Legends of Gods. Tale of Vjaira. (B3.Ch97 up!) (REWRITE FINISHED, YAY!)
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 92. Mutually Beneficial.
When they heard what Patrick wanted from them, Laien and Yin couldn’t help but turn slightly angry. The fact that Yin was a magical beast needed to be kept secret, else the two of them would encounter a myriad of trouble in the future, not to mention what the reaction of the Forbidden Lands would be in case one of their tightly-guarded secrets leaked out. Giving Patrick a hint or two about Blood Pact would still have been fine as the man appeared to have done research on his own and likely had learned a few unconfirmed rumors… but telling him everything was out of the question, not to mention that he was also demanding an unconditional favor! Neither of those two conditions was acceptable in any way to the two of them.
“No way,” Laien said without bothering to hide his anger. This time around, the conditions laid out by Patrick were too unrealistic for them to agree. “We won’t tell you what you want to know and we won’t owe you some favors based on ridiculous conditions,” he stated uncompromisingly.
“Yeah, we can’t agree to something like that,” Yin supported sternly. If Patrick’s demands were more reasonable, he wouldn’t have hesitated to agree to them. After all, he was pretty sure that Patrick didn’t realize the true worth of the tomes he was giving away. However, even considering how useful those five tomes would be to them, there were always things that were more important than the others.
Patrick groaned a little after receiving such a negative response from the boys, but he didn’t show much of that disappointment on his face. Considering how easily those two had confirmed that there indeed was a Blood Pact between them, he thought he might have a chance to learn something more about this subject… alas, judging from their reaction just now, they were extremely adverse to this demand of his. As for the favor part? He wasn’t necessarily all that interested in this one; he only added it for the sake of dropping it along the negotiations.
“Well, shall be it,” Patrick said with a sigh. “I don’t need anything else from you, so feel free to spend a few more hours before you pick the four tomes you want.”
“Wait a second,” Laien spoke up, a little unwilling to allow the trade to end like that. “Before you say you aren’t interested in anything we can offer you, why don’t you listen to us first?” he requested carefully, making sure the tone of his voice wouldn’t sound neither too insistent nor too apprehensive.
“Hm,” Patrick nodded slightly. “Go ahead then,” he said with a calm smile. He had nothing to lose if he listened to what those two had to say, so he didn’t mind letting them try and persuade him.
Yin glanced at Laien in an intrigued manner. He could tell that Laien had an idea of sorts, but he couldn’t figure out what did he want to offer to Patrick. The two of them were originally quite rich and over their journey, especially after they shared the spoils coming from Yimar Furi and two of his commanders, they came to possess the mindboggling amount of money and treasures. However, would any of those things truly entice Patrick? Yin himself wouldn’t mind giving away the majority of their belongings for the opportunity of obtaining the fifth tome… but he didn’t think it would be enough to make Patrick change his mind.
To someone like Patrick, who valued a few sentences more than thousands of Euleanian platinum coins, normal treasures simply wouldn’t be all that precious.
“I offer you a gamble,” Laien said with a wry smile, immediately causing both a frown and an intrigued look to appear on Patrick’s face. “We will definitely take Martial and Spiritual Transcendence tome and the two advanced Ancient Magic tomes. The only question that remains is which of the two elementary Ancient Magic tomes we give up. Those elementary tomes should be of roughly equal value, so let us speak with one of them in mind,” he elaborated beforehand and seeing Patrick nod in agreement, he continued straight to the point.
“You must be able to tell that as long as we don’t die along the way, both Yin and I will grow to be powerful experts. We might not be able to give you anything of adequate value now… but there is a high chance that we will be able to do so in the future and by then, we will surely return the favor twice over,” he offered, thinking that an offer like that was fairly reasonable. It wasn’t like Patrick hadn’t studied those elementary Ancient Magic tomes before, so he wasn’t giving away something he hadn’t thoroughly learned before, or at least attempted to learn.
“Amusing idea,” Patrick said with a quiet laugh. “But that’s all it is. An amusing idea. What could you possibly give me in twenty or thirty years that I couldn’t obtain myself? I’ve been biding my time and suppressing my cultivation while I was trying to fully comprehend the Six Refinements to Immortality, but now that I’ve comprehended the sixth level, I will be able to completely master it within a decade. Soon, I will reach the apex of power… and then beyond it,” he said with a calm, confident smile and shook his head a little. It was true that those two boys had a heaven-defying level of talent, but he himself was no worse than either of them and he had much more experience.
“Right, since we are on this subject,” he mentioned, the tone of his voice becoming a bit more energetic. “I hope you realize how precious those tomes are. I’m fairly confident in my ability to protect myself, but if you two casually show or speak about them to people… then may the gods bless you when some of the greedy old folks start eyeing you,” he advised honestly. He had already been made into a fool by those two boys… he didn’t want to see them die a pointless death. That would be too meaningless of an ending.
“You don’t even realize how precious they are…” Laien grumbled silently. He wasn’t used to being dismissed so unhesitatingly, so he was feeling rather sour at the moment.
“You really don’t want a favor from us?” Yin brought up and smiled at Patrick. “Laien told you we can offer you a gamble… so how about that? In the future, when we grow powerful enough, we will help you establish relations with the Forbidden Lands. You must realize that this isn’t something you can do just because you personally are strong,” he said with a slight, wry smile.
Unlike before, Patrick’s expression turned serious and he didn’t respond immediately. In his nearly two centuries of life, the Forbidden Lands remained the only enigma to him, the only place that mystified him… and the only place he didn’t dare to trespass. The various knowledge had always been of great enticement to him and on this continent, it was the Forbidden Lands which held most of what could still arouse his desire. It was true that those tomes were precious to him… but he was already giving up four of them. It was like Laien mentioned, the fifth one wouldn’t change much… and considering what Yin was offering him in exchange… he couldn’t help but give in.
“Fine, take all five of them, you damned Devils,” Patrick said with a helpless laugh. If this little gamble failed, all he would lose was one of his ancient tomes… but if it paid off, he would gain many times over that tome’s value. Even if the odds were low, the ratio of cost to benefit was good enough for him to take the risk.
The look in Yin’s eyes lit up the moment Patrick agreed. He smiled brightly and looked at Laien, who most definitely was just as happy as he was; and at the same time, thankful and impressed. Laien himself didn’t think that just by making the offer more specific in a certain direction they would be able to achieve results that were so good. He was really glad that Yin thought of taking this approach.
“Are you sure you want to take those five?” Patrick inquired amiably. “If so, then I’ll be putting the rest of them away,” he mentioned and extended his hand, then gave Laien and Yin an inquiring look. If they were sure, then he would put the remaining four books back into his interspatial ring.
Laien and Yin exchanged a glance, then confirmed with a simple nod. They each took their respective elemental tomes into their own interspatial rings, then both took a look at the Martial and Spiritual Transcendence tome. A second later, Yin chuckled a little and pushed it toward Laien; he didn’t really mind which one of them had this tome and he knew Laien liked the comfort of having everything he needs at hand, so he didn’t think long about doing as he thought would be for the best.
Laien revealed an embarrassed smile and placed the tome into his interspatial ring. Yin really knew him and his tendencies all too well.
“That should be everything, huh?” Patrick asked a few seconds later. “Unless you are planning to stay for dinner, I suggest you get going,” he said with a slight, meaningful smile. They had established a relationship and struck the deal; as he saw it, there was no reason to waste time on pointless chatter and empty pleasantries as they wouldn’t bring anything positive to either of their parties.
Despite being a bit startled by Patrick shutting their meeting down in this way, Laien and Yin didn’t oppose the idea. They too felt it would be nothing more than empty get-go if they requested to stay longer and tried talking with Patrick under the pretense of getting to know him. They might not have known Patrick for long, but they came to understand his character well enough not to attempt such a counterproductive way to court some goodwill with him.
“Thanks for everything,” Laien said after standing up. He didn’t expect a random encounter with Luca’s teacher to end up like that, but he would lie if he said he wasn’t happy about it.
“Stop bullshitting me.” Patrick rolled his eyes. “If you want to do something for me, then live long enough to make full of your promise,” he said and smirked at Laien. “What are you two smiling at me for? I already have one pest that wants me to babysit it, I don’t need more of them,” he said with a laugh and gestured the two of them toward the door.
Laien and Yin chuckled. The bowed slightly toward Patrick, then headed off like he told them to. As they stood by the door, they spared one last glance at him and at his chamber, nodded at him one more time and finally, opened the door and left.
“What a handful,” Patrick murmured. “I’ve really grown too soft. Agreeing so easily to bet on their future when that old demon is in the middle of playing with them, did I go crazy?” he asked himself and laughed helplessly. “I guess I can consider it as sowing good seeds. With some luck… hrm. With a lot of luck, it will bring me a good harvest in the future,” he mused for a bit, then glanced at the table with the intent of storing it away and noticed something.
“This kid, when did he take away the bottle?” he asked aloud and for the first time in forever, burst out in an honest, unrestrained laughter. He had been planning to go back to his training, but instead, he walked to the door and opened it. “Here, take that with you since you like it so much,” he said with a laugh and threw a high-grade interspatial ring to Laien with a flick of his hand.
“Uh,” Surprised, Laien wanted to say something, but Patrick simply laughed and closed the door before he could respond in any way.
“What did he give you?” Arslan asked curiously. He had a feeling that Laien and Yin were quite happy with themselves now that they left Patrick’s chamber; he very much wanted to find some time to spend with them alone so he could ask what was it all about. He just wanted to know a little too! He wouldn’t tell his friends to share their secrets with him… but he would listen if they did so on their own.
Prompted by Arslan, Laien checked the contents of the interspatial ring. Since there was no spiritual imprint on it, it took him no time at all to find out what was inside, what in consequence caused a strange and yet pleased smile to emerge on his face. “A lot of strong grape wine,” he said with a chuckle. Was it because Patrick noticed that he snatched that one bottle away? If so, then he was grateful for the nice gift.
“… What did you do to him?” Luca asked in turn. “Teacher never treats anyone so favorably. It’s only been like twenty or thirty minutes! What happened in there?” he questioned in disbelief. Was it because Laien was so talented? Was it? Or did it simply mean that his character was to Patrick’s liking? Just thinking about it was making him mad; he didn’t want to admit it before himself, but Laien was making him feel extremely jealous!
“Sorry, it’s a secret,” Laien replied with a laugh and chuckled at Luca’s ‘eeeeh?!’ expression. Did getting a bucket of cold water poured on his head cause Luca’s character to change a little, or was Luca always like that but had simply been suppressing those tendencies within himself?
“Aren’t you worried Patrick will hear you?” Arslan asked with an amused smile on his face. Luca had been downtrodden this whole time they had been sitting here and waiting, so he was happy to see that Luca was feeling better already.
“He won’t,” said with a troubled smile, only now realizing that he had allowed his emotions to get better of him and started behaving in an embarrassing way. He collected himself as well as he could and explained briefly. “The door and walls are completely soundproof. Who knows how exactly teacher knows when someone is waiting in this room and when it’s empty.”
“It’s probably formations,” Laien said calmly, the look in his eyes turning a bit more serious as he swept the room with his aura. He hadn’t noticed anything strange originally, but now that he had gained a rudimentary level of expertise thanks to the Intent of the Art of Formations tome, he saw a few small signs that this whole tower was covered in a grand rune-like formation that only waited to be activated with a thought of its controller. He couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling that even an elite martial master of the fifth rank, or to make the comparison more relatable, even someone as strong as Reian wouldn’t be able to breach this tower’s defenses on his own.
“And that’s just if the formation is passively activated… if Patrick actually took the effort to control it, I fear that only someone at Mustafa’s or Rudford’s level would be able to breach it with force,” Laien mused silently. With the exception of Altair, whose strength was unfathomable to him, Patrick was likely the strongest person he had personally met so far. “He said something about a Heavenly Flame too… I don’t think it’s quite at the ‘Heavenly’ level that those two siblings spoke about, but it should be fairly high at the levels of Spiritual Domains. That flame probably enhanced Patrick’s original domain in some way and allowed him to step into something like a half-step Heavenly Domain,” he speculated as he was slowly getting used to the random bits and pieces of knowledge he had obtained from comprehending those nine Intents.
“Do we go or is there something else?” Arslan asked after a moment, seeing how Laien was lost in his thoughts and didn’t seem to realize everyone’s attention was on him.
“What?” Laien’s eyes opened wide as he turned to look at Arslan. “Ah, right. We can go, there’s nothing else to do here,” he said with a half-apologetic smile. He didn’t think he would end up dazed by the new memories in the middle of a conversation. Those things were just too interesting; he couldn’t wait to find a few weeks of free time so he could study all those five tomes they had gotten from Patrick. After all, just obtaining a good part of the Intents wasn’t enough; actually reading through those tomes step by step would bring both him and Yin a lot of additional benefits.
“Ugh, I kinda don’t want to leave,” Luca admitted with a weak groan and scratched the back of his head, feeling rather awkward. How was he supposed to explain that whole situation with Patrick to his sister, to their friends… and to Jasmine, Julien and to the rest of the adults. He was about to die of shame just by thinking about explaining what the issue had been to them after they all got so angry for his sake. If he could, he would dig a hole for himself to crawl into and hide in it until all the questions went away… but life wasn’t so soft and easy.
“Just tell them the truth,” Yin advised straightforwardly. “What else can you do? Lying to them will only make everything that much worse when the truth comes out later. Man up and do it quickly so it won’t hurt as much,” he said with a playful chuckle and sent Luca a wry smile. Some fault was on Patrick’s shoulders, but most of it was Luca’s own fault. As such, there was no way around it. He needed to take responsibility for his screw-up and try to never repeat it again.
“Ugh…” Luca groaned for the second time, this time much more heavily. He understood that Yin was right, but that bright smile of his was making him feel worse instead of better. He wanted to be consoled, not cheered on to go and face the consequences…! Aaah!
“Either you tell them or we will,” Laien said with a grin, then laughed when Luca’s face turned a little pale and his expression became tense and nervous. “I’m just kidding… but really, if you don’t tell them, the news will get out sooner or later,” he mentioned consolingly and patted Luca on the back.
“Let’s go,” he encouraged cheerfully and headed first to the exit, then to the place where everyone was waiting for them.
Yin and Arslan followed after Laien without delay, while Luca fought with himself for a few seconds before chasing after him and the other two. He really didn’t want to face everyone right now as he kept telling himself that he wasn’t mentally prepared… but those three left him with no other choice.
“Maybe it really will hurt less if I do it quickly,” Luca murmured, hoping that Yin was right about this one thing and everybody wouldn’t be too angry with him.
A minute or so later, the four of them met up with Lea, Julien, Jasmine and the rest of the people who were biding their time and waiting for them to return.
“You are back! Took you a while,” Lea called out immediately and ran up to approach the boys. The spot between the buildings and the walls they were at was devoid of people, so she didn’t care about being too loud and didn’t mind behaving in a slightly inappropriate manner. She felt the urge to hug her little brother when she stopped in front of him, but her better senses prevented her from embarrassing him in this way in front of all those officers and hopefully, his new friends. “How did it go? Was Patrick angry? Did he let you go without putting forth any crazy conditions?” she asked impatiently, putting both of her hands on Luca’s shoulders. She saw that Luca was rather pale and looked worried, so she couldn’t help but worry if something hadn’t gone wrong.
“No, everything worked out…” Luca mumbled out, his was starting to grow flushed; he wanted to look his sister in the eye, but he no matter how hard he tried, his head refused to lift itself. Yeah… admitting that he had screwed up huge time was one thing, but telling those people that they were angry for nothing and that they should no longer bear ill will toward Patrick was the hardest part.
