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Sylar Wershin rolled in his bed. The world was far too bright. He closed his eyes, rubbing at them, and groaned with annoyance.

Right, then. What was his agenda for the day again?

He was supposed to finally cast the damned spell and answer the questions he’d been pondering over for the past five years, and get some closure about the function of the last of the artifacts in the Demi-Lich Renashan’s treasure hoard. He already had ordered the last of the necessary reagents, and prepared the spell matrix that he’d spent countless nights refining the efficiency of, and all that remained was –

Crap!

He shot out of bed, eyes wide. This was not his room. This was not his tower on the outskirts of Nimbria City. He could feel the ambient Transcendental Essences in the environment around him, telling him that none of what happened had been a dream. His Essences were completely restored to its natural configuration without conscious input while he had been unconscious, primarily built around the four Primals and a healthy amount of Fate Essence.

He – for better or worse – was no longer in Resham. He had gone against theoretical limits of spellcraft, opened new questions in the centuries-old mystery that was the Lost Ages of the Rostaran Civilisation, and ended up in an entirely new Plane of Existence.

Ni xing lai la!”

He turned to the side, where a woman had spoken in a foreign language. Ah, right. Of course Tongues had expired in his sleep. With idle ease, he recast the spell. One of these days, he would need to figure out a more permanent solution, especially if he was going to be stuck here for the foreseeable future. Perhaps find a way to combine it with Enchantment magic?

Not today, though. He had enough of spell theory after yesterday’s experiences.

“Master Sylar! I will fetch Master Lu at once!” The woman who appeared to be one of the estate’s attendants laid a tray of food down by his bedside, bowed deeply, and quickly exited the room.

Sylar sat up and reached over, grabbing the offered meal. Was it breakfast, or lunch? Perhaps dinner, given that he’d fallen asleep right at the break of dawn? Regardless, sustenance was very much welcome. The facts that the meats smelled heavenly, and that the beverage soothed his parched throat helped plenty. He didn’t remember if he’d even drank anything from the time that he’d arrived at the Lu manor.

Come to think of it, were Wenchai and Lu Jin even awake already? Had he slept that long?

Those questions were answered, when Wenchai entered the room, a bright smile on his face. Trailing beside his rotund figure was Lu Jin, who had dark rings around his eyes, but looked far less tense and anxious than he had been the day before.

“Ah, Sylar!” Wenchai sat down on a chair in the guest room. “Glad to see you’re still with us!”

“Takes more than lack of sleep to kill me, I’m afraid,” he said, munching on some unfamiliar fruit. The locals sure had some delicious cuisine. “Sorry about the daoshi. Are your profit margins still looking healthy?”

Wenchai thumped at his chest. “Bah! Trials and tribulations are nothing to the great Suo Wenchai! I will rise up once more as a phoenix from the ashes!”

Ooh, they had phoenixes here as well? That was good to know. Sylar had always wanted to see those elusive creatures supposedly from the Elemental Plane of Fire for himself.

“How’s your daughter?” he asked Jin, concerned. The spell had been something he had come up with from scratch, rather than an established peer-reviewed work from better mages than himself. “Does she look any better?”

“See for yourself.” Jin beamed at him, and despite his tired visage, he carried himself with vibrant energy. He waved behind him, ushering a timid-looking Qiyu forward.

There was still a bit of pallor to her skin, but it wasn’t ghastly as it had been before. It seemed that the worst effects of Horrid Nightmare were now past.

He stared at her, and she stared at him.

Sylar had never been good with kids. Doja, his party’s Bard, had always been the one who entertained the children in the villages they came across in their travels. Pelaran, the Fighter, had been the one to mock-wrestle with the boys in the villages, pretending to be sorely beaten each time as they piled up on him.

Him?

He mostly just did a few party tricks, gave a neat little Dancing Flames, Water Bolt, Gale, or Earth Spike, and called it a day.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” he said to Jin, then looked back at her. “Hello.”

She hesitated for a moment, then stepped forward beside her father, bowing deeply. “Thank you very much, mister cultivator!”

“Don’t worry about it.” He waved her aside, then glanced between them both. “Should you really be moving about that much already?”

“I asked for a physician to check up on her. Qiyu’s been given a clean bill of health,” Jin said. Then, he too bowed. Was that something that the locals just did all the time? “I cannot thank you enough, Master Sylar! If there is anything I can do to repay this debt, I will do the best I can!”

“I’ll let you know if something comes up,” he said. “About that cultivator, though…”

“I had my men double the guard and conduct a sweep around the grounds, but there was nothing else suspicious. They asked around the city, but no one could give a clear account as to who he really was.” Jin’s eyes sparked with anger. “Damn that man! He cursed Qiyu, pretended to help, and tricked us into paying for his fake cure!”

“He’s dead now.” Death by Soulburn was not a good way to go. “What are you going to do now?”

“I was planning to approach the Elders at the Righteous Heart Sect at the Penshan Peak for help. If he wasn’t working alone, there is a chance that his Sect and their Master may have dark plans for Penshan, or even for Jinxiang Province as a whole.” He looked over at Wenchai. “Wenchai intends to trade in the remaining daoshi as well, for some capital to restart his business.”

Qiyu gave a shy smile at the merchant. “Thank you as well, Uncle Suo!”

