Savage Divinity – Side Story 04


The following takes place immediately after Chapter 232

 

Extreme Lewdness ahead, NSFW. You’ve been warned.


 

Body weak and legs aquiver, Yuzhen collapsed on the bed, breathless and intoxicated as she basked in the afterglow. Lips stretched in a smile she thought reserved for empty-brained fools, she ogled her handsome lover as he laid beside her, lapsing in and out of blissful consciousness. After reading the reports detailing the abuse he’d suffered, she’d rushed over expecting to find him half broken and bleeding. Instead, she found him healthy and… enthusiastic as ever, though the healing left him leaner than she liked. Running her fingers across his skin, she drank in his athletic frame, broad shoulders narrowing down to a slim waist, his sinewy, supple muscles glistening with sweat as he audibly panted, drained from their carnal embrace. Chuckling at his cute gasps, she sat up and straddled him with a ferocious grin. “Rest up, my little lamb. I’ve yet to have my fill.”

 

“Mercy, great beauty,” he pleaded, playing his part well. It’s one reason she sought him out so often, his willingness to adapt to her varying desires without complaint. “The mind is willing, but the body is weak. I beg you, allow me but an hours rest and I’ll satisfy your every need.”

 

Though his lips said no, his actions begged for more as his hands explored her body. Those amber eyes, so soft and warm, she could stare into them for hours on end, his broken nose and panda-like bruises long since healed. Slapping him across the face, she laughed mockingly at his frail protests, grinding her hips against him. “My patience is limited and options aplenty. If you’re too tired to sate my appetite, then I’ll look elsewhere for-”

 

Before she could finish, Gerel rose with renewed vigour, his temper flaring at her teasing words. Enraptured by his fervent need to conquer and tame her, he pressed her down and loomed over her, his gaze filled with animalistic need. Enjoying the reversal of power, Yuzhen’s mind went blank with pleasure as she played prey to his predator, her struggles and protests dwindling away as she melted in his passionate embrace.

 

Only after thoroughly satiating her every need did he allow exhaustion to win out, crashing down beside her, their bodies intertwined in naked embrace. Gasping for air, he smiled at her slack, contented grin and asked, “No need… to look… elsewhere… now?”

 

Foolish men and their frail egos, it’s what made them so fun to toy with. “Fair enough,” she answered, allowing him a moment of smug gratification before adding, “For now.” A look of despair and desperation flashed across his handsome face as she leaned in to kiss his shoulder, hiding her smirk. “I’ve made allowances for your injuries, but if you’re still so lacking after the week is through…”

 

“Woman, you’ll be the death of me. Off with you then, I’m no match. Find another poor soul to torment, I’ve lost all will left to live.”

 

“So weak, how disappointing. My old man will never approve of our betrothal if you don’t shape up.”

 

The mood shifted as his hopes erupted before subsiding, tempering his aspirations with caution. “Do not tease me with this. Are you truly willing to marry a no-name warrior like myself?” Suppressing her urge for mischief, she merely nodded, his palpable relief filling her with joy. So simple a thing, to be wanted for more than just physical release, she’d never felt this way before but Gerel’s frown marred her joy. “Why? Do you not have political nonsense to worry about?”

 

Rolling her eyes, she bit him lightly and answered, “I haven’t the faintest idea.” Idiot. “Why do you want to marry me?”

 

She asked the question in a casual manner, but her heart was filled with trepidation. All of her previous suitors hid ulterior motives, hoping find some advantage against the Marshal of the North. While Gerel didn’t seem like the type, there was still a tiny part of her which wondered at the possibility. Thankfully, his answer put a rest to her worries. “There was a time when all I thought of was battle, wanting nothing more than to fight better and kill faster. I’ve no family and few friends, so in my idle winter months, I’d hide away alone at home, honing my skills and pacing the walls, waiting for spring to come so I might find a worthy foe. It’s all I lived for.” Sighing, he kissed her forehead and nibbled her fox ears. “Until this winter past. You were all I could think of, your smile, your voice, your scent, the memories plagued me without end. I offered to come along as Rain’s guardian only to spend more time in your presence, but Baatar had other plans. I even offered to guard the Magistrate’s brat, but Akanai declined. It shames me knowing how I leapt with joy upon hearing Rain was missing, joining the search party just to see you once more. Want has nothing to do with it, I am consumed by the thought of marrying you. I will be your husband and you my wife, even if I must share you with a dozen others.”

 

Unable to resist, she laughed and said, “Oh good, I always dreamed of having a harem of husbands. You will be my first and most cherished, but a dozen is far too few.”

 

“Immoral wench.”

 

Seeing his drowsy, contented expression, Yuzhen took his hand and whispered, “Rest, my handsome husband-to-be. If you’d like to keep our marriage bed empty of others, then I’ll need your best efforts.” Staying to watch him fall asleep, she rolled out of bed and sighed, cleaning and dressing herself for the day ahead. Though Yo Ling and the Coalition were defeated, Sanshu was far from safe, with plenty of work left to be done. Already she’d ignored her duties for too long, indulging her wounded lover after his ‘demoralizing’ defeat at the hands of Butcher Bay’s Spectre. A young man not thirty years old, beaten by a veritable legend famous for killing numerous heroes of the Empire, and Gerel had the gall to be depressed. Surviving one clash was reason enough to count his blessings, but this blockhead pressed his luck a second time. A dead hero wouldn’t warm her bed, but Gerel was nothing if not confident.

 

Stepping out of Gerel’s room, she steeled her nerves as she strode past the beds of injured Bekhai, but to her surprise, they were nothing but cordial, though one or two men blushed and glanced away, likely remembering her… enthusiastic demands. How refreshingly delightful, were this anywhere else in the Empire, she would suffer through silent leers and whispered derision. It always seemed unfair to her, for men who slept around were heroes and idols, while women who did the same were labelled whores and tramps. The Bekhai seemed indifferent to her romantic tryst, treating her with the same aloof respect they gave all their superiors.

 

If this were a week ago, she would’ve already been dreaming of escaping to live among Gerel’s people in seclusion, but things were different now. She’d finally accepted her place, poised to become the next Marshal of the North, and now that she had a real chance at surviving to accept the honour, she hungered for it. Not out of desire for power and authority, but to fulfill her old man’s dreams and make the north a better place, to save others like he saved her. Only with power would she have the ability to enact change, ensuring disasters like the Purge and Sanshu’s relocation of its commoners never took place again.

 

Today marked the first step towards equality for human and half-beast alike.

 

Taking her carriage to the Magistrate’s palace, she arrived just in time to greet her guest as he struggled out of his palanquin. “Chief Councilman Chao Yong, it is truly a pleasure.”

 

The fat toad answered haughtily. “Of course it is.” His lecherous smile betrayed his thoughts, believing himself untouchable now that he was a ‘hero’ of Sanshu. “I was wondering when you would come crawling, but you moved faster than expected. Good, good.”

 

Barely able to hide her disgust, Yuzhen led him to the meeting room and poured out two cups of tea. A minor courtesy of no real importance, but the toad’s smile widened even further. “As you know,” she began, “The Coalition’s heinous betrayal has left Sanshu in dire straits, your heroic efforts playing no small part in their downfall.”

 

“Though I’m no warrior, as a loyal citizen of the Empire, I could do no less than stand against the hated traitors.” The puffed-up toad ate it all up, and she had to wonder if he truly believed the lies he spun. Unbelievable. “In fact, to sooner root out all possible traitors, I commanded my mercenaries to seize the Coalition assets, but it seems you were a step ahead of them.” Openly sneering, Chao Yong continued, “I’m sure you have only the best interests of Sanshu at hand, but I’ve lived here all my life and have a deep understanding of its dealings. It would be remiss not to use my expertise, and you’ll find yourself… deeply regretting your actions should you refuse my aid.”

 

A flimsy excuse and thinly-veiled threat. Sipping her tea quietly, she nodded in agreement. “There are many documents and responsibilities regarding the Coalition’s holdings, and I find myself out of depth. In the spirit of cooperation, I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”

 

Leaning forward, Chao Yong lowered his voice and asked, “Speaking of agreement, how are the Bekhai? Our reclusive allies have refused all my requests to greet them, but I understand you were just there. I hold no grudge, they must be tired from their efforts, the Mother’s Militia have also refused to meet me.”

 

The idiot took so long to put the pieces together and now he thought himself clever. Feigning surprise and fear, she whispered, “Oh no…” This was almost too easy. After a long, thoughtful pause, she spoke quickly, abandoning subtlety out of worry he wouldn’t catch on. “I cannot relinquish the Coalition’s holdings, they are traitors and the investigation falls under the purview of the Empire, while you are merely a citizen. My hands are tied you see?” Pretending the idea just came to her, her eyes lit up. “What if I made you a Lieutenant Marshal? Then I could hand everything over to you and you’d be free to do as you please. I only ask you spare me, please…”

 

Elated by her sudden capitulation, Chao Yong leaned back into his chair and stroked his beard. “Hmm… yes, yes. This is acceptable. With the Coalition’s assets and the office of Lieutenant Marshal, it’ll be even easier to annex the Union’s holdings…” Licking his lips, he stared hungrily at Yuzhen, weighing his options. “I’ve no desire for a barbarian’s leavings, so I’ll spare you for now, but do not think this absolves you of sin. Even after you’ve taken office as Marshal, I expect you to know your place. Begone from my sight, whore. Have the papers prepared within the hour, I intend to start immediately.”

 

Hastily beating a retreat, Yuzhen smiled as the door closed behind her, yet another burden relieved. Even if she fought to hold onto the Coalition’s assets, it was only a matter of time before Chao Yong strangled her operations and left her with nothing, so why bother? Though he was a devious merchant, Chao Yong was an amateur politician, failing to understand the ramifications of his new office. As a Lieutenant Marshal, he wasn’t being given the Coalition’s assets, but rather the responsibility of overseeing them for the Empire. Given his nature, it wouldn’t be long before she caught him lining his pockets, at which point she would levy charges against him, seizing his life and possessions in one fell swoop. Why settle for a third of Sanshu’s industry when she could have it all?

 

Despite her newfound optimism, she knew a long, uphill battle awaited her as Marshal of the North. If her brilliant and hard-working old man couldn’t do it, what chance did she have? Thus, she devised this plan to seize Sanshu’s wealth for the province, allowing her to remove all the corrupt Lieutenant Marshals her old man had no choice but to rely on. With her own means of production and supply, no longer would she be at the mercy of every merchant alliance and union, putting the outrageous profits to good use building schools and orphanages, raising scholars and soldiers loyal to the Empire. A small first step, but a vital one, she only needed to wait while Chao Yong wove enough rope to hang himself.

 

Her mood lively and steps light, she hummed beneath her breath while heading towards her next meeting, the future already looking brighter.

Chapter Meme


Hand holding, the lewdest of the lewd.

 

Anyway, Path of Exile announced the release date for its new expansion, exactly two weeks from today. I’ll be taking a break from writing to nolife and play, but I don’t really want to stop 3 chapters into a new volume, which leaves me in a bind.

 

Either I cut short the short stories and start on the next volume this monday, or I extend the short stories for another week, which I’m not sure I can or want to. Hell, this chapter probably could have been part of an actual chapter, it’s 2k words long.

 

I’ll think it over, but I’d appreciate your thoughts on the situation. Thanks, and enjoy the weekend!


 

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Savage Divinity – Side Story 03


I’d like to give a shout out to my latest, anonymous donor. Thank you so much for your incredible support!

 

The following takes place immediately after Chapter 232


 

“Foul blackguard, I cast thee back unto the Father’s Maw. Eat my spear!”

 

Hurtling through the air like a bolt of thunder, the projectile crashed into Yo Ling’s chest, his face twisted in shock and denial. “No,” he gasped, falling to his knees, “How can this be?” Peering up, he asked, “Your name, noble warrior?”

 

Head held high, she answered, “Sumila, Disciple of Akanai, student of Husolt, warrior of the People.” A myriad of emotions flitted across the Bandit King’s face, anger, awe, and finally acceptance. Sinking to the ground, Yo Ling leaned forward in a pseudo-bow as he breathed his last. The deafening cheers of the victorious defenders echoed through the streets, celebrating the death of Sanshu’s greatest sinner. Smiling at her adoring admirers, Mila accepted the praise as her due, neither too arrogant or too humble. Finally, after years of arduous training and life-threatening drills, she was finally receiving her due.

 

“My love,” Rain said, hands clasped and eyes fluttering. “My bold, courageous hero. You’re so incredible, I’ll never match up.”

 

“No matter,” she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck, the two of them lost in their own little world. “So long as you try your best and remain safe at my side, I’ll love you all the same.”

 

“Ah, you’re too good for me,” he replied, lifting her effortlessly into his arms, his amber eyes filled with love and affection. “I’ll never so much as look at another woman again, I swear.” Leaning in, his lips pressed against hers, his breath tickling her skin. Filled with hunger, she pushed him back and moved to follow, only for the ground to disappear beneath her feet.

 

Waking with a start, Mila blinked in confusion, staring at the intricate pattern of crossbeams on the ceiling as she laid upon the massive bed. Sinking back into her pillows with a sigh, she huffed in annoyance, blowing Lin’s fluffy ears aside as the sweet girl nuzzled against Mila’s shoulder.

 

Nothing but a wild, fanciful dream. Reality was not so sweet, her accomplishments next to nil. First, she lost to Gen, a mere farmer who turned Defiled little over a month ago, causing Song to take injury defending her. Then she failed to deal the killing blow to a wounded Yo Ling, enraging the powerful bandit and bringing calamity to Rain’s retinue. So many died defending her, a foolish girl with delusions of grandeur. Perhaps it was time to admit she’d never be like Mama, a valiant hero and fearless leader, standing at the forefront of battle as Papa supported from behind. With Rain growing stronger by the day, maybe it was time to accept her fate, destined to remain hidden in Rain’s shadow.

 

The fragrant scent of herbs and spices wafted through the room, setting Lin’s nose to twitching as she sniffed the air, waking with a contented smile. It’s no wonder Rain spoiled her silly, she was so adorable and sweet, even first thing in the morning. “Morning Mi-Mi,” she said with a cute little yawn. “How are you feeling?”

 

Terrible. Mila’s body felt tender and swollen, her muscles bruised and aching, her skin itchy and inflamed. “Fine,” she lied, her feigned smile sending a jolt of pain through her cheek as skin cracked and pus dribbled out. “Much better now.”