“Really?” Lea gripped Luca’s shoulder a bit more tightly. She looked away from her little brother and glanced at the other three boys, but she failed to recognize much from the slightly troubled smiles those three had on their faces. Yet, she wasn’t oblivious enough to accept what Luca said without asking any further questions; she just felt something was wrong and she wanted to know what it was.
“Speak,” Julien encouraged in a strong, serious voice. “If there’s any trouble we didn’t account for previously, we will deal with it. Patrick’s authority may be high, but in the end, I’m the Lord of this city,” he reassured with a smile that was both amicable and a little dangerous. It wasn’t hard to notice that his opinion of Patrick no longer was the same as it used to be.
“That’s right,” Jasmine spoke up too. “If it comes to the worst, we can stand behind your back too. A Magistrate represents a great deal of influence, but with the state the Eulene is in, he will think twice before creating bad blood between himself and White Guard,” she said with a flat-out scary smile. Unlike Julien, whose head had cooled down considerably, she was still furious at Patrick for intentionally failing to guide his disciple on the path of cultivation… or even for potentially scheming against the boy for some inexplicable reason.
“Just tell us what happened.”
“We can deal with whatever Patrick wants from you, don’t worry.”
“Come on, stop looking so depressed and start speaking.”
As more and more people began encouraging Luca, he himself could only groan silently. Each sentence was making him feel more guilty about everything he had ended up causing; how in the world was he supposed to tell them it was all a huge misunderstanding when they were all being so nice and understanding with him? He feared to think what would happen when he told them the truth; if only there was a way to make it as nothing had ever happened…!
At the same time, the looks on Laien, Yin and Arslan’s faces were becoming more and more awkward. Poor Luca… they sympathized with him, but the more he delayed, the harder it would be for him to explain. However, the kinda of promised not to do it for him, so they waited patiently, at least for the time being.
“Big sis,” Luca grit his teeth and finally forced himself to raise his head and look up. He swallowed heavily; the silence which fell the moment he spoke up wasn’t helping him to force the following words out of his throat and mouth in the slightest. “I’m sorry, everyone. It actually wasn’t just teacher’s fault… rather, it was mainly my own fault… I’m still teacher’s disciple, so nothing much happened, just some explaining…” he tried to say in as coherent manner as he could. Alas, he was quite obviously too nervous to string a sensible sentence together properly.
Thus, it wasn’t a surprise that most of those who were listening didn’t quite get what Luca was saying. They had an idea of what he meant… but they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their interpretation of Luca’s words was correct. That would be too… it just would be too weird.
“Luca.” Julien ended up being the one to respond the quickest. “Explain it to us one more time, this time slowly and in detail so there are no misunderstandings. I hope you realize how important it is to get everything straight in this situation,” he reminded somewhat sternly. He might have never liked Patrick, but the man was a Magistrate. If they had somehow made an enemy out of him because of some ridiculous failure in communication on Luca’s part which resulted in this whole affair, then… he didn’t even want to think about it. The only saving grace was the fact they didn’t spread the news of this matter before coming here to confront Patrick about it.
Faced with Julien’s angry tone, Luca involuntarily shrank into himself. He had been too prideful and too blind, so he caused everyone trouble. He wanted to do as he was told and to explain everything, but his throat was clenching so hard that he was incapable of uttering a word.
“Luca, would you mind if we explained the details for you?” Laien offered, feeling bad to watch Luca in this pitiful state. Luca was feeling guilty for what he had done; perhaps even more guilty than he himself would have felt in Luca’s place. Since Luca understood that he had done something stupid well enough to regret it, he saw no reason to have him suffer through this unpleasant situation longer than necessary and so, he offered him a hand.
Luca breathed with relief when he heard Laien’s offer. He quickly shook his head, confirming that he didn’t mind. He really was grateful to Laien for saving him from this predicament.
“Well,” Laien raised his voice a little, making sure that everyone could hear him clearly. “In brief words, the story goes as such. Luca was always self-taught and he happened to never learn what compression training was. He had a high level of insights, so no one noticed that his spiritual energy was weaker than it should have been. Then, he became Patrick’s disciple and even those who thought there might be something wrong with his training dared not to mention it. As for Patrick himself, he had told Luca he didn’t quite want a disciple and would only teach him the specific things Luca asked him about. For that reason, he never told Luca about the compression training,” he explained straightforwardly, without mentioning the useless little parts and the excuses made by both sides.
After Laien finished speaking, the two dozen people present fell silent. They all didn’t know what to think about this whole affair… Laien’s explanation was just too strange. Did series of unlucky coincidences and foolish decisions actually happen like that in real life? They could hardly believe it, but the more they thought about it the more sense Laien’s words made to them. Yes, at the very least, this explanation was more sensible than a Magistrate actively scheming against his disciple.
“Luca…” Lea moaned painfully, unsure what to think and feel. Wasn’t she also part of the problem? It was true that Luca should have noticed something sooner.. and it was true that Patrick should have at least mentioned the compression training to him… but she could have also done something to prevent this outcome! If she talked with some spiritual masters or if she tried reading some books about magic, then maybe this whole thing could have been avoided.
“You must be shitting me,” Julien said resignedly and looked up at the sky, caring little about the kind of words he was using in front of his subordinates. This situation was such a complete mess!
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edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 93. Confession.
“I’m sorry,” Luca said with his head hung down. “I didn’t want to cause everyone trouble. I should have known better… sorry…” he apologized in a shaky voice, wishing that it all could already be over so he could start training and make up for this huge fiasco.
“Enough,” Jasmine spoke up resolutely. “It’s not just your fault, but also of everyone around you. Even this old granny didn’t think to ask you more questions before getting ahead of herself, so what’s up with this mood as if someone just died? You said you are still Patrick’s disciple, right? So, is the situation solved or are there any problems that need to be solved?” she inquired after attempting to lighten up the annoyingly serious and bitter mood, in doing what she appeared to have been fairly successful if the less tense looks on everyone’s faces were of any indication.
“Y-yes,” Luca said hurriedly. However, a second later he realized he wasn’t quite making sense considering that Jasmine asked him two question, not one. Thus, he added quickly. “I’m still teacher’s disciple. We didn’t argue or anything and there isn’t any conflict or demands to take care of.”
“Good,” Jasmine nodded, a slight smile appearing on her lips. “Normally, I would have loved to give you a lecture, but then I would need to tell the same things to myself,” she mentioned and smiled at Luca, then chuckled quietly when the boy’s expression finally lightened up. “I suggest we all keep today’s events in mind, but let us not ponder them more than necessary,” she said and looked at everyone’s faces, gauging whether they were inclined to agree with her or not.
While the majority of those present were still a bit confounded, the thirteen years old friend of Luca’s laughed a little. “Luca’s always been too emotional and stubborn, but the same can be said about the rest of us, no? It sure came to bite us back in the ass,” he said lightheartedly and glanced at Luca with a warm smile.
“That’s right,” Lea agreed energetically. “It wasn’t just Luca’s fault, we all screwed up in some ways,” she empathized, unwilling to see her little brother bear the consequences alone.
“You guys… sheesh,” Julien shook his head. “Aye, I get it. No one will be punished this time around, else like you are saying, I would need to punish myself too,” he said with a little sigh. It looked like everyone was on Luca’s side this time around and just like they were saying, he wasn’t blameless either. Although as a General, and especially in front of his officers, he shouldn’t let such matters go unpunished, he decided that just once it would be fine to make an exception.
However, contrary to the overall mood that became relaxed, Luca couldn’t help but clench his fists in frustration. “Stop it already! It’s not ‘everyone’s fault’, it’s my fault!” he raised his voice in helpless anger but didn’t quite go as far as to shout; he still had that much self-restraint left. “I’m really thankful you are all being understanding, but it’s only making it worse! I feel bad for being an idiot and causing all this unnecessary trouble and I do apologize for it very much, but I don’t need to be patted on the head. I’m no longer a child, I need to take the responsibility for what I did,” he said with a strong conviction, having just made a choice to face the issue head-on instead of averting his gaze and making excuses the whole time.
Perhaps as it should be expected, Luca’s words amazed the whole two dozen plus people present, causing a newfound respect to appear in the eyes of the officers and youths alike. Yet, there was one person who reacted somewhat differently; the pride in Julien’s gaze quickly changed into amusement as he smirked wryly. “You want to take the responsibility, huh? I guess I can take it that it means you want to be punished?” he asked teasingly, unable to prevent the smirk on his face from growing bigger and bigger.
“N-no, uh… that’s…” Almost instantly, the conviction displayed by Luca a moment ago shattered into pieces. He indeed wanted to take responsibility, but being punished by General Julien was a little… he wanted to spend his time training, not doing the miserable and pointless tasks Julien liked to assign as punishments! “Please spare me,” he pleaded helplessly as his shoulders sunk downward. He hadn’t ever been punished by Julien and he certainly didn’t want to experience the painful meaninglessness of doing something utterly worthless like ‘separating the grains by shape and color’ for seven days straight, only for the contents of the meticulously prepared tens of huge buckets to be thrown back onto the pile of grain and into the interspatial rings.
Julien chortled at Luca’s reaction as did many of the adults and youths in their group. “Just focus on training diligently and grow to be a powerful warrior of our country. If you do so, I doubt anyone will have any complaints,” Julien said with a smile. It wasn’t like anyone here
“I will,” Luca responded simply, feeling both motivated to fix his mistakes and relieved to not face a punishment. “I guess that for now, I will focus on training and doing my job as a guide,” he mentioned with a slight smile and glanced at Laien. The explanation and apology were done with, but this situation still felt a bit awkward to him; he wanted to move on already and leave it all behind.
Laien chuckled a little. He could recognize the look in Luca’s eyes and to be honest, he was in agreement with him. “If we are done, how about we get going? The sooner we get to the capital and drop off our five thousand people, the better,” he mentioned lightheartedly.
“Capital…” Julien murmured but then shook his head, opting not to bring the matter up. “Yeah, it’s time for us to get going,” he supported straightforwardly.
“Us?” Laien asked curiously. He didn’t hear anything about Julien tagging along with them before, but having a General accompany them would surely make everything easier.
Julien smiled and nodded in confirmation. “You guys helped one of my men when he needed it, so we need to return the favor,” he said with a laugh. He hadn’t been planning to go out of his way to accompany this bunch as he would certainly get complaints from those greasy Grand Elders if he neglected his duty to guard the border for such a reason, but he decided it would be worth it. They had not only all proved to be people he could respect, but they also were personas worth befriending with future in mind; especially those three boys, Laien, Yin and Arslan. With the above in mind, he could bear with the nagging and complaining of those old demented freaks.
Laien raised an eyebrow at Julien’s words and looked at Luca, who appeared to be just as troubled as he was amused. Technically speaking, the three of them hadn’t helped Luca all that much, but it looked like Julien wasn’t an ungrateful person who would bring it up just to not owe them that much of a favor. Still, this honest attitude of Julien’s was inevitably causing Luca to feel ashamed; no matter how one looked at it, it was him who was getting the short end of the stick in this whole situation.
“Okay, thanks,” Laien responded casually and after Julien nodded slightly, he was about to start heading back to the caravan, alas.
“Wait a second!” Lea spoke up, then blushed slightly when everyone turned to look at her; she really did raise her voice a little bit too much. However, she shrugged the awkward feeling off and looked Laien in the eye. “First, let me fight you. Wasn’t the deal that all seven of us can challenge you?” she brought up out of the blue, thus throwing Laien and the rest of those present off by a fair bit.
“Uh, sure,” Laien agreed easily despite feeling confused by this sudden request. Lea was just a martial masters of the first rank, so unless she was an absolute freak, he felt confident in making do with her in a few exchanges. “Maybe I should go easy on her in more spar-like fashion? Luca was going all-out, but maybe she simply intends to make it an experience while hoping to gain some insights,” he mused,
“So you accept then, yes?” Lea inquired just to make sure, for some reason being fairly persistent in getting a clear confirmation from Laien.
“Yeah,” Laien answered after a brief pause. In a normal situation, he probably wouldn’t have thought about it, but considering the kind of wordplay he had gone through with Patrick, he couldn’t help but smirk a little as he wondered if that thing was Lea’s aim. If so, then she really was quite a little fiend.
“Good,” Lea said with a smile. “I concede,” she added with a merry laugh, causing everyone but Laien to become dumbfounded.
“Why would you…” Julien began asking with a frown on his face, but when he recalled the conditions under which those seven were allowed to fight against Laien, he understood Lea’s intentions; and when he did, he let out a sigh and laughed resignedly. “This girl, did you think I wouldn’t let you accompany us if you asked? Why go through this trouble?” he asked a bit helplessly.
“That’s simple,” Lea replied with a playful smile. “This way I don’t owe you a favor, General. Isn’t it best to take the most optimal course of actions possible?” she asked and laughed once again. Her conviction not to repeat the same mistakes of not paying attention to her surroundings and decisions wasn’t an empty one, so she quickly made use of her brain and came up with this little roundabout method to tag along with Luca. It’s been quite some time since she had an opportunity to spend leisure time with her little brother, so she intended to make use of the opportunity.
However… there was also one more thing to her decision. As this thought passed through her mind, her cheeks flushed ever so slightly and her gaze was involuntarily drawn to Laien and Yin. Those two were younger than her by a few fair years, but in the long term what was the mere few years to practitioners with lifespans counted in centuries? She definitely wanted to use this opportunity to get closer to those two boys… and while Yin was dazzlingly beautiful, she needed to admit that Laien was more in her type, and it would be the more so in a few more years when he would grow out of his still slightly child-like looks and become a full-fledged young man.
“Urgh, women,” Julien shook his head. She didn’t want to owe him a favor? He was forced to admit Lea went about it the smart way, but it didn’t mean that he liked it at all.
“Let me fight you too,” the thirteen years old friend of Luca’s requested with a chuckle. “And since I didn’t formally introduce myself before, I’m Daniel,” he mentioned casually, not bothering to hide his intentions. He could see Julien rolling his eyes out the corner of his eye, but he didn’t mind and in fact, he was quite amused by it.
“Okay,” Laien responded with a half-amused half-helpless laugh. “Do you concede too?” he asked wryly.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. “I’m looking forward to traveling with you guys,” he added happily, content with this outcome. Since he and Luca were usually spending most of their time training together, it wasn’t like he missed talking with him like Lea did. However, he had never left the Fortress-City of Lugna in his life. He wanted to see some of the Federation and have fun with Luca and the others in the meantime; working was fine and all, but sometimes he just wanted to relax a little.
“Anyone else?” Laien asked and looked at the remaining four friends of Luca and Lea’s. Did they also want to tag along in this silly way? If so, then he would rather have it done all at once than to go through the same exchange four more times; after the third time, it wouldn’t be funny anymore, but purely annoying.
The four either answered negatively or shook their heads in response. They were all friends, but they didn’t feel the need to do everything together. Since the four of them weren’t especially enthusiastic about tagging along, they wouldn’t force themselves either. It would be enough if Luca, Lea and Daniel had their fun; they were fine with staying in Lugna and spending their days like usual.
“Mhm.” Laien waited a few more seconds and looked at everyone to see if anything else would be brought up. When he saw that no one was saying anything, he began walking and led the way back to the caravan.
