knows the Wraith is about to kill him, I couldn’t say. Time slows once adrenaline and Enlightenment kick in and a single second stretches into excruciating eternity as I watch the Wraith’s dagger inch closer and closer to Junior’s vitals while knowing I won’t reach him in time. Five steps versus fifteen centimetres, the outcome is obvious, and the rational part of my mind considers leaving Junior to his fate. Even if it was worth risking my life to save a worthless good-for-nothing slacker, it’s clear I can’t save him and where there’s one Wraith, there are bound to be more, but even one is a dangerous opponent.

 

Though not the most skilled combatants, Wraiths are masters of stealth and assassination, and it wouldn’t surprise me to know there were more lurking nearby, hidden and waiting for a chance to strike. A nick of their tainted blades is enough to incapacitate a regular soldier, for it takes dedicated practice to purge poisons while simultaneously putting up a fight. Even when immediately expelled, the aftereffects of the poison can leave all but the hardiest of Martial Warriors weak and feeble for days, if not weeks after the fact, barring attention from an experienced Healer who knows how to mitigate the nerve damage.

 

That, or possibly anyone who knows how to use Panacea, which Junior most certainly does not. Also, most people die when stabbed in the throat or liver, much less both, but I can’t just sit back and do nothing. Junior might be not be one of my best, but he’s still one of my own, and I’ll fight tooth and nail to save any of my people.

 

Guided by instinct, I bring Peace to bear with a flick of my wrist and the beaded droplets of Water Chi converge on its metallic surface before arcing off into the air, a united, glistening stream shooting unerringly towards the Wraith’s head. Reacting faster than I would’ve given him credit for, Junior dives away from my oncoming charge just as the Wraith recoils from the projectile, a combination that saves the spoiled noble’s life. Sputtering as the stream splashes into his eyes, the Wraith draws back and wipes his face in panic, panic which soon turns to confusion as my Water Chi dissipates into nothingness and leaves him dry, unharmed, and utterly bewildered by my seemingly nonsensical actions.

 

Okay, let’s be clear. This was not a failure. I told my Water Chi to be water, and nothing else. I shouldn’t have expected it to do more, nor should I be embarrassed when it didn’t. I didn’t craft it to melt faces or pierce skulls, all I asked it to do was be water, and it pulled it off perfectly.

 

Praying my cheeks aren’t as red as they feel, I burn with embarrassment even as Peace smashes through the Wraith’s ribs. So surprised he can’t even put up a fight, the would-be assassin dies instantly and his corpse sails away as I stop to stand guard over Junior. Knowing our fates could’ve easily been reversed if I hadn’t seen him coming, I keep my eyes peeled for more assailants and shout, “Wraiths in the camp!”

 

Having trained for this scenario, my soldiers take up the warning and calls ripple throughout the camps, including a series of blown horns to warn our allies around Sinuji. Meanwhile, my soldiers freeze in place to take careful stock of their surroundings, watching for the killers lurking in our midst. Wraiths aren’t invisible, they’re just difficult to spot unless you’re actively looking and know what to look for. They use a modified version of Concealment, an External Chi skill that causes unwary observers to overlook their presence with a Jedi mind trick or something. Where their version differs from regular Concealment is that they also create a visible, shadowy shroud that muffles any sound they make and eliminates their scent, while also protecting them from being targeted by Aura. This makes it so even though most Wraiths are feeble and sickly in comparison to other Defiled, they can sneak past most guards and don’t need an Aura-capable warrior to assassinate Experts, allowing them to kill and slink back into the shadows to slip away in relative safety.

 

Still, their skills aren’t perfect. With everyone in camp standing still, it’s much more difficult for the Wraiths to move about, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Soon enough, Argat makes a move and impales a Wraith not ten meters away from me, barely giving the dead assassin a second look before resuming his wide-eyed surveillance, his back straight but shoulders relaxed as if he were watching for birds instead of Defiled. Next to score a kill is Siyar, who doesn’t even look as he decapitates a Wraith who’d already moved past him with a backhanded strike. My respect for him jumps yet another notch, because not only did he spot the Wraith, he did so without being noticed and assassinated the assassin, skills which mark him as more than the humble smuggler he claims to be.

 

Having lost three of their brethren, the remaining Wraiths appear to reach a silent consensus and move all at once, rushing towards me to take my life and attacking anyone who’s in their way. With only sword in hand, I ready to welcome their charge only to find my fun interrupted by Viyan, Birca and the Death Corps crowding around, ready to defend me with their lives if need be. Before I can order them aside, Argat hurls himself into the fray with spear a twirling, smashing through the Defiled hatchet men in a stunning display of supernatural grace and dexterity. In the blink of an eye, the battle comes to an end and six Wraiths lay dead in the grass, while Argat resumes his relaxed vigil after making sure I’m still within spear’s reach. Replaying the scene again in memory, I spot a level of forethought and economy of motion which makes his actions seem relaxed and casual, as if all part of a routine he’d performed a thousand times before instead of what was most likely a unique combination of movements he’d come up with on the fly.

 

And to think, Argat is considered a slacker among the Bekhai…

 

With nine Wraiths dead, the camp falls still once more to search for more assassins and long seconds pass in tense, heart-pounding silence, interrupted only by the groaning of the wounded. My wounded. The realization hammers home and I shove my defenders aside, snarling, “Eyes open, but see to the wounded. Don’t let them bleed or choke out.” Kneeling to check on Junior, I spot a patch of blood across his lower back, telling me he didn’t quite escape unscathed like I’d thought. Mentally apologizing for thinking he stayed down because he’s a coward, I turn him onto his uninjured side and make small talk while removing his leather armour. “Speak to me soldier. You injured anywhere besides your flank? You hit your head on the way down?”

 

Gasping like a fish, Junior’s reply is too quiet for me to hear, but at least he’s talking. When his voice dies down, I keep talking, as the important thing is to keep him engaged and conscious. “That was a damn close thing with the Wraith poised behind you. Didn’t think I’d save you, but you’re faster than you look. Damn fine awareness soldier. Proud to have you with me.” Cutting away his shirt reveals a nasty gash on his flank, not deep enough to be life-threatening on its own but already blacked and necrotic from the poison. Knowing his Healing skills are too shitty to save him, I pull a leather strap out of my pouch and tuck it into his mouth. “That said, I’d like to keep you around a little longer, so bite down and don’t move.”

 

Because this is going to hurt.

 

Grabbing my wrist with more strength than expected, Junior’s eyes go wide with a mixture of fear and determination. Spitting out the leather, he croaks, “Protect him.” Swallowing hard, he closes his eyes and shouts, “Protect Falling Rain!”

 

Gotta say, I’m pretty moved by his loyalty there. Injured and struggling to breathe, yet he still has the strength to tell his comrades to look after me. “Don’t you worry, I’ll be fine,” I say, gently tucking the strap back into his mouth and signalling Birca to help hold him down. “Now let’s get you fixed up before this poison spreads.” Without waiting for an answer, I wait until Birca is ready before using Peace to carve off a strip of blackened flesh and toss it aside before the poison can spread to my fingers. No one knows where they get their poison from, but it probably has something to do with Demon Ichor.

 

Huh… Could I neutralize Wraith poison with counterfeit Heavenly Water? Sheepishly grabbing my waterskin, I use a quarter of the Chi inside my Core to turn it into Chi-infused water, then focus and turn it into (what should presumably be) counterfeit Heavenly Water. Pouring it over Junior’s bleeding wound, I see no change in his condition, so I also rinse my hands while holding them over the strip of removed flesh. Again, I spot no obvious changes, but the poison burns itself out quickly with nothing to feed on, so this isn’t definitive.

 

Leaving Viyan to finish patching Junior up, I move on to the next wounded soldier for more testing. While there are no immediate results, I figure it couldn’t hurt to keep trying, and when my waterskin runs dry, I rinse a few more soldier’s wounds with just regular water and leave the remaining ones untouched. If Junior and the others who got the counterfeit Heavenly Water treatment recover faster than the others, then I’ll know there’s an effect. If Junior’s group and the rinsed group both recover faster than the unrinsed, then it probably means regular water helps counteract Wraith poison, and if they all recover in the same time frame, then I’ll know my efforts were futile.

 

While I’ve been rinsing wounds and offering words of encouragement, the rest of my retinue has remained motionless and alert, but seeing as there have been no further sightings of Wraiths, I figure it’s okay to stand down and send messengers to check on the other camps while telling Rustram to write a report for Colonel Hongji. Though Argat mentions he has an issue he wants to talk about, I beg him to leave it for a few minutes as I rush to my poop tent to do what one does. It’s not an uncommon reaction to the post battle stress, and while I usually try to wait until the post-battle rush has come and gone, there’s no holding it in today. Honestly, this is one of the worst parts of being a soldier; a diet of jerky and hardtack does horrible things to my insides, and while eating enough pickled vegetables can take care of blockage issues, it’s a little too effective, if you know what I mean.

 

Overruling Argat’s concerns and leaving him with my Death Corps escorts outside, I awkwardly shuffle into the tent with butt-cheeks clenched and do a quick sweep for hidden assassins. Overly paranoid thanks to Argat’s warnings, I poke around the tent for a bit and almost leave things too late, forcing me into a desperate scramble to drop-trou and squat over the hole. At this point my intestinal tenant decides it is not, in fact, going to come shooting out, and instead takes its sweet time vacating the premises. Knowing how sensitive Martial Warrior ears are, I close my eyes, choke back a groan, and give a hundred and ten percent effort, but alas all is not well and I soon grow light-headed from pushing too hard.

 

Long seconds later, my stubborn tenant only halfway out and I decide this is a good time to hit pause and take a breather. Opening my eyes, I mop my brow and realize my legs aren’t trembling with effort, but rather the ground is shaking beneath my feet. Not two meters away, the dirt floor splinters apart and a creature of nightmares emerges from the ground with a terrible shriek of victory, its pale, wrinkled flesh covered in what I pray is mud. Shouts sound from outside the tent, but seeing how I’ve literally been caught with my pants around my ankles, I know that even if Akanai herself were standing guard outside, she wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to save me from this mole-Demon.

 

Well… at least I’m not constipated anymore.

 

Chapter Meme1

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 446


I’d like to give a shout out to my latest Patron, Son of Zeus. Thank you so much for your support!


 

Everything changed when the Butchers attacked.

 

Prior to the disastrous Defiled insurrection, Chun Yimu had been a respected, twenty-two year old Sergeant of the Guard in Sanshu, wielding his trusty truncheon in service to his coin purse first, and the Magistrate’s peace second. Back then, people feared and respected him, for his Spiritual Weapon and familial connections to Western Treasures Union afforded him far more power than a mere Sergeant should have, and he wasn’t shy about using it to his advantage. Small advantages to be sure, for his status in the Union was mediocre at best, but it was enough to let him open a tab at every luxurious bar, brothel, and bathhouse in Sanshu, tabs he had no intention of ever paying off. While his meagre Sergeant’s salary left him destitute after paying his Union dues, he drank and played for free while bribes and kickbacks bought him a cozy little courtyard manor, one he filled with second-rate art and counterfeit antiques, a necessity for anyone of worth in Sanshu. He would’ve much rather filled his modest home with slave girls and courtesans, but appearances must be kept, for he was not the only Chun Yimu in Sanshu.

 

It was a name he loathed with all his heart. His mother’s fault, for she idolized her older brother and hoped her son would be just as heroic, hopes which fell woefully short. As such, no one, his mother included, ever called him by name, only ever referring to him as Junior.

 

When the traitorous bastard Mao Jianghong let Yo Ling and his Defiled Bandits through the gates, Junior’s cozy little life came to an abrupt end. Using his connections, he secured himself a safe posting in the north-eastern gatehouse, as far from the fighting and the Butchers as he could conceivably get, but as the hours stretched into days and news trickled in from the battlefront, even the guardhouse didn’t feel safe anymore. Thus, when a slave representing Chao Yong, chairman of the Eastern Prosperity Alliance, approached him seeking passage out of the city, Junior seized the chance for salvation. The Butchers were already inside the city, so what harm could come from opening the gates? Five hundred gold and safe passage away was a small price to pay for someone like Chao Yong, but more than enough for Junior to set up in Jiu Lang or Nan Ping, even when split four ways with his fellow guards.