 

Sticking out her tongue, Lin let out a tiny snort. “Liar.” Stretching awake, she ran her fingers through her hair a few times, her glossy black locks settling neatly around her shoulders. Unfair, Mila dreaded looking into the mirror, knowing she would find a tangled snare resembling a fiery rat’s nest atop mangled, burned, and bruised flesh. Not even Song’s salve could straighten out the coarse, rough fibres of Mila’s hair, which is why she kept it no longer than shoulder length. Her hair straightened, Lin turned to Mila and beamed. “So cute, dishevelled Mi-Mi is best Mi-Mi.”

 

Smiling as Lin combed her hair, Mila rubbed the sleep from her eyes, her mind, body, and core exhausted from yesterday’s efforts. Delicious scents continued drifting into the room and Mila’s empty belly rumbled loudly, sending Lin into a fit of giggles. A light knock her only warning, the door swung open as Rain entered, carrying two trays of aromatic dishes. “Time to wake, my sleeping beauties. I made lunch.” Streaming in behind him, the cats and bears took position on and around the bed, the tiny cubs chortling as they scampered about the room. Carrying two more trays, Song greeted them with her customary half-bow before setting the table, obedience and submission ingrained in her.

 

Realizing her face had yet to be bandaged, Mila scrambled under the covers, darting away from Rain’s greeting kiss. “Get out,” she screeched, pushing Aurie aside. “I’m not decent.” Her face was a mess, bruised, burned, and ghastly, she didn’t want him seeing her like this.

 

“Don’t be silly, love. Wifey, Li Song’s poultice needs changing. It’s already mixed and ready, so could you please help her?”

 

“Okay hubby.” The bed barely moved as Lin hopped off, her tiny frame barely making an impact. Crawling deeper into the covers, Mila retreated from Rain as he sat down, taking advantage of the situation to pat her behind and squeeze her tail from over the covers. Lecher. “Come out, my love, let me treat your injuries.”

 

“No. Go away. Lin will take care of it.”

 

“She’s helping Li Song. Hurry, we should eat while the food’s still hot.”

 

Rain tugged at the blanket and Mila mewled in protest, clutching them tight around her. “I’m still tired. Eat without me.”

 

Sighing, Rain laid down beside her, stroking her head through the covers. “I find your lack of cheer disturbing. Is it because you don’t want me to see your injuries? Don’t be ridiculous, a few cuts and bruises aren’t enough to scare me off. Where’s the strong, confident Mila I know and love? Stop hiding and come out.”

 

Pausing to consider her options, Mila replied, “You’re not allowed to make fun.”

 

“Understood.”

 

“No wincing or pouting either.”

 

“By your command.”

 

“And no comments. Don’t speak unless spoken to.”

 

“I live to serve.”

 

Even though Rain sounded entirely serious, Mila had a nagging suspicion he was poking fun at her in his own, enigmatic way. Steeling her nerves, she sat up and gestured for him to get working, staring at the bed and unwilling to look him in the eye. She didn’t want to see the revulsion or nausea in his eyes as he gazed upon her ruined face. She didn’t consider herself overly vain, but no woman wanted to be seen like this. It was her misfortune, falling in love with a debauched philanderer, a womanizing playboy who drooled over every woman in sight. Worst of all, she’d never seen him gaze at her the way he stared at other women, with a literal hunger in his eyes.

 

Stupid perverted Rain.

 

Silent the entire time, Rain applied ointment to Mila’s burns and bruises, his blistered hands working quickly as he bandaged her injuries with tender care. How did he do it? He suffered so many injuries and worked so hard, yet probably woke hours ago, even finding time to cook a full meal. How was she to ever compare? She could barely grill meat over the fire, much less cook on a stove.She didn’t deserve him.

 

Finished with his work, he slid off the bed and into her field of view, kneeling on the floor to gaze at her with love and warmth. “Mila my love, you never have to worry about how you look. Even if you’re deformed and disfigured, I’ll love you until the day I die.”

 

Stroking his hair, she asked, “You mean it?”

 

“Course.” Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled her close for a hug, his cheek pressing into her chest, only a sheer nightgown separating them. Blushing at his audacity, she squeezed him tight, caressing his hair and tingling all over as his hot breath brushed across her skin. After a long embrace, she pushed him away, her cheeks aflame as he grinned. “It’s not like I fell in love with you for your looks.”

 

Infuriated by his ill-timed jest, Mila pinched his cheeks until they turned red. “Scoundrel! Lowlife! Cretin! Just you watch, I’ll harbour a grudge over these injuries and remain permanently disfigured. We’ll see how long your flowery words last. Hmph.”

 

“Forever and ever my love. I mean, we saved Sanshu, I’m sure the Magistrate won’t mind if we steal a few pillowcases. They’re the perfect size and once we cut holes for your eyes and mouth, no one will even notice your injuries.”

 

“Rainy!” With her cheeks puffed, Lin stomped over and tapped his nose. “No bullying Mi-Mi.”

 

“Mercy wifey, mercy!” Properly chastised, Rain put on an act of contrition, hanging his head in shame. Of course, this meant his face was buried in Mila’s lap, the rogue still taking advantage of her good nature. “Sorry my love, I can’t help it. You’re so radiant when you’re angry, I’m helpless to resist. Accept this meal as my apology, hand-made by this lowly sinner for my two forgiving brides-to-be. And Li Song. And the guards, but they can eat outside. Now, allow me.”

 

Slipping his arm behind her knees, Rain lifted Mila with a grunt, carrying her to the dining table one careful step at a time, his arms trembling beneath her weight. Sighing to hide her overwhelming contentment, Mila rested against his shoulder, enjoying Rain’s efforts and affection. Things weren’t exactly like she’d dreamed them, but they were perfect all the same. Honour and glory were nothing compared to a sharing a delicious meal with Rain, Lin, Song, and all their little pets.

 

Pure bliss.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 232

 

Brought away by Jianghong’s guardsmen, Gen sat at the window staring out into the market at Bei’s corpse. Her crystalline skin glimmered in the sunlight, illuminating her empty, ruined husk. Her broken jaw hung half-open as unseeing eyes returned his stare, and Gen felt… Nothing. Only a hollow, emptiness remained within, a void left by her absence and accompanied by a distinct, uncomfortable sense of loneliness. He never noticed it before but Bei was a part of him, connected through unseen fetters, a bond which transcended time and space.

 

The Spirits remained curiously muted as he shut himself away. There were no tears to be shed, no pain to embrace, no misery or anguish to be found within, not even the Spirits’ whispers to prompt him to action. In utter stillness, he sat in the vacant vacuum of his soul, asking questions and finding no answers, searching for something he couldn’t name. It was missing, but what it was he couldn’t say, only that it had to do with Bei’s absence.

 

With the void closing in on him, he pushed back upon it, reminiscing of better times. His lovely Bei, laid out upon their marriage bed, her tear-stained eyes silently pleading for mercy as the red-hot poker descended, such a beautiful memory engraved within his mind. The silly girl thrashed and cried, inciting his lust for more. After a single, wondrous day of passion, she belonged to him in mind, body, and soul, her compliance given, her will bound, their lives inextricably linked as husband and wife. Guardian, servant, and wife, he’d moulded her into his ideal woman, beautiful and strong, obedient and dutiful.

 

And now she was gone, with only his memories to sustain him.

 

Another woman stolen away by Falling Rain.

 

The statement echoed through the void and shattered his apathy, his every thought consumed by vengeance and retribution. Returning to reality, he searched through the crowd, hoping to spot his most hated foe. Instead, he was greeted by a scene of utter chaos and confusion. Butchers fled in droves as the defenders of Sanshu cut them down, Yo Ling nowhere to be seen. The Transcendents’ corpses sat in the streets, easily visible from his perch above as the tide of warriors streamed around them. Raging at Heaven’s injustice, he cursed the Emperor, the Bekhai, Sanshu’s defenders, but most of all, Gen cursed Yo Ling. For all his speeches of grandeur and victory, the old bastard was nothing but a fraud, a liar and a failure like Gen’s father had been.

 

The Spirits’ voices rose in a clamour, demanding surrender and resignation, and for a brief second, Gen considered succumbing to their will. Why not? What else was left for him? With Yo Ling defeated and Bei dead, how was Gen to escape? Even if he somehow avoided all the soldiers, navigated through the sprawling maze of streets, and made it out the gates, what then? He refused to return to the woods, scavenging for scraps while fleeing from the Mongrel Emperor’s reach. Better to give into the spirits and taste true power before he died. The world shrank around him and Gen saw Bei once more, waiting for him in his dreams.

 

And only in his dreams.

 

Ignoring the Spirit’s demands, Gen snarled and gathered the World’s Energy, revelling in the power within. He was no longer the worthless, snivelling hunter who would have long since give up. He was a warrior, and if he died, then he would die fighting. Moving away from the window, Gen opened the door to find Jianghong and a handful of guards about to enter. His jaw broken and cheek all but gone, Jianghong studied Gen’s eyes before giving him the briefest of nods. “Good,” he Sent, striding away with purpose. “You’ve not succumbed to despair. Come along Gen. Sanshu is lost.”

 

Joining Jianghong’s party, he followed them downstairs where the raging battle had yet to spill in, the doors and windows covered and barricaded. Kicking aside a stone statue, Jianghong revealed a hidden cellar hatch, gesturing around before dropping down. “Burn it all,” he ordered. With a wave of his hand, Gen sent a gout of flame around him, setting fire to the building. The growing blaze filled him with hope and aspiration, defeated but unbroken. He was merely an ember, but even then he’d survived through the storm of Sanshu, injuring two elite warriors by himself. With time and practice, he would only grow stronger.

 

Strong enough to have his vengeance.

 

Closing the hatch behind him, Gen descended into the darkness and lit a small flame. “A smuggler’s passage,” Jianghong Sent, already well away with lantern in hand. “I’ve found a number of them during my time as Guard Captain. A handy escape.” Following them through the twists and turns of the stony passage, Gen moved towards freedom and his destiny. Though Yo Ling’s story ended here, Gen would not die with him nor would he give in to the Spirits.

 

Their underground journey continued for hours before they emerged beneath the night sky. Snuffing out his flame to avoid detection, he glanced around the darkened forest to gather his bearings. The walls of Sanshu were barely in sight, kilometers to the east. Where to now?

 

North.

 

The booming word quieted the Spirits’ chattering, their voices falling silent before the suggestion. No, this was an order, a command given by one who not only demanded subservience, but expected it. Glancing at Jianghong, Gen realized he wasn’t the only one who heard it, the older warrior already moving out, his eyes narrowed in caution yet unwilling to disobey. Lacking any better options, Gen followed along, staring up at the night sky.

 

So beautiful. This was but the first chapter of his new life, a bump in the path towards ultimate supremacy. So what if Bei was gone? Then he would find another wife, a stronger wife, a harem of wives. He would gather entire armies to follow him, Enlightening the masses to the truth. Those who refused to open their eyes would be fuel for the fire, turning this tiny ember into a blazing conflagration, consuming all before it. Though Sanshu stood victorious this day, he would return soon enough, and when he did, Falling Rain, Sumila, the Magistrate, and even the Mongrel Emperor himself would kneel before him.

 

For he was Gen, the Emissary of Flame, Chosen of the Heavens.

 

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

 

Still yet to recover from his injuries, Vithar sat back and watched the battle unfold. His southern allies were worse than useless, unskilled in the ways of war. Charging ahead without thought, they ran into the enemy’s traps and schemes, their tidy ranks defeated by twigs and mud. A good thing he’d ordered his tribesmen to keep to the flanks and avoid all-out battle. The plan had been to let this rabble wear away at the enemy first, but they fell so quickly it hardly even mattered. After pretending to battle for the better part of an hour, he gave the order to withdraw and led his riders away, unwilling to throw his warriors away on the whims of an incompetent elderly thief.

 

Only… Now what? Lacking a Demon to speak for him, the Uniter was voiceless and Vithar without direction. Though this was a land of wealth and abundance, theirs was a tribe of warriors, battle their only purpose. There was no honour in hiding away, and he feared such an existence would render him weak and feeble like the southerners. Better to die fighting, but where was he to find a worthy foe?

 

North.

 

The Venerated One’s order echoed through his mind, and Vithar turned without hesitation, leading his riders north while bubbling with anticipation. Though this likely meant a return to hiding once more, at least he was connected to the Uniter. Now there was a commander worthy of respect, a chieftain above all chieftains. An era of bloodshed and prosperity, those were his words, and Vithar was confident the Uniter would deliver.

 

If not, then Vithar would cut him down and eat his flesh, taking his place as the Uniter.

 

Such was life, the strong devouring the weak, and Vithar wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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

 

A low, rumbling purr wakes me as Aurie grumbles beside me, his adorable eyes opened wide in a plaintive, wretched stare, as if he’s mere seconds away from dying of hunger. His massive murder mitts knead the bed instead of my chest, knowing to avoid touching my injuries. Peeling away the blanket, I wince as small patches of half-healed skin go with it, my body a mass of corrosive burns. Luckily, Blobby did its thing and kept the Ichor from going too deep, but it’s still an unpleasant experience. I need food and rest, but otherwise, these full-body burns shouldn’t take too long to fix, three days at most.

 

I get way too much practice healing myself.

 

Dragging myself out of bed, Aurie bounds away to wait by the door, excited for the new day. Throwing on a borrowed blue silk robe, I follow him out into the massive courtyard where he does his business. Wandering over to the quins, I inspect their injuries one by one, more to feed my guilt and delay the tasks ahead than out of any actual ability to help. The poor beasts have been drained by constant travel and repeated fights, with many of them sporting new scars. Uninjured, Mafu greets me with an enthusiastic snuffle, thoroughly checking my pockets for food before laying back down next to Atir. Mila’s injured quin peers through half-lidded eyes and I feed her the last of my personal stash of pain pills, saving it for her instead of taking it before I slept. A cracked skull no laughing matter, and the poor thing even tore her neck muscles, a direct hit from Yo Ling no small thing. Carefully checking all the quins’ injuries, I coo and mutter beneath my breath, wishing I could Heal their wounds, their pained, whimpering squeaks tugging at my heartstrings. They’re resilient creatures, but even then we’re stuck in Sanshu for at least a week, if not a month.

 

Even though I’d rather not stick around longer than necessary, at least Magistrate Tongzu is properly grateful, letting us stay in this enormous, secluded mansion and feeding us for free. Plus, he’s too busy doing his thing for banquets and whatnot, so I don’t have to worry too much about accidentally offending anyone in the interim, so long as I stay in the manor. I sent word to Jorani telling him to get out of the city before someone remembers he’s a fugitive, but he assured me things would be fine, so I’ve washed my hands of him. As for the other bandits, well… Tongzu seems like a stand up guy. I’m sure he won’t hang anyone who fought in defence of the city, or at least give them a head start.