After a little over twenty minutes of walking, their group arrived at the destination without any complications. The only event worth mentioning was Julien shuffling his men to pick those who would come with him. By the looks of it, he intended to take none of the city’s officers and instead, sent for his thirty-five Cherubim to be called for. This choice of Julien’s proved to be of some surprise to Laien and the others since the strength of this unit was a force to be reckoned with; they couldn’t help but wonder if really was fine for so many experts to leave the border at once.
After all, including Julien himself, Cherubim consisted of twelve martial masters of the fifth rank, fourteen martial masters of the fourth rank and ten martial masters of the third rank. The unit was a highly mobile death squad that would be terrifying to face in the mountains of the Ruishi Federation; it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they alone would be capable of stopping an army of one hundred thousand with the terrain advantage the Eagle Pass provided to them.
Yet, according to Julien, their absence wouldn’t be that much of a problem specifically because those people were his, and only his subordinates. This kind of an answer was fairly vague, but since Julien refused to give a detailed explanation, they had no other choice but to be satisfied with what they got.
“You’re back,” Albert greeted with Johan and Sarah by his side. “How did it go?” he inquired curiously but even without asking, he could tell everything had gone well just from the expression of Laien’s. It was contrary to what he had expected when he started talking with those two for the first time, but it unexpectedly was Laien who was easier to figure out. In contrast, Yin, who appeared to be extremely easygoing and lighthearted, was much harder to see through.
“It went really well,” Laien said with a laugh and exchanged a glance with Johan. He would tell him what happened like promised, but he would heed Patrick’s advice and not mention the tomes he and Yin had gotten their hands on. Perhaps it would be best not to mention them to Arslan either… but that was something the two of them would need to talk out before coming to any conclusion.
“We are ready to leave at any moment,” Sarah informed calmly. Unlike Albert or Johan, she felt there was a distance between her and Laien and Yin, so she couldn’t bring herself to speak quite as casually with them as she might have wanted. Their conflict had already been settled some days ago, but the sour aftertaste remained.
“Wait a few more minutes,” Julien joined the conversation. “After my men arrive with the horses, we can go,” he added for the sake of explanation.
Sarah and the rest of those who heard Julien were a bit startled to learn they would be escorted by the General himself, but they didn’t delve into the matter. In the end, it wasn’t up to them to question Julien’s decisions; it was easy to forget because of the casual attitude of those three little masters and their guards who were with them since the beginning, but nobles and powerful practitioners weren’t people to be offended, be it accidentally or not.
“Do we go back into the carriage?” Arslan asked and laughed a little, and so did Laien and Yin, thus making quite a few of those listening wonder what was so funny about this question. As for what the reason for the three of them laughing was… well, it was simple. They enjoyed their time in that carriage a lot, what was likely quite surprising considering it was a mere carriage that would drive most young nobles mad due to boredom. They just found this unlikely fondles of carriages of theirs to be weirdly funny, nothing more, nothing less.
“Do you three guides want to tag along?” Laien asked since he was in a good mood. The carriage they were traveling in was very spacious to begin with. It wouldn’t be a problem to have ten more people join, much less three. As those guys would be serving as their guides, he thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see if they would get along well in the long run or not. If they did then great and if not, there would be no harm done.
“Yeah, thanks,” Luca replied with a smile and secretly sighed with relief. The thought of sharing the carriage with some people he didn’t know at all, or even worse with those men of Julien’s was making him feel anxious. He was glad he would be spared the unpleasant experience.
“Happily,” Lea said brightly. She wouldn’t have accepted any other option than to travel with those guys; that was half of the point of her coming with this caravan.
Seeing that Daniel appeared not to have any objections either, Laien left the management to Albert, Sarah and the adults and went back to the carriage with everyone else. Their caravan then set out about five minutes later, all according to the expectations. With Julien leading the way, they headed further north-east, deeper into the Ruishi Federation and towards its capital, the City of Barn.
The day passed quickly and soon, it started getting dark. The caravan would have needed to stop for the night, but thanks to Julien’s knowledge of the terrain, they crossed well over two hundred kilometers and by using a few shortcuts, arrived at the beginning of the main road that was leading deeper into the lands of the Ruishi Federation. With a leveled path before them and with good horses pulling the carriages, they didn’t need to stop and thus continued traveling through the night.
Meanwhile, within the foremost carriage, the passengers were each doing what they wanted. Reian and Kasha were training quietly in one corner, Jasmine had long since left and joined Julien and his men on the horses, while Sirius was acting as a coachman just like every other time. As for the youths, with the exception of Sarah, who refused to come, everyone else was sitting more or less in one area within the carriage. They would exchange a few sentences amongst each other and from time to time get involved in a longer conversation, but with how much time had passed, it couldn’t be helped that they all became relatively silent, especially when it started getting dark outside.
“Here goes a whole day without physical training,” Lea mused quietly. “When was the last time I skipped on practice, I wonder? I can’t remember… but it should be okay since I did the Qi training properly,” she thought randomly, allowing her thoughts to wander as they pleased. She recalled some events from her childhood, some fun and pleasant, other painful or dull… then, she started thinking about the last three years, about her own future and about Luca’s future… and soon enough, her thoughts returned to the matter at hand that was causing her to feel a bit annoyed.
“Is he that clueless, or is he not interested in women yet?” she asked herself rather angrily and sneaked a glance at Laien, who at the moment was chatting quietly with that green-haired friend of his. She was fairly confident in her looks; her hair was long and silky, her skin was perfect, her figure wasn’t overly muscular… and well, although it annoyed her when that was pointed out as her strength, her breasts were on the bigger side. She had been trying to chat Laien up multiple times so far, but without exception, the talk would dissolve into a discussion everyone joined either out of Laien’s initiative or because of Yin or Arslan’s disruptions, which honestly caused her to feel a bit frustrated… or truth to be told, really frustrated. Did those two boys have a grudge against her or something? The fact that she couldn’t discern whether they were doing so intentionally or not from their behavior had been making the level of her frustration rise steadily the whole time.
“Do I really need to be more straightforward?” she wondered, only able to sigh at the thought. She had trouble accepting she couldn’t even make an adolescent boy interested in her without being too obvious about her intentions, but her patience had pretty much reached its limits. If she wanted to make something out of this whole thing, then she only had a few days up to a few weeks at most. There was no time to be ‘slowly building up a friendship and waiting for a good opportunity’. Instead, it seemed like she needed to create the opportunity herself.
“To begin with, I need to get him away from those two,” she thought while looking in Laien’s direction. From the very beginning until now, Yin was sitting to Laien’s left and Arslan to Laien’s right; with those two being an obstacle, she couldn’t approach him properly even if she wanted. “Might as well try now. If it doesn’t work out, then I will try again when we stop somewhere,” she decided.
“I should wait for them to stop talking first,” she thought a bit resignedly. She was planning to put a stop to the conversation of those two, not to join it, so she needed to wait for an appropriate moment to do so. Were she to try when they were obviously in the middle of talking about something while enjoying themselves, it would increase the chances of Laien refusing her; and to begin with, even if Laien agreed it would cause him to be in a worse mood while chatting with her.
However… what she didn’t expect was that this random, quiet chat between those two would start dragging on mercilessly. Every time she was about to speak up, she saw one of them say something else. Thus, she ended up watching the two go on for almost an hour while laughing and chuckling, what resulted in her accumulating quite some unnecessary stress. Thankfully, the two boys stopped talking after just about an hour passed, what gave her a chance to make her approach.
She rose up from her spot beside one of the front wall of the carriage and got closer to the youths, then crouched in front of them and looked Laien in the eye. “Say, could we talk alone, on the side, for a little bit? There’s something I wanted to tell you,” she requested in a soft voice, trying not to gather too much attention with what she was doing.
“And you can’t tell me that here?” Laien raised his eyebrows slightly. He was sitting really comfortably at the moment so he really didn’t feel like moving.
“Well… I would rather not,” Lea said in an appealing tone, hoping that Laien wouldn’t insist on speaking where they were.
“Eh, okay,” Laien agreed reluctantly. His impression of Lea was very good so far and he thought he could get along with her well in the following days, so he gave in to her request. After Lea smiled in thanks and moved first, he followed her to the opposite side of the carriage that wasn’t occupied by anyone. “So, what is it about?” he inquired after sitting down lazily and leaning against the wall.
“Mm,” Lea also sat down, seating herself to Laien’s right, just close enough for their shoulders and legs to lightly brush against each other. “I wanted to thank you for getting along with Luca and helping him when he needed it... as his older sister, I’m really grateful,” she said quietly and smiled warmly.
Not quite sure what he was supposed to say to that, Laien only shrugged his shoulders slightly. “You’re welcome, I guess?” he said, feeling a bit confused. Was this really something he needed to be thanked for and in a semi-private conversation at that? It seemed rather pointless to him. “It that all you wanted to tell me…?” he asked, thinking it would have been perfectly fine if she had said that without dragging him to the side.
“No… there’s one more thing,” Lea mentioned both shyly and daringly. She leaned a little closer to Laien while looking him in the eye, then put her right hand on his leg, just below his thigh. “I wanted to ask… what if I also want to become good friends with you?” she asked, her slightly flushed cheeks making her appear extremely cute and alluring as she did so.
Laien felt his face get a bit hot due to the closeness of Lea’s body and due to the implicit context that was behind her words, but he breathed out slowly the next moment and calmed down. “Sure, we can be friends too,” he replied casually, grabbed Lea’s hand and put it on Lea’s own leg, removing it from his thigh. It didn’t feel bad to have such a strong and beautiful young woman show interest in him, but he simply wasn’t keen on developing any kind of a relationship with her.
It took quite some effort on Lea’s part to prevent the feelings of surprise and confusion from showing on her face. She had expected many things to happen, but she didn’t think Laien would turn her down without blinking an eye. In fact, this rejection of her advances was so cool-headed on Laien’s part that it made her wonder if he really understood what she meant. After all, it would make much more sense if Laien was unusually innocent for his age than for him to reject her like that, or so she assumed in her thoughts.
“We can be friends then,” she began saying with a warm smile. “But what if I want to be something more than friends? Would that be possible too?” she asked enticingly and quite straightforwardly, having come to the conclusion that it was the best way to make her intentions clear to Laien.
“I don’t think so,” Laien answered clearly, the advances of Lea’s proving to have little effect on him apart from making him feel a little ashamed. “Sorry. Is that everything?” he apologized and asked, on one hand feeling sorry for rejecting Lea and on the other, wanting to get out of this awkward situation as soon as possible.
Speechless, Lea could only nod in answer to Laien’s question, then watch him return to his original spot. She hadn’t ever imagined that an adolescent boy would turn her down without a second thought and although she wasn’t angry, she was fairly frustrated. This was a huge blow to her self-confidence, one that would take a while to recover.
“I can’t believe she was trying to hit on him,” Daniel whispered to Luca. They might not have heard what was being said, but Lea’s body language was obvious enough for them to reach certain conclusions. However, the surprise of Lea showing interest in Laien paled in comparison to the fact that she appeared to have been rejected! That great ‘big sister character’ Lea had always displayed in the city finally suffered a dent; it was making Daniel feel like chuckling due to all the amusement.
“Ugh, big sis…” Luca shook his head. He had been suspecting something with how strongly Lea had been trying to chat Laien up throughout the day, but he didn’t think she would do something as embarrassing as trying to hit on him when everyone was watching. As her little brother, he was genuinely ashamed of his big sister’s preposterous behavior and shameful results of it.
“Uu,” Lea moaned silently. She was only now beginning to realize that she hadn’t been nearly as secretive as she thought in her actions; she could see everyone sneaking glances at her and revealing weird smiles. If possible, she just wanted to disappear. She had really done something stupid… but just a second later, her train of thoughts stopped as she noticed something unusual happening.
“Laien,” Yin said quietly and raised himself up. Then, when Laien turned his face to look at him, he placed a light but fairly long and deep kiss on his lips. A few seconds later, he separated himself from Laien and smiled at him. He could feel that his own face was flushed red since he really wasn’t used to taking initiative in those things when people were watching, but so was Laien’s, likely because he didn’t quite expect to be kissed out of nowhere.
Satisfied, Yin slid back onto the pillow he was sitting on and sent a competitive look toward Lea, causing her mouth to involuntarily open a little.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited January 2
Happy new year~
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 94. Change of Plans.
“Eeeeh?!” Lea barely stopped the embarrassing cry from escaping her mouth when Yin looked at her with that challenging look on his face, but she still cried out within her heart. “Wait a second, so he wasn’t a boy? Was I trying to steal someone else’s boyfriend? No, but I’m still pretty sure he’s a boy…” Overwhelmed by those random thoughts, she could only stare at Laien and Yin in a flabbergasted manner.
Usually, she would have probably been able to collect herself much quicker, but now? Her mental state had already suffered a blow when Laien rejected her straightforward invitation to become a couple; he hadn’t even given thought to the possibility of giving it a try! Then, she had been emotionally assaulted by this green-haired youth; how could she possibly keep her calm in such a situation?
Coincidentally, it wasn’t only Lea who was rather shocked at the moment. Luca and Daniel were both equally speechless and in their case, they were also really confused and embarrassed by what they had seen. The two of them had spent all of their lives training and studying, and to make the matters worse, they both spent their early adolescent years in the military, in the Fortress-City of Lugna. They had pretty much no experience in dating and moreover, they hadn’t even given it much thought. Thus, seeing two boys…? Seeing those two kiss out of nowhere inevitably caused them to feel greatly embarrassed.
“He is a boy, isn’t he?” Luca asked quietly. He had his own doubts in the beginning, but from the way everyone spoke and behaved around Yin, he finally assumed that Yin was a boy. Yet, now he began doubting this assessment of his. Was he wrong and Yin was just a boyish, beautiful girl? “It’s either that or…” he thought, then immediately began blushing wildly. He had stumbled upon his seniors doing things like kissing a few times before but despite that, he couldn’t help feeling embarrassed.
“I think so,” Daniel murmured in response. “So boys can do that too, huh,” he added a bit more loudly than he intended to and immediately felt his face grow bright red. Almost everyone in this carriage was a strong practitioner with excellent hearing, so even those softly spoken words of his were probably heard by them. Feeling really hot and bothered, he glanced at Luca and luck just so it had that their gazes met. “Wow, he’s all red too…” he thought and laughed weakly, then partially hid his face behind his legs which he pulled up to his chest.
“That’s quite a reaction,” Laien mused with a laugh and with an amused smile on his face. He had been taken by surprise when Yin kissed him, but he didn’t mind playing around a little in front of others to begin with, so his focus quickly shifted to other things than feeling all shy. “I wonder what’s up with those two? I can understand Lea since Yin is pecking at her, but they are overacting so much,” he thought while glancing at the two beet-red thirteen-year-olds.
It wasn’t all that surprising for Luca and Daniel to be reacting in this way though. Unlike the carefree attitude of the southerners and the simplistic attitude of Ikarians, the customs related to relations between men and women were more stringent in the Ruishi Federation. Although it wasn’t anything strange for one to date and kiss at the age Luca and Daniel were, the customs tended to be more strict in the military. When one added the rigorous training that left one with no strength at the end of every day to this whole balance, it was only natural that there were hardly any youths who still had the energy to pursue the slowly growing needs of their maturing bodies.
Thus, in the Ruishi Federation, most of the youths remained fairly innocent, if not sometimes outright oblivious, until their late teenage years. In most of the big cities it generally was frowned upon for any serious relationships to be developed before the age of fifteen, while in the army it was practically forbidden with the exception for the situations that involved some special circumstances; for example, when the pair had been promised to each other by the heads of their respective noble families, where the future marriage was pretty much a certainty, or when those involved held a high enough social status for their superiors to turn a blind eye to their frivolousness.