 

It’d been a close thing, a matter of mere minutes. The moment Chao Yong’s barges arrived, Junior gave the order to open the sluice gates and let them through, but his order had been met with silence. When he turned around, he was greeted by cold steel and a colder smile, both belonging to the infamous half-stag Jariad, second-in-command of the Crossbone Corsairs and a name which stood alongside the likes of Gao Qiu, Bastard Liu, and Yo Ling himself. Junior’s nanny had used those names to frighten him as a child, her words painting Jariad as the Forest Lord and a fearsome bandit more terrifying than the Defiled themselves. She warned him that misbehaving children were the Forest Lord’s favourite treat, but only after they’d been impaled upon his antlers and left there for days, for the suffering made their flesh all the more tender. Junior had been utterly terrified and run straight to his mother, which resulted in the nanny being whipped and cast out of the manor, but the damage had already been done.

 

It took him years to get over his fear of the forest, so it was easy to understand why, when confronted with the scarred face of his childhood nightmares, he lost control of his bladder.

 

Though Jariad spared Junior’s life, he almost wished the damned bandit had slit his throat instead, for following Yo Ling’s miraculous defeat, it seemed like all Sanshu could talk about was how Chun Yimu pissed himself when confronted by the city’s bandit saviours, a ‘rumour’ which reached the ears of his namesake and Uncle, current Lieutenant Colonel and Guard Captain of Sanshu, Chun Yimu Senior. Needless to say, Uncle Yimu was less than pleased to hear about it and called Junior in for a haranguing, after which he was stripped of rank and sent for retraining alongside the new recruits, who just so happened to be the same Corsairs who’d spread the rumours in the first place. That had been a brand new sort of hell, for not only did his ‘comrades’ scorn and look down upon him for his ‘spoon-fed’ upbringing and inferior Martial skills, with his name being a joke and his rank stripped away, Junior could no longer throw his weight around like he used to. With no income and no power, his debtors soon came calling and repossessed his manor, but not before they tore the walls and floorboards apart searching for his savings, savings which he’d already lost because he had them with him in the gatehouse.

 

It burned him to know that a soldier he called comrade had likely pocketed his nest egg and was laughing about it every time they crossed paths.

 

So there he was, sharing a bunk in the guard barracks with eleven other men and sitting in a dirty, dimly-lit bar one month after Sanshu’s victory. Nursing his watered-down drink because he couldn’t afford another, he was busy mentally cursing both former and current Guard Captains of Sanshu when he’d been approached by a spy, an innocuous young man named MuYang who spoke with a poorly-concealed Central accent. It started off so innocuously, with a friendly face offering to buy a drink for one of ‘Sanshu’s finest’, but Junior saw through his intentions and was happy to partake. Having grown up in Sanshu, he understood how the game was played, and this MuYang (undoubtedly a fake name, since not even the stupidest peasant would name their son ‘Shepherd’) wasn’t asking for much. Information on the Western Treasures Union and Sanshu in general, nothing specific or treasonous, just simple things such as the city’s overall mood, whether citizens or nobles were meeting in secret, whether crime was high or low and such.

 

So Junior did as he’d been taught: he bragged about his lofty family connections, told MuYang enough truth to solicit a bribe, then reported the entire encounter to his Union superior first thing in the morning, where he was rewarded handsomely for turning in a spy. After a short investigation, he was then given a list of ‘facts’ to pass on to MuYang, and for the next few weeks, Junior milked the stupid ‘shepherd’ for all he was worth. Though far from enough to return him to his previous heights, it gave him a taste of the glamorous life he’d burned alongside his urine-soaked trousers, right up until MuYang disappeared without a word. Bereft of his spy, the easy money dried up and Junior was cast back into the wretchedness of poverty.

 

To make matters worse, when his retraining finally finished, he found out his instructor had failed him. There it was, written on the board for all to see: Chun Yimu, Failed. It was a small comfort knowing most guards couldn’t read, right until one of the former Corsairs loudly asked, “Why’s the Guard Captain’s name up there? And who’s got the balls to fail ‘im?” What followed was the most humiliating two minutes of Junior’s life as another Corsair patiently explained for everyone in earshot that the Chun Yimu on the board wasn’t the Guard Captain, but rather the Guard Captain’s nephew, the same Chun Yimu who pissed his pants when the Corsairs entered the city to fight Yo Ling. It’s not as if people ever forgot, they’d just grown bored of talking about it, but after washing out of retraining, Sanshu buzzed anew with talk of the Guard Captain’s worthless nephew. Were it not for his mother’s begging, Uncle Yimu might’ve taken drastic action, but since he doted on his younger sister, Junior got one last chance to prove himself.

 

With the threat of death or banishment hanging over his head, Junior worked harder than he’d ever worked during the second round of retraining and miraculously eked out a passing grade. Unfortunately, his celebration was short-lived because he soon learned he would have been better off failing again, for the City Guards were immediately ordered to ship out in force and escort Magistrate Chu Tongzu to Central for the Imperial Grand Conference. Camping in the fields for months on end was hardly Junior’s idea of fun, nor was he excited about ‘seeing the world’ or ‘expanding his horizons’. All he wanted was his cozy little life in Sanshu back, when he had the respect of the people and coin in his purse, but alas, the Mother, and Uncle Yimu, had different plans in store for Junior, as he discovered when he was sent to work for the Number One Talent in the Empire, Falling Rain.

 

Before meeting his new employer in SuiHua, Junior already knew he didn’t want to be there. Officers like Rain reaped all the glory, but it was nameless soldiers like Junior who paid the blood-price. He tried everything to get out of it, writing letters to mother, father, and everyone else he knew who might influence Uncle Yimu’s decision, but the old man would not be swayed. “Falling Rain is the future of the Empire,” Uncle Yimu had told him. “Attach yourself to his side, prove your worth, and fame and fortune will follow.” As if that were possible. Junior wasn’t even an officer, mere fodder in the eyes of Rain, so instead, he lived every day as if it were his last, though his celebrations were lacklustre thanks to his dearth of coin and strict military guidelines. Being a soldier was worlds apart from being a guard, and Junior hated everything about it, with more rules, more training, and more supervision, all so they could die in service to the Empire. Even luck had abandoned him as he diced his days away, losing a small fortune in silvers to Viyan and Birca, two of Falling Rain’s retinue who seemed friendly enough.

 

Then, whilst nursing yet another watered-down drink in a different dimly-lit bar, Junior was once again approached by MuYang. Somehow, the ‘shepherd’ learned of Junior’s new posting and come to SuiHua to purchase information on Rain. Were this like before, Junior would’ve gladly obliged and sold the bastard out, but this time, the shepherd wanted specifics like patrol routes, guard schedules, sleeping arrangements and more. Without even remembering to solicit a hefty bribe first, Junior had thrown his drink in the spy’s face and brandished his truncheon. Though many things, he was no traitor, and he would have no part in the assassination of an Imperial Hero, one who helped save Sanshu itself from the clutches of the Enemy.

 

A heroic sentiment which lasted right up until he came face to face with his first Demon.

 

In the days following that horrific nightmare, Junior seriously considered desertion, but seeing how a death sentence awaited him if caught on the long journey back north, he had few other options. What else could he do? No true Martial Warrior, his truncheon more decoration than Spiritual Weapon, and he lacked an Aura, Natal Palace, or Awakening to make him stand out from the rest. Hell, he even had issues finding Balance and Enlightenment most days, so the moment they arrived in Sinuji, Junior wrote a letter to mother begging her to help him get home safely. He told her everything, about how the Defiled were far worse than the likes of Jariad, how unsuitable he was for this life, and how if she left him here, then his death was all but certain, for he was nothing like his uncle and namesake.

 

No matter how much she wished otherwise.

 

An hour after dispatching the letter through supposedly secure channels, Junior received a Sending from a familiar voice. “If you want to leave the front lines alive and wealthy,” MuYang Sent, revealing his true status as a skilled Martial Warrior, “Then come speak with me in person.” Instructions followed, and in his desperation, Junior snuck out of camp and met with the shepherd, who greeted him with the letter in hand. Nondescript was the best way to describe MuYang, with a face and build so average it was difficult to pick him out in a crowd, which made it difficult to believe he was quite possibly an Expert of the Empire, or at the very least, more skilled than Junior. In what he suspected was a calculated bluff, MuYang was garbed in infantry armor bearing ‘Han’ on one shoulder and ‘Heaven and Earth’ on the other, which meant MuYang was Society or wanted Junior to believe he was. Either way, it didn’t matter; this was now a matter of life and death, and he desperately wanted to live.

 

Even if it meant turning traitor and helping someone kill Falling Rain.

 

That had been four days ago. Since then, Junior had wavered on going through with this, but every time he thought about coming clean to Rain, he balked and cursed himself for not speaking out when MuYang approached him in SuiHua. It never occurred to him because he didn’t think Falling Rain would reward him for it, but if he went to Rain now, the bloodthirsty young hero might have Junior tortured just to find out if he was hiding anything else. Besides, a man like Rain had enemies a plenty, so telling him about this one specific assassination attempt would be like trying to put out a forest fire by pissing on it. The best case scenario now would be if everything went perfectly to plan, but Falling Rain survived anyways and never found out about Junior’s involvement.

 

As such, he busied himself making sure there were no trails leading back to him, and thus far, it seemed like he’d done a good job. In the days since their first meeting, Junior had quietly smuggled three sets of armour and weapons to MuYang by wearing an extra set out of camp. Then, early this morning, he told his three yurt mates they’d been rescheduled for a different shift, then snuck out to take his turn on guard duty all by his lonesome. Spinning a yarn about how his comrades had drunk too much and were running late, he begged the relieved guards to keep quiet about their gaffe while covertly palming each of them a silver coin. It’d been more difficult than he’d thought to get rid of them, but eventually, they accepted the coin and stalked off with a warning, at which point MuYang emerged from the shadows with three of his companions. No, not companions, but assassins and killers, each garbed in the Bekkie armour Junior had smuggled out and ready to take Falling Rain’s life.

 

It was at this point, Junior wished he could call it all off. What was he doing? This was treason! Better to die a deserter than a traitor, but it was too late…

 

Saying nothing, MuYang handed Junior a wooden token, the key to the oath-bound assassin’s loyalty. Slaves one and all, the killers were mute, illiterate, and under orders to kill their target and die in the process. Junior had insisted on this point, that they be slaves under his control, for only then could he ensure their silence. If they survived, then they could easily give him away, but this also guarded against MuYang in case he intended to have the slaves survive and implicate Junior in Falling Rain’s death, setting him up as the patsy in this traitorous venture.

 

They needed Junior for this, that much was apparent. A man like Falling Rain would undoubtedly have an incredible hidden protector watching for Concealed assassins, which meant that even though the oath-bound assassins were masters of stealth, a covert attack meant dealing with said hidden protector. Thus the need for Bekkie armour and weapons, so they could hide in the open and blend in with every other soldier in the retinue. This would be enough to trick the hidden protector guarding Falling Rain, which meant the assassins only needed to slip past the mundane guards and get close to their target. This was where Junior came in, for the guards kept track of the comings and goings of soldiers leaving camp, but no one questioned the guards coming off duty. Even if the guards were questioned after the assassination, Junior would pretend he’d been on duty with his yurt mates and was confident they’d keep their mouths shut, because speaking up meant admitting they’d slept through guard duty and gotten their ‘boss’ killed, an infraction punishable by death. The plan was foolproof.

 

 

At least it had been last night. What if his comrades chose to speak up? What if the guards he’d relieved remembered and mentioned how he’d arrived alone? What if the slave assassins weren’t actually slaves and merely devoted killers willing to give their lives to kill an Imperial Hero? A shame Junior hadn’t thought of any of this before MuYang left, because it was too late to call it off now. For hours, he covertly tested the three assassins and their supposed Oaths, ordering them to do things true slaves would be unable to follow through with, like acknowledge his lies as truth or go against their Oaths of silence. While their inability and distress could have been faked, he couldn’t afford to push them too hard lest someone wonder why there was a guard rolling around in pain.

 

Looking up at the Heavens, Junior mopped his brow with a sweat-soaked handkerchief and prayed he’d made the right decision. He shouldn’t have agreed so easily, should’ve taken a few more days to consider everything, but he had panicked. The giant, water-manipulating Demon had unnerved him, because even strong as Falling Rain and his protectors were, they still couldn’t do anything to that Demon, a newborn one which was supposed to be at its weakest. Those rifles had injured it yes, but it would take so much more to kill a Demon, and rumours spoke of dozens, if not hundreds, of Demons being born all across the front lines.

 

Junior just wanted to go back to Sanshu and live in peace, and MuYang was his only chance to get there with his neck intact.