 

Hopefully.

 

While finishing my quin inspection, an army of servants arrive carrying cooked food and baskets of raw fish. Filled with the carnivorous corpse eaters, I wholeheartedly vow to not eat another fish so long as I’m here, unwilling to dine on second-hand Defiled flesh, but the quins are happy to have at it. Sending a few Sentinels to rescue the poor, besieged servants from the army of squeaking adorableness, I call Aurie away from a collapsed servant, too terrified to move as my runty cat rears up on his hind legs and puts his paws together, begging for a snack.

 

It’s freaking adorable.

 

Snatching a basket of fish and a tray of meatbuns, I head to Mila’s room to feed my other pets, munching while I go. Already awake, Li Song sits on the porch outside Mila’s room with feet dangling down, the other cats and bears playing in the grass. Smiling as they charge over, I drop off the stinky fish and watch my fur babies dig in with relish, stealing a covert glance at the injured cat-girl. I’ve never gotten a good look at Song with her hair down in good lighting, and man is she gorgeous. Even with her arm in a sling and her cheek bandaged, it does little to take away from her refined elegance, sitting upright with knees together as she runs a comb through her long, silken hair. Sitting beneath the morning sun, she seems a vision of peace and serenity, enjoying her daily ritual without a care in the world.

 

I wish Li Song could always be this relaxed and happy, but a few minutes each day are all she’ll allow herself.

 

Placing the meatbuns next to Li Song, I leave Mila and Lin to sleep in, unwilling to suffer another scolding from my adorable little wifey for not properly guarding Mila. Honestly, I don’t know if Lin loves Mila or myself more, but there’s no sense pouting about it. I’m the one who wanted multiple wives, and having them get along is much better than the alternative. Unfortunately, with Lin demanding to sleep and care for Mila, and the Guard Leader refusing to let me stay too, I was left no choice but to sleep elsewhere as all my other pets were stolen away.

 

With two betrothed and five furry pets, I, a hero of Sanshu, am left with but one cat to cuddle. A grave injustice.

 

A short jaunt across the courtyard brings me to the recovery wing, where we kept all our wounded and injured. With only three Healers, they’ve been busy keeping alive instead of fully healing one or two people, so I’m here to help. Before diving in, I visit our guest of honour. Nodding at the taciturn ‘manservant’, I knock before entering to greet my tired, battered friend, sitting in bed and enjoying his breakfast. “Wow. I thought you looked bad last night, but you look even worse in daylight.”

 

“Hmph.” With all the airs of a haughty noble, Fung turns his nose up and scoffs. “Tie up your robes and cover your burns before criticizing my appearance.”

 

Smiling, I take a seat next to him while drooling over his luxurious breakfast. Congee, fried dough fritters, and a side of beef, plus pork dumplings and hot soy milk. Maybe I should hire myself a manservant, though I doubt I’d find anyone as skilled as Fu Zhu Li. “How’re you doing?”

 

Grimacing in reply, Fung pushes his plate away. “About as well as can be expected. I’m a failure who lost his entire command to an ambush. If it wasn’t for Fu Zhu Li and Mentor’s hidden guards pulling me out, and Rustram delaying the enemy, I’d be dead too.” Winded by the short conversation, he sinks back into his pillows, his blanket slipping to reveal his bruised, bandaged chest.

 

Resisting the urge to devour his breakfast, I turn away from the tempting meal. “You survived. They fought to keep you safe and they did their duty.” It’s no real comfort, but I’m not sure what else to say. “Besides, you captured Dastan Zhandos, Defiled traitor of Sanshu, so there’s that.”

 

“Wasn’t even my accomplishment,” Fung whined, arms crossed and lips pursed. “Lady Mei Lin spotted the whole thing and sent word. A unit from Shen Yun captured Dastan, led by, get this, Ong Wu Ying.” Catching my confusion, he clarifies, “My former betrothed’s cousin. The Ong family lost no time moving their assets to Shen Yun after Mentor’s annulment of the marriage agreement.”

 

I never really understood the politics that went with having Fung betrothed to a woman who would have him killed the moment she bore an heir, but then again, I’m merely a commoner. I could never do the whole political marriage thing, and luckily, I’ll never have to. There’s few things sadder than a loveless marriage, and I’m glad Fung won’t have to suffer through one.

 

Seeing he’s still bothered by something, I tilt my head in silent question. Glancing about, he reaches for my hand and Sends, “Say nothing and listen. You never know who might be in hiding.”

 

“Got it,” I Send back, enjoying his look of surprise.

 

Shaking his head, Fung sighs. “So you know how to Send too. By the Mother, Mentor will work me to the bone when she hears of this. Have mercy, brother Rain.”

 

“So it’s brother now, is it? What happened to martial nephew?”

 

“This one wouldn’t dare.” Rolling his eyes, Fung puts on a pensive frown. “About Dastan… I’m not convinced he’s Defiled. I believe he was duped and it sits poorly with me knowing his fate.”

 

Torture until death. Fun times in Sanshu.

 

After promising to back him up with the Magistrate, I leave to check on the rest of my retinue and the other Sentinels. Bedridden and immobile, many sport fresh amputations and blood-soaked bandages, sweating with fever as their bodies fight off infection. My pain pills put to good use, Vichear’s loud snores shake the air around him, his broken ribs and collapsed lung leaving him in bad shape, but in no immediate danger. Beside him are Argot and Jochi, covered head to toe in bandages, but in no danger of death. Most of the wounded already know my Panacea healing method, and the others are being taught through Sending, but even then, it’s not easy. For many, the road to recovery will be long and arduous, full of pain and suffering before they’re back to full strength.

 

And to think, they’re the lucky ones.

 

Fighting back the tears, I swallow the lump in my throat and move on. Leaving the main area, I slip into a private room and sigh, staring at the battered forms of Tenjin and Tursinai. I wish I’d seen their epic fight against Yo Ling, or better yet, been able to help. Yea, I could barely scratch his Aura, but things might have gone differently if I wasn’t busy napping. I let them both down and it hurts, even if no one else thinks so.

 

“Oh my, has little Rain come to peek?” Tursinai’s playful question interrupts my pity party, shrinking back in mock fear. “Well here I am, injured and helpless to resist before the mighty Falling Rain. Do as you please, but I beg you, spare our lives.”

 

“Quiet you.” Rolling my eyes, I check on Tenjin first, his breathing steady and skin cool. He’s paralyzed, but alive. I’d call it a miracle, but it wasn’t. The Guard Leader kept him from dying instantly, though she didn’t bother to heal him or take out Yo Ling. What’s the point of having so much power if she won’t take action? I don’t get how she can be so callous to stand by and watch good men and women die.

 

“Is something wrong?” Tursinai’s worried tone brings me back to reality, and I realize I’ve been frowning over her grievously-wounded husband.

 

I can see how she might get the wrong impression. “No, sorry, I was lost in thought. He’s fine, no change.”

 

Sighing with relief, Tursinai pouts. “How cruel, and to think, I was about to ‘fall asleep’ and overlook your wandering hands.” Ignoring her, I lift her blanket aside and remove the poultice on her shoulder, grimacing at the mangled mess beneath, a fist-sized chunk of meat missing. “Rude. That is not the face one makes when gazing upon the naked flesh of a tender young maiden. Try again.”

 

Chuckling, I lay my hand across her forehead, her skin hot to the touch. “Stop joking around and let me concentrate. Infection’s set in and you’re feverish. I’ll mix up a tincture for you, but if it gets worse, call for a healer.” Rummaging through my pack for herbs, I grumble while working. “I can’t believe the guard leader let things get so far. You both could have died and she stood there and watched. I know she’s strong, stronger than both of you and stronger than Yo Ling, yet she did nothing. Of all the arrogant, spiteful people I’ve met, she tops the list.”

 

“Don’t blame her, little Rain. She has valid reason to hide and I’ll not have you malign my hubby’s savior.” Shooting me a smile, she adds, “I’m all sweaty and sticky from fever. Wipe me down?”

 

“I’ll send for a serving girl.”

 

“Pei. Save the serving girls for hubby, I’d rather have a strapping young man.”

 

With the odd couple taken care of, I continue helping with the injured. It doesn’t take long, there aren’t many left to care for. With the final tally in, less than thirty of my original retinue remain. Rustram, Bulat, and Ravil made it through without a scratch, while Pran and Saluk both took grave injuries, fighting like the possessed to protect Mila from Yo Ling. Besides those five, only Silva, Viyan, and Birca remain from my original cripples, a grand total of eight out of the sixty-seven I started with. They didn’t even last a year with me, and I can’t help but wonder if they’d have lived longer as cripples. Huu’s retinue isn’t in much better shape and Gerel’s elites took a mauling along with his pride. Outside his private room, Yuzhen’s guards stand ready, which means she’s still inside.

 

The lucky bastard.

 

Okay, yea, Yuzhen put politics over human life, but when it comes right down to it, she didn’t really have a choice. Is it fair to blame her? Probably not, but I’m still having a hard time accepting it. She’s a kind person, but she accepts the Purge as a necessary evil, unwilling to fight against it. Why? It’s a horrific act, slaughtering thousands on the off-chance they might be Defiled, and I shudder to think what the Empire will do when they catch wind of what went down here.

 

Thankfully, I won’t be around when the hammer falls, and the Mother have mercy on anyone who is. Fuck being a Warrant Officer or Sentinel, I’m gonna quit and go study healing with Taduk. It’ll be awesome, spending my free time searching for a solution to my whole two-souls-one-body kerfuffle and maybe even experiment with bear hands. Sure, it lacks the thrill and excitement of soldiering around, and yea, sometimes I crave a little action, but I’ve had more than enough to last me a lifetime. Besides, with Baatar and Akanai defending the province, this is the perfect time for a well deserved break. From here on out, I’m gonna be Falling Rain, Herbalist and Scholar of the People.

 

Who knows, maybe I’ll even go a full year without a near death experience.

 

The dream is alive.

 

Chapter Meme

 – End of Volume 12 –

 


Author’s note: Whoo, after six volumes, the Sanshu arc is finally finished! It took way longer than expected, and that’s my bad. Won’t let it happen again.

 

Okay, sort of bad news time: I’m gonna take a quasi-break.

 

Calm down. Everything is gonna be okay.

 

I say quasi-break because I’ll still write and release, except they’re gonna be shorter side stories. A few just for fluffy fun because all the fight-writing is wearing me down, and maybe 1 or 2 to tie up loose ends in Sanshu, 3-5 in total, on normal schedule. This break is mostly so I can go over my plans for the rest of SD. I know where I wanna go with the story, but I don’t want it to take another 18 volumes, so I’m gonna hafta do some… rethinking.

 

I’d take a real break, but I’m still reserving that for Path of Exile: Fall of Oriath. No, it still hasn’t been released. If it isn’t amazing, I’m gonna cry myself to sleep for a week.

 

Anyways, take care!


 

Previous Chapter Table of Contents Next Chapter

Savage Divinity – Chapter 231


Author’s note: Sorry for the late chapter. Had it written then decided I hated almost everything about it, so I did some heavy editing. Here it is, now I’m off to eat some dinner!

 

Enjoy


 

Reeling with disbelief, Yo Ling dispatched Spirits and Sendings while wracking his brain, searching for a solution to his woes. The Ascendants continued to delay their deaths, keeping his Transcendents out of the fray. Meanwhile, the defenders of Sanshu fought like beasts possessed. Their vigour unflagging and fury unbound, they scorned their losses while chasing down his panicked Butchers. Fools one and all, if his Butchers stood and fought then they had even odds of winning the day, but his Captains failed in their duties, scattering to the winds and throwing their comrades to the wolves in their desperation to escape. Then there were the Council’s mercenaries, emerging from the shadows strike his Coalition allies from behind, XiaoGong pleading for aid as his elite retinue fell beneath the weight of numbers.

 

How had things gone so wrong? The defenders of Sanshu should be cowering before his might, their Magistrate and champions defeated single-handedly, yet still they fought on, heedless of his presence. What’s more it should have been impossible for so many blood-thirsty mercenaries to gather without the Spirits knowing, yet there they were, ruthlessly slaughtering his allies with impunity. This was supposed to be his crowning glory, his day of victory, yet trial and tribulation met him at every turn. In desperation, he beseeched the Venerated Ones for aid. “Rise and reveal yourselves, your mere presence can turn the tide in our favour, the treaty left unbroken.”

 

Impossible. The Predator Lurks, Awaiting Chance.

 

The predator? “Falling Rain? He’s but a boy! Why fear him?”

 

The Devourer, Its Instrument. Kill Him.

 

Their insistence gave him pause. Falling Rain was not the Predator, but he was a danger, this much was clear. “Then you will reveal yourselves?”

 

Foes Too Numerous. Kill The Devourer, Incapacitate The Predator, Then Away We Bring You.

 

Their answer weighed heavily upon him, his shoulders slumping as he accepted defeat. Sanshu was lost, this much was clear. Even if he slaughtered every last defender himself, he no longer had the resources required to hold it, whether it be through force of arms or misinformation. His years of careful planning and preparation all for naught, a victory denied him for reasons beyond his control. The Corsairs, the Militia, the Bekhai, the threats to the Venerated Ones, these and a thousand other random factors all working against him, turning grand triumph into bitter failure.

 

But not without great cost, beginning with these bothersome Bekhai elites.

 

Raising his mace, he froze in place as he searched for his defeated foes, their bodies no longer lying on the streets. Impossible, all four warriors had all fallen before his eyes, yet somehow escaped without his notice. How could this be? Were there other experts working from the shadows? A chill ran through him as he scanned his surroundings, desperate to find the interlopers but coming up with nothing. His Wraiths were no help, the skulking curs having deserted long ago, fleeing the city like beaten dogs.

 

“Cowards,” he screamed, his thundering roar echoing off the walls, stone and wood trembling as he vented his rage and frustration. His Aura billowed out in all directions, crushing friend and foe alike as the battle came to a standstill, every eye turning to gaze upon him. “Flee while you can, but know this! You’re all living on borrowed time, your fates sealed. Whether it takes a year or a decade, Yo Ling will have his pound of flesh, vengeance and retributi-”

 

A flash of steel interrupted his ranting, his mace moving to intercept the projectile. Caught by surprise, he failed to fully deflect the attack, the spear piercing armour and gouging flesh as it glanced across his ribs. Breathless and bewildered, he touched the wound in disbelief, his hand coming away bloody. A minor injury but an injury nonetheless. Gaping at his assailant, the diminutive red-headed half-beast glared back at him in silence, sitting atop her mount with a skinny youth cradled in her arms. A mere child, yet she dared attack him, to injure him, a grievous insult to his dignity witnessed by all.