However, those exceptions were fairly rare, so in comparison to those who were brought up in the south or in the west, the youths of the Ruishi Federation were usually introduced to the intimate matters a fair few years later. What in other parts of the world was considered normal, like boys and girls joining into couples as early as at the age of eleven or twelve, would be considered a huge scandal in the Ruishi Federation… so Luca and Daniel really couldn’t be blamed for reacting as they did to the unexpected scene that played out before their eyes.
“Um, just to be sure,” Lea finally calmed herself down after a moment and spoke up with a careful, apologetic smile. “You are a boy, right?” she asked with an embarrassed laugh.
Arslan, Albert and Johan could resist no more and chuckled at this question of Lea’s, whereas Reian and Kasha, who had been listening in with their eyes closed, revealed slight smiles. Being thrown into a situation like this one was unavoidable if one wanted to hang around Laien and Yin; one way or another, something silly or something adventure-like would always pop up.
“Well, what do you think?” Yin asked playfully. However, despite his casual attitude, his face was still flushed and he was yet to cool down… mainly because he could tell what Laien was thinking.
“I think you are a boy,” Lea answered, her voice containing a trace of hopefulness. As long as Yin was a boy, she could at least save a bit of her dignity… but if he turned out to be a girl, then she would have lost completely and absolutely on all fronts. It was one thing to be ousted by a younger boy and a whole other thing to be defeated by a younger, incredibly beautiful girl.
“Who knows?” Yin replied with a somewhat wry smile and shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t dislike Lea even after she tried to hit on Laien since he could recognize that she had no ill intentions, but he needed to get back at her a little for trying to take away Laien for herself.
“Oi.” Laien chuckled and placed his hand on Yin’s shoulders, then pulled him closer asked with a smirk. “Since when do you tease people like that, huh?”
Yin chuckled too and responded lightheartedly. “I told you already, no? Your behavior is rubbing off on me.”
“So it’s my fault now, huh?” Laien asked with a laugh and tugged Yin, quickly pulling him down onto the numerous pillows that were lying around everywhere. The two of them proceeded to laugh and wrestle while trying to tickle each other, pretty much following their usual routine while forgetting they were in the center of everyone’s attention.
While those present who were familiar with Laien and Yin weren’t surprised, Lea, Luca and Daniel couldn’t help but feel rather helpless. They weren’t used to having the mood switch so suddenly and in the middle of a conversation. They all felt it was rather improper to act like Laien and Yin were, to ignore everything and everyone around them without a care in the world, but they couldn’t bring themselves to complain to them.
“If you are still wondering, he is a boy,” Reian opened his eyes and said with a smile, taking pity on Lea and those two boys. “We’ve had a chance to confirm when they were bathing-… whoa!” he began saying with a wry smile, but then he was forced to quickly raise his hand and defend from a small ball of ice and water that was flung straight toward his face. Having blocked the attack, he laughed helplessly and circulated his Qi to remove the layer of ice from his hand and forearm. He was only mentioning that accident offhandedly, there was no need for Laien to stare at him so angrily!
*Gulp* The three youths from Lugna swallowed at the same time. Scary… this exchange seemed casual, but that ball of ice and water would have been enough to heavily injure either of them. It was only because the one on the receiving end was an elite martial master of the third rank like Reian that it looked like a harmless play from the bystander’s perspective. Quietly, they promised themselves to not ever try peeking at those two while they were bathing, no matter how curious about Yin’s gender they were.
“Um,” Daniel spoke up hesitatingly, looking like he was fighting himself about whether he should ask the question he wanted to or not. “So, are you two seriously… you know, going out, or are you just playing around?” he asked, his face for some reason reddening all the way up to his ears.
Still lying down next to each other, Laien and Yin glanced at Daniel with curiosity and quite some amusement. Was Daniel embarrassed by the question itself, or was there something more to it that caused him to be so fidgety? They chuckled as they thought about it, then exchanged a glance. How were they supposed to answer this question, exactly? They had pretty much admitted to being lovers when Arslan asked them during that bathing incident, but just thinking of it in those terms was causing both of them to feel quite embarrassed. It wasn’t like either of them asked the other out or anything at any point… everything simply had gone along its natural course.
“Why are you asking though?” Laien asked in the end, maneuvering out of answering Daniel’s question. No matter how easygoing he and Yin were, they still found some things to be too troubling to answer half-heartedly.
The distraction seemed to have worked well enough as Daniel no longer was able to look them in the eye; judging by his agitated reaction, he really had been thinking about something else when asking that question of his… and although Luca didn’t notice anything particularly weird about his best friend’s reaction, Lea certainly did given how used she was to observing people and making character judgments backed on their small perks and habits or the way they talked.
“I was just curious…” Daniel said in a low voice, still refusing to look in anyone’s direction as he focused his gaze on one of the nearby pillows.
“Curious, huh?” Laien asked wryly. “Don’t you mean interested?~” he inquired teasingly and laughed when Daniel began fidgeting as if he wanted to find a place to hide.
“I told you I got that from you,” Yin pointed out with a laugh and grinned at Laien. For a second, the two of them felt like starting to fool around again… but they had been about to train when this situation emerged a few minutes ago, so they wordlessly agreed to leave playing for tomorrow.
“Interested?” Luca asked himself silently and glanced at Daniel. “But interested in wha-… no, no. It can’t be.” He shook his head strongly and denied the possibility, just the thought of it causing him to feel very, very awkward. “Uuh, this is worse than when big sister teases me... much worse,” he complained in his heart. This kind of nervousness, although it was very different, was nearly as bad as when he was making the apology to everyone in the morning.
In contrast to Luca and Daniel, who wished they could just disappear, Lea regained her liveliness as she was met with an incredibly entertaining possibility which she hadn’t ever considered before. She revealed a devilish smile, already looking forward to all the fun she could have when teasing Luca and Daniel about it, but she decided not to start immediately. The emotions of those two were already too heated up at the moment; it was better to let them calm down before teasing them again.
With Luca and Daniel falling into a few-minute-long silence, the atmosphere within the carriage quickly cooled down. However, just as everyone was either about to engross themselves in training, daydreaming or sleeping, a loud shout was carried over by the wind and echoed quite a few times in the valley-like area they were travelling through.
“Stop!... Stop…! Stop… Stop… stop… sto… p…”
“What’s up with that?” Laien complained unhappily. He just began concentrating and falling into the meditative state, but yet another disruption appeared. He couldn’t believe it was something like mountain bandits unless those people were the stupidest and unluckiest bastards in the world. So, the only option left was… a patrol of some kind? The fact that this shout sounded quite overbearing worked against this theory though. After all, who in the Ruishi Federation would dare to order one of the country’s generals around in such a tone?
“Stop the horses!”
Julien’s shout came rolling through the road a few seconds later, causing the whole caravan to come to a quick halt.
“You might want to come out and see…” Sirius spoke with the aid of spiritual energy from the coachman’s spot, sending his voice into the carriage. “If I remember correctly, those are the banners of one of those two Great Generals of the Ruishi Federation,” he added calmly. He saw no reason to be nervous even if one of the Great Generals appeared, so the tone of his voice reflected his state of mind.
“Tch,” Laien clicked his tongue and stood up. “it’s not like I will be able to focus on training soon anyway,” he complained and headed outside. With him leading the way, Yin and the rest of the youths and adults from the carriage tagged along and went to the forefront where Julien, Jasmine and the rest of the horsemen were.
“Which Great General is that?” Laien asked casually after stopping in front of Julien and Jasmine. He looked at the oncoming group of… thirty-six riders, if he counted correctly? It seemed that moving with exactly thirty-six men in an elite unit was pretty common in the Ruishi Federation. They were still around two kilometers away, but he could vaguely make out the figure of a woman who was heading this unit. If he was guessing correctly, she should be that Great General Sirius mentioned.
“It’s Victoria,” Julien answered sourly. “What is this lapdog doing here? She rarely ever leaves the capital,” he added with a slight frown on his face. From his limited experience, he could tell that a random appearance of a Magistrate or a Great General more often than not wouldn’t bode well. It would be the more so true when someone uptight like Victoria was the one making the appearance.
“It there something wrong with her?” Laien inquired. He definitely preferred to keep up this chit-chat for a bit than to stand in silence for a minute or two until Victoria and her thirty-five riders closed the distance and arrived before them. “Did they really need to tell us to stop so soon? What a waste of time,” he grumbled quietly. He really enjoyed training and meditating on his insights, so he couldn’t help but be frustrated. Being interrupted once for the sake of something amusing wasn’t that bad, but by the looks of it, this time the event would be more annoying rather than amusing.
“Let’s just say that we don’t get along well,” Julien replied with a helpless laugh. “She’s the type that always follows the rules to the letter and obeys all orders of the Grand Elders. You won’t be able to get through to her no matter what, so don’t bother trying… it’s a waste of time,” he advised, having learned a thing or two about the character of Laien and his friends. If possible, he would rather avoid the unnecessary trouble.
“Sure,” Laien shrugged his shoulders. “As long as she isn’t unreasonable, there will be no need to argue,” he added, thus causing Julien to shake his head. Didn’t he just finish telling Laien that Victoria wasn’t a reasonable person? Well, maybe he should have pointed out that the Council was usually the unreasonable one and it was them who made the laws and rules.
“What do you think they came here for?” Arslan inquired, feeling a bit worried about their own well-being. What if they were told to leave the country immediately? What would they do then? Of course, given what Jasmine and Julien had told him, a possibility of that happening was extremely low if not non-existent, but he couldn’t help but worry a little regardless.
“I could speculate,” Julien began saying. “But there’s no time. They are already fairly close. We should wait and see what this woman wants from us,” he finished saying and sighed ever so slightly. Out of all the Generals and Great Generals, he disliked Victoria the most. Why did it need to be her who came blocking their way and not someone else? Eh.
“General Julien,” the black-haired, black-eyed, dignified-looking woman greeted Julien formally and briefly. “You should have welcomed the Grand Yimar Mustafa’s son, Arslan, and received five thousand refugees from the Faren Yimarate. From what I’m seeing, the news ought to be true. You will now follow us. We will take you to the Council of Grand Elders,” she informed, toward the latter half speaking as if she was stating an unarguable fact.
“Do we need your escort?” Julien asked resignedly. “We were going to the capital anyway,” he added and suppressed a sigh. What were those Grand Elders thinking? Did they not want to thank him for bringing Arslan over so bad that they would go out of their way to send Victoria over to receive the boy before he arrived? He never could understand what those old freaks were thinking.
“We won’t be going to the capital,” Victoria said unconcernedly, though with a hint of displeasure present in her voice. “We are going to the Grand Camp, one hundred kilometers north from here. All thirteen Grand Elders are there and they very much want to see Mustafa’s son,” she explained without bothering to go into the details of the situation.
“Wait a second, Grand Camp? What is that and why is the whole council there?” Julien asked immediately. He had a really bad feeling about this course of events, but he wished he was wrong about it.
Victoria snorted in response, the way she looked at Julien resembling how one would look at something incredibly repugnant. “All the unneeded refugees had been gathered into the Grand Camp to prevent an increase in the social unrest. The Council is debating what should be done with them. That’s all we need to know,” she explained, undoubtedly repeating the words she had heard when she had received the orders some weeks or months ago.
“WHAT was done?” Julien asked, his previously placid tone turning into an extremely angry one. “Don’t tell me they are planning to expel all of them from the country? That’s crazy! Do you know what Ikarians are going to do to them the moment they set foot on their lands? Did those old gooses forget the Bloody Dusk?” he kept asking, getting more riled up with each question. He couldn’t forgive those Ikarians who slaughtered millions upon millions of innocent civilians, but if those crazy Grand Elders did something like that…! He would no longer be able to bring himself to obey them!
“None of that matters,” Victoria said calmly and rather disdainfully. “That attitude of yours is the reason why the gag order had been issued,” she added angrily, but soon came to regret that she allowed her tongue to slip. It was unlike her to care about whatever people who weren’t her subordinates did, but Julien had always been one of the few who could get on her nerves badly enough for her to start acting strangely. Though, considering that she couldn’t stand everything about his attitude and actions, it wasn’t all that surprising to her that she was getting angry with him on each step and on each possible occasion.
“Gag order, those bastards!” Julien cursed through his teeth, some killing intent beginning to seep out of his body. His Cherubim weren’t all that much calmer either; they looked like they would pounce upon the first person who challenged them, akin to wild beasts who thirsted for blood. The men and women of Julien’s unit all shared one common trait; passionate hatred of Ikarians! Most of them were experts who were forced to flee the other three Euleanian countries too. Just learning about the plans of the Council and that whole gag order was making them mad and furious.
“Just to remind you, General Julien,” Victoria spoke up again, this time without allowing as much of her emotions to show. “If you disobey the Council, you will be punished. If you attempt to avoid the punishment, you will be captured and possibly put to death,” she stated coldly, with a clear hint of threat present deep within her eyes.
Julien might be the rising star of the Federation in terms of strength and his results in defending the border were undeniable, but he was still far from being her match. She wasn’t all that much older than him either… and she was already half a step into the seventh Realm of Heroes in martial cultivation. If they were to fight, she was confident in crushing Julien in ten exchanges. Her subordinates might be inferior to Julien’s people overall… but it wouldn’t matter as long as she defeated him swiftly and joined the battle afterward. She and her elites alone were enough to subdue Julien and his Cherubim if needed; she was fully confident of that.
“… I do realize that, thank you,” Julien said grudgingly but didn’t argue with Victoria, knowing fully well how pointless it would be.
“There should be a way for those five thousand to stay, no?” Laien brought up in the moment of silence. “The refugees in Lugna weren’t called to that Grand Camp too, so there should be room for negotiations?” he inquired, but to his shock, what he was faced with wasn’t a reply but the hooves of a horse of one of Victoria’s men. However, he was thankfully strong enough to effortlessly take two quick steps back and avoid being trampled upon by the steed. No matter how excellent of a horse that man was riding, it was exceedingly rare for any magical beasts to reach the Realm of Heroes, so horses on their own were unlikely to ever pose any threat to someone as strong as him.
“Are you crazy?” Laien asked angrily, very well aware that the atmosphere had turned very thick due to that man’s actions. Yin was angry, Arslan was angry… so was Julien and the rest of those present. “A martial master of the fourth rank… I would have killed this horse of his, but I don’t want to fight with that woman. She should be more or less on Julien’s level,” he thought discontentedly.
“What do you think you are doing?” Jasmine stepped forward, allowing her powerful aura to leak in abundance, causing even the military-trained horses of Victoria’s unit to start neighing and backing off in fright. Despite her poor performance in the last battle, Jasmine was one of the ten lieutenants of the White Guard! If she was allowed to fight freely, she alone would be able to put an end to Victoria and all of those experts who were accompanying her. It would take some effort on her part, but even if she was met with another fire-element marital master with strong defense, she would be able to avoid him and kill everyone else first, then tire him out and finish him off.
“Martin, explain yourself,” Victoria said composedly, appearing not to be taking either side as of yet, what came as surprising to Jasmine and Laien, and the others who were on their side.
“This kid disrespected you, my Lord,” the middle-aged man, Martin, answered honestly. “He didn’t ask for a permission to speak and he addressed you casually, my Lord. I thought he deserved to be taught a lesson for his impudent behavior.”
“Taught a lesson by being trampled over?” Jasmine asked, her hands truly itching to strangle that poor caricature of a man. A martial master of the fourth rank… if she attacked swiftly, she could kill him before he understood what in the world was going on.
