1744, 14th day of the second month of the Cold period. First day of the week.

I haven’t done much in the past two and a half months. Losing Vivi has hit me hard. Having a maniac that’s been watching you for years drop off your love’s head as a birthday present hasn’t helped.

The Vibrant Lotus wasn’t too happy with me at first. I gave them all of the back stock I had which should keep their price fixing stable for half a year.

“Anessa,” Veronica calls, “dinner is ready.”

I’ve been eating once every other day. I’ve stopped going to both jobs, and have let my cultivation slip, my full body dantian has expired long ago.

I drag myself out of bed and enter the dining room. I haven’t showered in a while so I sit at the end of the table to give everyone some distance.

Veronica puts a plate in front of me and her nose turns up. She demands, “Shower this evening young lady.”

I groan, and play with the food on my plate, pushing the peas out of my meal.

“Don’t give me an attitude, Anessa,” Veronica chides. She places her finger under my chin and forces my eyes to meet hers. “I know you’re still hurting, but you can’t go on like this.” She covers my much thinner hand, “You’re wasting away.” She leans in and whispers, “Vivi wouldn’t want that.”

I hear a crystal clear cat’s bell and my thoughts clear. I stifle the tears that try to form in hearing her name. I reflect on Veronica's words and kick myself. She’s right.

Vivi would give me a good clobbering if she saw me like this. It’d hurt too, since she’s at least ten times stronger than average.

“I know,” I admit. I sigh and push my feelings to the side, so I don’t start crying, again. “I’ll try to go to the Vibrant Lotus tomorrow to settle my debt.”

“I’ll go with you,” Yalinda offers.

1744, 20th day of the second month of the Cold period. Seventh day of the week.

It takes me four full days to recover my dantian to where it was. It may sound fast, but it was a grueling effort to get everything in sync again.

Another entire day was spent finishing the new project I’m working on for the Vibrant Lotus. I need to get this to them soon or our contract will be in jeopardy. I’ve borrowed more than the contract is worth over my lifetime I’ve been told.

I walk up to the receptionist, her name tag says Nicole, at the Vibrant Lotus. “Yes Nicole, could I get an audience with Gaylan Pierce?”

“I’m sorry he’s in a meeting, may I ask him who is requesting?” Nicole says.

“Lady Anessa,” I say.

“Please wait in our lobby while I go deliver your message,” Nicole says as she stands. Before walking off she continues, “it may be a while as he’s meeting an important client.”

“Okay, thank you.” I reply.

I sit down in their lobby which is a spacious brown marbled floor with seats around their thick pillars reaching their 40’ tall ceilings.

“Thanks for coming with me, Yalinda,” I say, looking over at the woman. She’s wearing more revealing clothing today since it’s a business meeting. I told her I didn’t understand and she said I would someday.

“No problem, you’ve had a rough time, so I figured you could use the moral support.” Yalinda says.

I wait no more than three minutes before seeing Gaylan walking toward me with a smile. He glances at Yalinda and nods toward her.

“Anessa, thank you for coming today,” Gaylan says holding out his hand to shake mine.

“Fine, thank you.” I say accepting his hand in mine. “Can we talk somewhere more private?”

“Of course, I’ve have someone readying conference room 1.” Gaylan says. He walks beside me with his hand on my back.

“I thought you were going to be a while,” I remark, “they said you had an important client.”

“Ah, yes, well… there’s different levels of important,” Gaylan reminds.

We walk into the conference room and it’s even more lavish than the last one I was in. A black marble counter wraps around the back half of the room’s bar with gold flakes flitting about as I take a moment to look around.

“So, what brings you here today?” Gaylan asks, as he pours himself a drink at the bar.

“I have something I thought you may be interested in,” I say as I remove the latest creation from my storage ring. I set it on the table between us.

“Let’s see here,” Gaylan says. He takes a drink and sets his glass on the table, and picks up the exalted essence-gel’s container. He opens the case a hair’s thickness and a wave of energy blasts out of it that makes my vision tunnel.

Gaylan closes the case and snaps it shut. He sets it back down on the table and removes a towel from his storage space and dabs his forehead. The wave of pressure made him break into a sweat.

“I’m glad we upgraded the wards on this room last week,” Gaylan laughs. “Your suppressor failed, in case you didn’t notice.”

I shake my head still dizzy from the experience, “I noticed.”

“I’ll need to call in a senior to check this out for you,” Gaylan admits. “It’s out of my league,” he smiles, “We suspected something like this would happen based on your recent acquisitions.”

Gaylan stands, “Would it be okay if I asked you to wait a few minutes?”