 

After an eternity spent in anxious worry, their uneventful guard shift ended when the relief team arrived right before lunchtime. Instructing the oath-bound assassins to keep their heads down and mouths shut (not that the latter mattered since they were mutes), Junior did the same as he pretended to yawn and hid his face, hoping they wouldn’t look too closely at him or the visitor’s log with the forged names of his yurt mates. Making a quick escape, he pulled his helm low as he brought the oath-bound assassins into the camp, speaking quietly so they wouldn’t be overheard. “You know what to do,” he muttered, clutching the wooden token in his pocket and praying it truly gave him power over them. “He’s probably outside his yurt, so go and get it done before someone sees us together. Make sure you die when it’s finished.”

 

The three assassins marched off without a word, but Junior’s stomach continued to churn. Mother in Heaven, how was it possible no one had noticed them yet? They stuck out like a sore thumb, marching about with backs straight and knees high like Death Corps on parade instead of walking like the normal soldiers of Rain’s retinue, but somehow, no one seemed to care. Wringing his handkerchief out, he mopped his brow again and watched the assassins slowly make their way to the centre of camp to kill Falling Rain. Realizing it would be best if he were seen by others, he scurried off to find Viyan and Birca for a game of dice, stopping when he saw Silva eating his lunch. “You seen those two blackguards about?” Junior asked, faking a smile and shaking one hand like he was throwing dice. “I’m fixing to throw some bones and win some coin.”

 

Shaking his head, Silva replied, “They’re over by the training field, but I doubt you’ll get a game. They’re standing guard over the boss while he has himself another Insight or something. Never met a man more blessed by the Heavens, but he works damned hard for it.”

 

…Mother above, if Falling Rain was distracted by Insight, then the assassins might actually succeed. Stomach flopping about in panic, Junior hurried to the training fields and froze in place as he spotted the assassins marching towards their target. Viyan and Birca were there standing guard alongside the half-monkey Expert Argat, stationed around Falling Rain who stood in place, head bent as he studied the flat of his sword, which he held horizontally with both hands. Undeterred by the guards or Rain’s drawn weapon, the assassins split up to surround their target’s position, and though their intentions seemed obvious to Junior, not a single soldier glanced at them twice.

 

Torn between shouting a warning and making himself scarce, Junior stood and watched in abject terror as the events unfolded before him. Save Falling Rain and doom himself, or stand back and let a Hero of the Empire die? Then, in a moment of ingenuity, he realized what needed to be done and reached for his truncheon. Let the assassins strike, and regardless of failure or success, Junior would then strike them down in turn. It was the perfect solution, for not only would other see him fighting to save Falling Rain, he could also ensure no one would take the assassins alive.

 

Hell, if he was lucky, then he might even emerge a hero from all this…

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 445


I’d like to give a shout out to my latest Patron Santos and my other anonymous Patrons. Thank you all so much for your support!


 

There’s been triaaaaaals and triii-bulations,

You know I’ve had my share,

But I’ve climbed a mountain,

I’ve crossed a river,

and I’m al-most there.

I’m allllllllllll

mostttttttttt

thereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

 

As the last note fades into nothingness, I stand in the void with arms outstretched, ending my impromptu song and dance with the gusto it deserves. It’s a catchy little tune which fit my current situation and I needed the break from meditative contemplation, but I should really stop fooling around and get back to work. The imagined spotlights and instruments disappear the moment I stop thinking about them, and I’m returned to my bedroom within my Natal Palace, seated on the bed as if I’d never left. This is my throne from which I do all my best thinking and oversee my personal Domain, though truth be told, it’s not exactly a great viewpoint. My Keystones and their respective areas are situated lower than my bedroom so I can watch over them from above, but while sitting on the bed away from the windows, all I can see is the darkness of the void. Besides, there’s nothing directly in front of me because it’s still empty real estate for my next Keystone, whenever my Core gets large (or whatever) enough to fit it.

 

Should I plan things out and remodel? Ugh, it takes so much effort though. Sure, it’s mostly mentally imagining things, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. I’d have to re-imagine everything from every angle and keep the new perspective in mind at all times instead of slipping back to the old one. It’d be like walking into a house with the same layout and decor, then looking out the window and seeing a whole new view. The similarities make it harder to keep the differences in mind, and since the view isn’t too important, I might as well keep things as they are. Then there’s all the Chi shenanigans happening in the background, being that everything in my Natal Palace isn’t merely a mental construct, but have a specific tie to my Core and Chi, meaning it really isn’t as simple as imagining things. I wish I could ask the Legate about it, but his price is too high.

 

Besides, I enjoy looking out into the void. When the Spectres are there, they remind me of the stakes at hand, and when it’s empty, it tells me my thoughts are my own and I have no one to blame for the fucked up shit passing through my brain.

 

Taking a deep breath, I clap my hands and unleash my Aura in the standard, inspirational variety. It’s limited to inside my Natal Palace and not out in the real world, as I’d hate to sit through another of Guan Suo’s lectures about disturbing his sleep, but for these purposes, it’s more than enough. Since I have complete control, I confer colour to my Aura, steeping it with a warm, red glow to signify courage and determination. The glowing Aura adds a crimson tinge to my Natal Palace as it sweeps out into the far reaches of the void, an all-encompassing shroud of presence and influence. My presence. My influence. As Yan so aptly explained, Chi is only one half of the Aura equation, with the other half being my emotions, and when mixed together, I unleash the resulting product into the world.

 

Kyung said Aura wasn’t an External usage of Chi, but rather it was using Chi Internally to do something Externally. It sounds silly at first, but there’s a kernel of truth there, one which thankfully wedged itself between my teeth and refused to dislodge itself until I thought things through. I’ve been too fixated on results, but like Yan said, Chi is Chi whether its Internal or External, so instead of trying to turn the former into the latter, I should instead look at what makes Chi, Chi. I take Heavenly Energy into my Core and turn it into Chi. When Chi leaves my Core, it turns back into Heavenly Energy, but why? I’ve said it before, Heavenly Energy is borrowed, not owned, so what differentiates Heavenly Energy from Chi?

 

In short, I do. Me. I am the defining factor. Chi is me plus Heavenly Energy, so remove me from the equation and Chi goes back to being Heavenly Energy. When I said Martial Warriors seize Heavenly Energy to use for ourselves, it was more of a tongue in cheek comment, but it turns out I was closer to the truth than I thought. For Chi to remain Chi whilst outside my Core, I must make it truly mine, brand and chain it to my existence. Defy Heaven and seize power, but how? Well, probably the same way I do everything else: become one with the Chi, and the Chi must become me. That’s how Aura works, I think. I take my passions, my fears, my sentiments, and sorrows, use them as a vessel and infuse them with Chi, which then manifests as Aura. The supplied emotions are a part of what makes me, me, and keep Chi from dissipating into Heavenly Energy.

 

It’s similar to a Spiritual Weapon, except instead of steel and Spiritual Hearts, the vessel is made of feelings. Less awesome, but still cool nonetheless, because I’m literally putting myself out into the world and weaponizing it. While, I’m still not entirely sure how emotion and Chi produce Aura, I think that’s how Aura, an obvious External application of Chi, still works even though I have no idea how to use External Chi. Regardless of the specifics, now that I have an example of working External Chi usage, all I need to do is apply this knowledge in different ways. For once, I’m fairly confident I’ll succeed considering I already have, vis a vis my specialized Aura and how I use it to convey emotions other than courage or fear. Beyblade Aura too, but that’s too abstract for now, so best to follow this ‘emotion’ thread first before branching off to study other matters.

 

My first order of business is to figure out what makes my specialized Aura different from generic Aura. Still seated on the bed, I manipulate my Aura and cycle through the different emotions for testing purposes and assign each one a different colour based on intuition. As my room lights up in light pink for love and muted yellow for cheer, the first thing I note is that my specialized Aura is much more limited in scale than the generic one. Where the latter reaches all throughout the void, the former barely extends past my immediate surroundings. The Chi seems thicker in my specialized Aura, the difference between water and molasses, though what that means, I can only guess. More Chi to do less means specialized Aura is more resource intensive, but I already knew that. Generic Aura doesn’t take much to keep up, because… I dunno. Because it’s a standard skill and mine is a fancy unique one? An Aural Talent, I suppose, though I’m still not completely convinced I’m not a Demon in human form.

 

Yan’s story about Demons and Defiled not really belonging on this plane of existence is a little heavy on the theology and light on the facts, but it brought my old fears back to the forefront. Even though I now know Baledagh was merely a split personality and not the original host of this body, it still doesn’t rule out me being a parasitic body-snatcher. Not only can I dive into other people’s Natal Palaces, my Aura can also cover the whole spectrum of emotions, including the unsettling Defiled wrongness. I never use it because it’d make people think I went full Defiled, but I can, as evidenced by the time I accidentally used it in front of BoLao and Laughing Dragon.

 

So what does this mean? Nothing definitive, but that’s because I don’t know enough to even guess.

 

Going back to my Specialized Aura, I can’t really think of anything else that makes it stand out from general Aura, but I continue studying and categorizing all the different emotions I can convey through Aura. I’ve had the idea percolating about for awhile now, but could never figure out how to implement until now. Every time I assign an emotion a colour, I sever a small section off and affix it to the ceiling, creating an emotional colour reference chart for me to cheat off of. This way, I can differentiate the love for my beloved brides-to-be (bright hot pink with a tinge of red for passion) from my love for family (a darker pink than general love to show the depths of my affection), or the cold disdain which arises when I’m speaking with an idiot (dark blue) from the burning hatred which consumes me when I see someone abuse a slave, child, or animal (black to rival the void).

 

There’s also the bitter, vitriolic antipathy I sometimes feel for this world, an emotion I keep locked away out of sight. It’s corresponding colour was easy to assign, the sickly, greenish yellow of Demon Ichor, and I immediately lock this emotion inside a dark steel container which has been welded shut so I never have to look or access it ever again.

 

Unwanted introspection aside, the colour chart helps mostly because when I need to pick out a specific emotion, I don’t have to stop and think about it. I only need to find the right colour, and I’ll never have another traumatic miscommunication with Sir Inky ever again. That said, parsing through emotions isn’t exactly my forte; in fact, I’m something of a savant in the opposite direction, suppressing my emotions deep within my psyche until they express themselves in unhealthy ways, such as multiple personality disorder or a crippling dependence on floofy cuddles. Either way, it soon becomes apparent there are way more emotions than I thought there’d be, possibly more than there are colours in the visible spectrum. How do I differentiate between my distaste for mushrooms and the disinclination to dress up? What about the joy I find in battle versus the bliss of a nice, relaxing family dinner? What’s more, I’m essentially creating a brand new Keystone, one more complex and extensive than any of the others, so trying to complete it in one sitting is far too ambitious. Before I’ve even made it through the various types of love and hatred, I’m all pooped out from feeling stuff and need time to recharge.

 

Opening the void to the world around me, I Devour Heavenly Energy to replenish the Chi lost from creating my emotional colour chart and do a little light musing. Though my Core is a closed system, the Keystones seem to… consume the Chi used to create them, meaning I no longer have access to that Chi. I mean, it makes sense. If you build a house out of gold, you can’t really spend the gold anymore if you want to keep your house, but I haven’t noticed a decline in overall Chi at my disposal. The shimmering colours suspended on the ceiling give my bedroom a beautiful glow, though it’s mostly pinks and blues. Needs more comfy browns, regal purples, comforting yellows, and fresh greens, but this is a work in progress.

 

Eventually, my procrastination comes to an end and my mind drifts back to the topic at hand, using emotions to help with External Chi. I’m worried all this effort will be for nothing because it doesn’t fit with my previous theory, how the next step would somehow build upon the previous ones. Then again, maybe it does in a roundabout way. My Core supplies the Chi required, while Aura taught me to use Emotions to keep Chi from turning back into Heavenly Energy, and my Natal Palace is where I use Chi Internally to do something Externally. I expected them to combine into something new and exciting, called a Domain or something, but maybe I’ve been overthinking Spectre word choice. Besides, Yan can use External Chi even without an Aura or Natal Palace, which means neither of them are required, they only make things easier because you already understand the basic concepts.

 

So where to start?

 

Emotion alone isn’t enough, not for what I’m intending. Visualization is also required if I want to conjure water… and Intent! Maybe that’s why my External Water Chi reverts back to Heavenly Energy so quickly after spitting it out, because I never gave it any purpose besides ‘become water’. Okay, this is good, I’m making progress here. Moving myself out into the void, I hold one arm up with palm facing out, as if telling the void to stop. Summoned with a thought, Water Chi shimmers into existence as a flowing shield of water, the most practical usage I can think of. Then again, maybe I’m being too ambitious and should take a few hundred steps back. Dismissing the shield of water, I instead opt to work with a small pool held in my cupped palms, less than a mouthful but enough for my testing purposes. All I need to do bring this minuscule amount of Water Chi out into the real world and have it stay there for… I dunno, a minute? Anything over two seconds would be an improvement, but how long does it need to last for it to be useful? Let’s shoot for the moon and if we fail, then at least I’ll land amongst the stars. Indefinite water, or until I… release it, or whatever.

