“I just wish I had something I could use as a flying item that won’t attract massive suspicion. Anything I make in Tree will stand out for a lot of reasons.” Lola sniffs my left ear as I continue complaining. “No, look here. My drones would be confiscated by the first true Heaven Realm practitioner I’d come across! They’ll spot that the principles through which they’re flying are barely even known here, and immediately kidnap me or lock me up or something stupid like that.”
Lola once again looks at me like I’m crazy. But the joke’s on her. I’m not crazy. She is! She’s a totally crazy rabbit for even having this conversation with me. Everyone knows rabbits can’t talk, so that makes the fact that she is chatting with me proof that she is actually insane!
I nod my head some more, astounded that nobody apart from me can see this thing that is so clearly apparent. I decide that chatting with the rabbit is useless, as she is just a dumb animal anyway.
Looking around, I see more rice paddies, more cultivators sitting on mats and singing to their crops, and more pink unicorns. I always wondered why this stupid group of singing rice farmers never got invaded. It’s because of all the pink elephants. Those majestic beasts just look fierce as heck!
I keep wanting to get in there and wrestle with them, but Lola keeps biting my earlobes whenever I go to confront one. It’s a good thing that the fields of rice are coming to an end because the small pink rhinos I keep coming across keep taunting me. I just glare at the latest group of line dancing tusked sea creatures when I fall into cold water.
I emerge, the water in my ears blocking nearly all sound, and the mother of all headaches assaults me.
“Lola,” I croak out when I regained my faculties, “we will never talk of this again. If anyone who might have witnessed that entire trip ever wants me to do anything for them ever again, including making them food, they will do well to forget about it.”
My recovering mind is immensely helped by the sudden hush that seems to fall over Tree. Instead of the constant murmur of voices coming from my core, just out of hearing range, there is a sudden silence, as if hundreds of voices suddenly shut their stupid mouths at once.
I rise, wiping the muddy water from my eyes as I gain my bearings. Mountains of terraced rice paddies stretch behind me. The occasional hut, road, or tree interrupts the constant curving pattern of water dams and small waterways. The air is hazy as I look back, but not from the heat. No, the constant droning noise in that stupid sect causes a fog, the sheer volume of sound somehow visible.
Only now do I see that the rice is swaying as if it’s alive. Only now do I see that every single cultivator is wearing ear protection. I had heard some weird rumors about this sect, but this is the first time I ever actually visited. It’s super weird to see that most of the rumors turn out to be true.
Shaking the rest of the mud and water from my face, I decide to never come here again. The Divine Rice they make is delicious, though. I’ve eaten it before, and even just a few grains of the specialty make for a tasty dish that’s hard to put into words. It doesn’t mean I have to be near the place where that food is grown. Once again swearing I will never visit the Mongolian throat singing tree-hugging hippy crap mud snorting farmers and their pink narwhals ever again, I get going.
Instead of starting with a complex water-walking technique, or running so fast that the sheer pushback of my feet on the water keeps me afloat, I simply grab one of the boats strewn around the coast. The transition from rice paddy to the endless lake is pretty gradual, leaving a wide stretch of sandy beach on which boats are scattered here and there. It takes me a few minutes of jogging along the coastline - while ignoring the ominous and horrifyingly perfectly off-key humming coming from the rice paddies - before I find what I’m looking for.
The narrow canoe might look unassuming, but it actually is very unassuming. That is a harder quality to find than one might think. Take my current gondoliers pole, for example. What at first appeared to be a very ordinary spear actually turned out to be a very wrong scam. A mortal iron speartip fastened to a super mysterious oversized arrow shaft is actually a weird thing to encounter. I really wonder how that elder got hold of that arrow disguised as a spear, but as I’m currently using it as an oar to great effect, I’m not complaining.
I do have to say that the spray coming from the bow is kind of annoying, as my face is continuously pressure washed. I want to be across this pond as fast as possible, and I’m not planning on slowing down for anything but a massive parade, or something like that. I do have to say, for a couple of freaks that do nothing but stare at ripples all day, these Holy Water Inference sect guys do know how to make a pretty view.
I remember reading somewhere that a couple hundred thousand years ago, these mountains used to be just that, mountains. Then, slowly but surely, through this war or that natural or unnatural disaster, sects and organizations started moving this way while cultivating the land. One dude saw some ripples, started digging a pond to see more ripples, and now there is this massive artificial lake where mountains once scratched at the sky.
In a couple hundred thousand years, I’m sure some earth cultivator will ascend here. They will cause some disastrous tectonic activity, or some other disaster will cause there to be mountains once more.