“A few broken bones at most,” Martin replied dismissingly. The kid would suffer some, but he would probably be healed by a water-element spiritual master either now or in a few days. He just couldn’t see what he had attempted to do as all that bad; he didn’t try to kill him, after all.
When Laien heard the man’s response, he laughed inwardly. However, he also needed to quickly reach out with his hand and block Yin’s way as he noticed that Yin was about to butcher the horse Martin was riding on. “Let it be, he’s not worth it,” he said quietly, but still loudly enough for those near him to hear.
Yet, before Martin could do or say anything else, Victoria asked without beating around the bush while looking at Laien. “And you, boy, who are you?”
Laien glanced at the cold beauty, then considered his answer for a brief moment. Should he tell her who exactly he was? “I’m no one important enough for you to care, Great General,” he said in the end but was unable to prevent the slight smirk from appearing on his face. Still, Victoria either didn’t notice it or didn’t care as she simply nodded contentedly.
“Since nothing big happened, this matter will be left at that,” Victoria stated emotionlessly. “Next time, be sure to ask before you speak and remember to use my official title when you refer to me, boy,” she reminded offhandedly but all in all, she didn’t pay Laien much attention. As far as she was concerned, the behavior of a random kid at a random place wasn’t worth getting angry over.
“You want to leave it like that?” Jasmine exclaimed, having quite some trouble with keeping her temper at bay. “You think that trying to heavily injure anyone who speaks impolitely to you is fine? Without asking about the person’s background prior to that too?” she questioned stubbornly, refusing to sweep the matter under the rug. If Victoria knew who Laien was, then she wouldn’t be speaking in this way! This boy was still young, but in terms of social status alone, he wasn’t one whit inferior to Victoria herself! And even if he wasn’t, then what that man did was wrong!
“Didn’t we already settle that?” Victoria asked with a sigh, once again feeling baffled at another person’s reaction. How come people were always unreasonable around her? It was no longer happening so often ever since she became a General and then a Great General, but it still did occur from time to time. “I’ve taken a step back and not insisted on punishing that boy since he appears to belong to your group and not to be just some run-of-the-mill refugee. Where do you see the problem?” she asked despite knowing that she wouldn’t understand the reasoning behind the answer she was about to receive.
“You…” Jasmine clenched her firsts. She was beginning to think that no matter what she said, she wouldn’t get through to this woman. The easiest way to get some satisfaction out of it would be to reveal some information about Laien, but Laien himself opted not to do so. As a result, she could only grit her teeth and resist the urge to punch that wench square into the face.
“I do see a problem,” Arslan joined in. The tone of his voice was stern as he looked up, directly at Victoria’s face. “Laien is my dear friend and a person who saved my life. I don’t want to see your subordinates trying to harm him,” he said angrily. He wanted to say so from the very beginning, but he had trouble collecting his thoughts and creating a coherent sentence that wouldn’t sound stupid. Now that he made use of the opportunity and said what he wanted, he felt much better than a moment ago.
Hearing Arslan say so, Victoria raised her eyebrows. She gave Laien a look and for a second, wondered what could have happened for Mustafa’s son to have been saved by him… but she quickly stopped thinking about it. How it happened mattered not; it wasn’t relevant to her duties. “That changes things. Martin, you will be punished with twenty lashes for what you did,” she said without much emotion and nodded apologetically toward Arslan and Laien.
After Victoria’s words fell, everyone became silent for a little bit. As for Martin, his face drained of blood and he shivered despite himself. Twenty military lashes… he was about to lose some flesh from his back, wasn’t he? And he wouldn’t even be able to request healing. He wanted to argue and plead, but he knew that the moment he uttered a word of complaint, his punishment would be doubled. There was no way he could change Victoria’s decision by arguing with her. Thus, he did the only thing he could and kept his mouth shut.
“I swear if I find out that those brats are lying about this, I will make that Laien kid pay!” he promised himself, not planning to let this humiliation go.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 95. Nine Refinements of Mortality.
“Does this satisfy you?” Victoria inquired, directing her question toward Arslan. She saw twenty lashes as a mildly-serious punishment for a martial master of the fourth rank, but if Arslan insisted on making it more severe, she would oblige him to an extent. After all, it was Martin who was in the wrong this time around. He really shouldn’t have attacked Arslan’s good friend.
Unsure what twenty lashes meant, or rather how they would be delivered in this country, Arslan glanced at Sirius. He remembered that every time some question about the Ruishi Federation came up, it would be Sirius who knew the answer. Because of that, he chose to seek advice from him and not from Jasmine or Reian like he tended to do with most of his questions.
“Military punishments are fairly harsh here,” Sirius said with a smile. “Twenty lashes should cause that man some serious pain, but they will be far from the point of making him approach his limits,” he explained while taking care to only provide information, without making his own opinion too apparent. He wanted little master Arslan to make the choice on his own, not for him to be swayed by the opinion of his subordinate, at least in this case and under those circumstances.
“I see,” Arslan nodded slightly and smiled back at Sirius. “It’s good enough. Thank you,” he said to Victoria and once again, bowed his head ever so slightly.
“Great,” Victoria said contentedly. “The punishment will be delivered immediately. If you prefer you and your friend can stay to watch, if no then feel free to go back to your carriage. We will lead you to the Grand Camp as soon as we are done,” she informed in a formal, attendant-like tone that was neither amiable nor offensive but simply fairly bleak.
Arslan shook his head in response to Victoria’s offer. He didn’t want to watch that man being lashed and he had nothing else to say to her, so he had no reason to stay. However, he wasn’t sure if the same thing could be said about Laien and Yin, so instead of walking off first, he gave the two of them an inquiring look; did they want to discuss anything else with Victoria, or would it be fine to go already?
“Let’s go,” Laien said with a slight, helpless chuckle. He was concerned about the fate of those five thousand people they brought with them, with Johan, Albert, Sarah and the rest of those from Ulme Village in particular, but he had only spoken up on the spur of the moment. He had heard Julien’s advice; he only wanted to ask if it would be possible to negotiate later on, it wasn’t like he had been planning to argue with Victoria. However, the response of Victoria’s subordinate and the reaction of Victoria herself disillusioned him thoroughly; it was not only pointless to argue with that woman, it was also pointless to ask her about anything unrelated to her duties.
While most of the youths followed Laien and Arslan back into the carriage without much delay, Johan hesitated a little before joining them. He wasn’t yet old or experienced enough to be fully convinced that there wasn’t much of a point to discuss their future with Victoria, so in spite of what happened, he wished to get some kind of an answer to the question Laien asked. Would it be possible for them to stay, or would they be forced to leave? However, he wasn’t oblivious enough to actually ask that question himself, so although he was a bit unwilling, he joined the rest and went back to the carriage.
After another moment, Reian, Kasha and Sirius also headed back, seeing no point in them wasting time watching a punishment being handed out.
Soon thereafter, the very loud sound of a whip cracking spread repeatedly throughout the area. There were no cries of pain accompanying it, but just the sound of the air being cut apart by the whip was enough to cause people’s hearts to freeze. Was a normal person hit like that, he would probably end up having his body bisected. Without Qi’s protection, even a strong martial master would suffer… and that was definitely what Martin was experiencing at this very time.
Meanwhile, Laien sighed a little at his usual spot on one of the many pillows. “I wanted to meditate on the Profound Mystery of the Mist since I’m fairly close to understanding all the basic concepts of it, after what my training would slow down… but I don’t feel like it anymore,” he thought and sighed a little. For as much as it was possible, he tried not to force himself to do something he didn’t feel like doing. It went without saying about what he normally did throughout every day, but he was also applying this rule to his training; the result just wouldn’t be as good if he forced himself to do something instead of enjoying the process wholeheartedly.
“Will I be interrupted again?” he asked himself and looked around the interior of the carriage with his half-open eyes. He knew that Yin focused on stabilizing his cultivation base and managing the sudden, uneased growth of his Qi, so there wasn’t much to wonder about with regard to him. Arslan was talking with the three youths who joined them in Lugna, while Johan was absorbed in a talk with Albert and his older sister, who finally brought herself to join them here. Finally, Reian and Kasha, perhaps needless to be told, were recuperating and training in silence as usual, whereas Sirius was doing his usual thing; sitting outside and playing the role of a coachman.
“It should be fine,” Laien assumed and after taking a deep breath and letting the air out slowly through his mouth, he closed his eyes and fell into the meditative trance. Habitually, he released a little of his aura mixed with the essence of the Aspect of Awareness and only then relaxed completely. “I don’t feel like meditating on my Aspects. The Principle of Energy is best left for when I train with Yin and the Profound Mysteries… Eh. I should have checked which Mystery that advanced water-element tome holds,” he mused half-consciously, the thoughts flowing through his mind freely and unimpeded, like water in a clear mountain stream.
“I might as well check out the knowledge and memories from that Martial and Spiritual Transcendence tome. I would rather study the pages before attempting to train in the Nine Refinements to Immortality no matter how detailed the Intent of the tome is, but the Nine Refinements of Mortality are another story .”
“Let’s see… the Six Refinements. How do I need to go about them?” he asked himself and chuckled inwardly. It was a little strange to be asking himself a question he didn’t yet know an answer to, only to browse his memories akin to a tome and find it out. He had all this knowledge implemented into his soul, but unless he digested it step by step through asking certain questions and pondering specific matters, it would all be of no use to him. “How did it go again? Soul Refinement, Body Refinement, Qi Origin Refinement, Spiritual Core Refinement, Qi Paths Refinement and Spiritual Energy Refinement. Can I train in all of them at one go, or…?” he started to wonder and as he expected, he quickly came to a realization as to what the correct answer was.
“Oh, so that’s how it works. The recommended, optimal method is split into two paths with each path having three stages. One path is for spiritual cultivation and the other one for marital cultivation. Since I’m a dual practitioner, I can follow the easiest, recommended route. As for Yin… oh, nice. As long as one possesses a method to refine the Soul, it can be done with something else than one’s own extremely pure spiritual energy. Thanks to Yin’s Heavenly Lightning, he will be good to complete four out of the six Refinements, obviously excluding the two purely spiritual ones.”
“As for me… oh, that works the other way around than what I expected.” Laien raised his eyebrows at the thought; or only thought he did so? He wasn’t quite sure anymore, but it didn’t matter much. “First comes Qi Paths Refinement and Spiritual Energy Refinement, then Qi Origin and Spiritual Core Refinements and finally, the Refinements of Body and Soul. Hm, apparently there are quite a few relations with regard to how far one should progress with regards to specific combinations of Refinements. Or… no, there are just two basic relations. The first refinements can’t be too far ahead of the second ones, while the third ones can be further apart without much of a problem, be it in favor of the second or the third Refinement. There’s whole explanation as to why that is… but I don’t think it’s important for me right now? I will just take care to keep them all at a similar level.”
“Good, let’s get started with it then!” Laien thought eagerly. “The first two Refinements, the Qi Paths Refinement and Spiritual Energy Refinement. They are basically the same in the result; they enhance the amount and quality of my Qi and spiritual energy and have some secondary benefits, like allowing me to recover faster or making my Qi Paths more sturdy. The difference in naming probably comes from where the process occurs, huh? That being said… it’s only the first level, but it’s already a bit complicated. Spiritual part is simple… no, what the hell? None of this makes sense!”
For a second, Laien was thrown into a state of heavy confusion. The secondary benefits of the first Refinements were simple and understandable enough; they would be permanent. However, he only now realized that even if he did refine all the Qi and spiritual energy inside his body through this method, it would still return to being at its original level after he used it up once! Luckily for him, the answer to that dilemma lingered on the borders of his consciousness and was quickly snatched by his conscious thoughts, very much to his relief.
“Ha, so nervous for nothing. So the correct method is to master the process of the first Refinement and use it to complete the second Refinement, which will, in consequence, make the effects of the first one fully permanent. The bonus is that you can temporarily increase your strength to a certain degree just by completing the higher levels of the first Refinement before fighting. Haaa, really got scared for no reason. Good, let’s see if I can do it,” he told himself while shaking his head, or at the very least while feeling like he was shaking his head within his mind. He shouldn’t have been so hasty to jump to conclusions, there was no way an amazing technique like this one would have such an obvious flaw in its very first step. “Focus, focus,” he mused with a smile, slowly returning to the perfect, calm state of mind from which he had accidentally strayed from.
“Spiritual Energy Refinement relies on establishing something akin to a runic formation within my Spiritual Core that will purify and strengthen the spiritual energy within it. As for Qi Paths Refinement, it makes use of something akin to a unique Qi circulation method to gradually increase the potential of the Qi that flows through the Qi Paths. No wonder it’s called ‘Qi Path Refinement’ if the way it operates is like that… Mhm. Let’s try them at the same time, if I can’t even do this much with the most basic of levels, then I can’t hope to advance far with those Refinements at all.”
With this kind of straightforward mindset, Laien proceeded to employ the methods he had learned from the Intent of the Martial and Spiritual Transcendence tome. Just as it was according to his predictions, he created the rune-like formation and began refining his spiritual energy without any effort. However, he did need to concentrate properly to use that unique Qi circulation method. Considering it was only the first level of the Nine Refinements of Mortality, it was a worrying sign.
“I might have experienced a great lucky chance in the Anarchic Lands that resulted in my martial cultivation being strengthened by leaps and bounds, but in the end, my original martial talent is only a little above average,” Laien recalled resignedly and couldn’t help but sigh. He had almost forgotten how much effort he had needed to put into advancing to the mere peak of the fifth mortal realm as a martial practitioner. After creating the Absolute Water Martial Realm for himself he had thought all of this trouble would be gone, but it seemed that it wouldn’t be so easy. It was true that his control over his Qi had increased greatly, but all in all, it was perhaps barely at the genius level. In comparison to his unworldly spiritual talent, a mere genius level in martial arts paled considerably.
“Well… no reason to get discouraged,” he told himself and laughed a little helplessly. “It’s not like I’m not used to working hard. All that means is I need to put more effort in. If I’m not good enough as I am now, I will become good enough through effort and perseverance,” he said with conviction… or maybe just thought about it; he wasn’t too sure. “That being said, I hope I’m not sleep-talking while I’m training. That’s would be embarrassing,” he thought jokingly but soon enough, decided to ask Yin if he wasn’t doing something like that, just to be on the safe side.
Some time passed, but how much exactly, it was hard for Laien to say. However, he didn’t think it was all that long. “I’m done with the first step. Should I try the second one immediately? Mhm, let’s see… the second Refinements are fairly simple in principle. Since the system needed to be optimized for different people, the author of that tome gave only the general advice about the second Refinements. One should rely on his own understanding of the elements of his Qi Origin and Spiritual Core to Refine them; apparently, when nourishing them with the energy of higher quality than usual, the spots that need to be strengthened or changed will become apparent on their own. As for how apparent… it should rely on the degree of one’s potential.”
Naturally, what came to Laien’s mind was once again his somewhat unsatisfactory level of martial talent, but this time he didn’t waste time to ponder this matter. He decided to give the process a try before coming to any conclusions and actually, was met with a very pleasant surprise. Still, he didn’t get the joy get to his head and tried to actually go through with the process that envisioned itself in his mind… and to his delight, he completed it in what felt like virtually no time at all.
