1740, 8th day of the third month of the warm period. Fourth day of the week. (Two years, two months and seven days later)

I sit up in bed invigorated, which is unlike me. It tends to take me thirty minutes to wake up. I reflect inside to try another compression inside my sealed dantian and almost stumble onto my face. My full body dantian is still active!

I use the extra thirty minutes I have to cultivate and recharge to full. I’m beaming ear to ear when I walk into the living area.

“Good morning sunshine,” Veronica says, she must notice my improved spirits.

“Morning Veronica,” I reply. I smile wide at her, “I have good news.”

“Oh, and what’s that?” Veronica says. She leans in, “Something to do with someone you like?”

I shake my head and put my hands in front of me, “No, nothing like that!” I stand up from the dining table and hold my hands above my head and cast them to the ground. I exclaim, “My full body dantian lasted through the night!”

“Oh! That’s wonderful.” Veronica says. “We’ll have flitch tonight to celebrate, okay?”

I stare at her a bit and imagine it.

“Anessa, you’re drooling,” Veronica chides.

“Orris,” I say, entering Sir Orris’ alcove.

“Good morning, little lady,” Sir Orris replies.

I stand in front of him behind his desk, “Please come closer,” I request.

Sir Orris leans toward me and I give him a hug.

“Bah, what’s this all about?” He complains but doesn’t push me away.

“I completed my seventh compression last night,” I say. “When I woke up this morning, my full body dantian was still there.”

“Hmm,” Sir Orris says. His eyes glow their usual white as he looks me over, “It’s still not permanent, but it’s close.”

“What do you mean, close?” I ask. I break into a smile.

“When you started using the super art of the Shell, it was so weak and useless. The sensation you give off now? It’s almost that of a cultivator. You’re losing too much essence.” He taps my forehead, “It’s close because you’re losing less than when you started.”

I see, so if I get to the point where I lose much less, the art may become permanent?

I exit the town archives and a familiar face greets me.

“Yo.” Julian says, his usual shades covering his piercing white-blue eyes.

I look around and don’t see anything out of place, “Why are you here?”

“You wound me,” Julian says, bringing his hands to his chest.

“Julian, stop being an idiot,” a second man sitting on the steps says.

Both men are dressed the same. My gut tells me Julian is the stronger of the two.

“We’re here to escort you home,” the man on the stairs says as he stands. He dusts off the back of his pants.

“Did something change?” I ask, eyeing the two with suspicion.

“Nope, just new orders,” Julian replies.

That’s not much of an answer.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Mark Orris,” the man says. He hesitates, “No relation to Sir Gerald Orris.”

Mark walks behind me as Julian takes the lead. If the Rubble Rats still met, it would be difficult with these two around me. Reena still won’t speak to me or Vivi. I can’t say I blame her. The other kids stopped coming around when Bola passed.

Ian and Vora have been adopted by Veronica and stay in her place. They’re being watched by a Nanny of sorts.

Julian gives Mark one half of a jade stick before we set out. They are called Short Range Obscured Communication or S-ROC for short. I don’t know if they are aware I can hear them.

“So, babysitting?” Mark starts out.

“Yep, babysitting,” Julian replies, “It’s not so bad, she’s not as boring as you’d think.”

“Still, this is a bit much, she’s a nobody,” Mark continues. “I thought we were past missions like this.”

“Use your head a little man,” Julian retorts, “If she had no value, we wouldn’t be the ones protecting her. You saw who signed the order.”

“Her being a target of the Sovereign of Light shouldn’t be enough to even warrant our attention,” Mark notes. “She works with Sir Orris in the archive, which is a little strange considering she’s only seven years old.”

“Okay, keep going, you’re a little warm,” Julian adds.

“Her family is unknown except for the unnamed Viscountess family title she holds.” Mark pauses, “Is it something to do with the unnamed title she holds?”

“Oh, nice guess and that’s an interesting story in itself,” Julian admits, “but you’re getting colder on that line of thought.”

“There was an incident two years ago in Pariah’s Ruins, but it was a redacted mess, couldn’t get much from it,” Mark replies.

I hear his footsteps stop, causing Julian and I to stop.

“There shouldn’t have been anything in there to create an incident, it’s a ruin left by an outcast who was a madman. They deemed his secrets weren’t worth looking into.”

Julian turns around and I see him smile.

“Oh you’re so close, but the last piece of the puzzle won’t be on any report,” Julian says.

We reach the my home. I look up at Julian and ask point blank, “Does the report mention anything about Bola?”

Julian looks down at me and takes off his glasses. He turns around as though looking for someone. He pulls out a half-piece of jade and looks at Mark who does the same. The jade is still active and so is the stacked series of ‘v’s surrounding their bodies.

“It’s active,” Mark says.

Julian blows air through his teeth, “I know, I’m just glad I didn’t say anything treasonous.”

“I think I have that piece of the puzzle you mentioned,” Mark says with a smile.

“No,” Julian replies shaking his head. “This is a whole new piece.”

I point to my eyes, and look at Mark and say, “This is the piece,” I point to my ears, “this is the new piece.”

“Okay,” Mark says. A few seconds pass and he exclaims, “Oh!”

Julian takes off his right glove and stares at his hand a period. He holds out his hand, “Shake my hand.”

“O…kay,” I hesitate, unsure where this is going. I shake his hand and step back.

“Mark, shake my hand,” Julian orders.

Mark does so and pulls his hand away in surprise, “Yuck, what was that for. Your hand felt like wet slimy ass.”

“No it didn’t, it was normal,” I reply looking at my hand to recall the sensation. “A bit calloused but not slimy.”

“Mark, report to Gunther, have the last two tests ready by morning.”

“Yes, Sir,” Mark replies and takes off.

“What’s the big idea?” I ask.

“The big idea is you just made our job more difficult, and I need to talk to my fiancee.”

A note from Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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About the author

Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.


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