The fog covered everything with a strange white and purple color. Aleran walked in a confused state of mind for an unknown amount of time. In the beginning, the sounds of the chaos caused by the fight between the bird and the giant snake could be heard. But as he entered deeper and deeper into the fog all that noise started to sound distant and distorted, until it disappeared altogether. Inside this fog, there was no up and down, no back or forward, only a constant state of moving that got Aleran dizzier than he already was.
Only after the fog cleared Aleran came to his senses. ‘What the?... Uhg... My head hurts… where the hell am I? How much did I walk? ’ He woke up to the vision of a lake surrounded by fresh grass, all kind of flowers and short trees. The water was calm and perfectly clear and if you look closely you could see the bottom of the lake that was glittering with a strange dim radiance. There were also beautiful birds flying low between the grass and flowers. To Aleran it looked like a perfect painting, he couldn't reconcile the image of the dark and gloomy forest with this beautiful place.
In the middle of the lake, there was a small island With a gigantic tree with roots that went all the way to the bottom of the lake. Every once in a while, the tree would pulse with a green light and the whole scenery seemed to pulse with it. There was something profound, some deeper meaning in those pulses, but Aleran couldn't figure out what it was
He started wandering around for a while, simply enjoying the beauty of this place. For a moment the anxiety of finding the river, of surviving in the wilderness, and the uncertainty of what would happen after, vanished. He didn't notice yet, but he had also forgotten about his injuries that were still very much present.
He looked at the sky, which was partially covered by the giant tree, and saw a combination of white and blue. But every so often he came across a streak of purple between the blue and white. For a while, he tried to search for the source of light, finding no sun in it. But for some reason, he let that pass reasoning that the sun must be hidden behind the tree. Although some part inside him was still pointing that, according to the shadows, the sun should be almost above his head. Not wanting to disturb his only moment of pace, he kept strolling around.
But as he circled the lake, he gained a new perspective of the island. From his new point of view, Aleran had in his line of sight two creatures in the middle of a fight. Unlike the one between the giant snake and the powerful bird, this fight was much more silent. But even then, Aleran could tell these two creatures, fighting noiselessly in that island, were far more powerful than the former two.
One was a dark figure made of shadows with eyes that somehow managed to be darker than the rest of the body. Its body was in constant transformation. One moment it had a human shape and the next it would grow four arms or two heads and even a tail. Then it would split into two shapes or four only to become one again later. And while these transformations occurred, it circled around the other creature without stopping, like a whirlwind.
Between the dancing shadows, Aleran caught sight of the other creature. It was currently on its knees but Aeran could tell it was not afraid. It had the head of a deer, the mane of a lion and the body of a tiger. Its tail was like that of a fox but much longer. The fur that covered it was a dark brown, making the golden mane and the beautiful golden tiger stripes to stand out even more. Although it had a strange combination of features, Aleran had never seen an animal as beautiful as that.
‘Well, I guess is not a simple animal.’ Aleran could feel how the creature as a whole exuded a sense of intelligence, pride, and grace that no animal could show.
Although the shadow felt stronger than the bird or the snake, it wasn't by much. But this other creature, Aleran could feel it in his gut, it was on another whole level altogether. Even when it was being suppressed, it was in another order of existence. There was something regal in its bearing like it was a true ruler of the world. But it wasn't a sensation imposed by force, it was something the rest of the world accepted out of their own will.
The moment Aleran laid his eyes back on the shadow, all previous sensations were forgotten. The world around him lost all color and started to get an ominous atmosphere, the air felt heavy as if made of jelly, hindering his breathing. And the echo of distant screams started to mix with the sound of the wind. Just by its mere presence, the shadow instilled fear in its surroundings. Aleran was again confronted with the harsh reality of how powerless he was in front of such beings.
The shadow seemed to sense Aleran's presence and turned to see the intruder. The moment they locked eyes Aleran saw a deep bottomless abyss. In it, his fears and nightmares came true, filling him with despair and pulling him deeper into the darkness. But before losing himself in that abyss, the shadow started trembling uncontrollably. Even without communication, Aleran understood what was going through the shadow's mind. It was fear, the same fear the giant bird had shown before in its prideful face. Aleran was baffled. Again, he found himself before a being he clearly couldn't handle but was terrified of his presence.
The shadow's hollow eyes darted between Aleran and the deer a couple of times, in a clear show of hesitation. Aleran could feel the repressed greed and fear in that swirl of blackness. But soon the shadow started to disperse. Just like the light of dawn dissipating the darkness of the night, the air in the tiny island and its surroundings lost that previous weight. The light finally started to conquer the previously lost space. With the shadow gone, the place that had lost all its colors was again filled with life, becoming a true paradise once again. Somehow, more beautiful than before.