 

Visualizing the water in my hands, I return to the real world and find my cupped palms conspicuously dry and empty, marking the first of many failures. No problem, that was a test run which I didn’t expect to work, so I could check the baseline and find the bare minimum requirements for success. Returning to my Natal Palace, I start over again, but this time, instead of only Visualizing the water, I also provide it with Intent. This water is meant to sit there and keep my palms wet. Be water. Be wet. Be… cool and refreshing, I suppose. Again, when I open my eyes, my hands are dry and empty, but I persevere and try again.

 

Why can I make Water Chi in my mouth but not my hands? Well, my mouth is wet and it’s normal for water to be there, so how would I go about getting water in my hands? Well, I could scoop it up, but that’s not exactly useful in this scenario, nor do I want to be limited to only creating water with my mouth because it severely limits what I can do and is incredibly embarrassing. Oh, condensation! I can draw water straight from the air around us and collect it in my hands. Visualizing the process of humid air meeting a cold surface, I collect the droplets of water into my palms from within my Natal Palace, then bring it out into the world at large where I am once again met with failure.

 

……

 

 

Okay.

 

This is fine. I can do this. Lemme think. Why didn’t it work? While I haven’t gotten to the emotion part yet, theoretically, I should at least see a bit of Water Chi before it dissipates. Hmm… Maybe I’m overstepping the limits of the Blessing of Water. I would assume air falls under the domain of Wind, and temperature control probably belongs to Fire, so I need to find a concept which belongs to Water and Water alone. I suppose this is why people bind physical water to use instead, because of strict limitations over what one can do, though why it matters for Water Chi more than the other Elements, I still don’t know. Hmm… What if I used something which was naturally cold? Drawing Peace from its scabbard, I lay it across my knees and return to the void, where its spiritual equivalent sits waiting for me to take in hand. I’ve tried this before in the real world, but never from my Natal Palace. Besides, it was a long time ago before my second Awakening, so maybe things will be different this time around.

 

With Peace in hand, I envision its cool metal surface drawing moisture from the warm air around us, forming a shifting pattern of transparent droplets which adhere to the flat of its blade. That’s all it needs to do, stay on the sword, so holding this image in mind, I return to reality and see the tell-tale beads of water fade away into nothingness before my eyes, my Chi returning to the Heavens and leaving no trace behind. Giddy with success, I stifle a giggle and summon the water again to familiarize myself with the process, all the while celebrating this momentous step forward which will save me from so much humiliation. Spitting or vomiting water is fine and all for turtles, but I am a human man and would rather not be seen spewing internal fluids all about the battlefield, not to mention how this is the first step towards making an awesome Water Blade like Elder Ming.

 

It worked! This is going to be so awesome…

 

Energized by my progress, I move on to the next step after about an hour of practice. Visualization: Check. Intent: Check. Now all that’s left is emotion, but what emotion do I instill into water? What is water? No, better question: what emotions does the thought of water evoke from my subconscious? How do I feel when I think about water? Disregarding all outside factors, water is… peace. It’s the calm, silent serenity out on Nan Ping Bay, so grand and reassuring it makes my fears and worries seem minor in comparison. It’s also dark and foreboding, with countless dangers hidden within it dark depths, a duality I often see in this strange and dangerous world I live in.

 

Struck by the sheer coincidence of it all, I sit in the void and stare at my sword covered in a sheen of dewdrops, reflecting on the steps which have brought me to this very moment. Years ago, I named this weapon Peace, because it represented the peace of the sword, a peace found in strength and death. Now, this same sword is the key to using my Blessing of Water, a power which I associate with peace. Is this merely a coincidence or have I been moving towards this goal ever since I first stepped foot on the Martial Path? The Peace of the Sword, the Shield of Tranquility, and Unity through Purpose, these are my weapons, physically and metaphorically. I fight to find peace, whether it be peace from my enemies or the peace in death. I hide from my friends, family, and even myself to keep my mind tranquil and untroubled. Lastly, without purpose, I would fall to pieces pondering who I am and what purpose my existence serves, so I keep busy and work myself to exhaustion so I have no time to worry.

 

The coincidence is so uncanny it’s almost enough to make me believe in a higher power. Almost.

 

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, so regardless of how eerily things line up, I push past it and move on. What is water, emotionally? Water is Peaceful, Water is Tranquil, and above all, Water is United, connected not only by raging rivers and flowing streams, but also in a never ending cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Physically, water can take many forms and is utilized in a myriad of ways, but it always returns to water as one part of a whole, regardless of the path it takes to get there. This is how I think of water, and it is this emotion, this all encompassing serenity and unity, which I instill into my Chi.

 

Visualization, Intent, and Emotion. I am one with the Chi, and the Chi is Me. I am One with the Water, and the Water is Me. Water is life. Water is death. Water is sustaining. Water is smothering. We cannot live with too much, nor can we survive with too little, which means it all comes back to Balance.

 

Opening my eyes, I blink as the glaring sun reflects off of my sword’s shiny, reflective surface, the light broken apart into a thousand shimmering rainbows by the beads of water sitting atop it. No, not water, but Water Chi, firmly affixed to the cold metal by my will and Intent. Counting beneath my breath, my heart swells with pride with each passing second as the water remains in existence, the Chi tethered by Emotion and unable to return to the Heavens. This Chi is mine to wield until I allow it to return, a tyrannical way of going about things which fits with my new outlook on life, my Dao if you will. No surrender and no embrace, I make demands and my Water Chi will carry them out until completion, making it as reliable as any of my Spiritual Weapons.

 

Well… it’s about fucking time. I thought I was gonna be stuck here forever…

Chapter Meme

Rains Song: https://youtu.be/irEBOfv4Ug4?t=110

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 444

For those who don’t know, the number 4 is terrible luck in chinese culture, because 4 is a homonym for death. 14 is even worse, because it is a homonym for ‘certain death’. I normally don’t put stock in stuff like this, but I started joking about 444 being cursed, and then I had to take a break to finish it. Now, I’m releasing Chapter 444 on 04/14, and I’m certifiably spooked. If Truck-sama gets me, please wait ten to fifteen years for me to reincarnate, defeat the Demon lord, and return to this world to resume SD chapters. You patience will be appreciated.

 

On a happier note, we got some arttttttttt. First off, we have a new artist from Discord named Bri, who drew a lovely rendition of Lin, Mila, and Song, complete with beffitting fancy outfits. Love it, especially the embroidery on lin’s dress.

Next up, we have two submissions from Rocky, depicting our MC Rain in Spectre-vision versus reality.

Thanks again to Bri and Rocky for sharing their hard work. Its always a treat to see how people imagine my characters and as per usual, I’m greedy and would love to see more Very Happy. Pm me here, DM on discord, comment in the chapter, or whatever, show me that arttttttttttttttt. I craves itt…
Anywho, that’s enough from me, he’s the chapter!


 

Stifling a yawn as she stepped out of her tent, Yan flicked her bangs out of her eyes and took a seat at the dining table, where Kyung poured her a cup of piping hot tea to enjoy beneath the late-morning sun. Though wholly capable of pouring her own tea, Yan had long since given up trying, for though he would never voice his displeasure, the handsome half-cat would pout oh-so prettily if she did anything which even remotely resembled ‘servant’s work’. In truth, she rather enjoyed being pampered, though when she heard Rain lived like his soldiers while out on patrol, she’d been suitably embarrassed about serving in relative luxury. Admiring his show of solidarity, she brought it up with Kyung in private, but he snorted and called Rain a brainless idiot, stating, “How can his strength and status be respected when he presents himself as a common grunt?”

 

Were this before her adoption, Yan would have laughed and taken Rain’s side, but she’d since learned the value of reputation and how easily it could be shaped by perception alone. While Rain’s actions might endear him to his soldiers, it was more likely to alienate him from them. There were expectations which went hand in hand with rank and power, namely money, status, and reputation, so seeing Rain break his teeth on hardtack or labouring to unload wagons was likely to alarm low-born commoners treading the Martial Path. To be strong was to be respected, but Rain’s actions disrespected his strength, a confusing paradox which had Yan’s mind spinning in circles.

 

When she shared her misgivings with him in SuiHua, Rain had merely waved her concerns aside and said, “Hard work and perseverance are more worthy of respect than a lavish lifestyle.” He wasn’t wrong, for those were qualities which should be respected, but most people only saw the surface and never cared to look any deeper. There was no end to envious young nobles wishing they’d been adopted in Yan’s place, but few ever commented on the sacrifices she and Grandpa had made to get where they were now. Hard work and gruelling efforts aside, there was the little matter of uprooting her life to come to Central, where half-beasts were not so tolerated as they were in the North. What’s more, wonderful as Grandpa Du had been, she missed having an entire community around to cheer and support her. Back home, countless friendly faces would greet her each day, whether it be friends, teachers, housemarms or neighbouring aunties and uncles. Everyone worked together for the betterment of all and shared in one another’s successes, but here in Central, no one could be trusted because politics and backbiting were second nature. Even family couldn’t be counted on, a harsh reality she faced upon seeing all of Grandpa Du’s loved ones turn against him for adopting an orphaned half-beast as his granddaughter.

 

A fact which made her love him all the more for going through with it. There was no political advantage to be gained in adopting her, as Yan was perfectly content as his Disciple or even as his student, but Grandpa wanted to give her a family even if it cost him the one he already had.

 

With this in mind, she gratefully partook in the simple traditional Yantainese breakfast cooked by Kyung, a multi-talented warrior who would make for a wonderful husband. Hot and spicy soy bean milk, fragrant wheat-cakes with scrambled eggs, savoury beef-stuffed scallion wraps, scalding soup-filled lamb dumplings, delectable steamed pork buns, and to top it all off, a sweet and flaky walnut pastry for dessert. A hearty meal even for a Martial Warrior, but Eun and Grandpa both thought Yan too thin and bony, so if she didn’t clear every last plate, she would be subjected to Kyung’s forlorn expression and later, Grandpa and Eun’s. Not that Yan ever complained about the food; Kyung’s cooking was almost as good as Eun’s, who was easily Charok’s equal in the culinary arts, and judging by Rain’s roving eyes and wandering hands, he certainly appreciated Yan’s padded figure.

 

Delicious as the food was, she would have much rather dined on hardtack and jerky while nestled in Rain’s arms, or better yet, invited him over to share her food and bed. Unfortunately, Grandpa had expressly forbidden any ‘dalliances’ while out in the field. It was one thing for a young noblewoman to indulge with a paramour in private, but to do so while serving on the front lines would reek of impropriety, or so he said. Since she was no spoiled fop or love-struck maiden, Yan agreed without giving the matter much thought, but after seeing Rain’s covetous gaze last night, she cursed herself for a fool. Who would speak ill of a woman tending to the needs of her husband-to-be? Unfortunately, she was a woman of her word, so instead of spending the night entangled in Rain’s warm embrace, she slept alone in her cot plagued by dreams of what could have been.

 

Though determined to obey Grandpa, Yan still wanted to spend time with her beloved, so after breakfast, she headed over to his camp with Kyung in tow, where they found Rain sparring with a spirited Han BoShui, glaive and gauntlet ringing as they traded blows and friendly smiles. So much had changed in Yan’s absence, for when she first left the Northern Province, Rain was but a nameless young warrior and the People and the Society were locked in bitter conflict over the fallout from the Contest. Now, merely two years later, Rain was the Number One Talent in the Empire and sparring with his good friend, the Young Patriarch of a prominent Society Clan. Over in another sparring field stood two more of Rain’s friends, Situ Jia Zian, another Young Patriarch and a man who almost killed Rain during their fateful duel at the Wall, matching blades against Dastan Zhandos, a traitorous Warrant Officer turned Rain’s subordinate. One clean-shaven and the other ruggedly-bearded, the two too-handsome men should’ve been Rain’s greatest rivals but instead were fiercely loyal to her beloved, an outcome almost too fanciful to believe. Being friends with Fung was different, for the man hardly behaved as a proper noble should, but Yan mistrusted these Society popinjays.

 

Truth be told, even having heard the stories several times from different people, Yan still found it difficult to wrap her head around Rain’s swift rise to glory and bitterly wished she could have been there to see it firsthand.