As I look at the flowing terraces behind me shrinking, the white sails and dark boats clustering the horizon, or the natural mountains or towering buildings of some city far, far away, I wonder what it’s all for. All traces that I ever was here, speeding through the shallow water on a wooden canoe, will be gone within the hour. All traces of my passing through the mountain will be gone the moment an animal eats the last remains of the last remaining beast I killed. All my life will be abandoned to decay and oblivion when the last memory or written account of my life will turn to dust. Pushing off against the hard lake floor, I stare listlessly ahead, wondering what it’s all about.
“ALL BOW FOR DAO CHILD SELIS FUUKYAA TEETCHUN”
The fact that a massive parade is in the way, some random dude shouting his lungs out while standing on top of a massive boat shakes me from my musings. A true behemoth of a boat, a thing so gaudy and impractical that it makes my eyes hurt is speeding towards me. I just stare at the boat, wondering how that thing can even float in water this shallow. There is no normal hull in the world that will both fit in this superficial lake and support that superstructure. That means that there is some kind of weight-reducing or buoyancy increasing formation running. This means that moving the ship fast costs resources, which is usually not something they would do unless they were carrying something like a very important person.
My stomach drops through my stomach, into my shoes, through the bottom of the boat, and into the bowels of the earth. The faint suspicion I had upon hearing a certain divine soul fragment’s words - which is currently inhabiting my bunny sword - comes true. Grinning down at me, sitting at the place of highest honor, is Selis Bluesee, in all her blue glory.
The crown of water around her head still houses the transparent fish I made with my mana experiments. Instead of the simple, brightly colored dresses she always wore, she is now decked out in one of the most ornate and impractical pieces of clothing I have ever seen. Her flowing blue hair is done up in intricate curls and loops, woven through a blue gem-encrusted golden phoenix crown that radiates power. The collar of her robe has at least six too many collars, and the actual fabric the thing is made from is nearly indistinguishable from all the embroidery.
“‘Selis Fuck You Teach’? Really?” I ask, exasperated.
“YOU WILL ONLY SPEAK WHEN SPOKEN TO!” bellows the man with the mystical blue megaphone. The pressure coming from his command whips up a fierce wind, spraying even more water into my face and threatening to topple my boat. I immediately impose a slight bit of my Will upon the wind. I let all the water spray through, but make sure to leave the remnants of my clothes unruffled.
Selis looks like she is regretting some things right about now. Surrounded by an entire cadre of blue-robed bald-headed mortal servants, blue-clad cultivator guards, and even a couple of bearded elders, she seems calm on the surface. From the various micro-expressions and ticks she is suppressing, I can tell that she is mentally going through a massive amount of scenarios.
There is a lot of water-intent qi in the air, and I feel it being disturbed by the sheer mental turmoil that she is going through right about now. She must be crawling at least a hundred times to cause this feeling.
We have long since established that braincores can feel other braincores using qi in mental crawling - also known as slowing down time by spinning qi through their cranium. And Selis is using up assloads of power right about now, the few blue shards of ice that she was using as additional decorations melting because of lost focus.
I decide to help her out and flash the white badge that the woman from the Elevated Children gave me after losing our little drinking competition. I also pull another bottle from my ring, smiling softly while holding out the unassuming clay jar.
Immediately, every single weapon is aimed at me. The entire boat switches from a pompous yet peacefull cruise ship into an armed-to-the-teeth heavy cruiser within seconds. The air grows chilly as more and more of the approaching fleet approaches me, all of their swords, spears, bows, and other weapons trained at me.
Then I break the seal of the jar with a slow yet casual flick of my wrist and use my air affinity to let the fragrance waft outwards. The sheer toxicity of the brew might not be immediately apparent to these lightweights who have forsworn the pleasures of the flesh, but the sheer quality of the vintage can not be denied, even by these drinking laymen.
“Come. We will have a private chat and a drink.” Selis actually sounds rather serene and peaceful as she says that. The coy smile on her lips doesn’t fool me, though. And from observing the rest of her retinue, the actual important people aren’t fooled either.
A few of the keener people must have seen that I wasn’t phased by that sonic shockwave attack disguised as a bombastic announcement. Instead of reacting to her invitation, I stand up and slowly walk over to the hull of the large ship. Kicking the water into a massive, frothy spray, I use up a little more of my Will to gently land on the deck. The silence is deafening now, and Selis swallows audibly.
“T-this way then honored guest of our Elevated Children of the Earthshaker God Beast Alliance allies.”
There are at least a hundred people looking at us, from deckhand to bearded advisor looking guy, every single person present on the tiered and decorated deck is watching the meeting between my long lost student and me. They all keep staring, the frustration of some kind clear and obvious on their faces.