Seeing the shadow disappear, the deer slowly stood up while staring intently at Aleran. Unlike the other creature, the deer didn't look afraid in the least. There was a clear intelligent look in its eyes as if trying to figure something out. After some time passed, with both staring at each other, the creature touched lightly the surface of the lake with its paws. Strands of ice started to form and in the time it takes to blink, a pathway between the island and the shore was created. Aleran could not feel the moment the creature used qi, it was as if the world just answered to its wishes.
Aleran stood mesmerized in place, looking at the deer for almost a minute. There was something pure in its eyes with no trace of malice whatsoever. He could tell this creature would not try to harm him. In fact, he felt a sense of closeness with this new being. The more he looked at the deer the more his gut feeling assured him of how superior this creature was.
Seeing the boy standing without response the deer pointed with the snout at the narrow path made of ice. That gesture was enough to wake Aleran from its dreamy state and propel him to walk towards the deer, without knowing exactly why. The path of ice did not feel cold, instead, it was like walking on the ground. As he got closer he noticed how the golden stripes on the creature sometimes changed to become complex patterns, and sometimes the patterns became simple stripes. Now that the shadow was gone he also noticed the deep purple eyes and the shining pupils the beast had. The pupils seemed to be made of tiny stars glowing brightly, only the antlers above its head rivaled that pure white color.
It was only when he was nearing the island that Aleran realized how careless he had been following the wishes of an unknown creature. With that thought, he abruptly stopped and regarded with suspicion at the beautiful deer. The beast was now sitting near the trunk of the giant tree that occupied almost all the island. ‘ What just happened? It's not like it forced me to walk to it. But it felt like when I was a child and my mom scolded me, telling me to go to my room. Maybe I would put up some fight in the form of a tantrum but I always ended up following her orders. It just felt like a natural response... Did this creature mess with my mind to make me low my guard or something?’ He thought with mistrust, the forest thaught him that nothing is what it looks.
“Friend” The creature spoke with a voice just as beautiful as the animal itself. It was like a whisper but it felt potent, so much that it made Aleran dizzy for a while. It had the softness of a brize but the power of a hurricane. And in all that power there was a peace and kindness that made him lower his guard again.
It didn't take long for Aleran to notice that the word he just heard, did not pass through his ears, but went directly to his mind. It freaked him out a little to think that his mind was so easily reached by someone else. But the fact the creature showed no ill intention towards him quickly pacified his thoughts. He kept closing in and the closer he got to the creature the bigger it looked. By the time he actually arrived at the island, the size of the creature seated and all was close to 3 meters high.
“Where-where am I? What just happened?”
“Thank...you... for your…help. I will compensate” The deer mental messages started with difficulty and long pauses but by the end of the sentence, it was more fluid. It was speaking in the Eleemes language, it was like the deer had just learned how to speak. He didn't know why he had this thought but the more the deer spoke the more Aleran felt like this.
Aleran had to steel himself to speak his mind before the creature. “Compensate? Why don't we start for where in the world am I?” Some part of him was afraid to make the deer angry with his disrespect but another part of him told him to treat the beast candidly.
“ Faraway… in a special plane, outside.” The deer answered unfazed. Not bothered by the tone Aleran was using. The more it spoke, the fewer interruptions its speech had and the more refined it sounded.
This answer only made Aleran panicked inwardly. Even with all that happened back in the forest, he had his own fate in his hands. He had to fight and sometimes run away from the danger, but everything depended on how strong he was. Even when he was falling to his death he could at least had the freedom to try and fight for his life. Now, however, he was back to his days when he was dragged by external forces without control of what to do. And was again facing beings that could snuff him out of existence with as little as a thought on their part. This situation could stress anyone, much more a control freak like him. That pissed him off a lot, even if the whole deal ended up being a good thing for him.
He wanted to say many things but, somehow, a single question came out of his mouth.“A special plane?” Aleran didn't know what exactly did it mean by that. Was he in another, dimension, another universe perhaps? Not happy with the answer he continued. “With outside, you mean outside the world or the universe? Then, why did I end up here just for walking in a strange fog? Was it some kind of portal?” He barely remembered going into the fog, it was like a dream. This whole situation seemed surreal.
The deer seemed surprised and without reservation, it voiced it. “ Your concept of “world”, of “universe”… is different from the one the others... in your world should be capable of handling...more complex and deeper. It needs someone with more power, higher cultivation, and comprehension. The concept of “world” you have is not that hard, but the concept of the “universe” is very deep. There's no one like that... in your world, I can tell. They are all too weak. That knowledge… Where does it come from?”