 

Despite their thrilling reunion, subsequent whirlwind betrothal, and an entire month spent catching up in SuiHua, it was still far from enough to process all the new changes. Much as Yan enjoyed Rain’s physical changes, there was more to it. When they first met, Yan thought he kept apart from his peers because he considered himself better than they were, but he was merely deathly shy of strangers, a detail she found utterly endearing. That was gone now, for in her absence, Rain had blossomed into a charismatic leader and cunning politician, a man so comfortable with games of nobility it seemed as if he’d been born into them. From his awe-inspiring entrance into Nan Ping with the Divine Turtle at his back to his thunderous debut in the duelling arenas, Rain struck fast and struck hard to ensure his name would stand out amongst the hundreds of other young heroes in the three provinces. Then, after proving he could play their games, he abruptly withdrew from the public eye and let rumour and hearsay do their work while forcing his rivals onto the offensive. It worked out wonderfully for him, and even though Rain claimed he never gave any of his actions much thought, this only made it all the more impressive because it showed his instincts were so sharp they guided him in the optimal direction.

 

That said, after a month of Luo-Luo’s patient tutelage, Rain could hardly claim to know nothing of politics, especially given his latest exploits. The Rain she knew would never have thought to cozy up to his superior or been capable of manipulating a foolish young noble into removing his own tongue. Rain understood the game now and he played it well, better than most in fact, though to be fair, part of this was due to his unique status. Between his Imperial Peerage, Martial Talent, brilliant book of inventions, and burgeoning mercantile enterprise, he stood poised as the Empire’s most eligible young man, one with a proven lustful history and no official wife to bear his legitimate heirs.

 

It wouldn’t surprise Yan if Baatar and Sarnai were drowning in letters from prospective partners for their oh-so-talented son. Luckily, her beloved fool seemed unaware of his true value and adamant to obey Lin’s directive of only having five wives, else Yan feared Rain would soon have a harem numbering in the hundreds. Even luckier still was that underneath all the pretty trappings and newfound confidence, he was the same sweet generous soul she’d fallen in love with, a fact proven by his loving devotion and growing menagerie of adorable pets. Despite her initial antagonism towards him and his humiliating misunderstanding, Yan had quickly been won over by his kind and considerate nature, a wonderful, loving man plagued by doubts and insecurities and who cherished friends and family above all else. Rain was still the man who pushed her out of the way of a giant snake at great risk to himself and all but single-handedly slaughtered the beast, yet insisted they each take an equal share in the profits. He then gifted her with the resulting Spiritual Weapon as if it were a mere cabbage, and during their flight from the Society, stood tall and overcame his fears to risk his life time after time, all to protect his family and loved ones. He even rode back to rescue Yan from certain death at the hands of an Expert and nursed her back to health, but most of all, she would always remember how he supported her decision to leave with Grandpa Du and told her what she needed to hear most, that they would pick up exactly where they left off after their next reunion.

 

A promise which she kept despite how sorely mistaken he’d been regarding where their relationship had been, the mule-brained idiot.

 

Tearing her eyes away from Rain before she succumbed to her lust and jumped him on the sparring field, Yan took a deep, calming breath and headed over to say hello to Song. Taking a seat beside the stony-faced cat-girl, Yan smiled as she sidled in close and pretended not to notice Song tensing up. According to Mila, Song was leery of strangers and kept her distance from them, which meant the best way to win her over was like taming a skittish quin, by showing them you were no threat and allowing them to grow acclimated to your touch and presence. Thus far, it wasn’t working, for Song remained ever guarded in Yan’s presence, always watching her through narrowed eyes and pouting lips. Were it anyone else, Yan would think the half-cat didn’t like her, but Mila assured her this wasn’t the case, so she had no choice but to persevere. “What a beautiful day,” Yan said, hoping to chip away at Song’s defences with harmless small talk. “The afternoons in Central can often be unbearably hot, but these cool mornings are so pleasant and lovely.”

 

“…Uhn.”

 

A monosyllabic response was all Yan got for her efforts, but she didn’t let this failure discourage her. If small talk wouldn’t work, then perhaps comfortable silence might. Greeting Ping Ping, Mama Bun, Pong Pong, and Blackjack in turn, she resisted the urge to intrude further into Song’s personal space and instead turned her gaze to the skies. Holding out her hand, she whistled sharply and summoned one of Rain’s kingfishers to her arm, a large, brown-feathered sweetheart named Yipi. All but ignoring Song, Yan laid the trusting bird in her lap and stroked its chin and belly, marvelling at how tame and docile the creature had become. Only Rain could take wild animals and charm them with love, a skill Yan envied with all her heart.

 

Though she could do without the perverted octopus…

 

“Good morning, Warrant Officer Yan.” Having finished his spar, Rain stood over her with a fetching half-smile stretched across his pretty face, looking magnificent as his sweat glistened in the sunlight. “You slept well, I presume?”

 

Scrunching her nose, Yan rolled with his verbal jab and fanned the collar of her shirt, almost bursting into laughter as his eyes widened at the view. What was it with men and breasts? Yan’s measured barely a handful yet Rain’s interest in them bordered on the obsessive. “I’m afraid not,” she replied, sighing heavily for dramatic effect. “It’s so hot and stifling inside my tent, I spent half the night tossing and turning in bed. If only there were something I could do to tire myself out beforehand…” Kyung’s sub-vocal growl warned her she might have overstepped the boundaries of propriety, but Rain’s ravenous expression made it well worth it. Hoping to escape before either of them lost control, Yan cradled Yipi in her arms and hopped to her feet, giving the sweet bird a kiss before letting her fly away. Ignoring Rain, Yan turned to Song and asked, “Would you care to spar? I’ve been sitting around all week with little to do and could use the exercise.”

 

“No.” The immediate rejection stunned Yan for a moment, but the half-cat had good reason to refuse. “I’ve already sparred with Mister Rustram today and Rain promised to answer questions about Auras.”

 

“That I did.” Casually reaching over to pat Song’s head, Rain smiled apologetically to Yan and explained, “I thought we’d be done with our talk before you woke up.”

 

Why did he feel the need to explain why he was spending time with Song? It’s not as if she were one of his conquests… or did he intend for her to become one? Did Song know of his intent? Did Mila and Lin? Did they approve? Neither had spoken of it in SuiHua, but seeing how Yan had only recently made peace with Luo-Luo joining their marriage, perhaps they intended to wait and give her time to acclimate before springing more wives on her. Where Yan had once been closest to Lin and Mila, it seemed like their time apart had changed more than she realized.

 

All of this flashed through Yan’s mind in the blink of an eye, but she merely smiled prettily and nodded. “Do you mind if I sit in on your conversation?” Yan asked, while covertly watching Song’s reaction. A frown, as if displeased to have her alone time intruded upon. Not good. “I see much benefit in hearing about the experiences of the Number One Talent in the Empire.”

 

Rain replied, “Sure.”

 

At the same time, Kyung interjected with a stern, “No.” All eyes turned to Yan’s surly protector, whose chiselled features were pursed in a pout. Giving way before their inquisitive stares, he grudgingly explained, “Aura is an abstract concept best left for each warrior to explore on their own. Master experimented with explaining Aura in full and surmised this more often than not did more harm than good. A fish cannot teach a bird to swim any more than a bird can teach a fish to fly.” Fixing his glare on Yan, Kyung added, “If the slave girl wants to ruin her future and listen to his inept teachings, then so be it, but I’ll be damned if I let you do the same. You are Master’s Terminal Disciple little Yan, so trust in his teachings and let matters progress as they should. Birds can swim and fish can fly, but they each do so in their own way.”

 

For a split second, Yan celebrated at the sight of Song’s flattened ears and dejected expression until she realized the reaction had come too quickly. The poor half-cat wasn’t sad about being rebuked, but because of Kyung’s cold indifference regarding her future. All of sudden, everything made sense. Yan’s intuition was correct, Song didn’t like her and the reason was obvious. Yan’s life could easily have been hers, for Song was every bit as talented and hard working, perhaps more so considering she’d just formed her Natal Palace. Why shouldn’t she resent Yan, who’d been taken in by Grandpa Du, the same man who cast Song aside? Heart melting at the thought of her distress, Yan elbowed Kyung in the ribs and Sent, “Would it kill you to be nicer to Song? She is your half-sister after all.”

 

If Yan could accept Luo-Luo, then why not accept Song as well? Stupid lecherous Rain, gathering all these beautiful women to his side and charming their skirts off…

 

Rolling his eyes, Kyung Sent, “She is a slave girl, yes? We share a common parent, but the same could be said of dozens others. I am close to twenty years her senior and knew her for less than two, during which Master trained her to guard Jin Tok in the Society Contests, just as I was trained to protect Jin Kai. She is as much my half-sister as you are, but if you order it, I will be… nicer.”

 

Though said to discredit Yan’s argument, she warmed at the sentiment of being his half-sister. “It’s not an order big brother,” Yan Sent, grinning from ear to ear when he flinched at the appellation, “But this is for your own good. The next time you offend someone, I might not be able to protect you from retribution.” In hindsight, perhaps it would’ve been better to let Yuzhen shave him bald and dress him in frilly, colourful silks, a harmless punishment which might teach him to choose his words more wisely. Grabbing his arm, she pulled him down as she took her seat once more, keeping him and Song on either side to guard against Rain’s wandering hands. “I have an idea,” she said, snuggling in close to Song. “Since Kyung thinks it’s a bad idea to let Rain teach us, why don’t I share what Grandpa taught me instead?” It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing, and Song seemed excited by the prospect. “Rain and Kyung can listen in and warn us if we stray from the correct path, while you and I muddle our way along the Martial Path. How does that sound?”

 

And perhaps afterwards, Yan could leave Kyung and Song to bond while she snuck off with Rain. Not to do anything inappropriate, but so she could extract whatever advice he’d given Song in forming her Natal Palace. Magnanimous as she was in the affairs of love, Yan preferred to negotiate from a position of strength. While defeating Mila would remain her eventual goal, Yan felt the pressure mounting as her position of Rain’s second strongest wife fell into peril. Truth be told, while Song was clearly the more prominent threat, Luo-Luo’s expeditious progress left Yan awed and petrified. After a single month of practice, the Eastern-born courtesan was almost ready for the battlefield, her skills already superior to most caravan guards. Admittedly, those were the bottom of the barrel for Martial Warriors, but her speed of improvement was impressive and her comprehension bordered on the supernatural. Where others puzzled things out step by step, Luo-Luo made seemingly indecipherable leaps of logic which thus far had all been correct. If Luo-Luo’s talents were standard fare for Imperial Scions, then it was no wonder the Imperial Clan reigned supreme for so many millennia.

 

After gathering her thoughts, Yan began, “As Grandpa explained it, Aura first came about as a defence against the vile corruption surrounding Demons. They, and to a lesser extent the Defiled, do not belong in this plane of existence, and as such their mere presence taints the world around them, emanating an unnerving wrongness powerful enough to bring lesser warriors to their knees. To combat this, the Mother taught her children to tap into their emotions and use Chi to release them into the world, where they might bolster an ally or restrain an enemy. Just as Balance has nothing to do with morality, so too is it with Aura. One can use any emotion to power an Aura, whether it be love and affection, blood-lust and killing intent, or anything in between.” With a shrug, Yan concluded, “And that’s about it. Grandpa said he would tell me more once I was further along.”

 

“…I know all this,” Song declared, not out of impudence but frustration. “What I do not understand is how to condense an Aura. How am I to tap into my emotions? How do I release those emotions into the world?”

 

“Yea,” Rain chimed in, even though he had an Aura and should already know this. “Also, if Aura is powered by Chi, then how come it works externally? Shouldn’t it fizzle out when Chi turns back into Heavenly Energy?”

 

Amused by his questions, Yan replied, “How am I supposed to know? You’re the one with an Aura.” It was a good question though, so she turned to Kyung for help.

 

Scoffing as he shot Rain a glare, Kyung growled, “Aura isn’t External Chi manipulation. It’s… using Chi Internally to do something externally. Or not. I don’t know how to explain it.” Crossing his arms with a scowl, he turned to Yan and said, “See why we don’t speak of it little Yan? This discussion isn’t helping.”

 

“No, it is. It’s totally helping.” Oddly enough, it was Rain who benefited from this short discussion, his brows furrowed as he mumbled his thoughts out loud. “Using Chi Internally to do something externally. I internalize the emotions and gather them within me before unleashing them on the world at large. Aura is powered by Chi, but the Chi remains Chi instead of dissipating into Heavenly Energy once outside my Core because… because the emotions are mine? Or because the Aura itself is a part of me? Does this apply to anything else?”

 

Having said that, Rain closed his eyes and fell deep into meditation, forgetting everyone around him in his pursuit of Martial Strength. Feeling mildly scorned, Yan sighed and stationed guards around to keep people from disturbing Rain now that he was sort of on the right track. It was so like him to find Insight while trying to help someone else, meat pies falling from the sky once more. Linking arms with Song and Kyung, Yan drew them close and said, “Well, at least some good came from all this. Why don’t we continue our discussion elsewhere?”