 

An inhuman snarl tore from his throat as he charged the girl, erupting with bestial fury. Enemies moved to intercept him but he would not be denied, smashing aside spear and sword, rider and mount, undeterred as he charged towards the insolent bitch, sitting in place with arm outstretched to recall her weapon. Batting the spear in mid-flight, he sent it whirling off into the distance, his mace descending to crack fang and bone and defeat the mount’s attack. Plucking the girl from her harness, he lifted her in the air and threw to the ground, careful not to kill her yet.

 

Death would be too merciful, this bitch would suffer for her impudence.

 

A second half-beast girl screamed and attacked, her saber lashing out towards his throat. Moving with exceptional speed, the saber’s edge kissed the skin of his neck before rebounding away, easily stopped by Yo Ling’s mace. Yet another damned brat who dared to injure him, he was beside himself with anger, shattering her collarbone with a glancing blow before throwing her down beside the red-head.

 

The Devourer. Kill Him.

 

Startled by their forceful demand, Yo Ling hesitated for a fraction of a second, searching for Falling Rain. Eyes widening in surprise, he realized Rain was the unconscious youth lying before him, the young man previously cradled in the red-haired bitch’s arms. Lifting him by the collar, Yo Ling brought him close, baffled by what he found. Laughing Dragon and Gen both claimed Falling Rain was Enlightened and the Spirits marked him as the Devourer, but yet this child wearing oversized night-clothes was untouched. In fact, the Spirits seemed repulsed by his presence, clamouring in discordant anarchy and demanding Yo Ling end him, wailing nonsensical gibberish about the Devourer and the Predator.

 

How preposterous, a comatose boy not even out of his teens yet able to strike fear in the hearts of the Venerated Ones and Spirits. So many questions, but his curiosity would have to go unsated. Kill the boy, then flee to fight another day, bringing the two foolhardy little brats with him.

 

They would rue the day they crossed the Spectre Yo Ling.

 

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

 

Floating through the void, I drift in and out of consciousness as I lay beside Baledagh, watching his conflicted emotions flash across his sleeping face. Blobby bubbles and seethes around us, a churning eddy of currents urging me to wake while carefully avoiding my little brother. A good thing too, even though Bei seemed content with her end, I don’t really understand what happened. Did I save her or merely consign her to a different hell? I’d like to think Blobby is on the side of good, but judging by its actions thus far, my little friend is more chaotic neutral than anything. Blobby does what Blobby wants, even risking my life to sate its appetite. I don’t know if its on my side or if it sees me as a convenient meal ticket. Even if it’s purifying Demon souls or whatever, so what? Am I supposed to risk my life hunting Demons to feed it? How many does it need? Hundreds? Thousands? What if the next host isn’t as supportive as Bei and turns on me? Can I fight someone inside their mind? I doubt it.

 

Forget saving people’s souls, I might not even survive the next few hours. With the Coalition’s betrayal, things are looking grim, Sanshu’s defenders trapped in the marketplace with nowhere to run. The thought almost stirs me to action, but overwhelming exhaustion wins out, my mind barely able to focus. Blobby continues to insist I wake and I want to, but I can’t. I’ve given all I have and there’s nothing left in the tank, fatigue permeating my core. All I can do is wallow in guilt while watching my suicidal brother struggle to find reason to wake.

 

I don’t know how to help him. He wanted to die, begged me to let him die. Am I supposed to stand and watch as he’s devoured by a gluttonous, amorphous blob of deitic liquid? Will he thank me for it like Bei did, accepting the end with grace and dignity? Would I ever forgive myself for letting him go? I’ve had my chance to live, shouldn’t he get the same? What right did I have coming here and displacing him? I’m not suited for this world with its endless trials and tribulations, it’s all so exhausting. I’m tired of all the struggles and fights, the politics and face-demanding. I miraculously overcame two thousand Defiled with Blobby’s help, yet the Coalition showed up with fifteen thousand more. Even if I save the city, won’t the Empire just send someone to Purge it? That’s how they work right? Baledagh fought so hard to save Ai Qing’s village, an exercise in futility. Why should I bother?

 

Then again… What’s the fucking alternative? Lie down and die? No thanks, I’ve worked too hard to stay alive these past few years and I’m not ready to give up yet. It’s not all bad, I have my loving family, my adorable wives, my steadfast friends, and all my fluffy fur babies. Besides, with my luck, I’d probably reincarnate into an even worse situation than before, maybe even downgrading to insect or inanimate object. Hard pass, so I guess I’ve got no choice but to sit up and fight.

 

The void comes to a halt around me, lethargy and weariness still hanging from me like a cloak as I force myself to wake, Blobby more animated than I’ve ever felt. Patting Baledagh on head, I pull him in for a hug, passing along all the warmth and love I can muster. “Neither of us asked for this, but we’re stuck with each other. You’re everything I wish I was, fierce, loyal, courageous and adventurous, and I love you, little brother. If we survive this, I’ll figure out some way to fix things, even if at the cost of my existence. I swear it.”

 

Taking a deep breath, I steady my mind and open my eyes, immediately overwhelmed by my senses. The glaring light, the cacophonous din, the foul stench and stinging pain, it sends me reeling in place, my feet flopping about in search of solid ground. Grasping at the air, my hands close around spiked iron, my eyes focusing to see two eyes, one milky white and unseeing, the other light brown and brimming with hatred and delight. With vice-like fingers closed around my throat, his lips stretch into a crooked grin, revealing a set of perfect, ivory teeth. “How fortuitous for you to wake,” he drawls, enjoying the moment. “This humble one be Yo Ling.” His fingers clamp tighter, cutting off air and blood. “A pleasure to meet you, Falling Rain. Now die.”

 

Geez, take one nap and this is what I wake to. It never ends.

 

Channelling my Chi, a deluge of Energy surges through me while I condense my Aura, shaping it into a blade before lashing out. Tearing into Yo Ling’s sturdy metaphysical presence, it feels like chipping away at a mountain with a chisel, but the unfamiliar sensation unnerves my foe, his eyes widening in alarm. My efforts buy me a moments hesitation measured in tenths of a second, just enough time to slip into his mind as everything fades to black.

 

Coming to, my first thought is of regret as I take in the surroundings. Unlike the emptiness of Bei’s mind, occupied only by herself and the Demon, Yo Ling’s mental plane is filled with Spectres as far as I can see. My intrusion noticed, the Spectres swarm in from all directions, screaming in a thousand voices of torture and death. Summoning Peace, it comes into existence with an explosion of light and power, casting aside the darkness of the void. Unleashing my Aura, I wade through the sea of Spectres, the shifting, shapeless shadows surging around me, unable or unwilling to pierce through my barrier and attack. No matter how I move, they keep out of range of my sword and unaffected by my Aura, our battle at a standstill as my physical body lays helpless in Yo Ling’s grasp.

 

Well fuck… Now what?

 

The Spectres part and reform around me as I make my way through the void, Peace Guiding the way towards Yo Ling’s presence. There are so many of them clustered together, I can hardly tell where one ends and another begins, each one jabbering away with its voice, a disharmonious chorus of head-splitting proportions, drowning out my every thought. Unsure if I’m rushing towards my destination or fleeing from the noise, I race across the Yo Ling’s mindscape, praying I find him before it’s too late.

 

The deafening clamour falls silent, the change so abrupt I wonder if I’ve died. In Peace’s soft, glowing light, I see the Spectres have fallen in line, queuing in an orderly fashion, silent and still. At the front of the line is Yo Ling, his form blurred and hazy as he sits upon an ornate, golden throne, looking younger than he does in real life but no less imposing. Six human figures stand by the throne, two women and four men. Naked as they day they were born aside from a collar around their necks, they stare lifelessly at nothing while Yo Ling meets with each Spectre, listening to their whispers before sending them away, the king taking audience with his subjects.

 

There’s no way I’m gonna wait in line.

 

Striding to the front, Peace’s light illuminates Yo Ling and his presence solidifies, his image strengthening as he turns towards me, standing in surprise. “How intriguing,” he murmurs, looking me over. “Might you be the Predator?”

 

“…What?”

 

Ignoring my confusion, Yo Ling shakes his head and wanders next to me. “No, you are weak, ineffectual. How could you possibly threaten the Venerated Ones?”

 

Resisting the urge to say what again, I swallow my fear and concentrate on my Aura, searching for the barrier which keeps me from affecting him. Finding nothing, my panic grows as Yo Ling paces around me, studying me like Jimjam studies his meals. All I can feel is his Aura pushing back, a robust, impenetrable defence. Unlike Bei, Yo Ling is wholly in control here, the Spectres bending to his iron will. There’s no point telling him the Spectres can’t hurt him, he already knows it.

 

Head tilted in curiosity, he spreads his arms and asks, “Why have you come here?”

 

“Err…To… save you?”

 

His single raised eyebrow sends a flame rushing to my cheeks, withering before his amused curiosity. “Such a shame, I rather liked you. Tenacious and uniquely talented, you would have made a fine successor. Unfortunately, the Venerated Ones have sentenced you to death, and I but their humble servant.” Shaking his head, he sighs, appearing genuinely upset. “Kill him.”

 

Swarming over me in a dark tide of torment and misery, they tear through my defences in an instant, their grasping claws seeking to rip me to pieces. Taking everyone by surprise including myself, Blobby spews out of my mouth in a torrent of water. There’s something acutely unpleasant about this which I can’t quite put into words, a vague sense of violation and unease as I vomit Blobby about. Despite the unpleasant invasion of space, I’m glad it came along for the ride, especially since I thought it was only interested in Demons. I’ll probably change this part of the story when I tell the others though. Being a spiritual water sprinkler isn’t exactly awe inspiring.

 

Making a beeline for the human figures, Blobby emanates glee and triumph as it crashes into them. “No!” Yo Ling bellows as Blobby swells and engulfs the six humans in the blink of an eye, its meal barely finished before turning to hunt down the Spectres. Erecting an unseen barrier to keep Blobby away, Yo Ling gathers his Spectres to safety before turning his attention towards me. “Get out!” At his command, the world collapses around me and I find myself gasping for breath in the real world, Yo Ling’s hand still clamped around my throat. Thankful he hasn’t killed me, so I use his momentary distraction to slip free of his grasp, leaving bits of skin and flesh beneath his fingernails. Landing on my feet, I reach for my sword to perform Tiger Sweeps the Rushes, perfectly aimed to disembowel my foe.

 

Grasping at empty air, I remember all my clothes melted away after killing Bei’s Demon, including my scabbard. No scabbard, no sword.

 

Which leaves me standing unarmed and unarmoured in front of the Legendary Bandit King of Butcher Bay as he comes to his senses, utterly enraged by Blobby’s actions.

 

Maybe if I stand really, really still, he won’t see me.

 

Warm blood sprays across my face, blinding me to my imminent doom. Frozen in fear, seconds pass in utter silence before my vision clears, finding the tip of a saber only centimetres from my nose. Going cross-eyed for a moment, I back away and trip, falling on my ass as I gaze in shock at the weapon protruding from Yo Ling’s belly, his face contorted in pain and disbelief. Gasping as the blade twists, he drops his mace to clatter across the stones, the only sound audible as every eye watches the saber cut horizontally through Yo Ling’s flesh and organs. The moment the blade slides free, Yo Ling collapses to his knees with a shudder, clutching his stomach in a futile attempt to keep his innards from spilling out onto the streets.

 

Stepping in front of Yo Ling with the saber in hand, a wizened old man crouches down with a wince, massaging his knee with his free hand. His tired eyes show no sign of glee or triumph, only grief and resignation. “Little brother,” he says, voice tinged with sorrow, cutting through the silence. “It’s been awhile.”

 

Yo Ling growls, “Bastard Liu.”

 

With wispy white hair, wrinkled, drooping, sun-baked skin, and an emaciated frame, Liu Shi looks nothing like his bounty poster, marked as the former co-founder of the Butcher Bay Bandits and current head of the Crossbone Corsairs. Though old, Yo Ling doesn’t look out of place on the battlefield, while Liu Shi looks as if he belongs in a hospice bed. “Come now,” he says, frowning. “That ain’t no way to greet yer brother. Every time ye call me a bastard, yer insulting Ma’s honour. She was a good woman, loyal and true to Pa.”

 

“Yer no brother of mine.” Spitting out a globule of blood, Yo Ling sneers in reply. “Fucking coward.”

 

“Prudent is how I think of it. I never was strong as ye and damn near a decade older to boot. Hell, it’s been fifteen years since our last tussle and I’m still not fully healed.”

 

Both men sat in comfortable silence, as if they were in the privacy of their home instead of surrounded by two warring armies. After a long minute, Yo Ling is first to speak. “Ye still remember Ma and Pa do ye? What a surprise. Ye remember how they died?”

 

“Aye, that I do.”

 

“Forced from their home of fifty years and into the wilds to die of exposure. Ye ever think about it? Ma and Pa huddled together, dying a slow, painful death because them rich ponces in Sanshu didn’t want to look at the poor while out on their palanquins.”

 

“Thought about it once or twice.”

 

“Yea? Well what have ye done about it? Shit all is what. Here I am working hard to avenge em, and what do ye do? Stab me in the fucking back. If that ain’t a bastard’s work, then I don’t know what is.” Yo Ling’s words devolved into a fit of coughs at the end, frothy blood dribbling down his chin.

 

Pulling out a handkerchief, Liu Shi wipes Yo Ling’s chin and for a moment, I’m treated to a glimpse of better times, an older brother caring for the younger, both men slipping naturally back into their roles. “That was always the plan, wasn’t it? Gather wealth and power to oppose the Empire, dreamin’ of carving out a little patch of paradise for ourselves. A fool’s dream.” Liu Shi sighs, shaking his head. “Ye know, Jariad and Gao Qiu were the last of em, our original band of soldiers turned bandits. Now we two are all that’s left.”

 

Lapsing into silence once more, the two brothers cherish what little time they have left remaining. His life’s blood pooling around him, Yo Ling slowly slumps to his side, unable to keep upright. “I wanted to avenge em,” he whispers, his breath ragged and laboured. “Change the world. Saw power, so I took it. Doesn’t matter if I’m damned, I’d rather the whole world burn than let things stay the same.”