“I knew it” With the face of someone that just confirmed something Aleran started to step back. He didn't care about the question posed by the beast, he focused something else. How could the creature tell what he was thinking when he said the words “universe” and “world”? It was pretty obvious. “ You can read and manipulate my mind, what the hell do you want?”
Aleran didn't know why but at that moment there seemed to be a somewhat maternal smile on the creature's face. “True, I can read... and control your mind. But I'm only reading… the superficial thoughts, those you want to convey. Don't have the energy... nor the need to bother with a deeper search. And it is possible you feel compelled to follow my orders… the difference in strength is too big after all. Besides I can control... your unconscious behavior subtly. ”
Aleran himself didn't realize how he was arguing with a creature that could easily kill him. And that if it wanted, it could do it without any need of arguing. His head started to feel heavy, and his thinking slower than usual. Perhaps that too was the creature's doing. “ That makes some sense, I suppose. But you didn't answer how or why I got here.”
“I brought you here. I'm sorry, I needed your help. But don't worry, in a moment you will return to the exact place you were before coming here.” The honest apologies dampened Alerans anger that had just sprout in his chest. The deer seemed genuinely sorry.
“Did you bring me here to scare that thing away? Why was it hurting you? And why did it run from me?” The reason it had given finally calmed him down. At least the deer did it out of desperation.
“No. That thing is weak. It was just taking advantage of my previous injuries. Cannot hurt me, it can only trap me hoping I get weaker with time. It entered at the same time you did and from the same place but was faster. Even if I was captured, the real danger was low. I could have destroyed it but it would have worsened my injuries. I need all my power to stop them from growing worse.” Now the deer showed no pause in its messages.
“It was all a coincidence. Why did you bring me here then?” Now, Aleran was more relaxed, for a moment he thought the deer wanted to use him as a glorified scarecrow. And that made the previous anger resurface temporarily. His time in this new life had made him somewhat paranoic.
“I thought you could help with my injuries. I was wrong. I thought you would be more powerful.” The deer looked clearly disappointed.
Aleran gave a quick glance at the body of the creature. But it looked unblemished, without even a stain. He decided to ignore that fact, he couldn't hope to understand the physiology of this creature. But the deer wanting his help only got Aleran more confused. Once again he felt his thinking slow and his head heavy. “ How? I mean...That doesn't make any sense, how would you even know about me? And how could I help you?”
“ I was far away. But even from that distance, I could feel the power of something, something that could help me. I thought you had it, but now I can tell your essence had merged with those waters. It cannot be taken away and you cannot use it, not for now at least. I thought you were one of those who had transcended, but you are just someone lucky or perhaps extremely unlucky that got in touch with those waters.” The deer looked at Aleran with a weird mix of jealousy and pity.
“Waters?” The image of something that looked like a stream of black water, with red bright particles moving within, assaulted his mind. In hand with that, the memories of pain and anguish of the moment slipped into his memories too. That was the only thing he thought this creature could want from him. ‘Is that black water still stuck to my soul?’ That thinking took his breath away, and again, the unpleasant memories rushed to his mind. He shook his head trying to forget about it, he didn't want to relive that experience. Every second he was in this strange plane and talking with this creature Aleran got more and more confused. He was afraid of asking but he did it anyway. “ What are those waters you speak about?”
“It's better if you don't know. There's nothing you or I can do. I know very little about them either way. Besides, as much as you seem to know about things you should not, I'm sure I can't explain it with the words and concepts you possess. I called them waters because is the closest thing you know of that resembles it even a little.” The stag explained with patience, but still showing the same face of pity as before, only now the jealousy was all gone.
Even though Aleran felt that pity strange, for some reason, he could not ask more about it. “Was that the reason the shadow ran, and other powerful beasts fear me?” Although he couldn't confirm this, he was pretty sure the bird and the shadow were not exceptions.
But the stag shook its head. “No, they are too weak to feel what is merged with your essence. There are not many that can tell, even with bigger powers. I am an exception thanks to my species, we are somewhat special. These creatures ran from something else, it's only temporary, I can tell you that. In a few days, if they see you, they will either ignore you or kill you with ease.”
‘Something else? What is it? And, it thinks that those monsters are weak? How strong is this creature?’ Aleran thought with still many questions. But before he could say anything more the voice of the creature burst again in his mind.
“It is almost time to part, with this being a failure I have to leave and tend to my wounds. Opening the passage for you already cost me dearly. But you still helped me, killing that creature would have cost me a little in my current state. I had promised I will compensate you and I keep my promises. There's little I can do now, let me think what can I give you. Something that spends less energy than killing that creature, of course.” The deer raised its head looking everywhere and nowhere. It seemed somewhat happy trying to choose in his mind.