“Haha, it looks like the only obstacle will be the Qi Paths Refinement. Thanks to possessing the Absolute Water Martial Realm, I have no trouble with finishing the Qi Origin Refinement. As for the Spiritual Core Refinement, that doesn’t need to be mentioned,” he mused merrily. His biggest worry had been if he couldn’t spot the problems and potential improvements of his Qi Origin. Unlike the Qi Paths Refinement, which he could master through sheer effort, there would be little to nothing he could do if he simply couldn’t understand how to go through with the Qi Origin Refinement which relied on one’s own innate comprehensive abilities to succeed. It would be a dead-end unless he was once again faced with an incredible stroke of luck that would further improve his martial talent. Yet, it looked like he wouldn’t need to rely on his fortune this time around, for what he was grateful.
“Soul Refinement and Body Refinement, the last two.” Laien went ahead and focused his thoughts on those two Refinements, seeking to learn the details of how he should proceed from this point onward. “Ha, simple but dangerous, huh? I could let the process happen naturally, but that would take weeks even for this first level. That’s too inefficient. Thus, I can only do as advised; actively wash my soul and body with my strengthened spiritual energy and Qi while taking utmost care not to lose control of it. The more of those energies I use at once, the faster the process will be, but similarly the greater the danger of sustaining permanent injuries in case I lose control will become. Hrm, let’s take it without hurrying, with only as much of Qi and spiritual energy for me to be able to control them even if my meditation is suddenly interrupted.”
Having made such a choice, Laien once again focused on training with the intent of stopping it if he were to be interrupted. He could roughly guesstimate that it would take him until morning to complete the first levels of both Soul and Body Refinement, so he fully expected the possibility of being interrupted at once point. Yet, contrary to his expectations, his training was allowed to progress smoothly and before he noticed, he was already done.
“I mastered the first level of all six Refinements of the mortal path,” he thought contentedly, feeling very pleased with the results of his night-long training session. “It’s only the first level though, so whatever increase in my strength there is, it’s fairly minuscule. However, the difference should start being noticeable once I reach the sixth level or so. If I master all of them to the ninth level, I wonder just how much stronger will I become?” he wondered with a smile, this time very much real one as he slowly exited the meditative trance.
“Good morning,” Yin greeted him with a smile. “You went ahead of me, I’m jealous,” he added a bit randomly, at least to those three youths present who were listening to this little exchange. To Laien, on the other hand, it was obvious what Yin was referring to even without the relying on their spiritual bond; since Yin’s cultivation was still a bit of a mess, he didn’t want to risk and force himself too far before it stabilized. Thus, for a little while longer, he wouldn’t be starting to practice the Nine Refinements of Mortality despite very much wanting to do so.
Still… he had spent this whole time on comprehending the Profound Mystery of Lightning Dance instead, so it wasn’t like he was left without anything pleasant to do.
“Morning,” Laien said with a quiet laugh. “Did everyone else go on ahead of us?” he asked, seeing as the only people present within the carriage were the two of them and the three youths from Lugna; Luca, Lea and Daniel. He could also sense Sirius’s presence outside… the old man appeared to be waiting for them.
“Yeah,” Yin confirmed. “It’s been a hard road to travel for the carriages from what I heard, but we still arrived five hours ago,” he said and laughed quietly, then added. “I could tell you were in the middle of an important part, so I told them to go ahead of us. The meeting of the Council is apparently still in progress either way, so there isn’t much we missed.”
“I see,” Laien nodded slightly. He was in agreement that finishing this stage of training was a better way to spend the morning than sightseeing the new place, what could as well be done a few hours later. “Let’s stay a little longer since we don’t need to hurry,” he mentioned in a slightly louder voice for the sake of the four who were waiting for them to finish their business; the four of them would need to be patient for a bit longer, likely for around two hours.
There were some parts of the daily training that could be skipped or changed according to needs, but Laien definitely didn’t want to miss a Combined Soul Realm session. The benefits brought by each of them were too big to be passed upon but for the most pressing of situations, especially since it was possible for him and Yin to enter that training state without endangering themselves thanks to their insights, and in particular, thanks to their insights into the Aspect of Awareness.
Although Luca, Lea and Daniel weren’t in a hurry, the three of them felt helpless when Laien and Yin both went back to training. It still wasn’t as bad for Luca, who had compression training to do apart from his normal meditation, but Lea and Daniel had long since finished their daily routine, or at least the part that didn’t require moving around, and were now beginning to grow very bored.
“Maybe it won’t take them too long,” Lea said with a sigh. After the events of yesterday’s evening, the mood just wasn’t right for her to start having fun at expense of her little brother and his friend. She wanted something to happen to change this atmosphere, but those two said that they didn’t want to leave without Laien and Yin as they saw no point in doing so. “Eh, so boring,” she complained quietly and slid lower against the wooden wall, then laid down completely without caring how ridiculous her hair must look. She was no longer looking for a boyfriend here, so she could allow herself to act like a little of a slob.
Daniel glanced at Lea lazily, then laughed quietly. She had finally returned to being her usual self instead of pretending to be a young lady. He would have never become friends with Lea is she had been so serious all the time, so he was glad to see that her normal tendencies were returning now that she gave up on seducing Laien.
“Really, she would have had better chances acting like herself… I don’t get girls at all,” he thought and shook his head a little, then returned to daydreaming about everything and nothing.
“Does anyone else have anything more to say?” one of the thirteen Grand Elders gathered around one, large round table asked in a fatigued voice. He looked around, at the faces of his colleagues and after confirming that none of them looked like he was about to speak up, he continued speaking. “Then, allow us to take the final vote. We’ve wasted enough time here, so allow me to start from the most likely position to pass. Those for the complete clear out of the Grand Camp and all the foreigners within it in the span of three days, please raise your hands.”
Following the words of the fatigued Grand Elder, two old men and one old woman raised their hands without hesitation. Then, three more Grand Elders followed suit… and after a while, the fatigued Grand Elder himself sighed bitterly and raised his hand, and along with him, his old friend did the same. The two of them didn’t like to make this decision, but they had followed pragmatic principles for their whole lives. They needed to admit that Grand Elder Simon’s faction had a point; in comparison to any other solution, theirs was the most ruthless one, but also the one that offered the best outlook on the future for their country. Since they were forced to admit that during their month-long argument, it would be against their very selves not to agree with them in the vote.
“Lower your hands,” the fatigued Grand Elder said bitterly. “Those who are against, raise their hands,” he instructed despite the result of the vote having been concluded. No matter what, it was important to know the position each of the Grand Elders held on a certain matter; it allowed for a much smoother ruling on the future matters and served as a goalpost for the various factions within their Ruishi Federation.
As a result, three Grand Elders raised their hands, officially taking a stance against. It was pretty much as the fatigued Grand Elder expected… those three were looking at him with clear hatred in their eyes, while the faction of Grand Elder Simon had very satisfied looks on their faces.
“Lower your hands. Those who abstained, raise your hands,” the fatigued Grand Elder said for the sake of formality. The remaining two Grand Elders raised their hands.
“With the majority of eight to three, the Grand Eviction Plan has passed. The orders shall be passed and within three days, the eight million foreigners in the Grand Camp shall be unconditionally evicted from the country under the threat of death. With that, I close the five hundred thirty second meeting of the Grand Council.”
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Sorry for dissapearing for 10 days. Life (exams) caught up to me... sigh. Next chapter on tuesday.
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 96. What’s Important.
“Are you finally done?” Lea asked with a yawn when she heard Laien and Yin move a little. They opened their eyes too, so their daily training should be completed and they wouldn’t go back to it after exchanging a few sentences like the first time around, hopefully? She certainly wished they wouldn’t as she was already thoroughly tired of being holed up in this carriage, but if necessary, she would wait as long as it took… but she simply hoped not to need to wait too long.
“We are,” Laien replied with a laugh, finding the disheveled and lazy-like appearance of the current Lea to be rather amusing. “Come on, let’s see how everyone’s doing,” he said brightly and without delaying any longer, took a few quick, gentle leaps across the pillows and jumped out of the carriage. He was soon followed by Yin and the other three youths, who joined him at this high vantage point the forefront of their caravan had stopped at.
“The Grand Camp, is that it?” Laien mused while looking upon the humongous camp-like area that was spreading across the many nearby mountainsides as far as his gaze could reach. “It seems to be separated into lower and higher districts. There are mostly tents in the lower parts, while wooden houses start appearing midway, with some stone houses sitting near the top, close to the few large streams that originate up there. Overall… it doesn’t look like a habitable area,” he judged blatantly. The unsanitary conditions in the lower parts of the camp needed not to be explicitly mentioned, but judging by the lack of any kind of fields, mines or any other thing, this location wasn’t one where a large number of people could potentially live for a long period of time, much less try to settle down.
“If they sent Johan and the rest of them anywhere else but to the higher parts, even if just temporarily, I will get angry,” he thought discontentedly but in the end, he wasn’t all that worried about this matter. He was sure that even if the higher-ups of the Ruishi Federation turned out to be as unreasonable as Victoria, Arslan wouldn’t have let them do anything of this kind without making a fuss. Considering that Arslan also had Jasmine and Reian at his side to help him, Laien assured himself that nothing unpleasant could have happened to his friends.
“I see you guys are finally out,” Sirius greeted as he jumped off the coachman’s seat. “Little master Arslan is currently in that small fort up there. Would you like to go there first or would you rather go and see how the Ulme Village kids are doing right below us?” he inquired, his gaze focusing on Laien in particular as he expected the answer to come from him, just like it usually would.
“Right below?” Laien raised his eyebrows and took two more steps forward, then looked down. Sure enough, he quickly saw many vaguely familiar faces from amongst those five thousand people they brought with them. As for those few hundred of Ulme Village, he had spotted them immediately thanks to their white clothing which they had gotten from Reian on the first day of their journey to the Ruishi Federation.
“They seem to be doing well,” Yin commented with a slight smile. They had obviously received special treatment as their camp had been set up outside the wooden palisades that surrounded the Grand Camp; some experts must have also taken out the bunch of large, wooden houses for them, so they would live rather comfortably in this period of time.
“Looks good,” Laien nodded contentedly. With the place they were given, there would be no issues with sanitary matters as they were making use of the high part of the same stream as that military fort, so apart from going uphill to get the drinking water every time, they wouldn’t face any issues. “Let’s go to Arslan first. If there’s nothing interesting to do in the fort, we can then all go do something else,” he said lightheartedly. He was intending to go with the flow instead of seeking out anything specific to accomplish, at least for the time being.
“Sure,” Sirius agreed. “Should I lead the way, or would you rather do it?” he asked, having become quite aware of Laien’s tendencies during those last two weeks or so.
“We’ll follow you,” Laien said with a laugh. There were times when he enjoyed being in the spotlight, but at the moment he didn’t feel like it.
“Mm, come then.” Sirius waved his hand and collected the carriage into his interspatial ring, then headed to the gate of the fort at a leisure pace.
Laien and Yin stuck a few steps behind Sirius, while Lea, Luca and Daniel followed suit. Admittedly, the latter three of them were feeling a bit helpless. They had waited for those two to finish their training for so long, but then they were made to tag along without being asked anything. Although they weren’t all that annoyed by it as they were used to obediently following their superiors in the Fortress-City of Lugna, it still was a new, a bit strange experience to them to be treated in the same way by two twelve, thirteen years old boys who were pretty much their peers.
A few minutes later, their little group was led to the spacious guest room within the fort by one of the gate guards without encountering any accidents along the way.
“Laien! Yin!” Arslan opened his eyes and stopped meditating the moment the two appeared in the guest room. He had spent many hours here already since he had been told the Grand Council was just about to reach its conclusion, but the meaning of ‘just about’ appeared to be different here compared to his hometown. Thus, he inevitably got incredibly bored; he had even started trying to engage in a meditative training, even though doing so was fairly pointless to him, who was yet to master a Qi Manipulating Art or gain any insights he could ponder upon.
“Aren’t you a little too excited?” Laien asked wryly. It’s only been a little bit of time and yet Arslan was so excited to see them; he had a difficult time finding another word than cute to describe that.
Arslan merely laughed happily at Laien’s teasing. “Want to play something or go look around? I’m so bored of sitting here and waiting,” he proposed impatiently.
“I don’t think so.” To Arslan’s surprise, Yin replied in such a way with a slight smile on his face and glanced over his shoulder, at the still open door behind him. “A whole bunch of people is coming,” he added with a laugh, guessing that by the time he finished saying so, Laien and the four White Guards would start hearing the sound of footsteps that were being made by over a dozen people too.
“Looks like the council ended,” Laien pointed out the obvious, glad to be able to settle the most annoying matter first. If possible, he’d love to go sightseeing around this country with Arslan like they were planning to do since a few days ago, but to do that they first needed to deal with the most pressing matters.
“Took them some time.” Arslan let out a little sigh. For the future reference, he made sure to remember that the Grand Elders of the Ruishi Federation saw ‘just about’ to mean ‘just about eight hours’. This way, he wouldn’t waste so much time if he happened to need to deal with them again.
After a few breaths worth of time, eight grey-robed Grand Elders and their sixteen personal bodyguards appeared at the doorstep and entered the spacious guest room. The eight grey-robed Grand Elders quickly spotted the group of youths in the center of the room, amongst whom the youngest one ought to be Mustafa’s son, and approached them readily.
“As the oldest of the Grand Elders, I officially welcome you to our Ruishi Federation, young master Arslan,” the fatigued-looking old man said formally and bowed ever so slightly in Arslan’s direction. “I apologize for the long wait, reaching the conclusion of has been harder than expected,” he said bitterly, not having enough strength of mind left to hide his own discontentment.
“Elder Simon,” one of the three grey-robed Grand Elders who stood to one side spoke up with an amiable smile. “If you greet our guests with such a bedridden attitude, how are they supposed to feel welcome?” he asked with a laugh, then smiled at Arslan and bowed his head slightly.
“This Elder’s name is Samuel, I’m glad to welcome the heir to Makarash, who had been making news of himself in the eastern Faren Yimarate in the recent days, in our country,” he said amicably, displaying nothing but warm and very welcoming attitude. He and his two companions appeared to be happy, relaxed and very happy to be having this conversation, much unlike the other five Grand Elders present, with those three to the other side of Elder Simon in particular.
“I’m happy to be here too,” Arslan said straightforwardly, all the while looking up at the faces of the grey-robed men and women before him. “I understand you’ve been discussing the matter of the people in the Grand Camp. May I know what conclusion you reached?” he asked, getting straight to the point without wasting time for chatting about pointless things.
“I wonder if that sounded nice enough?” he wondered quietly. He had taken some time before to come up with those two sentences for the moment he met those Grand Elders, but now that he had said them aloud, he wasn’t so sure they sounded as good as they did in his head.
“A rotten conclusion,” the old, grey-robed woman said with a snort and sent a poisonous glance toward Elder Simon. If he hadn’t given in, Elder Samuel’s faction wouldn’t have obtained the necessary majority to push their plan through. She had never expected a garbage human like Samuel to do anything positive for their country, but she had thought better of Elder Simon until today.
“Elder Sophie, isn’t it unbecoming to act in this way?” Elder Samuel asked, causing the look on Elder Sophie’s face to turn ugly.
“Enough, don’t start,” Elder Simon said with a sigh and gave a stern look first to Sophie, then to Samuel. He had listened to those two bickering endlessly for the past month; he had had enough of hearing them argue and poke at each other until the day he would die and turn to dust.
“What conclusion did you reach?” Arslan asked, pretending not to have heard this little exchange of unpleasantries between the Grand Elders. He was on this journey to learn new things, but he didn’t think it would result in anything good if he suddenly started to play the role of a mediator as a complete outsider that he was. It might have worked if it were some regular nobles involved, but not when the Grand Elders of the Ruishi Federation were the ones involved.