 

“Can’t say I agree, but I’ll pray for your soul little brother.”

 

“No need. I won’t turn. I’ll never surrender. They won’t use me, I used them, ye understand? I used them.”

 

Before Liu Shi can answer, Yo Ling draws his last, shuddering breath, his body stilling in the finality of death. Tense minutes pass in agonizing anticipation, the entire battlefield waiting to see if Yo Ling spoke true. After a long wait, Liu Shi sighs one last time before lifting his brother’s corpse into his arms. Walking past me, he melts away into the crowd of soldiers and Sentinels, disappearing before my eyes. Only the pool of blood soaking into the stone and the discarded mace serve as proof of Yo Ling’s demise, Butcher Bay’s Spectre finally put to rest.

 

A hearty cheer rises from the defenders of Sanshu and chaos breaks out as bloody battle resumes. Blowing out a sigh as Blobby makes its triumphant return, I accept my weapons from Bulat before leading my retinue out to hopefully put an end to my duties in Sanshu. With all six Demons falling dead shortly before Yo Ling’s passing, it’s more massacre than battle, with no quarter asked for, and none given.

 

As the last foe falls, I watch the sun set on Sanshu, my heart heavy and mind in turmoil. Though Yo Ling was a monster, he wasn’t born one. He was moulded into one by the circumstances of his life. What would I do in his shoes, if the Empire killed my loved ones? Would I turn to the Spectres for power, seeking to lead an army of Demons to take down the Emperor?

 

 

I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 230

 

Yo Ling’s disgust for his underlings continued to grow as Sanshu’s defenders ran roughshod over his Butchers, a bunch of worthless, good-for-nothing slackers. He’d toiled for years securing the necessary resources in order to equip them with the best armour and weapons, countless hours of sweat and effort, training and moulding them into warriors, yet they still couldn’t be trusted to deal with the Army’s dregs. No, not even dregs, the majority of Sanshu’s defenders were mere guardsmen, trash who failed to meet the already low standards of the army, just barely more than a core and a pulse.

 

Now, these rejects were dominating the battlefield, his ‘elite’ Butchers comprised of nothing but shrimp soldiers and crab generals. He’d been blinded by his hubris, expecting society’s outcasts and scum to reach the Heavens in a single bound with only his guidance, but it was as useless as drawing legs on a snake. Had he known they would fail so spectacularly, he wouldn’t have bothered arming them so well, a massive waste of time and resources. As things stood, Xiaobo’s catapults were barred from firing into the swirling melee for fear of damaging Yo Ling’s precious armours and weapons, assets still of use to him unlike the incompetents wielding them. Better for them if they died in battle, because the survivors would not enjoy his ‘reward’, determined to wash away the shame of mediocrity attached to his name.

 

No matter, Sanshu would soon fall, freeing him to start anew. Gen would come in handy rebuilding his forces, but the boy was currently a snivelling mess, off in the corner mourning the loss of his ‘wife’. With Falling Rain marked for death and likely already dead or dying, Yo Ling’s only other option for a successor was the Coalition’s golden boy, Dastan. Far from the ideal candidate, the boy was every bit as deluded as Gao Qiu but nowhere near as talented, a disappointment in every way.

 

Why did Yo Ling even need a successor? He still had plenty of years left to live and the entirety of Sanshu to scour for talent, perhaps he’d find a crane in a flock of chickens. The Coalition’s forces might make for a good starting point, primarily XiaoGong and his personal guards. Xiaobo was a lost cause, nothing but a stooge twisted by the Spirits whispering in his ears for the better part of a decade. No true Enlightened, the councilman was a pet project of his, one of many seeds thrown to wind which sprouted beautifully. While guiding the no-name merchant’s rise to power, Yo Ling set the Spirits to grind away at Xiaobo’s willpower and self-discipline, turning him to every debased vice and carnal sin, weakening his resolve bit by bit. Now, the fool’s brain was so addled by drug and drink, he accepted Yo Ling’s every whisper as his own thoughts, believing himself still in control. A tool which outstripped even Jianghong’s usefulness, although with the unfortunate side effect of turning the man into an unrestrained, disgusting slob. It’d gotten so bad Yo Ling was forced to manage Xiaobo’s every public appearance these past few years, lest he devolve into another fit of shit-slinging masturbation.

 

Or worse.

 

Thankfully, deviant behaviour was often overlooked in the wealthy. With Yo Ling feeding them information, the Coalition grew in power to surpass the Alliance and the Union, hiding their gains and squirrelling them away on his island. Now thanks to all his efforts, victory was finally in sight. With the city cut off from outside contact, once the Magistrate and his soldiers were dealt with, Yo Ling would be free to write his own version of events in Sanshu, spreading word using the Coalition’s far-reaching influence. Something close to the truth, like the corrupt Magistrate rebelling against the Empire, slaughtering citizens and councilmen in the streets. Joined by the Corsairs and Bekhai, their dastardly plans were thwarted by an alliance between Jianghong, Xiao Gong, and Butcher Bay’s heroic Yo Ling.

 

Turning black to white and up to down with but a flick of the brush, he could hardly contain his glee.

 

The war was not won yet, the Ascendants still holding out against his Transcendents. Not for much longer though, his puppets served their purpose well, wearing down their opponents with endless stamina and solid resilience, not to mention the ever present threat of their corrosive bodily fluids. Red-faced and dripping with sweat, Lei Gong no longer dominated the battlefield, his bursts of lightning few and far between. Freed from the threat of his destructive powers, the Transcendents pushed the Ascendants to the limits, on the verge of breaking the deadlock to emerge victorious. Still wary of Ouyang Yuhuan and her iron rod, Yo Ling turned and chuckled at the sight of the corpulent Magistrate’s struggles, his jowls quivering as he fought on. With mace in hand, Yo Ling moved towards the Magistrate and the Bekhai, the two forces merging amidst the sea of Butchers, surrounded on all sides yet still desperately striving to reach him.

 

Their intentions were clear, their fangs bared and claws brandished towards him, staking everything on one throw of the dice in hopes of bringing down the legendary Spectre. Fools and dreamers, but he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure of crushing their hopes beneath his heel. The Bekhai’s charging offensive faltered as his Aura slammed into them, his Butchers parting to let him through. The battle behind him continued to rage, but in front, everything came to a standstill, the silent calm before the storm. Both sides cooperated to make space as he approached, the defenders of Sanshu suffocating beneath his might. Probing their defences with his Aura, Yo Ling picked out those strong enough to resist him, surprised by his findings.

 

Five Auras too solid to crush, with the possibility of others hiding in wait, far more than expected. The Magistrate was easily handled as was the hefty Bekhai warrior near him, impressively dwarfing the Magistrate in both height and weight. Then there was the burned Bekhai woman wielding a chain and sickle and her dagger-sporting companion, both too young to be of real threat. Last but not least, a familiar, amber-eyed face, the would-be assassin from the restaurant.

 

These other Bekhai experts forced Yo Ling to rethink his theory regarding these reclusive mountain tribesmen. Between Falling Rain and the amber-eyed assassin, he’d entertained the possibility that the Bekhai were fellow Enlightened and could be turned to his cause, but none of the other experts arrayed before him were beloved by the Spirits. A shame, but these piddling few warriors would fall before his might. Leering at them one by one, Yo Ling spread his arms wide in invitation. “You fought long and hard to get here, and all for naught. Come, let me show you the meaning of ‘People beyond people, heavens beyond the heavens’.”

 

His Butchers cheered at his words, chanting his name in thunderous cadence, the air buzzing with excitement as the Spirits urged him to bloodshed and slaughter. Stepping out to greet him was the would-be assassin, carrying a massive glaive across his shoulders and sword at the hip, relaxed and at ease. With a spinning flourish of his weapon, he slammed the shaft against the stones, the echoing knock silencing the Butchers’ cheering. “I am Senior Captain Gerel,” he said, voice brimming with confidence. “Khishig of the Bekhai.”

 

“Ah, so the nameless assassin has a Name: The Demon Reaper.” Yo Ling shook his head, disappointed. “This is the best Sanshu has to offer? A beardless, balding man-child with an over-inflated reputation?” His Butchers exploded with laughter and he waited for silence before continuing. “I already defeated you once boy, and you held every advantage. How do you think you’ll fare in open combat?”

 

Waiting in silence, Gerel stared daggers at Yo Ling, ignoring the jeers and insults from the crowd. Sanshu’s defenders stood uneasily, all their hopes resting on the shoulders of this unknown quality, their knees shaking and shoulders hunched, despair and desperation thick in the air as the Spirits searched for new vessels to inhabit. Perhaps he might even offer them a place in his new army, on the unlikely chance they survived the next few hours. These men and women showed determination and resolve, which is more than he could say about his Butchers.

 

A thought for another time, as there was work to be done.

 

Tossing his helmet to a nearby Butcher, Yo Ling carelessly approached Gerel, ready to put an end to Sanshu’s resistance. Leaping into action, Gerel chopped at Yo Ling who easily brushed the ponderous attack aside, chortling at the futile effort. “Come on boy, show a little more spunk. I’m impressed by how quickly you recovered, but you gotta do better than that.” Gerel attacked again, unleashing strike after strike in a flowing series of slashes and thrusts. Parrying and blocking each one, Yo Ling never stopped chatting, as if they were sharing tea instead of duelling to the death. “Then again, I might keep you around, nothing like a snack which heals itself. I’ll never go hungry again. It’s quite the novelty, I’ve never eaten the same man twice, but you might be a tad too chewy for my tastes. Where’s Falling Rain? I hear he’s undying, and I’d like to put that to the test.”

 

Gerel fought in stony silence while Yo Ling continued his threats. After letting Gerel tire himself out, Yo Ling seized an opening to smash the glaive into the stones, lifting his foot to kick Gerel square in the gut. Doubled over, the tribesman scrambled back, narrowly avoiding Yo Ling’s follow up, the mace centimetres from ending the duel. Giving Gerel time to recover, Yo Ling yawned and scratched his chin, playing to the crowd. Blocking a weak slash, he grabbed the glaive’s shaft and overpowered his opponent, jamming the butt into Gerel’s knee with an audible crack. Delighting in the grunt of pain, Yo Ling toyed with the tribesman, effortlessly defeating his attempts to free his weapon. Releasing it without warning, Yo Ling laughed as Gerel stumbled away, caught off guard by the sudden freedom and almost falling on his ass, hopping about to keep balance. “This is pitiful. Put away your glaive and bring out your sword boy, then you might stand a chance.”

 

There was no answer as Gerel lowered his stance, keeping his weight off his injured knee with glaive pointed forward like a spear. Worthless. Dodging the sluggish thrust, Yo Ling closed in, foot scything out to trip his opponent and send him tumbling to the stone. With a casual stomp, Yo Ling pinned the glaive in place as Gerel rolled away, coming to his feet with face twisted in anger and shame. The sword came out without a word and the battle continued in earnest. Cut and thrust, feint and chop, the market square filled with the ringing of sword on mace. The boy was fast and skilled beyond his years, but still no match for Yo Ling. Too predictable, a hot-headed young talent common as the clouds. Show a weakness and it’s all the idiot can see, every strike aimed at Yo Ling’s exposed face. A little trick which turned an easy victory into mere child’s play, able to defend against with minimal effort.

 

Thoroughly enjoying the theatrics, Yo Ling let the battle continue, staying on the defensive and smiling the entire time without breaking a sweat. Eventually the boy realized his mistake, but it was too late, his stamina spent, still recovering from the grievous, life-threatening injuries suffered not even two days past. Smacking the sword from his hand, Yo Ling grabbed Gerel by the collar and lifted him off the ground. Allowing for a dramatic pause, Yo Ling brought his head back before smashing his forehead into Gerel’s face, savouring the sound of breaking bones. Staggering away with eyes unfocused, blood spurted from Gerel’s ruined nose while Yo Ling stood with mace on shoulder and hand on hip, much to the delight of his Butchers.

 

A Bekhai warrior caught Gerel before he fell and dragged him back into the silent line. For several minutes, no one else stepped forward to take his place and Yo Ling’s Butchers booed and jeered, denouncing the soldiers and guardsmen for cravens and cowards. Holding his hand up for silence, Yo Ling grinned at his enemies, focusing on the Magistrate. “Well? Who’s next?”

 

Though he hid his emotions well, Tongzu’s demeanour said it all, glancing around for a saviour as his last hope faded into oblivion. So deliciously satisfying, Yo Ling soaked in all the anguish and misery, waiting for the moment it turned to terror and panic. Driven into a frenzy by the delicious meal, the Spirits whispered to any who would listen, sensing weakness and a chance for life, Sanshu’s defenders’ resolve leaking away with each passing second. Eyes closed, Tongzu took a deep breath before stepping forward to speak, and Yo Ling smiled, knowing victory was at hand. “Warriors of Sanshu,” Tongzu began, pausing for effect. “…Attack!”

 

…What?

 

Even Tongzu’s own soldiers were caught by surprise, but the Magistrate led by example, oversized belly swaying as he stomped across the open ground directly at Yo Ling. His mood soured, Yo Ling sneered at the fat bastard with more courage than sense. Meeting the strike head on, his eyebrows twitched in surprise, their blows almost equal in force. Granted, this was one hand against two, a casual swing matched with everything Tongzu had, but even then, it was most impressive. Punching the Magistrate in the jaw, Yo Ling lifted his mace for a killing blow, but quickly switched to a block, intercepting the hefty Bekhai warrior’s sword. “The name’s Vichear,” grinned the large man, impossibly light on his feet. “Remember it in death, bandit.”

 

For all his bravado, Vichear fared little better than Tongzu, sent reeling by a knee to the gut. Interrupted once again, Yo Ling ducked aside as a sickle cut through the air, the burned woman running towards him with her companion. So many bugs to squash, their defiance infuriated Yo Ling, the entire army charging in all directions to fight his Butchers. He’d demonstrated his superiority, shown them their struggles were in vain, yet still they fought on. Why continue to resist?

 

The chain wrapped around his mace and there was no more time for thought. With a powerful tug, Yo Ling ripped the woman off her feet and dragged her towards him. With a pair of short swords in hand, her companion moved to intercept, but between Yo Ling’s mace and armour, he was free to ignore the savage. The woman was the more dangerous of the two, her weapon unpredictable and unblockable, so best to deal with her first.