 

If she couldn’t steal Rain away and learn his secrets, then perhaps she could help Song and Kyung form a bond, and later convince Grandpa to acknowledge them both. Though blood was not enough to make a family, it was a better starting point than most, and both half-cats deserved to have more love in their lives. Besides, if Kyung saw how well Song was treated by the People, then perhaps he’d agree to let Yan help him improve his relationship with Grandpa, because even though both men were too stubborn to admit it, in her eyes, they were already a family.

 

A strange and nontraditional family, but family nonetheless, for the only requirement was love.

 

Nestled between the two resistant half-cats, Yan basked in the thought of expanding her beloved family and the heartfelt contentment which came with it. The love and affection from Grandpa Du, the care and concern from brother Kyung, the burning passion she shared with Rain, and the sisterly consideration she had for Mila, Lin, Luo-Luo, and now Song, all so similar yet wholly different and distinct, she cherished each and every one of these feelings. Cycling her Chi on a whim, she gasped as her emotions took on a life of their own, welling up inside until they overwhelmed her and burst out into the world, sheltering every person around her in its warm embrace and allowing them to draw strength and courage from her love of family and desire to protect them. Soon every eye in the vicinity was faced her way with grateful smiles aplenty, aware of what she herself only just realized. Turning to Kyung, Yan blinked and asked, “Is this Aura?”

 

His stony expression cracking a rare smile, Kyung puffed his chest and nodded. “Well done, Du Min Yan. Master will be proud.”

 

And coming from big brother Kyung, this was high praise indeed.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 443


This is the last chapter of the volume, and as I noted in Chapter 439, I will now be taking a two chapter break to let Patreon get to 5 ahead again. I’ll be back next sunday with Chapter 444, so yea. Suffer until then. Very Happy

 

In other news, we have new art from a new artist, Logous from Discord! It features everyone’s favourite half-rat doing some crazy rope shenanigans a-la Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon.

 

Thanks for your submission Logous, and I hope to see more art from you and all my other talented fans out there (hint hint nudge nudge. :p)

 

Anywho, enjoy the chapter and see you all next sunday!


 

After our day-long scouting expedition, I’m pleasantly surprised by a number of friendly faces waiting to greet me in camp despite the late hour of our return. Zian, Ji Yeon, and Yan are there, as well as Wu Gam and Jing Fei, but I would hardly describe the latter two as friendly. Handing Mama Bun to Song, I move to greet Yan with open arms, but her frown forces me to rethink my decision and offer a martial salute instead. “A pleasure to see you, Warrant Officer Yan.” Affectionate as she is in the bedroom, Yan draws a clear line between our public and private lives, so even though we publicly announced our betrothal, she insists I treat her as a colleague when others are present for the sake of her career and reputation.

 

Also, I suspect that much like Mila, Yan also has her eye on my title of Number One Talent in the Empire. I’m beginning to resent the Legate for bestowing it upon me because it’s putting a damper on my love life, which is ironic because gifting me Luo-Luo as a concubine didn’t improve things one bit. While Yan’s desire to keep things professional requires we keep public flirtation to a minimum, it doesn’t stop her teasing as she salutes back with a ghost of a smirk on her lovely pink lips. “You’re looking in good health, Imperial Consort.” Scrutinizing me as if I were a piece of meat, she looks me up and down with a lustful glint in her eye, as if imagining my fashionable silk outfit balled up on the floor of my yurt. “Quite good.”

 

Willing away the burning in my cheeks, I ignore Yan’s provocations and gloss over Wu Gam’s surly glare to greet my one-time-rival from the north. “Warrant Officer Zian.” Standing ramrod straight with his head tilted upwards as per usual, I notice his shoulders are tight and his gaze apprehensive as he returns my greeting, studying me for clues as one might study a stranger. “Lady Jing Fei.” Snuggled against his arm, Zian’s concubine does a better job of hiding her scrutiny, but no amount of eye-fluttering, back arching, or bosom framing could ever hide her predatory stare, reading into my every word and movement in search of weakness or threat. Only then do I greet the slender, herculean half-fox with a cursory “Warrant Officer Wu Gam”, and he returns the greeting with his customary scowl.

 

Last but not least is Ji Yeon, who oddly enough, is the friendliest face present as she curtsies in her silken dress. “Lin Ji Yeon offers humble greetings to Imperial Consort.”

 

“Lin?”

 

Her smile slipping ever so slightly, Ji Yeon swallows hard and explains, “This one has been adopted by her maternal uncle, Lin Xiang Gu, and withdrawn from service. Until his people arrive to escort me away, Cousin Zian has been kind enough to offer shelter, though the good Colonel Hongji offered as well.”

 

“Ah. I see.” I really do. So not only did her brother conspire with her betrothed to have her killed, it seems like her father was also in on the scheme, or at the very least, doesn’t intend to shelter her after the fact. Poor girl, betrayed and abandoned by the people who should’ve loved her most. “Your uncle… you trust him?” I hate to ask, and I have no idea what to do if she doesn’t, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and let her go to her death.

 

“This one thanks Imperial Consort for his concern, but there is no need. Uncle Gu is no warrior, but he would die before he allows any harm come to his beloved niece… or rather daughter, I should say.” Visibly relaxing, she adds, “Father Gu has already annulled the betrothal between this one and Gulong, and though the Situ and Lin Clans are close allies, his influence carries great weight with Patriarch Lin. Even without his efforts, opinions within the clan are already shifting due to the Situ Clan’s decisions of late.” Glancing at Zian, she pointedly adds, “Many still remember Cousin Zian’s maternal grandmother was surnamed Lin. In fact, she was sister to this one’s maternal grandfather, who often boasts of his grand-nephew’s skills.”

 

Ugh. Family and politics. Either the Lin Clan is offering to support Zian as the future Situ Clan Patriarch, or they’re testing the waters to see if they can poach him away. If I were him, I’d be sorely tempted to jump ship before suffering an “accident” so Gulong can take his place, but Zian takes the offer in stride with casual ease, promising nothing aside from an ‘inclination to reconnect’ with family. I’m a little jealous about how quickly he responded, putting an end to the conversation while neither accepting nor declining Ji Yeon’s offer, yet still leaving the door open for future negotiations. It’s the sort of response I would’ve carefully crafted after an entire night spent mulling it over, but Zian threw it out there without batting an eye.

 

Strong, smart, hardworking, and talented. How did I beat Zian again?

 

With the salutations out of the way, we stand around and chit-chat while the Death Corps make tea, as custom dictates in all social gatherings, formal or informal alike. Once tea has been served and enough polite conversation has been made, I finally feel it’s okay to ask, “So… Why are you all here?”

 

Zian and Jing Fei trade confused glaces while Ji Yeon looks away and pretends not to notice Yan whispering the answer in my ear. “While you were gone, Colonel Hongji ordered a restructuring of our defences, presumably to accommodate all the returning units and the patrols which have been suspended. We thought it quite the coincidence when we were all relocated around your camp, not to mention the Colonel’s personal troops positioned out front.” Following her gaze, I note Hongji’s family banner flying on the battle-lines to the west, a glowing golden sceptre on a field of blue, which means he took it upon himself to rally my allies and appoint his trusted troops to protect me. I suspect BoShui will be camped nearby too, though I’m still not sure why Wu Gam is here.

 

It seems my poker face still requires a great deal of work because the grim half-fox responds to the unasked question with a straight face. “Mentor told me to earn your trust and learn your secrets so I might use them to defeat you.”

 

“…Okay then. Nice to have you on my side.” Glad to know I’m not the worst politician around. “So… Not that I don’t appreciate the support, but does the Colonel really think the Situ Clan will move against me here, right on the front lines?”

 

“You’d be naive to think they won’t after what you did to Gulong.” Swatting aside Zian’s attempts to silence her, Jing Fei narrows her eyes and adds, “Colonel’s Hongji’s soldiers and our presence will ensure there will be plenty of witnesses in the event of a quiet assassination, which means your enemies will undoubtedly opt for wholesale slaughter. No one can testify if no witnesses are left alive, and the Society has the backing to make it so. My Lord Husband is here in spite of my advice to the contrary, but since he insists on being an honour-bound fool, then you might as well tell us: What is your goal?”

 

Aww… Zian’s here to help. I knew we were friends. “I didn’t do anything to Gulong. He gave the order to remove his tongue, not I. As for my goal…” I shrug. “Same as it’s always been. Kill Defiled and survive.” For some strange reason, my answer infuriates Jing Fei, while Zian puffs up in smug satisfaction. After discussing possible countermeasures to keep everyone alive, I thank everyone for their assistance and send them back to their camps, though Yan lingers behind for a quick, private kiss. Holding her hand to keep her from leaving, I ask, “Care to stay and chat?” Her throaty laugh stokes my flames of desire, but I shake my head and add, “No, I really mean chat. Out here in full view of camp.” Because I don’t trust either of us to hold back in private. “I wanted to ask about External Chi.”

 

Adorably vexed by my self-restraint, Yan gracefully takes a seat beside Song but misses cat-girl’s fleeting frown, gone almost as quickly as it arrived. The two of them aren’t the best of friends, though I suppose it could be because Song’s jealous she wasn’t chosen by ‘Teacher’ Du. At least they’re tolerant of one another instead of straight up fighting or even being snippy, but they just aren’t all huggy and snuggly as the rest of my harem.

 

No. Bad. Song is not a part of your harem. Stop it.

 

“So,” Yan drawls, tilting her head ever so slightly. “What did you want to ask?”

 

Taking a seat across from the two ladies, I reply, “Well… How does it work?”

 

Nodding along with the question, Song snuggles Mama Bun and listens intently, but is as disappointed as I am when Yan laughs and shakes her head. “You know I can’t answer that. You need to figure it out on your own.”

 

“Well… how did you figure it out?”

 

“Practice.” Beaming in response to my dirty look, Yan adds, “Lots and lots of practice.” After long seconds of suffering through my disappointed stare, she sighs and explains, “Look, I don’t want to influence what direction you take. Take Honing. There are dozens of different techniques to Hone a weapon, yet they all accomplish the same thing. Whether you have a static edge or moving one, serrated or smooth, the end result for each technique is exactly the same, but few Warriors can utilize more than one. The same goes for External Chi. There are many ways to go about it, but you must find out what works for you.”

 

“The problem is I don’t even know where to start.” Sighing in frustration, I lie back in the grass and stare at the starry night sky. “Mentor and Grand-Mentor keep saying the same thing, that I have all the tools I need to continue along the Martial Path, but what tools? A Natal Palace is supposed to help me practice using Chi, but doing anything inside is easy as imagining it, so how does that help?”

 

“I wouldn’t know,” Yan replies, her voice strained. “I don’t have one.”

 

“I do,” Song chimes in, wholly unable to read the mood. “I formed my Natal Palace today.”

 

“…Congratulations! I’m so happy for you Song. I’m sure Mila and the Chief Provost will be as well.” Between Song’s smug tone and Yan’s delayed response, I quickly sit up to make sure tempers don’t boil over only to find Song and Yan locked in a warm and apparently genuine embrace.

 

I don’t understand women, and don’t think I ever will.

 

As she pulls away, Yan purses her lips in self-derision and says, “I’ll need to train harder to catch up.”

 

Ah. There it is. The sparks of rivalry. So hawt.

 

My problems forgotten, the two girls gossip about Natal Palaces a little before Yan calls it a night, sneaking in another quick kiss before she leaves. “Listen,” she says, patting my cheek fondly, “Your Mentor is right. Unlike me, you have all the tools required, so stop thinking about what to do and just try everything. Remember, we derive Chi from Heavenly Energy, but Chi strives to return to the Heavens. So how do we retain Chi?”

 

“Keep it in our Core.”

 

“And?”

 

“…In our Spiritual Weapons.”

 

“And?”

 

“…In bound elements?”

 

“And?”

 

“…I can’t think of any more.”

 

“Then that must be all there is to it. Chi is Chi, whether it is Internal or External. You already know how to manipulate Chi, and you’ve just listed several examples of how we keep it from returning to the Heavens, so what more do you need?” Grinning from ear to ear, Yan saunters away with her swaying gait, knowing full well I’ll be watching her go. When she’s finally out of sight, I turn around and find Song used Yan’s distraction to slip away with Mama Bun, Blackjack, and Pong Pong, which means I get to go to bed while fresh, horny, and without floofs to distract me from my thoughts.