I ignore the peanut gallery and follow Selis as she enters the central deck hut. A dark and richly decorated interior is lit up by warmly glowing lighting formations, my eyes adjusting to taking in a lot of opulent and garishly embroidered furniture. Any sect that exists long enough will inevitably gather enough mortal treasure to rival a kingdom, but what I see here is a bit much, even for a sect as old as the Holy Water Inference sect.
“No,” is the first word coming out of Selis’ mouth the moment I sit down.
“Alright then,” I reply while smiling at her.
Her stern expression immediately goes from brave and defiant to uncertain. “W-what?”
I first double-check the sound suppression qualities of the room once again. There is an assload of formations woven into the walls and furniture. The moment I start studying it, I notice a distinct uptick in Database request coming from Tree, all of them asking for detailed scans of the weave. I start weaving threads of qi through the air, embedding small probes of Will into them for the nexus points of the fabric that are extremely high in detail. The moment I sense that there are no active recording formations in the room, I smile and start talking.
“Just make sure never to mention my true name, or that you are associated with the Scheming Fox Demon in any way, shape, or form. Also, can I ask you if you have heard of the others? I have good beads on around half of them, but have very little idea where Vox or Ragni ended up. Also, have you seen a slimy dude from the Dark Moon sect somewhere? I think he has my sword. He definitely came through here, as there’s some of the bunny sword’s qi in the air.”
The fact that she immediately looks away from me is alarming. Her wincing reactions at nearly every single one of my questions are even more worrying. Her immediate nervousness is so palpable that I also start feeling anxious. If a few of those people find out that I’m still alive… Well, let’s just say things could get complicated again.
“Selis Bluesee, look me in the eyes,” I sternly tell her.
“It just slipped out, alright? That dude came along with your stupid sword, and he was just so… Seeing someone like that… having bested you, it was just so funny!” Selis looks at me with large teary eyes. I sternly ignore the crocodile tears and keep looking at the little brat. “So it slipped out, okay? It was just the creepy guy. I gave him the sword back and a flying treasure so he would leave faster. Nobody except for him heard me say Dre-”
I have my hand over her mouth before she can finish the word. I’m not sure what expression is on my face, but Selis is no longer looking any kind of happy. “One thing. I rarely ask anything of anyone, right? I requested one thing. Just don’t blab about my real name. I asked this a couple of times, right? How many times did I ask Re-Haan to call me ‘Teach’? I did that often, a lot of the time I did that in a public and vocal manner, right?”
She nods, a single tear running down her cheek silently.
“So yeah, that’s the only thing. So please take note of that one thing. The rest of my rules are just rules pertaining to being a civilized person, like not murdering, I’m heading north, as I suspect that Green is somewhere in the mountains and Ket is near the Dark Moon sect. You still have your Ligna Relaxantur ring, I see. The connection should be strong enough to transmit data now that you’ve been near me. Yep, I just checked and the connection between the ring and Tree is nice and strong now.”
I step back, only now noticing that I’m right up in her face. Sitting down, I take a moment to collect myself and to regain my center. I look at Selis again, and the desire to explain to her in great detail how leaking my name will cause this entire region to descend into war and chaos melts away.
“I’m really happy to see that you’re having fun here,” I tell her while smiling. “I’m heading further north now. I would like to borrow a method of flying if that’s possible. Using one of the drones from Tree or similar items will cause a lot of problems down the line.”
She nods and pulls a transparent blue sword from her ring. “T-this is the best flying item I have.”
She proffers me a sword, but I am slow to grasp it. It seems to be a Heaven Realm item, if a low stage, but still not something she can just give away.
“Can you miss this? Are you good with giving this away?”
“Yes,” she answers, her eyes slowly getting some life back in them. Her expression changes then, in the telling way of someone having made up their mind for real this time, and they are sticking to it. “And I am staying here. They all love what I can do with water, and they recognize this cutie here for what he is!”
Selis caresses the small transparent fish, still swimming through the water that is continuously floating around her. From the little I know about this sect’s cultivation abilities, is that controlling water through the use of vibrations is seen as the highest expression of skill. I assume that they wrongly concluded that Selis must have been some kind of savant genius, and thus must have done everything in their power to keep such a rare and talented cultivator in their ranks. Some random mythical water beast seemingly acknowledging her, in the manner of becoming her companion or pet or whatever, must only have increased this weird twist of fate.
“In that case, thanks for the sword, no mentioning of my name, and let me know when I can help,” I smile at her. “I’m glad to see you’re doing fine.”
I need to get going if I want to catch up with that Dark Moon idiot. I need to get my sword back and probably silence him. That said, I walk out the door, put some of my qi in the sword, toss it into the air, and speed off.Previous Chapter Next Chapter