“A very simple and practical one,” Elder Samuel responded with a smile. “The eight million foreigners in the Grand Camp who can’t make themselves useful for our country in any way and are only a burden to our hard-working citizens, we are going to expel them all within three days,” he informed happily, pleased to be able to deliver this kind of news to Mustafa’s son and not some half-assed excuse akin to ‘we couldn’t reach the majority necessary to make a choice’.
For a moment, no one said anything as they all digested the news they had just received. If it was during the time when Mustafa had taken full control of the southern Eulene, then they wouldn’t have worried… but currently, Mustafa was confined to the south-western part of the Faren Yimarate. Sending out eight million Euleanians out of the Ruishi Federation at random would certainly lead to a huge disaster, given how heated the atmosphere in Eulene was those days.
“Can I ask you why?” Laien inquired, directing his question toward Elder Samuel. The map appeared to be the happiest one given the current outcome, so he thought it would be best to hear his arguments first. “That being said… unless Mustafa does something to help, it will end up in a massacre,” he mused quietly and suppressed a sigh. He was more or less able to predict the outcome of what was about to happen and certainly enough, it pained him a lot to think about it.
After the City of Masalle had been devastated by Mustafa, Ikarians were bound to have been left with a lot of hatred and no realistic object to take revenge upon. Yimar Furi and his elites had also perished thanks to them… so the remaining soldiers were like mad dogs who suddenly lost their owners. They would pound and bite at the slightest sign of weakness, at the slightest smell of blood… and the eight million helpless people throw out of the Ruishi Federation would likely prove to be more than enough to rouse them and many others into action.
“That’s pretty simple, actually,” Elder Samuel said with a smile. “Most of those people came here within the last one hundred years. Those refugees who found proper jobs and proceeded not to cause trouble, we welcome. However, those eight million people who can’t do anything sensible are too much for out mountain country. There’s not enough land for them to plow nor animals for them to graze, nor do they have any other useful skills. They aren’t even talented enough to be of use in the military… they are a great burden for our fifty-million country, both financially and in terms of social unrest they cause. Thus, faced with the options of allowing out Federation to fall into a decline or to expel them, we chose to do the latter,” he explained in in rough detail, bringing up the few points he saw as the most important.
“Excuses, all excuses,” Elder Sophie said angrily before Laien could provide his opinion on the matter. “If we really tried to, we could find something to do for all of them. You simply want to see them gone because you resent them. You are inhuman,” she rebutted, refusing to allow Samuel to have his way with such an important guest. She was already amazed enough that his deceptions had worked on Elder Simon; she didn’t want young children to also be corrupted by his terrible views.
“I won’t deny that I resent them,” Elder Samuel said casually, displaying not a hint of anger that Elder Sophie was oozing with. “How could I not? They are the people who brought fall to their own countries, came here, then proceeded to only cause trouble without providing anything back in return for the grace they received from us. It’s not our duty to suffer for their sake. We’ve always upheld our principle of neutrality… we should let foreigners settle their businesses on their own like we always did,” he elaborated, speaking in a very honest manner, without hiding his thoughts and opinions. He was absolutely sure that what he was calling for to be done was the best choice to take for their country as a whole, so he didn’t feel bad and was unapologetic about it.
“You’re not worth talking to,” Elder Sophie snapped back with clear fury present both in her voice and in her eyes. However, instead of continuing the pointless discussion with Samuel, she shifted her gaze to Arslan and the two youths who stood closest to him. “What do you think about it? This old madman intends to sentence eight million blameless people, women, children and elderly included, to an uncertain, dangerous fate. Do you think he is doing the right thing?” she asked, literally trembling at the thought of what was going to happen to all those poor people. Women would be raped, children enslaved, elderly and men killed… how could anyone make such a choice and still claim to be doing the right thing like Samuel was doing? She truly couldn’t see that man as anything else but the Devil’s incarnation.
Laien and Yin sighed inwardly, both of them having complicated feelings on this matter. Was Elder Samuel advocating the right thing, or was Elder Sophie in the right? They couldn’t tell which one of those stances was correct as they just didn’t know enough about Eulene and the Ruishi Federation itself. Yes, they pitied those people who were about to be thrown out with nothing, but that was merely their emotional response. They didn’t want to act on it alone and attach reasons to it to justify it as being ‘the right thing’. In the end, they weren’t sure what the right thing was, after all.
“It’s not right to do it,” Arslan answered after a moment of thought, causing the look in Sophie’s eyes to brighten. Yet, he soon added a few more words which made that happiness turn dim. “I don’t think it’s right to do it at this time. You should wait for my father to take control of the southern lands, then if you need to, you can expel them. At least in this way, they wouldn’t be in danger.”
“Interesting suggestion,” Elder Simon said eagerly, a clear smile making a rare appearance on his fatigued face. “We didn’t take the latest events into consideration since not all that much is known about the inner workings of the Grand Yimar Mustafa’s camp. Are you saying your father would allow them to settle back peacefully?” he inquired, omitting the part of ‘as long as he wins against Yimar Maar’ on purpose. He didn’t want to make it sound as if he doubted Mustafa’s strength in front of his son, so even though he was quite intrigued, he managed to keep his tongue in check thanks to his plentiful experience that came with the centuries of fulfilling the duties of a Grand Elder.
“That’s…” Arslan opened his mouth, then closed it, swallowing his words back. If it was up to him, he would have agreed to let those people back… but he couldn’t claim his father would make the same choice, nor could he be sure his father would give in were he to request that. Allowing him to travel around with Laien and Yin was one thing and letting him decide the matters of politics was another. “I’m sorry, I spoke too fast. I can’t be sure if my father would welcome them, but I can at the very least say that he would allow them to pass through the lands without harming them,” he said in a formal tone, feeling rather embarrassed to have said something rash without thinking twice prior.
“I see.” Elder Simon couldn’t help but let out a quiet groan. Had Mustafa been winning the war overwhelmingly, he wouldn’t have hesitated to call another Grand Council and attempt to get ten out of thirteen votes to overrule their original decision within three days. However, he was well aware that a premise without a solid backing wouldn’t gain enough support and it would merely waste their time while the eviction would start anyway. There was nothing he could do.
While Elder Simon and Elder Sophie were sighing, Laien brought up another subject. “Does this plan include everyone in the Grand Camp without exception?”
“Ho,” Elder Samuel, being the one with the clearest mind, caught onto the meaning behind Laien’s words half a second sooner than the others and responded quickly. “You probably mean the five thousand refugees you brought here? Do not be concerned. Five thousand and eight million are very different things. As a favor to young master Arslan, we can accommodate those people in the professions they are skilled in or as long as their characters are adequate, as servants across the country. Of course, however, if they do cause trouble, they will be treated like everyone else,” he explained with a calm smile and towards the end, shifted his gaze from Laien to Arslan, seeking a confirmation from the boy. Was he willing to receive a favor of this kind, or did he not want to be indebted to them?
“Yes, I would be grateful if you did so,” Arslan said and inwardly sighed with relief. Truth to be told, he felt bad for all those people in the Grand Camp, but he didn’t know them personally and they weren’t even related to him in any way. As long as Johan, Albert, Sarah and the rest were able to live safely, he wouldn’t feel guilty about those eight million people for longer than a day at the very most.
“It shall be done,” Elder Samuel said with a nod, causing Elder Simon and Elder Sophie to frown in a more or less secret manner. That sly old man had spoken up first and he made sure not give them a good chance to interject, so even though they wouldn’t have objected to the request to begin with, it now seemed like it was mostly Elder Samuel to whom Arslan owed a debt to. It was frustrating, but if they tried to argue it openly and right at this moment, they would only make fools out of themselves; they were aware of that well enough to not attempt such silliness.
“Eh,” Elder Sophie let out an unconcealed, heavy sigh. “And you boys, what do you think?” she asked the two youths at Arslan’s side, expecting them to fully agree with Arslan’s point. She had no idea who those two, but she could guess they were some friends of Arslan’s. Thus, she doubted they would go against the young master’s opinion even if they felt he was in the wrong.
“It’s hard to say,” Laien said and shook his head resignedly. He looked Yin in the eye, knowing that both of them shared similar feelings on this whole affair. They really didn’t want to let people die pointlessly, especially when children were involved… and if it was the past them, then especially Laien would have already jumped into an argument with Elder Samuel and attempted to reverse the decision of the council in some way, or tried to find a way for those eight thousand people to leave the Ruishi Federation safely and move on to live somewhere else than in the southern Eulene.
Yet… the two of them remembered how incredibly close to death they had gotten while fighting Yimar Furi and his men, all because they got involved into something that quickly escalated into a problem they could no longer handle with their strength. Staying true to their hearts was very important to them… but in this case, both of them were coming to the same conclusion. It was beyond them to aid those eight million people; they could see if there wasn’t some safe way they could lend a hand, but they wouldn’t throw themselves into the middle of the storm anymore.
Staying true to their hearts… yes. They weren’t actually straying from their path by choosing not to get themselves involved too deeply. What was currently most important to them was not to recklessly endanger one another’s life anymore, be it by helping other people or getting involved in other kinds of events which they very well knew would turn out to be incredibly dangerous.
“I see,” Elder Sophie said uncaringly, attempting and failing to mask the disappointment in her voice. She was unaware of the thoughts going through Laien and Yin’s minds, so she assumed the boys chose to follow Arslan’s opinion and weren’t willing to elaborate on the subject. She couldn’t blame them, to be honest, so she didn’t try to force them to make their stance clear.
As the awkward silence fell in the guest room, Elder Samuel was about to speak up and suggest moving somewhere else, when a huge explosion shook the fort and echoed loudly throughout the mountains. Laien, Yin and every one of their group were startled… but the Grand Elders and their guards were unnaturally calm, if not even resigned.
“That Julien, and he asks us why we issued the gag order…” Elder Simon said helplessly and shook his head. He had sent Victoria to accompany the messenger just in case because he expected Julien to act up, but he didn’t think the man would actually exchange blows with her.
“Let him fight it out,” Elder Samuel said with a shrug of his shoulders. “He will calm down when Victoria tires him out. Then, we can punish him accordingly,” he said while aiding himself with some Qi as to make his voice audible through the sounds of repeated explosions coming from the outside. The clash between lightning and fire… it always was no needlessly flashy and destructive.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 97. Karta’s Prophet.
“Are you sure it’s fine to let them go at it like that?” Arslan asked, helping himself with some Qi as the sounds of consecutive explosions and clashes rang throughout the guest room and undoubtedly, also throughout the fort and the area in the range of dozens of kilometers around it. Had it not been the middle of summer and had the battle not been playing out at a relatively low altitude, it would be without a doubt that quite a few powerful and deadly avalanches would have been triggered by it.
In response to Arslan’s words, Elder Simon shook his head while Elder Samuel laughed a little. Then, the latter of the two said with a smile. “Young master Arslan, if you wish to send one of your White Guards to help subdue Julien, then go ahead. As for our side, of those present, only Victoria is capable of fighting him without endangering her own life.”
Arslan was a little startled at first, but soon afterward he let out a quiet, helpless laugh. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t seen Julien fight with his own eyes, but he had forgotten that the man boasted the strength of a first-rate martial master of the fifth rank. Although he was still quite sure that Julien would lose to Jasmine, who was one of the ten lieutenants of the White Guard, in a one-on-one fight, he needed to admit that stopping Julien’s rampage wasn’t something easily doable.
“That being said.” Elder Samuel frowned a little. “It’s taking an awfully long time,” he said more to himself than to anyone else. It had already been around twenty seconds since those two started exchanging blows and yet, the clamor wasn’t dying down in the least. Veronica was one of the two Great Generals of their country and had recently come very close to breaking through to the seventh Realm of Heroes, but despite that, she couldn’t quickly subdue Julien?
“He’s grown even stronger,” Elder Simon commented with a troubled smile present on his face, then mused silently. “That boy, he was already one of the strongest Generals twenty years ago, so we should have expected him to have become so strong. We thought his growth was stagnating since his cultivation was no longer advancing as quickly as in his early youth, but he seems to have reached Veronica’s level thanks to his insights… If not for that obsessive hatred of Ikarians of his, I would have personally recommended him to become the third Great General of our Federation.”
“Strong...” Out of those present, Laien and Yin had one of the lowest cultivation levels, but their senses were far superior to even to those martial and spiritual masters of the fourth and fifth ranks. The two of them could clearly recognize how powerful the mere remnant aura of the blasts of Qi happening on the other side of the fort, just beyond its walls, were. As far as they were concerned, both Julien and Victoria were a full level stronger than Jasmine… what provided for quite a scary concept.
“Those two are incredibly powerful,” Laien thought and couldn’t help but sigh in his heart. He had grown incomparably stronger since he left the Sarkcente Kingdom and set out on the journey to the Eclipse Academy, but he had no confidence to receive one attack from either of those two and survive. “They are both just a level weaker than elder brother Rudford… but that’s purely based on their auras and the sense of danger I’m getting from their battle. Given the advantage of the cultivation techniques we have in the south, they should still be two full levels weaker than elder brother,” he judged, but it didn’t cause him to grow less worried. Julien was two times younger than Rudford and Victoria didn’t seem to be much older than Julien. In another half a century, it would be hard to say whether it would be them or Rudford who would be stronger.
“Ruishi Federation.” Yin similarly let out a little sigh. “The amount of talent in this country is unnaturally high. We’ve just entered their lands, but we met Luca, Julien, Patrick and Victoria. Compared to the rest of Eulene, they really are leaps and bounds ahead in overall prowess. It’s not only thanks to their geographical advantage that they managed to keep their neutrality for many millennia,” he mused, thinking that it was no wonder that some of the clans from his homeland would have dealings with the Ruishi Federation. Most countries weren’t worth paying attention to in the eyes of the Forbidden Lands, but a golden goose like the Ruishi Federation wouldn’t be ignored by them, if only for the reason of finding suitable youths for the sake of establishing the Blood Pacts.
“Oh, looks like they are done,” Elder Samuel nodded contentedly when the sounds of battle died down. He doubted either of those two would have fought to the death with one another; as a proof, this fort was still standing here. Were they to truly release their most powerful martial techniques, their clash would have sent this small defensive structure tumbling down the mountainside. “Young master Arslan, if you excuse us, we need to take care of the aftermath,” he said toward Arslan, displaying a calm, amiable smile on his face.
“Of course, you are welcome to stay in our country for as long as you need to,” he added as he was about to leave, making it look like he had almost forgotten about this matter since the solution to it was so obvious. However, he also looked like he wanted to say something else but held back from doing so, either because he judging it disadvantageous to bring up or because he couldn’t find a satisfying way to express his thoughts.
“Thank you,” Arslan responded simply. He might have learned most of the formal and ‘proper’ ways to speak in such situations, but in the end, he was just a five-year-old boy. It was much more natural to him to answer informally than to look for elaborate and overly polite ways to respond with.
Elder Samuel smiled at Arslan once more, then left the room with his companions and guards. Elder Simon and Elder Sophie nodded toward Arslan and followed suit; the immediate case of Julien acting up had been solved, but they still needed to deal with the long-term consequences of it. Deciding a punishment for Julien was one thing… and doing something to calm his rage was another
Obviously, the Grand Elders were in a tacit agreement; they preferred not to involve outsiders in the ugly argument that was about to unfold and thus, none of them invited Arslan and his companions to join them on the way. They didn’t want Arslan or anyone else to get involved in an internal struggle within their own country, on one hand, because it would threaten its sovereignty and on the other, because the outcome, especially in this case, would become even more unpredictable.