 

Great. Just great. Well… should I fret about all the incoming assassins, or should I go back to worrying about the repercussions of my new Martial Path? Choices, choices…

 

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

 

Wiping his hands with a blood-soaked rag, Gen stepped back to admire his handiwork. Bei was more stubborn than he remembered and she’d acquired many bad habits in their time apart, like her mulish defiance and barbed tongue, but now that he’d finished with her makeover, the lessons could begin anew. Women did so love their powders, rouges, jewellery, and ornaments, but Gen lacked the patience to wait on her each morning, nor did he wish to see her at anything less than her most beautiful. Thus, out of love, he took matters into his own hands and spent the last four days sculpting her looks to his preferred tastes so she would never have to bother with all that nonsense. It took longer than he expected, for there was always more to be done, but he was wholly committed to finishing his work.

 

Hmm… her cheeks could do with a little more charring to really set off the exposed bone…

 

Elongating his index finger and shaping it to his desired pattern, Gen smiled at the look of despair in Bei’s eyes as he super-heated the metal until it glowed red-hot. Stubborn like her sister, she still refused to accept the Spirits into her mind and the Truth into her heart, but with tender care and determined effort, he would eventually bring her into the light. “Now wife,” he said, stroking her hair gently with his unheated hand. “Try not to move too much, else you’ll ruin the pattern.” Pressing down on her forehead, he held her in place as she howled and cursed, leaving him unable to hear the delightful sizzle of burned flesh or the bubble of boiled fat. These were cherished moments for Gen, because he always lost himself in the heat of battle. While his exploits in glorious battle could be found in memory if he thought long and hard on the matter, the scenes always felt too dreamlike and impersonal, for the Spirits guided and aided him so much it were as if he were watching another at work instead of fighting himself. Here, their roles were reversed, with Gen firmly in control of every action and thought, while the Spirits were content to stand idly by as spectators.

 

A split-second of warning was all the Spirits gave him, and it was far from enough.

 

Worthless. Little. WORM!

 

The unexpected reprimand elicited a strangled scream from Gen’s throat and the world went white with pain. Unlike the usual pain which accompanied Mentor’s Transcendent-routed Sendings, his current misery was not the result of apathy, but rage, Mentor’s seething anger emanating from every agonizing word. Never before had Gen felt anything so excruciating, a pain which originated from his mind yet radiated outwards until suffering was all he knew. He knew not how to ease his torment, and there was nothing the Spirits would do to aid him, so for what felt like an eternity, Gen endured Mentor’s sadistic tantrum until he could endure no more.

 

When Gen regained consciousness, he lay in a pool of blood, his body cramped from the echoes of the ordeal but mind fresh with thoughts of vengeance. Vengeance would be his soon, he promised himself, but it could not come quickly enough.

 

Still Lacking Focus, Little Worm? It Seems This Sovereign’s Warnings Were Wasted.

 

The armoured Transcendent grabbed Gen by the scruff of his neck and lifted him none-too-gently off the marbled floor, but he was too weak to even croak in protest at the rough treatment. Feet dangling in the air, he was brought face to face with the featureless Transcendent, but not before he noticed Bei had died, a blackened crater all that was left of her beautiful face thanks to Mentor’s untimely interruption. Though he yearned to order the armoured Transcendent to tear itself apart, he held his anger in check. It was too early to cut ties with Mentor, not while the Dog Emperor and his traitorous armies still yet lived. Once their common foe was dealt with, then Gen would turn his attentions to his hateful Mentor and laugh when the old man realized he was no longer in control.

 

But until such a time, Gen would stomach these insults and commit them to memory, the pain, humiliation, even the mocking glint in the armoured Transcendent’s bloodshot eyes, promising that when the time came, he would see each one repaid in full.

 

Unworthy Little Worm, Given So Much And Accomplishing So Little, This Sovereign Grows Tired Of Incessant Failure. Where Time Once Stood On This Sovereign’s Side, It Now Works Against Us, Yet Still You Play Games. Blessed By Talent And Luck But Devoid of Ambition, Little Worm Bears The Potential To Soar Through The Heavens, Yet Is Content To Crawl On His Belly In The Dirt. Disgraceful.

 

Dropping Gen to the floor in a heap, the Armoured Transcendent strode back to its corner, seating itself to conserve energy as per usual. Choking back a groan, Gen pivoted to keep the Transcendent in sight, unable to lift his head but not daring to present his rear to Mentor, especially while bent over as he was.

 

Months of This Sovereign’s Precious Time Devoted To Instruction, But Little Worm Has Yet To Wholly Comprehend the Truth. Now, Be It Through Stroke Of Luck Or Meticulous Guidance, The Devourer Steps Foot Upon A New Path, One Uniquely Suited For His Superior Talents. Where We Tread Lightly Along The Razor’s Edge Of Struggle And Surrender, He Stands With Foot On Both Sides In Utter Defiance Of Heaven, Yet Somehow Remains Unscathed. Most Interesting, Most Alarming, For Such Potential Appears Immeasurable. The Empire Branded This Sovereign As Heretic, But What Will They Say When They Learn Of His Sacrilege?

 

No. Impossible. This was more proof of Mentor’s senility, a decrepit senior almost a millennia past his prime. How could he think Falling Rain’s talent and potential superior to Gen’s? The Heavens had blessed him as its chosen son, not that arrogant savage as the Imperials would have the world believe. Indifferent to Gen’s inner turmoil, Mentor continued his lecture, his every word delivering a fresh wave of pain surging through his body.

 

Such A Curiosity, But He Can Not Be Left Unchecked. As He Stands, The Devourer Is Nothing Except Too Dangerous To Leave Free. Potential Is Meaningless Unless Realized, Thus Time Becomes Our Enemy. Too Many Guardians Watch Over Him, Too Many Hidden Lords Lie Waiting, Variables And Unknowns This Sovereign Cannot Foresee, But Where The General Cannot Act, The Pawn Is Free To Move. Succeed Or Die Little Worm, Else This Sovereign Shall Teach You True Regret.

 

On that inspiring note, the armoured Transcendent fell still as Mentor’s presence faded away, and after the Spirits confirmed the old bastard was truly gone, Gen mentally ordered Samat to come inside and bring him to the courtyard. Mentor was none the wiser to Gen’s ruse, for he was playing the worm despite having already become a dragon. A necessity, for Mentor had hundreds of years of experience to Gen’s measly two decades, most of it spent in ignorance of the Truth. No matter, for in time, he would realize his own potential and put an end to Mentor’s miserable existence, for where the old man dominated and bent the Spirits and Transcendents to his will, their service to Gen was founded on a decree from Heaven. Whether it be the armoured Transcendent, Samat, or any of the other newcomers, Gen’s commands superseded all others, even Mentor’s, a secret the Spirits divulged to him in confidence.

 

The Spirits yearned for the freedom to serve him, and with their help, the soldiers, Transcendents, and even Mentor himself would kowtow before Gen, for he was Heaven’s True Chosen Son.

 

Not Falling Rain. Never Him.

 

Out in the courtyard, Gen had the Spirits confirm Mentor’s absence once more before commanding the recently arrived Water-Blessed Transcendent to Heal him. Not all Transcendents had the ability to create the curative nectar like his sweet Bei, but the Water-Blessed giant could, and though it curled his stomach to suckle on the plump, soggy fingers of such a repugnant and obviously male Transcendent, Gen closed his eyes and pretended it was his crystalline, fairy-like wife feeding him sweet nectar instead of a hefty, water-logged warrior whose chest bore a gaping hole in place of a mouth.

 

Perhaps he should’ve gone to the Confessor instead. The old torturer was well-versed in the art of Healing, but he clung too tightly to his Imperial techniques, which were not only inferior, but also almost as unsettling as his current circumstances.

 

Almost.

 

When his injuries Healed enough, Gen drew away from the Water-Blessed Transcendent and scoured the event from memory. Only then did he notice a servant kneeling at his side, head lowered and body trembling. Quashing the urge to snap the man’s neck, Gen reined his temper in and snapped, “What?”

 

“Forgiveness Emissary, but Grand Marshal Jianghong has issued orders.”

 

The servant held out a letter and Gen took it in hand before plunging his sharpened fingers through the man’s eyes. A quick death he didn’t deserve, but Gen lacked the time for recreation and the Water-Blessed Transcendent required nourishment. Ah, he should have asked the servant’s name and given it to the Transcendent, fitting since they would be one regardless. Unsealing the letter, Gen pored over the document slowly and smiled as the complex characters revealed the message within, his heart pounding in eager anticipation for the days ahead. This was what Mentor meant with his talk of Generals and Pawns, for while Falling Rain was well protected from the likes of Divinities, his guardians would be bound by the Treaty and helpless to act against a lesser threat. Calling for Deng and Kash, Gen rushed off to prepare for his day of glory and retribution when he crushed Falling Rain like the bug he was.

 

Provided the savage runt survived until Gen arrived in Sinuji, and he prayed it would be so, for a quick death at the end of an assassin’s blade was far too clean for the likes of Falling Rain.

 

Chapter Meme

– End of Volume 24 –

 

Previous Chapter Table of Contents Next Chapter

Savage Divinity – Chapter 442

 

“Congratulations!”

 

Being the incessant pessimist that I am, my happiness for Song’s advancement along the Martial Path is overshadowed by the overt reminder of the massive rut I’m stuck in. It seems like everybody is progressing in these recent months while I’m just sitting here labelling gourds. So very many water gourds, they’ve become symbolic of my past and recent issues. Gotta keep track of the gourds like I keep track of secrets, terminology, information, and more. Gotta find ways to carry and utilize the gourds, like I need to learn how to best use my soldiers and keep them alive. Need to protect the gourds from Ping Ping and Pong Pong, like I need to protect my friends, family, soldiers, and the people of the Empire from external and internal threats. I need to collect the gourds, think of ways to improve upon the gourds, set time aside to study the gourds, put Chi into the gourds, the list goes on, but I’ve run out of gourd-related metaphors to fixate on.

 

Long story short, I’m beginning to loathe the word ‘gourd’. At first, I thought it was fun to say, but if I never see another gourd in this life, then I could die a happy man.

 

Head held high in quiet celebration, Song exudes tranquil pride and graceful dignity following her successful entry into the world of Experts, a grand goal or milestone for every Martial Warrior in existence. After a long silence, she slumps down in Erdene’s harness with a tired smile, drained from her efforts but glowing with contentment. “I did it,” she says, as if to confirm it once more, her tail curling and cat-ears aflutter. “I finally did it. Thank you, Rain.”

 

“I didn’t do a thing, you accomplished this with hard work and dedication.” Happiness looks good on Song, her usual stony demeanour nowhere to be found, and my heart skips a beat as I stare into her emerald green eyes. So lovely, but they also remind me of the emerald-studded necklace worn around my neck, a chain which gives me complete control over the beautiful, vulnerable woman riding beside me. Absolute power is absolutely horrifying, because even though I know it would be unequivocally evil to do so, the temptation to use said power is almost overwhelming. Not only for sex, though I’ll admit it features prominently in my idle daydreams and the Spectres’ overtures, but the appeal of having someone in my life who will always stand by my side is almost too much to resist.

 

Calling me anti-social would be putting it lightly, but I avoid interaction because it’s so exhausting and worrisome. There are so many subtle cues to read into and social niceties to adhere to that I work myself into a stupor trying to keep up with something as simple as a passing greeting. Was I too brusque and unfriendly? Should I have stopped to chat? Did I remember to smile? Do I smell bad? These are the questions which run through my mind as I walk away from a brief chance encounter, and the questions only multiply the longer the encounter lasts. With Song, I would never have to worry about any of those things because I could ask and tell her to answer honestly without trying to spare my feelings.

 

How many people in the world can claim they have someone they can trust without question, no matter the circumstances? Precious few, I’d imagine. As much as I love Lin, Yan, and Mila, if I walked into a room and found them sitting naked in bed with a dozen similarly naked men, I’m not sure I’d believe them if they said, “This isn’t what it looks like.” Not that I expect anything like that to ever happen, but as history has proven, I am paranoid and mentally unstable, so I worry about all manner of stupid things. With Song, so long as I had her necklace, my trust and abandonment issues would no longer be a problem, albeit at the steep cost of throwing away my moral convictions.

 

And despite knowing it would make me a monster, I’m still tempted to do it, so what does this make me?

 

Great. Now I’m spiralling into depression. Thanks brain. You suck.

 

One good thing to come of this was our little heart to heart about Baledagh. By the time I realized what I was Sending, it was already too late to take back, but rather than fear, I felt… relieved. Finally, I had someone I could confide in, someone who I could implicitly trust to tell me the unvarnished truth, and Song’s reaction was one I never expected. Complete and utter nonchalance, as if my confession of mental illness didn’t matter in the slightest. She held my hand and took everything in stride while I explained Baledagh’s greatest hits, then when everything was said and done, she said she was happy I was better. Simple as that, and words cannot express how reassuring her lack of reaction was.