 

Or so he thought. Sensing danger, he glanced down to see the swordsman’s weapons glowing red hot, both cocked and ready to thrust into Yo Ling’s belly. Gasping in surprise, he twisted aside, elbowing the swordsman as the searing blades scored across his armour, overpowering its defensive capabilities in a single blow and partially melting the Spirit-infested breastplate, their wails filling his ears as they fled in search of a new vessel to inhabit.

 

Freeing her chain with the flick of a wrist, the burned woman took her distance as the swordsman recovered his bearings. Already recovered, Tongzu and Vichear joined in, four experts moving to surround him. Individually they were no threat, but two hands cannot block four swords and his impenetrable armour was now melted slag. Around him, his Butchers fell back before the fury of Sanshu’s defenders, the worthless bandits showing their true colours as they fled in droves. Buying himself time to organize his troops, he glanced at the swordsman and burned woman, growling, “Your names?”

 

“Tursinai of the Bekhai.”

 

“Tenjin, likewise.”

 

Their curt response nearly drove him to madness, leaving him no time to give orders as the four experts pressed the attack. Chaos broke out around them, a massive, swirling melee of defenders and Butchers. Circling away, he used the Magistrate’s girth to block the other three and drew in a deep breath and infused it with Energy, unleashing a thunderous, ear-rupturing cry. The Magistrate stumbled away bleeding, but the other three were unaffected, well prepared for the move and blocking their ears with Chi. Damn, Gerel must have told them about this, how frustrating. Tursinai’s chain came crashing down, moving through stone and dirt like water and forcing him to present his unarmed left flank to both Vichear and Tenjin. With the light-footed giant’s massive sword and shield to defend him, Tenjin went all out on offence, every strike lethal and deadly.

 

For the first time in fifteen years, Yo Ling fought as if his life depended on it, mustering every trick and stratagem at his disposal. His mace struck out as both shield and weapon, his body twisting and slipping to avoid blow after blow, drawing on the wisdom of the Spirits. As Vichear lashed out to kill a Butcher, Yo Ling took advantage of his distraction to stomp on his foot. Clubbing the massive warrior in the chest, he howled as Vichear’s ribs broke before turning to bat Tenjin’s swords aside, the lighter man spinning in place from the overpowering force. Grabbing him by the back of the neck, Yo Ling squeezed until bones cracked, snapping Tenjin’s neck like a twig and tossing him aside. With a scream of anguish and rage, Tursinai closed the distance to attack, giving up her only advantage. Arresting the charge with a palm strike, he grabbed her charred shoulder and squeezed, fingers ripping through half-healed skin and tearing a chunk of flesh away as she fainted from the pain.

 

The last of his opponents dealt with, Yo Ling turned to take control of the battle just as XiaoGong’s Sending reached him. “We’re under attack at both points! They came out of nowhere, there’s too many of them, we can’t hold!”

 

Trembling with rage, Yo Ling asked, “Who? Who is left in Sanshu to resist?”

 

XiaoGong’s answer hit him like a hammer, his shoulders dropping beneath the weight of impending failure. “It’s the Council! The Alliance and Union have rallied their mercenaries!”

 

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

 

Sweat dripping down his brow, Chao Yong urged the mercenaries forward while hiding in a sturdy stone doorway. “Forward! A silver for every Coalition head you take!” His voice cracked at the thought of the extra expenditure on top of the sizable upfront payment to secure their services, but he had no choice. “Ten gold for XiaoGong’s and twenty for the toad Xiaobo! For Sanshu!”

 

The declaration brought a cheer of joy from the mercenaries, greed urging them to heightened fervour, hacking apart their surprised enemies. Humans die in pursuit of wealth as birds die in pursuit of food, but Chao Yong had no intention of dying for either. Were it not for the damned Corsairs holding all his wealth captive, he would have been kilometres away from the city by now, well on his way to Jiu Lang in safety.

 

Glancing at his armoured captor, Chao Yong pulled out his pocket-watch to check the time and gathered his courage to speak. Though he knew nothing of martial prowess, Chao Yong knew value, and the sky-blue Runic Armour worn by his captor was worth a fortune. Boots, greaves, breastplate, gauntlets, spaulders and helm, buying even a single piece would beggar all but the richest of noble houses, the entire set equal to a year’s profit for the Alliance. Even Bastard Liu spoke to the armoured captor with deference, and Chao Yong had no intentions of upsetting such a man.

 

Clearing his throat, Chao Yong bowed to his captor and remained there, not daring to look up. “Is my work to your liking, great one? I’ve done everything you’ve asked, gathering all the mercenaries still left in the city and bringing them here. I’m sure my presence is no longer needed, seeing how I’m no warrior. If you could speak with Bas– Err, the distinguished warrior Liu Shi regarding my boats…”

 

The armoured figure snorted, his voice echoing from behind the faceplate. “Bah, keep yer shirt on, the battle’s only jes started. Still plenty left to do. Anyway, that’s a right shiny looking piece. Lemme have a look.”

 

An armoured palm gestured before Chao Yong’s face and he cringed while relinquishing the pocket-watch. “This is a custom made timepiece ordered at great cost, with one hundred and eight various gemstones used in its construction. Please accept it as my humble gift.”

 

“Silly thing, timepieces, but if yer offering then I ain’t gonna refuse. Never really understood the point of ‘keeping time’ though, seems like a strange concept. Doesn’t matter if yer watching, time won’t keep for no one. Thought about buying one for my boy though, he’s been whining about losing his.”

 

Perfect, the man was an idiot. Clearing his throat once more, Chao Yong asked, “Regarding my request? Like I said, I’m of no use here, you have things well in hand. I might even have some other trinkets stored on my boats for your boy.” His four trusted guards were also on the boats, please come with me you armoured fool. “How old is the young master?”

 

“Dunno, like I said, don’t really keep track of time.” Clapping Chao Yong on the shoulder, his captor continued, “Anyhow, we ain’t going nowhere yet. I can’t be caught interfering, rules and such, so yer my cats paw.” Chuckling beneath his breath, he added, “Don’t ye be thinking about running off either, cuz then I’d hafta kill ye.”

 

Tears dripping down his face, Chao Yong returned to hiding in the doorway and watching the battle unfold, unable to make heads or tails of the mess. The Coalition’s mercenaries looked so ferocious in their green and gold armour, while his mercenaries wore rags and leathers, far from impressive. He could only pray for victory, or failing that, for his idiot captor to keep him safe. Then again, perhaps things were better this way. If they were victorious, than he could claim responsibility for saving the city.

 

Chao Yong, Hero of Sanshu had a pleasant ring to it.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 229


I’d like to give a shout out to my two latest, anonymous Patrons, and two more anonymous repeat donors. Thank you all so much for your incredible support!

 

Also, I’m running out of chapters for this volume, but I’m 90% sure I can wrap things up in 4-5 chapters. Well, maybe 75%. Okay, fifty-fifty, but I’ll get it done nice and neat, promise 🙂


 

Fung’s spear took the leaping garo clean through the throat, sending its rider tumbling head over heels from the saddle to land behind him, trampled beneath the hooves of his soldiers. Undeterred by the gruesome death, Fung put spurs to flank and his mount surged forward, tackling a second garo and toppling it over, his spear making short work of the rider. Driving his horse to continue forward, Fung met the Defiled charge with eager enthusiasm, his Mentor’s lessons echoing through his mind. ‘Always moving, never still, hit hard and fade away’. What the Bekhai accomplished through speed and agility, Fung emulated using pure muscle and determination, barrelling straight through the enemy lines.

 

With Lady Mei Lin safely away with Mister Rustram, Fung led his retinue clean through the Enemy’s screening cavalry. With garo teeth unable to find purchase through horse barding and Defiled weapons glancing ineffectively off his Runic robes, he was reasonable safe through it all. The thrill of battle rising in his blood, he wheeled around to avoid the Enemy’s second wave, riding through the trees on a pre-marked path, ducking low and signalling jumps when necessary. Behind them, the mounted Defiled rode headlong into strung wires and staked pits, the dying shrieks of beasts and savages music to Fung’s ears. Another curious turn of phrase from Rain, Fung smiled at the thought of his friend making a name for himself on the streets of Sanshu.

 

Unwilling to allow Rain’s fame to continue eclipsing his own, Fung rode a circuit through the forest and back to the battle, his retinue lining up for another charge. Major Yuzhen had given him freedom to act as he pleased out here on the southern flank, trusting him to keep Defiled outriders from encircling the central position. Dastan was supposed to support him, but the soft-spoken young man disappeared during the duels, likely waiting in ambush. Out on the western flank, Zian and BoShui occupied a similar role while Yuzhen held the centre. A marvellous talent for management and tactics, Yuzhen kept the glory-hungry Warrant Officers out of the way and used their elite retinues to greatest effect, threatening the Defiled wings. Likewise, the soldiers from the four cities would require her unwavering presence to keep them in check, most of the pampered elites lacking in experience and courage. He prayed her bid for Marshall was successful, determined to convince his father to help wherever possible. The northern province would do well under Yuzhen’s steady guidance and Fung looked forward to working alongside her.

 

Ever the worrier, Fu Zhu Li filled Fung’s retinue with staunch, battle-tested veterans, overqualified for guarding a pampered young magistrate, but now he was thankful for the half-weasels prudence. Before battle joined in full, his retinue clashed with the Enemy skirmishers thrice more, killing dozens of riders and at least three Champions while coming away with minimal injuries. On Fu Zhu Li’s thinly veiled suggestion, Fung called for a break, letting the horses drink and rest while watching the massive block of Defiled peasants crash into the waiting elites, with the main thrust of garo cavalry waiting in the wings. Hard won through Zian’s seven life-and-death duels, Yuzhen put the extra time to good use, digging in behind sharpened stake fences and walls of dirt. It hardly made for the most impressive of fortifications but it served its purpose, breaking the disorganized mob apart and funnelling them into various kill zones.

 

A Sending arrived from the Major’s aide, ordering him meet with Dastan and a hidden force of cavalry before engaging with the Defiled Cavalry. Happy to comply, Fung rode back to the meeting area with high spirits only to find a grisly scene awaiting him. The corpses of his fellow countrymen were strewn across the glade, some studded with bolts and others viciously hacked apart. Most still had their swords sitting in their sheaths, killed before they could offer resistance. “What happened?” Fung asked to no one in particular, sickened by the sight. Battle was one thing, but this seemed cold and clinical, helpless men and women slaughtered like lambs for the feast. “Did the Defiled slip through our lines?”

 

One of his riders answered, dismounting to study the earth. “Wasn’t Defiled which did this. Ain’t no tracks of garos or bare feet, only hooves and boots.”

 

Fung’s stomach twisted at the declaration, turning to glance at Fu Zu Li. The nondescript ‘manservant’ looked out-of-place in his soldier’s armour, back hunched and pinched-face frowning like always. “Do not look for guidance young master,” he Sent. “You are in command, and I but a humble servant, here to pour tea and wash clothes. Perhaps you should inform Major Yuzhen of these new developments and request new orders?”

 

Shamed by his stupidity, Fung turned to his communications officer. “Send word to Major Yuzhen, we have a traitor in our ranks.” Hissing through the air, a bolt appeared in the communications officer’s neck as his corpse toppled from the saddle. In the blink of an eye, the sky darkened as a hail of bolts rained down upon his retinue. Shielding his face and neck, Fung grunted as the bolts glanced off his flexible armour, the Runic inscriptions drawing from his Chi to repel the bolts. His torso covered in bruises, Fung leaped off his dying horse as it collapsed to the ground, narrowly avoiding being crushed beneath its weight.

 

More than half his retinue joined the corpses already laying about, a crippling ambush as armoured warriors galloped out of the trees, their crossbows slung and weapons drawn. “Form up,” Fung called, but there wasn’t enough time. Bowling over his surviving retinue, the ambushers wreaked havoc among the rest of his retinue, his soldiers dying in his defense. Incensed by their loss, Fung gathered his strength and charged out, his spear penetrating through the chest of a rearing horse. Following through with the strike, Fung stopped Honing the weapon while palming the base. With the wings of his spear caught on the horse’s spine, his Amplified thrust ejected both horse and rider from the tip of the spear, sending the equine projectile soaring through the air to crush a pair of ambushers.

 

The impressive display bought his retinue a second to breathe, but only for a heartbeat. Still, it was enough time for Fung to recognize his assailants, his anger soaring at their betrayal. “Dastan,” he roared, cleaving through a mount and rider in a single swing. “Come out here and face me, traitor!”

 

His challenge ignored, the assailants continued killing his retinue until Fung was the only one left standing. Even Fu Zhu Li was nowhere to be found, likely dead from the first volley of bolts. His spear in hand, Fung spun a full circle to clear the area, tears falling from his eyes over the loss of his soldiers. After the carnugator hunting accident, he’d met with each of the mourning families, apologizing in person for their loss. A harsh lesson, but one he’d learned well, to value the lives of those who served him, for each one was a human being who had loved ones awaiting their return.

 

At least this time he wouldn’t have to apologize to grieving widows, children, and parents. A haunting experience for sure.

 

Seconds passed as his assailants surrounded him, leaving him no chance to escape. Striding through a small gap which closed behind him, Dastan Zhandos appeared with axe and shield in hand. “My apologies for the delay in answering your challenge. I couldn’t risk Yuzhen learning of my betrayal while we duel.” Cracking his neck, the somber young warrant officer tapped his shield with his axe. “This one is Warrant Officer Dastan Zhandos, Champion of the Coalition.”

 

His part said, Dastan stood in wait and Fung used this to his advantage, catching his breath and gathering strength before they began. “Why,” he asked, genuinely curious. “Why turn against the Empire? Was it the Purge?”

 

Rage flashed across Dastan’s steely gaze, his lip curling in a slight sneer. “In part, but I wouldn’t expect a young master like yourself to understand. What do you know of our plight?”

 

“Oh yes, such a quandary. You’ve had it so tough, pretending to be human and resisting your urges to kill and torture. You poor Defiled soul.”

 

Fung’s needling lacked the desire effect, Dastan relaxing as he chuckled. “You know nothing. You think me Defiled?” Channelling the Energy of the Heavens, Dastan displayed his Purity, leaving Fung reeling in confusion. “I am no more Defiled than you.”

 

“Then why fight alongside them?”

 

Sighing, Dastan shrugged. “Sanshu has become a haven for corruption and immorality, the nobility preying on the innocent and destitute. Not a week past, I witnessed hundreds of innocents tortured, and for what? A ploy, a play for power. The Purge, keeping the uninformed in line for millennia while the rich laugh at their suffering from behind closed doors. This was only the latest in a long list of grievances, our actions decades in the planning. It’s time for a change, to cast off the shackles of the Empire and start anew. I dream of a free Sanshu, fighting for the downtrodden and oppressed. Yo Ling, the Defiled, Mao Jianghong, they are but a means to an end. Once Sanshu belongs to the Coalition, their turn will come.”