“Sure, that’s okay,” I say.

Gaylan exits and I eye the container on the table.

That was unexpected. If Gaylan had opened that box even a little more, that would’ve torn me apart.

“Are you okay, master?” Yalinda says. She still refuses to call me anything but master outside our home.

“Yes, I was just caught off guard,” I say, looking at Yalinda. She’s sitting on one of the couches on the far edge of the room.

“That was unexpected, please tell me more at a more appropriate time,” Yalinda asks. She places her finger to her lips to be quiet. She points to her ears then to the walls of the room.

Ah, we’re being recorded, or someone is listening to us. Perhaps both.

Yalinda and I talk for ten minutes. Without reason, she yawns, lays down on the couch, and closes her eyes.

“Yalinda?” I ask.

She doesn’t respond.

“Yalinda?” I ask as I start to rise. I can’t lose someone else.

“Calm down,” A woman’s voice demands, each word hangs in the air in an echo before going away. “I asked her to sleep, so she’s asleep.”

As I turn toward the voice I hear a cat’s bell in Yalinda’s direction and turn to it. A flame-blue cat stands on her form. The bell chimes and the cat vanishes as though smoke. A wave of calmness passes through me and my fears abate.

A white formation flashes to life on the floor, it rotates beneath me. It covers the entire room, crawls up onto the wall and ceiling.

My body feels heavy and I turn around to see a woman in a white wispy dress that flows even though she’s still. I close my eyes and realize why I feel heavy, my full-body dantian is sealed, my natural dantian is sealed, and the seal placed on me has lost its usual spin, its tendrils are froze in place.

The woman has already picked up the case and is looking at it with her red eyes ablaze. Her presence screams power.

“This is nice, mortal.” The woman says. She looks at me, and says “I permit you to call me Undine.”

“Hello Undine, I am Lady Anessa.” I reply.

“I care for what you can offer the Vibrant Lotus,” Undine says as she closes the lid to the case, “not for your title nor your name.” She makes the case disappear into her storage space.

Undine’s a bit stifling.

“How did you acquire this?” Undine demands.

“I would rather not say,” I reply.

“I will not eat you, mortal,” Undine says. “I could destroy Anfang with a snap of my finger,” she continues, raising her hand up, placing her middle finger on her thumb. “I won’t, because I want to know the answer of where this came from, I won’t ask twice.”

“I made it,” I admit, the pressure from her threat makes me sweat.

“I see,” Undine says, and lowers her hand. “Show me,” she demands standing.

“My equipment is at home, I don’t carry it with me.” I inform.

“Is it guarded?” Undine wonders.

I shake my head no.

“Foolish,” Undine chastises, she walks up to me and touches my forehead, “Think of the place you made this and how to get there.”

I close my eyes and do as she requests.

“Open your eyes, mortal. We are here,” Undine commands.

I open my eyes and find we’re standing in my workshop. I didn’t feel any movement, I didn’t feel anything. Just pop and we’re here.

“Am I hallucinating?” I query.

“No, now make another one.” Undine orders.

“I do not have the inferior pseudo-divine essence stones to do so,” I admit, lowering my head. “I used ten of them for that sample,” I lie, I can’t tell her I influenced the ten elements on Anfang. I really screwed up making essence-gel of that quality.

This Undine is going to just take everything and make the Vibrant Lotus take over production. I’ll be lucky if I’m the only one she kills.

Undine pulls out sixteen sets of ten inferior pseudo-divine essence stones. They are lined up along the wall.

Along with them is a dampener, of a grade I can’t identify. The combined energy leaking from the stones make me dizzy. Right, inferior stones leak essence. I stumble and steady myself on my workbench. What was I thinking by lying to her?

My curiosity begs me to ask her why there’s sixteen elements, but I stop the thought in its tracks.

Undine places another formation underneath the stones and the pressure abates.

“You should advance as needed, you seem to be holding back for some reason,” Undine scolds. “Are you waiting for puberty?”

My face flashes with heat, she’s blunt. She seems none to pleased that she had to place a field around the stones.

“No. I’ll get started, on making another set of stones that is.” I reply.

Over the next five hours I labor away at making sixteen supreme essence-gels.

Undine marvels at the gel I use from Exalted Essence Stones. Once I’ve finished my work, she produces sixteen containers for me to place them in.

“Show me how this box works,” she demands.

“It’s engravings are hidden,” I remark.

“There are many levels to Truth’s Sight. As you advance up the cultivation ranks, those secrets start to reveal themselves,” Undine informs. “I doubt anyone on this rock is advanced enough to see past the first level.”