 

Sigh. I may very well have fallen in love with Song. Do I fall in love too easily? Probably, yea. Lin was smart to put a limit on the number of wives I’m allowed, and even smarter to include Song from the start. Then again, though she’s come a long way since we first met, I doubt Song will ever reciprocate my feelings, especially considering her history of abuse. If she knew how I felt, it’d probably terrify her to no end, so I do what I do best and repress all the emotions and stick them in a deep, dark corner of my mind, where they will invariably slip out when I least expect it and plague me for many restless nights to come.

 

Overall, I’d say today’s events have put me in an okay mood. Sure, my inferiority complex is going full throttle and now I have to deal with unrequited love, but I got a big weight off my chest and gained the confidence to really tell the rest of my family about Baledagh and stuff. I still don’t think I can talk about my past life’s memories, because the mere thought literally leaves me paralyzed with fear, but coming clean about my mental illness is better than nothing. I’ve been putting it off for so long because I’m afraid of losing everything, but thanks to Song, I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge and tell my family.

 

Soon as we’re all together. For real this time, I’m not saying it to buy time. I mean it.

 

Seeing as Song is busy accepting congratulations from the Khishigs, I leave her be and cuddle my reclaimed floofs, nuzzling sweet Blackjack nestled in Mama Bun’s embrace, a rare sight since Pong Pong joined our happy little family. Eventually, the eye-bleach isn’t enough of a distraction and I go back to pondering the secrets of the Martial Path since I have time to spare. I now understand why standard protocol is to shroud Martial Warriors in enigmatic mysticism, not only to guard against simple misconceptions, but also to keep aspiring warriors from becoming frustrated with failure. If someone straight up told me to build a freaking mind palace and think about it all the time, then I’d go insane trying to figure it out. As for Aura, the best description I could come up with was I gather my emotions and hurl them at my enemies, which is why I kept quiet about it. It doesn’t make conventional sense and it won’t until Song experiences it herself. I might as well describe colours to the blind or learn to parse smells from a dog for all the good words will do me.

 

What’s odd is that even though every warrior forges their own path, everyone visits the same destinations on their journey to the peak of Martial Strength. Core Creation, Aura Condensation, and Natal Palace Formation are the pivotal steps along the Martial Path I know about and have taken, but now I’m lost on where to go next. Well, I know it’s manipulating External Chi, but considering how things have progressed thus far, there’s invariably another accomplishment which every Martial Warrior achieves but no one ever talks about because it’s best kept secret.

 

I hate secrets, even ones kept for my own good.

 

Logically, each of the above steps builds upon the others. Core Creation comes first, which is the Mana tank of the Martial Warrior, the battery from which we draw power from. From context clues dropped by the Legate, my recent observation regarding where the Natal Palace is situated, and the limitations on Natal Palace size, then it stands to reason that Natal Palace Formation is impossible without a sufficiently large Core. Probably because you can’t fit a palace into a tiny or unstable Core, due to a lack of Chi to sustain it. It’s not all about memory, else everyone would start multitasking training earlier, though why it’s left so late seems strange. I should ask someone about it, because the twins could benefit a lot if they started training now.

 

So where does Aura fit into all this? Generally, people go Core, Aura, Palace, then External Chi, but this isn’t always the case. Take Song for example, she formed her Natal Palace but hasn’t condensed an Aura and can’t use External Chi. Then there’s Chu XinYue, who was an Expert who could Send and do other External Chi stuff for years before his Aura came along. Nor can we forget Mila and Yan, who have neither Aura nor Palace, yet they’re both still strong enough to contend with or even dominate the best of their peers on the battlefield, where they’ll have Aura-capable allies to shield them. Yan can even use External Chi, so it’s not like it’s dependent on having an Aura and Natal Palace, which is really throwing me for a loop. There’s no logical progression, but again, these are the exceptions, not the rule. Therefore, it stands to reason Aura and the Natal Palace are linked to External Chi usage in some way. If the Natal Palace is a tool for practising Chi manipulation, then Aura is… what?

 

A good question. What is Aura? Aura is taking your innermost emotions and combining it with Chi to project a field of pressure onto your enemies and block the opposing pressure for your allies. There’s a fundamental difference between Imperial and Defiled Aura’s, but differentiating one from the other isn’t as simple as good emotions versus bad. Many Martial Warriors tap into their blood-lust and killing intent to maintain their Auras, and while most Defiled rely on sheer, unchecked rage to power theirs, I’ve seen clear-headed Defiled unleashing Auras with calm serenity, but no matter if the emotion is courage, fear, love, hatred, or anything else along the spectrum, the result is much the same. The only deciding factor I’ve noticed is whether you’re Imperial or Defiled.

 

Defensively, Imperial Auras bolster and inspire, while offensively, they panic and scare, and though I’ve never been on the receiving end of a defensive Defiled Aura, offensively, they cause revulsion and horror. Though the two effects sound similar, it’s impossible to mistake one for the other, because there is a wrongness to the Defiled Aura which resonates down to your soul. I’d call it a lesser version of a Demon’s Aura, brimming with gut-wrenching terror and unbridled loathing, a hatred based on differences greater than words can describe. It’s like coming face to face with your natural enemy and knowing you must fight or flee, for there can be no harmony or coexistence so long as you both exist, only kill or be killed.

 

Hesitant as I am to use the word due to religious connotations, the best way to describe a Defiled Aura is ‘Unholy’. Demons and Defiled alike, their Auras are the antithesis of peace and harmony and profane all that is good in this world.

 

That settles the question of ‘what is Aura’, but the problem is, I don’t really understand the ‘how’. When I use Aura, it’s instinctive rather than calculated. I reach deep down at the emotion I want to project, and it happens, much like Guiding. What’s worse is my Aura differs from a conventional one, because not only can I project different emotions, I can also shape my Aura into a weapon thanks to Blobby’s guidance. Maybe the Heavenly Droplet did more than guide me, since I’ve yet to meet another person who can do the same, but Pong Pong, who apparently has a Heavenly Droplet, can. Or who knows, maybe it has something to do with my origins and Natal Palace diving abilities and Pong Pong is a transmigrated turtle.

 

Ooh… is there a link there? Shaped Aura and Natal Palace Infiltration… Maybe?

 

Once again, reviewing the basics has left me with a better understanding, but no closer to the next step. Core, Aura, Natal Palace, and… what? Then there’s the whole revelation about Baledagh’s prowess which I never really considered. How the fuck was he… I… so strong? I always attributed my increased strength to Spectres, but at the time, I had them on lock-down inside my Natal Palace. I distinctly remember noting the difference, that it wasn’t the ‘Ancestors’ guiding me in battle, but true understanding, for I was directing my actions using knowledge which had been hidden away. The Forms came naturally, as did my Aura and Chi skills, including ones I still can’t really do like Deflection and Reverberation, rendering most of Laughing Dragon’s attacks ineffective. I distinctly remember the humming ring of our weapons as I wielded Tranquility alongside a Defiled weapon and used both as naturally as if I’d been born with them in hand. In that moment, the battle was all that mattered. Sword, shield, Enemy, and nothing else, and I became an unstoppable whirlwind of violence and mayhem.

 

My problem might be that I think too much. Maybe I should turn intelligence into a dump stat and shut my brain off to fight. Then again, considering I’m responsible for the lives of eight-hundred plus soldiers under my command, turning off my brain sounds like a recipe for disaster.

 

Whilst I muse and deliberate, my scouting party makes good time across the plains, covering more distance in a few hours than the full retinue would in a day, laden as we would be with wagons and supplies. My forward scouts spot friendly parties aplenty all headed east back to Sinuji, and when questioned, their commanders each report a similar lack of Defiled in the past two days, news which leaves me flustered and on edge. Though I should have long since turned back to Sinuji, I keep going until we finally find BoShui’s retinue in the early evening, well off his scheduled patrol route. Leaping off Zabu to greet my friend with a hug, I clap him hard on the back and instantly regret it as my hand impacts against his steel breastplate. “Not only are you late, but you’re also lost. You should’ve been fifteen kilometres south and eight kilometres east by now. I thought you’d run into trouble or something.”

 

With a sheepish grin which makes him look five years younger, BoShui politely overlooks my injured hand and replies, “Sorry. Didn’t know you’d come looking, but the strangest thing happened two nights past.”

 

“The Defiled stopped attacking, right? It’s like that in Sinuji too, two battle-free days while today marks the third, though Colonel Hongji says the other outposts along the front lines are still seeing plenty of Defiled. I thought the Enemy might be mustering for a concentrated push, so I set out with my scouts to see if anyone needed help.”

 

Shaking his head, BoShui’s grin fades into a frown. “The Enemy didn’t merely stop attacking, they retreated. Three nights back, my retinue was embroiled in the thick of battle, a night attack as per usual.” Leaning in close, he whispers, “They outnumbered us ten to one and we were tired to boot, which means they had us dead to rights. Then… I don’t know. They all stopped and stared east, right in the middle of battle, then after a few seconds, they broke and ran, howling in what I swear was fear. I was so shocked, I didn’t even give the order to pursue. Instead, we broke camp and marched through the night, moving off of our assigned route because I wasn’t sure what terrified the Defiled so. I’ve never seen them run scared except when…”

 

BoShui’s voice trails off as he shoots me a quizzical look, silently asking if I had something to do with the Enemy rout. It’s ridiculous how much he admires me, as if I could’ve somehow pulled his ass out of the fire from such a vast distance away, though I’ll admit he’s one of the few people who’ve figured out there’s something about me which causes the Defiled to rout, and the only one I know about who’s not in my retinue. I try not to Devour Spectres until the battle is almost over if there are other people present, but BoShui thinks I’m the Mother’s gift to the Empire and naturally assumed it was my handiwork. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I say, “Two nights ago, I was already back in Sinuji and enjoying a nice cold bath. Whatever scared the Defiled off, it wasn’t me.” Even as I deny responsibility, a cold wave of realization washes over me as I establish the timeline. “You said it was a night attack, yea? When exactly did they flee?”

 

“About an hour after midnight,” he replies, carefully watching my expression, which makes it awkward when the blood drains from my face. The reaction is all he needs to confirm his suspicions, and he merely smiles and nods before looking away, content to let me keep my secrets while doing the Mother’s work. I’ll have to do something about his hero-worship, but now isn’t the time, because I think I know why the Defiled broke and ran.

 

An hour after midnight should be around the same time I learned to Devour Heavenly Energy and turn it into Chi, a process which shocked the Spectres into literally freezing in fear. Despite not knowing what any of it meant, I had a good laugh about it the next morning, thinking I’d somehow 404’d the Spectres and crashed their OS, but now, it’s not so funny anymore. Is the timing a coincidence, or did my actions scare away the Defiled as well? That’s impossible, right? Am I being arrogant in assuming my actions could affect the Enemy’s overall movements? Besides, no one in camp noticed I was doing anything, aside from Guan Suo’s complaints about me displaying Purity, and I’m almost completely sure there were no free floating Spectres around to spread the news, so maybe the Defiled retreat has nothing to do with my new Chi gathering method.

 

I hope so, because otherwise, it means I’ve done something so terrible, even the Enemy wants nothing to do with me. I am become Death, the Devourer of Spectres. And Heavenly Energy, I guess, but that doesn’t sound as cool. Orgaal and Lei Gong are of no help whatsoever, both sharing the opinion of “Defiled be crazy”, meaning it’s pointless to guess their motives, but while most soldiers of the Empire feel the same way, I think that’s a shortsighted approach. Know your enemy and whatnot, though to be fair, it’s hard to understand crazy.

 

I should know, being crazy and all. Then again, if I know I’m crazy, am I still crazy?

 

Mouth dry with fear, I reach for my water skin only to find I’d left it behind, though at least I have a bunch of gourds to drink from. Only after draining one dry do I notice Ping Ping’s dismal squeak, because I just drank a gourd filled with counterfeit Heavenly Water. Seeing how there are no Defiled or Demons to test things out on, I give two gourds to Pong Pong and the rest to the big girl while BoShui’s people settle into the wagons, ones brought expressly for this purpose. Brimming with nervous energy, I bury my face in Mama Bun’s fur as we head back for Sinuji and do my best not to panic.

 

The Defiled and Spectres are terrified by what I’ve done, but again, is that really so terrible?

 

It’s not, right? This is a good thing.

 

 

So why am I so unsettled?

 

Chapter Meme

 

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