For some reason the voice of the creature made Aleran forget about the questions. If the deer said it was time to part and didn't want more question he was almost compelled to do it. Only one question could escape Aleran's mouth, and it was about the current conversation theme.
“What? Do you know some sort of supreme cultivation technique that will take me to the peak of cultivation?” It was a half-joking question but it seemed to be the only one that could leave Aleran's mind. It was as if the creature unconsciously allowed some questions to be asked. And Aleran, at the same time and also unknowingly, accepted those conditions and only asked what it was allowed. It was a very frustrating feeling that was very hard to explain or even pin down.
“Mh?” The question seemed to bring the strange deer chimera back to reality. “Yes, I know the one that will take you to the peak.”
That short sentence made Alerans heart to stop for a second. ‘ Could it be? Could this be the moment I am given a supreme technique that will leave any others in the dust?’ With his talent at gathering qi, he couldn't even imagine what it would be like.
But the deer's answer destroyed his expectations. “The technique that will take you to the peak is the one that you create by yourself.” Aleran could swear that at that moment, the deer's face had a mocking expression as if saying. “Yeah, you wish, idiot.”
‘Is that the reason why I was able to ask that question? Just to entertain him?’ Alerans face was like that of a child who had his favorite toy taken away. “ I can't believe I am going to say this to something that can literally obliterate me. But you are an asshole, you know?”
The creature squinted its eyes and started shaking, it was like a burst of soundless laughter. After a minute the creature stopped laughing and regarded Aleran with amusement before speaking. “I know what I can give you. Earlier when we were talking, you unknowingly showed me you were lost in a forest. Is this still your current situation?”
“Yes, actually I don't know where I ended up even before I entered the fog.” If this creature could help him, that would be great. It wasn't a supreme cultivation technique but at least it would help. Another question, maybe a more important one, was able to leave his mind. “Why are you really helping me? You said it yourself, that shadow could not really hurt you.”
The creature sat still, with its tail swinging from one way to the other. To Aleran it looked like it was thinking its answer, making him roll his eyes. ‘C'mon, I'm sure you already knew what I was going to ask.’
“It's more like a bet. There is a chance I don't get to recover on my own. On another hand, there is a very tiny probability you survive to get strong enough to use those “waters”. If those two conditions are met, then I will come again to ask for your help. What do think?”
Aleran just nodded, by now he only wanted to get out of this place and make it out of the forest alive. The creature didn't seem to be evil or something, in fact, it seemed to be a good-natured one. So, if he could, he would help it.
“ Then, come closer. This will feel uncomfortable but don't worry. Where do you want it, in the face or in the chest?”
“ If it is that uncomfortable, in the chest, I guess.” Aleran answered getting closer.
“The face it is.” while shaking in another fit of laughter the creature tapped Aleran's forehead with one of its antlers.
‘Son of a-’ A cyan light shone before his eyes followed by the sensation of something like worms crawling under his skin. Then the same sensation spread through his eye sockets, ears and nostrils, lastly they gathered into his skull.
As the creature said, the prosses was uncomfortable but painless. After everything was done he could feel nothing and there were no visible changes in his face.
“ If you focus your mind on your forehead you will figure out how it works by your own, It is very easy once you put your mind to it. Once you get out from here you can try doing it. This is not some great power, is just something that will enhance a natural ability cultivators tend to overlook. And because of that, they don't exercise this ability too much. You will thank me when you realize how important it is. With that, our time together is over, is time for you to go back.”
‘Can you at least tell me what this “gift” does?’ was what he wanted to ask but what came out of his mouth was another not so important question he had. “ By the way, I'm Mathew. Do you have a name?”
The being shook its head with its golden mane leaving a trail after every movement. “ I don't have a name, those of my kind are special. We are like one, we don't share everything but we can share some sensorial information and abilities. We can also share with each other some memories and basic knowledge .. like a language for example. You should feel blessed, this is something few know about.”
‘Oh.’ Aleran had thought the creature had read his mind to learn the language. But now he remembered that it was only reading his superficial thoughts, only what he wanted to show.
“Then how do you call yourselves?” Again, he blurted the only question he was allowed to.
The creature stood up, stuck its chest out looking impressive and filled with pride. And with a flourish of its tail, it announced. “ I am, a Kaisha”
With that last announcement, a thick fog started to fill the place, the same fog that brought him here was the one that was taking him out.
Still, Aleran was depressed he couldn't ask all the questions he had, not even what the gift was. What was the point in talking with someone that will say only what you wanted to hear? Seeing the beast through the fog, still in the same position and proudly sticking its chest out, he immediately understood. ‘It just wanted to show off...what a weird creature.’