 

“…You’re delusional.” Even as he spoke the words, Fung regretted opening his mouth. It seemed Rain’s inability to hold his tongue was spreading.

 

Eyes narrowing in smouldering rage, Dastan clammed up. “Now, I’m afraid there’s no more time for you to rest. Don’t worry,” he added, settling into his stance, shield raised and axe held high. “I won’t use my Aura.”

 

Gritting his teeth, Fung pointed his spear at Dastan, knowing he was outmatched. Though the sword was better for duels, having witnessed Dastan’s heavy, crushing blows, Fung knew his sword could not stop the young prodigy. Only with his thirty-five kilogram spear in hand did Fung feel confident enough to trade blows. Over the past few months, his Mentor put him through a gruelling training regimen designed to help him wield the ponderous weapon, often snidely remarking how Mila and Rain could handle thrice as much punishment. A harsh Mentor, but Fung’s strength soared underneath Akanai’s tutelage and now was finally his time to shine.

 

A shame, but even if he killed Dastan here, Fung saw no path to survival. No matter, a glorious death was preferable to an unremarkable life.

 

Leaning forward, Fung Amplified his footsteps and charged, combining Balance on Windy Leaf and Scrape the Earth. Closing the distance with explosive speed, he still failed to take Dastan by surprise. Catching the thrust with his shield, Dastan’s feet dug two furrows through the dirt as he fought to keep standing. Stopping in place, Fung drew his spear back and bent his body like a bow, thrusting his spear in a second strike which rivalled the first in power, only this time from point blank range. Snake Form – Darting Fang sent Dastan stumbling back, and Fung pressed his advantage, moving seamlessly into Mantis Form – Spear Hand and unleashing a flurry of thrusts. High and low, left and right, Fung struck again and again, controlling the range and seeking to at least injure Dastan, but to no avail. Hidden Ambush, Coiling the Nest, Pierce the Horizon, and Reverse Bite, Fung used every form and movement he knew, yet still he was unable to eke out an advantage, his attacks blocked and parried by Dastan’s shield time after time.

 

With a masterful hook and step, Dastan reversed the momentum, going on the offensive for the first time. With a simple one-handed chop, like any common lumberjack would use, Dastan lashed out. Blocking with his spear’s haft, Fung’s fingers went numb on impact, his bones shaking as he fell back before Dastan’s might. Unperturbed by the failure, Dastan followed up with a shield bash, aimed at Fung’s hand. Knowing he couldn’t block a second blow, Fung spun aside, his spear lancing out towards the back of Dastan’s head.

 

Diving forward to avoid the counter, Dastan came to his feet with a smile. “Not bad,” he said, nodding. “I underestimated you.”

 

Giving his spear a little flourish, Fung aimed the tip at Dastan’s face, saying nothing in reply. ‘Save your breath for fighting’, another scrap of wisdom, but this one from his father, or ‘actions speak louder than words’, as Rain would say.

 

Ah damn it. Fung now knew what needed to be done.

 

Bracing his nerves, Fung offered a silent prayer to the Mother and set out, once again taking the offensive. Opening with Greet the Moon, Fung’s spear arced out in an upwards slash, forcing Dastan to dodge to the left. Stepping right to keep the shield out of the way, Fung brought his spear crashing down, aiming for Dastan’s exposed neck even as the axe scythed out towards Fung’s exposed chest.

 

Like Rain and his retinue was often fond of saying, ‘Give flesh, break bone.”

 

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

 

As the wave of projectiles exploded among his guards, Chu Tongzu felt no fear or panic, only regret and despair. An epic in the making, the War for Sanshu which began less than a week ago was now coming to an end. So many brave men and women of his fair city gave their lives to reach this point, the butcher’s bill numbering in the thousands and still growing. After tasting bitter defeat from his ill-fated bid to retake the gates, Sanshu endured through the slow, desperate struggle to crawl back to this point. Standing on the precipice of victory, they sallied forth for one last battle, following their Magistrate to put an end to the Spectre Yo Ling, Bandit King of Butcher Bay.

 

Only to fall victim to treachery most foul.

 

The Heavens were surely laughing at the capricious nature of man, bandits and cutthroats proven more virtuous than the wealthy and highborn. First his guard captain turned traitor and now the entire Coalition, how far did this infection spread? It’s no wonder not a single scout returned with word of the outside world. With the Coalition’s vast network of stores, stables, restaurants, and labourers, it was impossible to escape their notice. Perhaps it was better for his city to fall now that it’d become a caricature of its former self, a beautiful shell hiding its rotten core. Once word of Sanshu’s fate escaped, it wouldn’t be long before the full force of the Empire fell upon Yo Ling and Xiaobo’s villainous alliance and Purged them from this world forever.

 

A shame he wouldn’t be there to see it. Such was the price he paid for his avarice and gluttony, turning a blind eye to the festering corruption for gold and trinkets. Now, the Coalition’s engines of war sat hidden from sight while raining fire and stone upon his stalwart defenders. Unscathed, the dark-armoured Defiled watched the show with immense satisfaction, their laughs and jeers clashing with the screams of the dying, his soldiers and guardsmen fish upon the chopping block, caught between traitors and the Enemy with no hope for victory, only death.

 

Then death it would be, but on his terms.

 

Off to the side, Gerel and Vichear gathered the Bekhai, likely preparing to escape through the alleys and into the canals. Despite wasting all the hard work and effort spent getting here, Tongzu couldn’t blame them for retreating. Silently wishing them the best, he formed the bare outline of a plan, hurrying to action before all hope was lost. There was no point in retreating, weathering a storm of projectiles to attack the Coalition mercenaries only for the Defiled to charge in from behind. Better to take the fight to the Defiled and limit the Coalition’s ability to fire without hitting their allies. Though nothing would change in the end, at least this way they would die fighting. Raising Stoneshaper above his head, Tongzu shouted, “Warriors of Sanshu, heed my orders. Forward into the Enemy!” Without waiting for them to follow, he unleashed his Aura and charged the Enemy, holding nothing back. Hammering into the Defiled line, he set about collecting what was owed. “Victory or Death!”

 

“Victory or Death!” Echoing the call, his warriors joined him in battle, their rage driving them to greater heights. Explosions continued to fall amongst them, but still they pressed on, following Tongzu’s lead as he carved a swathe through the Defiled. Reinforced and Stabilized, Tongzu waded through the Enemy lines, breaking bones and ending lives with every swing of his hammer. Taking a spear to the gut, Tongzu backhanded his attacker, the Resonating strike reducing the offending Butcher’s brain to a pulp, his eyeballs bursting from his skull. Snarling through the pain, Tongzu plucked the spear from his flesh and flung it back into the crowd, swinging his hammer in a massive arc to clear the way forward.

 

“Onwards, my warriors,” he shouted, “Onwards! Show these Defiled dogs Sanshu’s mettle, make them regret stepping out from their hidden enclave!” Following in his wake, his warriors drove a wedge deep into the Defiled lines, moving towards their most hated foe: Yo Ling. Only a hundred meters odd away, the legendary Bandit King had his back turned to them, not deigning to grace them with his attention, fully focused on the Azure Ascendants valiant efforts.

 

Tongzu never did like being upstaged. He was the Unstoppable Golden Vanguard, Magistrate of Sanshu, and the Defiled would come to curse his name.

 

Chiming beautifully as it pulverized bone and metal, Stoneshaper smashed aside all resistance while Tongzu strode deeper into the market square. His deafening heartbeat pounding in his ears, the world devolved into violence and chaos as sweat and blood poured from his brow. Stone and dust clotted his throat as he panted for breath, fighting like a man possessed. Ignoring all sense of self-preservation, he threw himself into the fray, lost in a haze of wrath and blood lust. His heavy armour chipped and cracked as he took wound after wound, collecting his tax of blood and death before the Mother reached out to claim him. One Defiled sent to the Father’s Maw was one less to plague his countrymen, every step costing him dearly, every meter hard-fought and hard-won, but still he continued fighting. Sanshu’s heroes died by the hundreds but none faltered, low-born warriors of unremarkable skill rising to the challenge. His guardsmen threw themselves at the Enemy, clutching at weapons embedded in their flesh or the arms and legs of their killers, paving the way for another to finish the job.

 

Ninety meters, eighty meters, seventy-five meters, every step cost countless lives and brought Tongzu closer to his goal, determined to spit in Yo Ling’s eye. The further he went, the greater the opposition as the Defiled swarmed towards him, thinking to kill him and put an end to Sanshu’s defiance. Fools one and all, even should he fall, Sanshu’s defenders would not falter, but he welcomed the challenge. Disregarding subtlety and finesse, Tongzu met each opponent head on, and each time his opponent was found lacking. With Butcher Bay’s most notorious Captains all dead or injured, there were precious few Defiled Champions left to challenge him. Taking full advantage of Yo Ling’s distraction, Tongzu ran roughshod over the Butchers, meting out divine retribution for their crimes against the Empire.

 

Though filled with righteous fury, Tongzu was still flesh and blood, unhealthy, overweight and under-exercised to boot. Less than fifty meters from his goal, his body faltered before the Defiled counter-offensive, Butchers swarming in from all sides and cutting him off from reinforcements. Arms heavy and lungs burning, Tongzu stood alone before the hated Enemy, bleeding for a dozen wounds, the pain drowned out by the heady rush of battle. Unfortunately, grit and courage was not enough to win the day, his spirit willing but body spent, barely able to keep Stoneshaper raised. Grinning at the surrounding Butchers, Tongzu prepared to bring at least one more Defiled down with him, ready to meet the Mother and beg forgiveness for his transgressions.

 

A dark mass of fur and blood catapulted past Tongzu, crashing into the Defiled. Dwarfing the mount beneath him, Vichear cut through the Enemy effortlessly as his roosequin added claw and fang to the cause. The other Bekhai followed closely behind, charging the Defiled in waves as the ferocious, overgrown weasels tore through armour and flesh, their bodies dripping in blood and gore. Unable to hold them back, the Defiled centre crumbled away, ripped apart in a savage display of strength and domination.

 

Across the way, Tongzu’s soldiers led by Chun Yimu poured into the market, charging through the Defiled to link their forces. At their forefront sat a valiant Bekhai woman, her face and chest charred black as she whirled her chain overhead, clearing the way for others to follow. Knees weak with relief, Tongzu stumbled and nearly fell, but a sturdy hand caught his arm, holding him in place. Unconcerned by the pandemonium around him, Gerel stood with glaive resting on his shoulder, looking unremarkable in his dark leather armour, a fur-rimmed helm covering his bald head. Steadying his breath, Tongzu nodded in thanks, but the amber-eyed warrior barely noticed, his stony gaze fixated on Yo Ling’s back.

 

It seemed Tongzu misjudged the reclusive Bekhai, mistaking their aloof, lackadaisical manner for indifference and apathy. Buoyed by their presence, Tongzu laughed despite the dire circumstances, thanking the Mother for staunch allies. “Come,” he said to Gerel, hefting Stoneshaper before him. “Plenty of work yet to be done. Let’s get you to Yo Ling while the sun’s still up.”

 

There was no answer, but none was needed. As he’d done countless times before, Chu Tongzu strode forth to lead his army from the front lines, charging headfirst into the fray.

 

“Onwards to victory!”

 

Chapter Meme

 

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Savage Divinity – Chapter 228


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


 

Watching the battle unfold, Yo Ling was filled with bitter disappointment. Pushed back by riffraff and guardsmen, his Butchers lacked the skills and determination required to become an all-conquering army. Jianghong was an utter failure, unable to hold back his opponents for even a handful of minutes, the enemy now pressing in from the rear. Even his Transcendents were a disappointment, still unable to dispatch their outnumbered foes. A half hour of combat might not seem like much, but he knew how exhausting it could be, but still the enemy clung to life. Lei Gong continued firing bolts of lightning, seemingly a bottomless pit of Chi as the battle wore on, a formidable opponent. The other Azure Ascendants were only marginally less impressive, each one holding their own, battered but unbroken. After careful study, Yo Ling marked the woman as the most dangerous opponent, holding her own against his most powerful Transcendent.

 

Elemental bolts from jewelled rings, disruptive arrays from jade tablets, exploding talismans engraved in discs of gold, the Tyrant Ouyang Yuhuan carried enough Runic items to beggar even the richest of noble families. He knew a little of the craft, sharing similarities to the armour he’d crafted for Gen and his Captains. Many of her tool were one-use items, cherished by the world at large as live-saving measures, yet she tossed them about like grains of rice at a wedding. A runic craftsman, how exceptionally rare, whoever the Azure Ascendant was, his pockets ran deeper than expected, able to not only tempt her to work at his side, but supply all the precious materials she needed to work. Worst of all, the Tyrant had yet to go all out, clutching an unremarkable iron rod in hand that screamed of danger.

 

That little prize was reserved for Yo Ling, this much he could tell. Wary of her tricks, he stood and watched the battle unfold, giving orders when necessary but taking no other actions. There was no need for him to act, victory was within his grasp no matter how they struggled. The Ascendants and Transcendents were deadlocked for now, but these were mere mortals fighting against power given form. Tireless and eternal, the Transcendents chipped away at their opponents bit by bit, every passing minute bringing them closer to victory. Once the five Ascendants were taken care of, preferably captured and subjected to Gen’s gifts, Yo Ling would be free to act.

 

He’d start by killing the damnable Jorani and his two companions. Two mutts and a rat, such a prickly thorn in his side. Their skills were mediocre at best, though the large dog’s strength was to be commended and the rat showed promise. The issue was their Runic Armour, rendering them all but invulnerable to any but the strongest of foes. One such warrior alone might not matter, but three working in tandem? Much easier to kill than to defend, doubly so when your opponent holds nothing back. A disgrace, if he’d not lost so many Captains to sheer stupidity and happenstance, these three pawns would have long since been dealt with.

 

Danger Approaches.

 

The messaged echoed in Yo Ling’s skull, sending pain lancing through is body. Hiding it well, he answered, “What danger? The rod? I’ve marked it.”

 

Not You.

 

That caught him off guard, his confident visage slipping. “What could threaten you?” He regretted the question even as he asked it. The Venerated Ones made his Transcendents seem like harmless puppies in comparison. He shuddered at the thought of facing anything they deemed dangerous.

The Devourer. Kill Him.