“General Julien, ugh,” Lea allowed herself to groan aloud now that all the important figures from her country left the room. She could sympathize with Julien as she also felt that the decision of the Council was unacceptable, but she knew full well that nothing could be done. A decision of the Grand Council hadn’t been overruled in over two thousand and six hundred years, and it had only been overruled by another vote two times in the past five thousand years. Those eight million people… she felt bad for them, but it was the extent of what she could do for their sake.
“He shouldn’t be punished too harshly,” Daniel consoled with a weak smile. “He’s now on par with Great General Victoria, so as long as he agrees not to cause trouble anymore, they won’t do anything apart from giving him some superficial punishment,” he said with a fair deal of conviction.
“Do you really think he will agree to that?” Luca asked with a helpless laugh, in response to what Daniel could only look away and shake his head.
“It will be trouble,” Lea said bitterly. As those of the Fortress-City of Lugna, the three of them were clearly aware of General Julien’s character. He and the very majority of the officers who acted below him were vastly different in many aspects of their personalities, but they all shared one common trait; a great hatred of all Ikarians but for those who had their origins in Makarash. In most cases that hatred originated from the loss of friends and families, in the others, it was about the pure disgust with the slaughter of the Bloody Dusk and the barbaric culture Ikarians brought to their homelands. The levels of hatred varied, definitely… but most of the people directly below Julien shared his views and goals, what in itself magnified the issue at hand. Just the thirty-five Cherubim Julien brought with him were a huge problem, not to mention all the powerful experts who had gathered under his banner from all over the southern Eulene!
“Should we go and watch?” Laien brought up, himself not too sure if he wanted to do so. A part of him was curious to see this affair develop, but he also didn’t want to get involved too deeply in those events. After all, if one walked by the river, he would sooner or later get his shoes wet.
“Just watching shouldn’t hurt us in any way,” Yin said with a smile, doing so purely for the sake of those who were listening to this little exchange between him and Laien.
“Mhm,” Laien nodded in agreement and glanced at Arslan. The youth smiled at him; he appeared not to have anything against this idea either.
“Okay, let’s go~” Laien said with a laugh and after exchanging a look with Yin, ran out of the room. He was aware that although those Elders had left the room walking, they had sped up soon after getting further down the corridor. By this time, they were likely fairly close to Julien and Victoria given that no one within their group was below the Realm of Heroes, so it was best if they hurried.
“Allow me,” Jasmine said with a quiet laugh and after approaching Arslan from the front, she grabbed him under his shoulder, then lifted him up and held him tightly against her chest. “Hold on tight,” she warned and half a second later, followed after Laien and Yin at high speed.
The remaining three White Guards joined Jasmine without delay, but as for the three youths from Lugna, they stood there for a good second, a bit dumbfounded. Only when they shook off the weird feeling from seeing everyone rush off at a moment’s notice did they start running too.
Roughly a minute later, Laien, Yin and everyone else arrived at the wasteland-like area of shattered ground and locks by the northern wall of the fort. Before they came, they had been worried that Julien and the Elders would use Qi to suppress their voices and thus make them hear nothing, but as the first of the series of loud shouts in the chaotic argument reached them, they revealed wry smiles
“Screw off with your reasoning! There’s nothing ‘right’ about sentencing eight million people to death by Ikarian hand!”
“General Julien, you’d better…!”
“I’d better what?! What will you do if I don’t calm down, eh?! Will you get Great General Markus to come and join hands with Victoria to kill me, or will you call the three Magistrates?!”
“Julien, you…! You can’t disobey the Great Council’s orders!”
“Oh, I can! And I sure as hell will!”
“Do you really mean what you are saying…?!”
Although the arguing parties weren’t enhancing their voices with Qi, their yelling was nevertheless carrying far and wide. Towards the end, not only Elder Samuel, but even Elder Simon became agitated; by the looks of it, this crisis was far more serious than those Grand Elders had previously given it credit for. Thankfully for them, the last question put an end to the shouting and a quiet discussion proceeded from that point onwards. However, If the absolutely furious aura Julien kept giving off was any indication, they were failing to come to any kind of an agreement despite that.
“What a standoff,” Laien commented quietly, his gaze moving from Julien and those surrounding him to the two nearby, hostile groups of experts. On one side stood the thirty-five Cherubim, all emanating killing intent, ready to start fighting if Julien so ordered, and on the other stood the thirty-five subordinates of Veronica, who looked no less ready to fight but admittedly, seemed to be fairly intimidated by the powerful auras and the heavy killing intent of Julien’s Cherubim.
“If they fight here…” Lea began saying, then clicked her tongue. “They will lose. The guards of the Grand Elders are strong too. General Julien might be able to send quite a few expert to the grave thanks to his overwhelming speed before being forced to flee, but most of Cherubim would be killed. They might even use the three of us to threaten General,” she mused aloud, genuinely worrying about the worst-case scenario emerging as a reality. If Julien truly rebelled against the country, then the consequences for all of his subordinates and for all the people in Lugna would be dire.
Yet, against Lea’s worst expectations, when Elder Samuel began speaking, the atmosphere started cooling down until Julien fully withdrew his aura, much to the relief of everyone involved. The next moment Julien, Elder Samuel, Elder Simon and Elder Sophie all put on tattered grey cloaks and after Julien signaled his men that they were to stand down, the four of them split from the main group.
“Young master Arslan,” Elder Samuel stopped and spoke up when the four of them were passing by the spectating group. “If you wish to, you can take a few people and come with us. I trust it will be a good learning experience on how irrational people can become,” he said with a calm smile, though with a hint of obvious disdain towards the ones he was speaking about present in his eyes.
Admittedly, the words ‘good learning experience’ were akin to a catnip to Arslan, but he still managed to restrain himself before agreeing outright. “Um, can I ask where we will be going?” he inquired, preferring to know at least this much before giving Samuel an answer.
“Into the main mid-upper district of the Grand Camp,” Elder Samuel answered straightforwardly. “I want Julien to listen to the so-called ‘Prophet’ and his sermon. We need to hurry up if we are to make it there without attracting too much attention, so please choose whether you are interested in going sooner rather than later,” he elaborated with a meaningful smile, which for some reason contained a fair deal of self-satisfaction.
“I will go,” Arslan answered after a second of thought. He was definitely interested, but were Laien and Yin too? He gave them a questioning look, wondering if they would tag along or not.
Pretty much habitually, Laien and Yin exchanged a glance before they both gave Arslan a nod. Listening and watching was something they were more than willing to do. Being careful was one thing, but acting scared with regard to every possibly dangerous situation was nothing short of paranoia. The two of them had obtained a healthy amount of skepticism and carefulness due to their recent experiences, but sure enough, they weren’t about to hide underground and wait for their lives to end in peace and quiet.
“Can we go too?” Luca asked, directing the question to Julien. He had finally gotten out of his daily routine after three years, so he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see new things. He was fairly convinced that Lea and Daniel felt the same, so he asked in their stead too.
“I don’t see a problem,” Julien said more calmly than usual. It was quite obvious that he was suppressing his emotions and restraining his nerves at the moment. “Will all of them coming be fine with you, Elders?” he asked, the last word he said containing a dose of spite to it.
“It’s fine,” Elder Samuel confirmed with a slight smile. “As long as you do not initiate trouble during the sermon, nothing bad will happen to you. Keep that in mind, put some inconspicuous cloaks on and come along,” he instructed and swept the small group with his gaze to confirm that everyone, with the youths in particular, understood his point. Afterward, he nodded contentedly and led the way.
Laien, Yin, Arslan and the remaining seven all took out some low to medium quality greyish cloaks from their interspatial rings and followed the three Grand Elders and Julien.
Unbeknownst to the three youths from Lugna, Laien and the others all took out the necklaces equipped with azure magic stones imbued with wind magic before even entering the Grand Camp. From what Samuel told them, they were heading to the upper middle parts… but given the number of people living in those areas, it was unlikely for the streets to smell reasonably well. Thus, the idea of using this convenient but pricey accessory was one of the first things that came to their minds.
“He said we are going to listen to some Prophet,” Laien brought up as they were making their way toward the highest and least populated district of the Grand Camp. The sermon would be taking place a good few kilometers below that level, but heading to it through the actual middle areas would have taken them hours; they could see full well how crowded the streets in the lower districts were and how much more stuffy they were getting with each passing moment.
“He seems to be popular,” Yin noted casually. The number of people swarming closer to the area where the sermon would be held was really extraordinary. Counting roughly, it was around a million people who were doing their best to get as close to the so-called Prophet as they could possibly manage; and since that many people moved, the numbers who occupied the houses to listen from within were almost certainly much greater. Out of the eight million people living in the Grand Camp, it wouldn’t be a surprise if over ninety percent of them were intending to listen to the Prophet.
“Since this proposition calmed Julien down…” Laien mused quietly, his train of thought heading in the same direction as Yin’s. The two of them had a fairly specific guess as to what the overall consequences of that Prophet’s influence could be, but they weren’t clear on the details. “Either way, it’s certain that something crazy is going on here.” The two of them came to the same conclusion and for the time being, opted not to speculate further ahead; mainly due to the pointlessness of such an act as they were about to learn the truth soon anyway.
Thanks to moving through the uppermost level of the Grand Camp, it took their group only around half an hour before they arrived in the area directly above the building the Prophet would soon be speaking from. The high district they were in wasn’t nearly as packed as the lower areas, but despite that, it was still uncomfortably tight to stand on the streets. The likes of Laien and Jasmine didn’t mind the crowd all that much and just ignored it, but Arslan, the Grand Elders and even Yin found it uncomfortable to constantly push their shoulders against random people around them.
“Is a warden nearby?” Elder Samuel sent his voice out up to the distance of a few hundred meters away. “I wish to pay an offering of fifty platinum coins,” he added and pretty much instantly caused five or six people in the area to start hurriedly making their way toward him. A few breaths worth of time later, the luckiest of the wardens, a young man clad in a simple, white robe who had just happened to be nearby, stopped in front of Samuel and cupped his hands into a bowl and raised them in front of Samuel, only to receive a non-bound low-grade interspatial ring, which he quickly inspected.
With his expression brightening, undoubtedly due to the added value of a few dozen platinum coins that came from the low-grade interspatial ring itself, apart from its contents, the young man pointed at one of the nearby buildings with his hand. “This terrace should be comfortable for up to twenty people to use. Please seat yourself and await, the Prophet shall emerge soon,” he said politely despite his not-quite top-notch mannerism from a moment ago, then bowed slightly and left.
Elder Samuel wasted no time and jumped directly on top of the nearby building, leaping over the distance of over fifty meters at once. Julien and the remaining two Grand Elders did the same, just like Laien and everyone else. Yet, their actions were met with little to no attention from the people gathered in the streets and on the other roofs. The sight of multiple figures easily jumping up on top of a building might have stirred a commotion in the lower parts of the Grand Camp, but in its highest parts, it was common enough for no one to spare it more than half a glance.
“We could sit on the ground, but…” Laien, Yin and everyone else began bringing out their own pillows or furs, while Julien and the Grand Elders took out chairs for themselves. For a second, Laien was about to ask how was that it wasn’t the best way not to stand out, but when he looked around one more time, he noticed that many of the older people on the roofs were actually similarly seated on simple chairs, while it was only youths who were sitting on the floor. It looked like the behavior or those four was perfectly normal; in contrast, it was the four White Guards who were gathering curious glances as they chose to seat themselves on top of pillows, just like they were used to.
“To think something like that was going on here the whole time,” Elder Sophie murmured with anger and discontentment, though very much on purpose she didn’t muffle her voice enough for it not to be heard by those close to her. “If I knew, I would have put an end to it before it became so huge,” she complained with a sour expression on her face. It would have still been easy to put an end to a movement while it was developing, but now that it reached this scale, it was nigh impossible to get rid of it without causing a major accident and shedding a lot of blood.
“Foolish woman,” Elder Samuel laughed in his heart. It was against the law for the grand Elders to own their private assets beyond what was provided to them by the right of membership in the Grand Council, but that was merely the old, silly law. He had a powerful network of spies, servants, and friends in the country. Great General Markus, then one of the three Magistrates and three of the seven Generals, they were all secretly raised and nurtured by him in the past and now, they were akin to his own friends and family. The Ruishi Federation… it wasn’t an exaggeration to claim that half of the country’s power was within his own hands. Thus, to him, someone like Elder Sophie who had grandiose thoughts and yet wielded little to no real power apart from the seat in the council was an extremely laughable existence.
“Information suppression,” Elder Simon sighed secretly. “Samuel’s influence is growing with each year. That Prophet appeared almost instantly after we set up the Grand Camp two months ago, but I only learned of it two weeks after the fact. Samuel is also incredibly popular amongst our people… if a war erupts at any point in time, he is certain to be appointed Chancellor. It’s a good thing that even though we disagree on some matters, Samuel’s love for our country is no less, if not greater than mine or of any of the Grand Elders,” he consoled himself, pushing away the anxiety that accompanied leaving his country’s fate in the hands of one man.
“Four or five hundred years ago, I could have gotten rid of him if I wanted, but why in the world would I have done such a thing?” Elder Simon smiled to himself. Having opposing points of view in the Grand Council was a good thing, he had always been of this mind. However, he hadn’t expected Samuel’s influence to secretly skyrocket in power around three hundred years ago when many of Samuel’s close friends and pupils naturally rose to prominence within the country thanks to their own talents and skills. Cutting Samuel off had already become very hard to do even if all the remaining powers attempted to do it back then, but now…?
Realistically speaking, Samuel could seize the control over the country at any time he wanted. Yet, he never moved to do so! According to Simon’s guesses, it was because Samuel harbored no desire to become a dictator as he saw the long-term futility of claiming an absolute power through sheer force. Had Samuel not been that kind of a man, Simon would have never been convinced by him to vote for the plan of the Grand Eviction in the first place.
All those thoughts, however, were making Elder Simon feel resigned. But, before he could fall deeper into melancholy, the omnipresent clamor present in the Grand Camp suddenly started dying down until nothing but the gusts of the mountain wind could be heard. This occurrence was definitely caused by the emergence of a white-robed middle-aged man with long, silky black hair reaching all the way below his waist. The man unhurriedly climbed atop the wooden platform on top of the roof he was at, then swept the countless people around him with a warm, fatherly gaze.
“Today is a joyful day!” the Prophet infused his voice with spiritual energy, skillfully sending it throughout the entirety of the Grand Camp while omitting the fort atop the hill a few kilometers away. “The Prophecy I received from the Almighty Karta is finally being fulfilled! Today, the Ruishians shall announce that we are free to go as we wish and where we wish! The day of retribution has come! We need not restrain our voices any longer, we shall march on the Capital of the Guode Federation and reclaim it from the hands of disbelievers!” he announced with pure joy, his voice booming throughout the whole Grand Camp and causing the previously calm atmosphere to instantly become feverish.
As if there was a signal, the entirety of eight million people took a deep breath at the same time and half a second later, started chanting their God’s name.
The deafening chant caused many of the houses to shake in their foundations. However, since sparely anyone was capable of manipulating his Qi to shout within the whole Grand Camp, it overall didn’t cause much damage to the frail structures. Yet, the religious fervor contained in the voice of each and every one of those chanting wasn’t hard to notice.
Those millions of regular people… to the shock of everyone but Samuel, they truly intended to attack the Guode Yimarate on their own!
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