I open the compression chamber and show her the compression discs. She turns them over a number of times and furrows her eyebrows.

“Can you see the enchantments on this?” Undine asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“What color are they?” Undine wonders.

“Electric Blue,” I say. When I converted the divine art of compression into a multi-level compression diagram its color shifted from blue to an electric blue. The engraved lines sometimes seem to give off sparks of electricity.

“I see,” Undine says in a soft voice.

I think Undine may be stumped by it because she’s studying the blank side. I force myself not to smile at her behavior. I think even smirking at her would be bad for me.

“Close your eyes,” Undine says.

I comply and this time, I pay attention, the difference in temperature tells me we’re back inside conference room #1.

Seventeen boxes line the conference table. I don’t even know when Undine had time to lay them out. She sits across from me with her arms on the back of the couch.

“My original goal was to take over production from you and cut you out of the process,” Undine admits. “I’ve changed my mind.”

Ah crap, she’s not just going to kill me is she?

“I doubt we could reproduce these the same way you have,” Undine confesses with a sigh. She raises her left hand with her fingers splayed. “We can offer five regal emeralds for the common elements, ten for the uncommon, and fifty for the rare.

“The contract would follow the same terms as your last. A new one would have to be drafted due to the difference in grade.” Undine continues, “We would also supply the materials.

“I expect you to upgrade your workshop and make an investment in its security,” Undine says. “I will send… Gaylan in with the new contract once I have looked over the old one, and drafted the new one. I also expect you to wait to fulfill this contract until you are less stressed by the process. You almost crippled yourself back there.”

I almost crippled myself? Griblin’s Giblets. I know it takes a lot out of me, but I didn’t know the risk is so high.

This is probably the last time I will meet someone of her caliber. I need to ask her.

“Undine, may I ask you some questions?” I ask.

“You are permitted three… no two questions,” Undine says. “I have other obligations to see to.”

“Can you remove the seal on my dantian?” I wonder.

“Seal?” Undine asks, she looks at me and her eyes shine white. “I see.” She waves her hand and I’m forced to my feet. She stares at me a good five minutes before replying.

“Well?” I ask.

“I could,” Undine says, “but I will not.”

I slump forward a bit crestfallen, great, of course she won’t.

“You’re already well on your way to removing it,” Undine remarks.

Her words bring a smile to my face.

She scratches the side of her head, “Be sure that when you do break it, your other weird project you’ve got going” She waves across my entire body, “is at the same strength, or it will dissolve and be lost forever.”

Undine hesitates, “The reverse is true, and is of more concern. If they aren’t in equilibrium you could kill yourself. Squashing your natural dantian would be fatal, it’s tied to your life source after all.”

Yikes, I see. So, if my full-body dantian is weaker when the seal is broken, it’ll disappear or in the reverse I’ll kill myself. Great.

I’ve compressed my dantian 45 times compared to my body’s seven times. The difference is like night and day. Those seven full-body compressions put me at less than one compression of my natural dantian.

I’ve been using the seal to compress my natural dantian since it’s akin to a pressure chamber at this point. It’s showing no signs of deterioration, but I’m inclined to believe Undine, I just don’t know how far I have to go.

“How strong are you, and will I ever get to where you are?”

Undine smirks, “That’s two questions, but I’ll answer. As for how strong I am, if every mortal human on this planet was in the Otherworldly Realm at the peak, I would be no more threatened by them, than you would be by a stiff breeze.”

A … stiff breeze? Is she serious? Otherworldly realm cultivators can wipe out life on entire planets.

Undine places her hand on my shoulder, “To answer the other half of your question: if you can’t I would be disappointed.”

Undine waves her hand and a corridor appears before her, “To answer your real question, as a service. Vivi wouldn’t you to waste your life by going at Vincent half-cocked. Understand your enemy in full before you act against him. Crush him and seal or destroy his soul.”

Crap, can she read my mind? Did she look into me before our meeting?

Undine steps through the corridor and it vanishes.

She’s given me a lot to think about. I know one thing, I can’t go after Vincent as I am now, or even if I make it to the same realm. How much of a threat is he?

I’d say Vincent’s a big threat. My home is guarded by at least Julian and Mark. Either Vincent, or one of his goons, waltzed right past them and delivered the present. Mind you, in my home, as though it were effortless. If he wanted me dead, I would be dead.

I have to know more about Vincent so I can, as Undine said, guarantee I can crush him. Why did she say I should seal or destroy his soul? Is it so he doesn’t come back in another life for revenge?

A note from Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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About the author

Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.


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