 

How could Falling Rain pose a danger to them? “He’s but a child, easily dealt with.” Was it possible for the boy to devour the Venerated Ones? If so, then the boy could not be allowed to grow.

 

Other Threats. Territory Lord Returned, Others Hidden, Watching.

 

Panic set in, Yo Ling’s dreams of victory slipping away. Of all the cursed luck… “They won’t act, will they? Can you hold against them?”

 

Possible. Will Not Lose. Difficult To Win. Our Presence Exposed, Treaty In Play. Victory Or Defeat Rests In Your Hands. Waited Too Long.

 

Their piece said, their presence faded from Yo Ling’s mind, leaving him reeling in their absence. He’d lost his final trump card, but they were always a last resort. He wanted to rule over a working city, not ruins like Shen Mu. Still, the Territory Lord’s presence was disturbing. If he or she broke the treaty and acted, then all of Yo Ling’s carefully laid plans were for naught. Small consolation the Venerated Ones would be free to respond, if the Territory Lord acted first, Yo Ling would undoubtedly already be dead.

 

Calming his nerves, he sent the Spirits searching for Falling Rain while contacting his allies and commanding them to act. No more theatrics, it was time to put an end to this farce. Nightfall was only a few hours away, and by then Yo Ling would either have control of the entire city or be dead in a pile of rubble.

 

Either way, after tonight, Sanshu would forever be changed.

 

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

 

Hello Darkness, my old friend…

 

Suppressing the maudlin little tune which springs to mind, I study my surroundings before making a move. Nothing but bleak desolation lies before me, the void encompassing the world around. Though it seems likes an unending emptiness as far as I can see, I notice jagged peaks and uneven valleys forming and breaking away in the corner my eyes, the land itself in constant flux yet perpetually still when focused upon. An uneasy thrum pulses through the air and the shifting shadows fill me with nauseating apprehension, this world somehow both alien and familiar, but wholly uninviting. Though exhaustion weighs heavily upon my shoulders, the thought of rest never crosses my mind, instinctively recognizing the inherent danger permeating my situation.

 

Is this inside my mind or Bei’s? It can’t be mine, Blobby took care of my Spectre problem and I don’t see Baledagh anywhere. The thrill of battle draining away, I find myself lucid and calm, though far from unconcerned. I wholeheartedly regret coming here on impulse. What was I thinking? How am I supposed to save Bei’s soul from eternal torment at the hands of Spectres? How do I keep getting myself into situations like this?

 

Relax. You’ve done this before, way back when I pulled Dagen out of his mental prison, and again to save Baledagh. No idea how I’m doing it, but I guess there’s something about my Demon-adjacent existence which lets me hop into minds.

 

What a shitty superpower…

 

Drawing on experience, I reach out and grasp Peace’s red-patterned hilt, beautifully wrapped by my beloved Mila. There is no explosion of light this time, my Spiritual Weapon discretely appearing out of thin air, eager for battle to be joined. Bolstered by its presence, I attempt to draw Tranquility the same way, but there’s no connection to the shield, no familiarity. I guess it belongs to Baledagh, considering I found him cradling it in his prison. No idea why, he wasn’t even awake when I bound it, passed out from our ironically named Awakening. Then again, he woke up the second I finished my strange Binding Ceremony, and I remember feeling… off, during the entire thing. It’s like I wasn’t even a part of it, watching myself fight another me, not sure which one I was.

 

This is too confusing. Whatever, Peace is mine, Tranquility Baledagh’s. Done. Figure it out later.

 

Wishing I had all the answers, I use Peace to Guide the way and take my first step inside Bei’s mindscape. It’s odd how Chi works here, responding to my every thought with hardly any effort. I’ve never met Bei when she was human, but picking out her presence comes easily, the only living presence around. Perhaps it’s because I’m in my original form, an astral parasite leeching off of Baledagh’s life force, much like the Spectres and their hosts. No, focus on the task at hand, contemplating your purpose and the meaning of life can wait until later, when you’re not inside the mind of a Demon infested host.

 

Time passes as I wander through the void, traversing the monotonous, barren darkness step by step. I hate it here, lacking any frame of reference, no sensation, no horizon, no breeze or sunlight, only the same tedious backdrop stretching on into infinity while the world changes around me, yet remains entirely the same. Keeping watch for clouds of Spectres or other nightmares, I pray I have what it takes to deal with Bei’s Demon. Only the memory of her woeful gaze keeps me here, unable to give up without even trying. I’m already here, no harm giving it a shot. If I can convince Bei to fight, the rest should theoretically fall into place. In the absence of any transmigrated alter-egos, her will is absolute here, so banishing the Spectres and regaining control should be easy as pie.

 

Besides, I have no idea how to leave.

 

After an eternity or a second, I hear a soft, piteous crying in the distance. Giving Peace a tiny flourish to bolster my courage, I harden my resolve and move towards the disturbance, left hand outstretched and sword ready to thrust. Responding to my thoughts, Peace exudes a brilliant, white light, illuminating the void around me, banishing away the cold darkness. A tiny hut appears in the distance and I make my way there, watchful for danger or ambush.

 

Where are the Spectres? I had to fight my way through them to get the Baledagh, so why is this so easy?

 

Opening the door, I peek in to find a naked young woman kneeling in the dirt, her back turned and shoulders trembling as she cooks over a fire. Her lustrous, dark hair runs straight down her back, barely concealing a tableau of horrendous injuries. Not a single patch of skin remains on her body, not even the pads of her feet, covered from head to toe in half-healed injuries and bleeding wounds like a half-eaten corpse. “Bei? Can you hear me?” My question goes unanswered as she continues her work, and I circle around for a better look.

 

Please be Bei and not the Demon.

 

Despite steeling myself beforehand, my stomach lurches with revulsion as I examine Bei, mentally cataloguing the Demon’s cruel torments against my better judgement. I’d love to forget everything I see, but my brain is retarded. Not enough to torture the girl, no the Spectres demand constant mental anguish, forcing Bei to prepare a ‘meal’ of human flesh. Butchered neatly by her own hand, an older man’s head sits upright on the stump of it’s neck, staring at Bei as she stirs the pot, tears streaming from shockingly human eyes which stare back at the severed head. All the while, Bei mutters ‘I’m so sorry’ over and over again, apologizing to the dead man even as she prepares, cooks and tastes his flesh.

 

Blocking out the screams emanating from the back of my mind, I focus on her eyes, noting the lack of eyelids which keep her from closing them. “Bei, listen. Stop what you’re doing.” Kneeling next to her, I gently take her ruined hands in my own. “You don’t have to suffer like this.”

 

Noticing me for the first time, Bei’s eyes widen in panic as she snatches her hand away, a finger coming away in my grasp. Dropping the detached digit in panic, it falls into the pot with a tiny splash. No more stew, not for awhile at least. Maybe I’ll go vegetarian for a bit.

 

Paying no attention to her injuries, Bei cowers before me, ladle held up in her defence as I give her room. “You can’t be here,” she whispers, glancing at the door behind her. “Please leave, please, he’ll hurt me if he sees you, he hates you so much.” Once I’ve retreated to what she deems a safe distance, she returns to her work, tasting the soup before adding more meat and spices. “He’ll want his meal soon, he’s always hungry. A warrior with a warrior’s appetite, it’s a wife’s duty to keep her husband fed.”

 

“Bei, stop.” My words strike her like a steel club, cringing at the commanding tone, but she never stops working. Careful not to touch her, I gesture for calm while speaking softly. “Listen, this is just a nightmare. They can’t hurt you. Fight back. You have power here, not them.”

 

“Please leave,” she whispers, unwilling to look at me. “He’s busy now, but he’ll be back. It’ll be worse if he sees you.”

 

“Gen isn’t here and this isn’t real.” Gesturing at the pot, I add, “None of this is real.”

 

“Liar.” Glancing at the severed head, Bei trembles with a repressed shudder. “This is real. I killed my papa. I butchered his corpse, cooked it over a fire, and we ate him for our wedding feast. This happened. I know it did.”

 

Trying a different tack, I grip Peace and summon its brilliance, overpowering the harsh glow of the fire with its soothing light. “You know who I am. I’m Baledagh, Falling Rain. I’m here now, and I’ll protect you, I swear it. All you need to do is let me. Come, let’s talk this through outside.” Away from the severed head of your father.

 

My words have the opposite intended effect as Bei breaks down in a panic, scurrying away to the corner and screeching, “Gen is my husband and I his loyal wife. I will not betray him!” Pressed against the wall, her feet leave streaks of blood as she tries to back away from me, even now unwilling to leave through the door. “I love him, he is my husband, I will not be unfaithful! My place is here! My place is here!” Repeating the mantra over and over, Bei’s voice breaks down into sobs as she fends me off with her ladle, so twisted from her ordeal she truly believes her words. So terrified, a little bird caught in a trap, killing herself with her struggles.

 

Cursing myself for not thinking of it sooner, I unleash my Aura, conveying sympathy and compassion, but it fails to reach her. There’s something imprisoning her, shielding her from my emotions, but my newfound prowess comes into play. The barrier resists, but I eke out every ounce of energy I have left, shredding and tearing it to nothingness, leaving me panting and drained from the effort. The world shakes around me as a bestial howl echoes through the void, but Bei pays it no mind. At the soothing touch of my Aura, her fear and terror melt away, her injuries mending in the blink of an eye. “See,” I say, moving a little closer, “There’s no need to be afraid. I will protect you.”

 

Sorrow and regret etched on her face, the renewed Bei moves towards the severed head of her papa, kneeling before it with hands outstretched, but never touching it, crying as she apologizes. “I’m so sorry papa,” she sobs, kowtowing against the dirt. “You daughter is unfilial.”

 

Sensing a dark presence, I leap between Bei and the door as it explodes open, showering me with debris. A twisted abomination tackles me but despite its hulking form, It has no substance, no mass, light as a feather and thrown back without effort. A mishmash of bestial limbs and bulging muscles, the creature snarls with Gen’s face, covered in chains and wounds as it tries to pierce through my Aura. Its voice chimes with the discordant harmony of a thousand tongues as it screams, “No! You cannot have her! We have claimed her for our own! Thief! Usurper!”

 

“I reject you,” comes Bei’s voice from behind, filled with conviction and purpose. “I accept my sins for what they are and face my punishment with head held high.” Her voice cracks every so slightly as she adds, “I killed my papa, my hands held the knife. I know this and accept whatever will come of it, all the guilt and pain I deserve. I’ll not be your puppet any longer.”

 

The Spectres wail and screech at her dismissal, no longer speaking in harmony. A thousand tongues speak a thousand different things, screaming of punishment and promises, salvation and suffering, but not for long. Bursting through the void, a torrent of water streams in and washes over the abomination, its face twisting in fear as it dissolves beneath Blobby’s merciless onslaught, the malevolent spirits purified into a mass of clean, untainted energy.

 

The hut fades away and I’m left in the void, turning to watch as Bei floats in the waters, dissolving away with a wistful smile on her face. “Wait, Blobby, leave her alone!”

 

Ignoring my command, it continues rendering Bei into nothingness. “Thank you for freeing me,” she says, even as her body breaks apart, her eyes no longer pleading and pained, but relaxed and accepting. Without another word, she leans back into the water and fades away into nothingness.

 

And like that, Bei is gone.

 

Settling in around me, Blobby radiates lazy satisfaction and a sensation of comfort and safety. Pleased with the meal, it’s ready for a nap back home, gluttony and sloth personified. The void shudders as it crumbles around me, darkness falling away to reveal oblivion, visually the same yet markedly different in a way I can’t explain, yet shakes me to the core.

 

Lot of that going around lately. What the fuck just happened? How do I get home?

 

This time, the answer comes from Peace, not Blobby, the steps needed to return home appearing in my mind. It seems I’ve become a magnet for quasi-sentient inanimate objects, but this is no time to complain. Taking the purified Spectres in hand, I channel my Chi and swing Peace, piercing the void. Stepping through the gaping wound, I appear next to Baledagh, safe and sound inside my personal mental plane. Drained and exhausted, I take a portion of the purified Spectres for myself before giving the rest to Baledagh, watching as it’s absorbed through his skin like water in the desert.

 

Seeing no reaction from him, I will myself back to consciousness. Coming to with a pained gasp, my body feels as if it’s on fire, and I instinctively channel my newly acquired energy to heal, falling back on old tricks to block out the pain. Ignore it, accept it, it’s a part of you now. Breath in, and out. The world comes into focus and I see Mila leaning over me, her tearful smile a sight to behold with the clear blue sky behind her, clasping my surprisingly healthy-looking left hand with both her own. “Idiot,” she says, sobbing with relief. “What were you thinking, taking on a Demon like that?”

 

“Wasn’t,” I answer, my voice raw. “Sorry.”

 

Kissing my fingers, she watches me with eyes filled with pride. “You saved Tursinai, you know? She would have died if it wasn’t for you. The Demon came out of nowhere, striking in tandem with a bolt of fire. You killed it, Rain, you killed a Demon!”

 

“Good, good.” Quickly checking my injuries, I tally the cost of saving Bei. My right hand is still there, but only barely, while my legs and torso are slightly better off. Horrendous burns cover over half my body, but thanks to a healer, there’s no immediate risk of dying. The pain might soon make me wish otherwise, but I can’t heal myself while sleeping, so I’ve no choice but to endure.

 

Worth it.

 

Mila continues rambling on, explaining everything I missed. “You’ve been out of it for some time now. We drove back Mao Jianghong’s traitors and pushed into the marketplace. The Magistrate’s forces arrived shortly after, pinning the Defiled in from three sides. They have nowhere to go, so victory is all but assured.” Flashing me a bright smile, Mila adds, “You rest and heal up love, leave the clean up to others to deal with.”

 

“Will do.” Even as I speak the words, a loud whistling grabs my attention. Arcing overhead, a greyish projectile soars through the air, followed by a massive explosion, the ground shaking beneath me.

 

Holy shit, is the Coalition using oil? That’s fucking insane.

 

Wait…

 

Oh no…

 

Turning to Li Song, Mila hisses, “Bring the quins. We’re leaving.” Bustling about, Mila hurriedly prepares me for transport, her jaw set and eyes burning with anger and determination. “No wonder Yo Ling dared attack Sanshu with so few soldiers, it was all a distraction so the Coalition could deal with its rivals. Sanshu is finished.” Lifting me in her arms, my body is wracked with agony and I pass out from the pain.

 

I knew having random mercenaries show up out of nowhere was too good to be true.

 

Chapter Meme

 

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