“Aww!” Wenchai swooned. “Such a polite little girl!”

“Wenchai, are you sure you don’t want me to reimburse you for your losses? It was my fault that –“

“Bah!” he scoffed. “You were cheated of twenty-five hundred gold pieces, Jin. My losses are petty in comparison. Besides, the Heavens must have given this to me as a challenge! It is a blessing in disguise!”

It wasn’t everyday that a merchant saw financial losses as auspicious. Sylar doubted that he’d ever come across anyone like Wenchai during his travels in Resham.

“If you’re both heading to the Righteous Heart Sect, do you mind if I tag along?” Sylar asked. “I would like to get to know some of the local cultivators as well.”

And to reconstruct spell matrices they had (if any), as well as figure out why in all the Planes Unknown they fought in such an odd hybrid manner.

“I would be honoured, Sylar,” Jin said. “I will make sure to put in a good word for you, and tell Elder Ma of how you saved my daughter’s life.”

New excitement grew in him. He didn’t have much time to think about how Zhu had fought yesterday, but now that he had time aplenty, there were many mysteries to be investigated. During the battle, he had continually filled his soul with incompatible matrices, and thereby generated Soulburn without casting spells. Was there a point to that, or was his casting technique extremely flawed? And were they truly some odd variant of monk-mages that engaged in multiple disciplines of training, like the Spellswords of the distant land of Karthaka back in Resham?

“Can I come along too?” Qiyu spoke up, shifting her weight from one foot to another.

Jin hesitated. “You’re only just starting to recover…”

“But –“

“You should let the little missy come along, Jin,” Wenchai said, earning a delighted squeal from Qiyu. “She’s been sick for a month; the outdoors could do her some good.”

“It’s going to take an entire day’s ride to get up the mountain,” he spoke with worry. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”

“Don’t forget that Zhu’s Sect might come back to finish the job, though,” Sylar reminded. “It’s likely that it was just misfortune that Qiyu was targeted, but even then, Zhu probably had someone he reported to. If he doesn’t check in, they might send someone else to check up on him and –“

He paused. Jin and Wenchai were staring at him, the former with renewed fear, while Wenchai just looked incredulous. Qiyu paled, no doubt remembering the terrors that Sylar could only imagine she had seen while trapped in the unbreakable Horrid Nightmare.

Gah! Me and my big mouth! It was no wonder why Doja had always said that mages had intelligence aplenty, but the charisma of an enchanted ooze. “Sorry.”

“No, you are right.” Jin sighed. “She will not be safe, even in the estate.”

“Don’t worry, Qiyu.” Wenchai bent over, patting her on the shoulder. “Master Sylar will be protecting us. Won’t he?”

He looked over at Sylar as he spoke. Sylar shrugged. “Assuming that they don’t just end up killing us all, sure.”

He wasn’t a fool. While it had been fairly easy to subdue Zhu, he had been remarkably skilled. His speed rivalled that of a hasted mage, and his strikes had been powerful enough to pass for a Boulderfist. Sylar had won through skill, and by using his knowledge of Essence Studies that the local cultivators likely didn’t know much of, but they were far, far superior in martial combat. If this enigmatic Master of his or a superior cultivator of his Sect came to finish the job, Sylar might be caught on the back foot.

“He’s just being humble,” Wenchai said, throwing a sidelong glare at Sylar. “You should have seen the Spiritual Arts he used to fight off the evil man! Master Sylar had him running away with his tail between his legs!”

“Really?” Qiyu looked at him, wide-eyed.

“He didn’t have a tail,” Sylar corrected.

“He still lost, and that’s the end of the story.” Wenchai stood up, and clapped his hands, sending his signature broad smile. “Well then, friends! Shall we get going? It will be a long ride up the mountain, and we continue talking along the way.”

Jin nodded. “I have already asked for the carriages to be prepared.”

Sylar took a last swig of his drink, then reached for some writing supplies that had been left by the bedside. From his adventuring experiences, there tended to be idle time during travel, and he was keen to do something productive. “Lead the way.”

-x-x-x-

Lu Jin’s carriage was far more spacious and comfortable than Wenchai’s wagon. While Jin’s driver sent the horses moving in the direction of the mountain from which Penshan bore its name, the two Lu’s, Wenchai, and Sylar were seated at the back. The Mage was idly sketching simple matrices of low-level spells on a scrap of parchment, a fun past-time that didn’t take up too much concentration.

“So, Sylar,” Wenchai said. “I wasn’t sure whether to ask before, but now that we’re the best of friends, where do you come from?”

“Questionable nature of that statement aside, I’m from quite far away, actually. You probably could tell by my name.”

“Aha!” Wenchai pointed a finger at him, victorious. “Suo Wenchai is right once again!”

“Which lands do you hail from, Sylar?” Jin asked. “If you don’t mind telling us, that is.”

He shrugged. It wasn’t as though they could find meaning in any of it, so long as he didn’t reveal that he came from another Plane of Existence entirely. “I’m from Resham. I kind of just… wandered here by accident.”

“Your mastery of the language is very good, though,” Wenchai said. “Are there many people from the Six States where you come from?”

“I don’t actually speak your language. That’s a spe – I mean, a Spiritual Art that lets me do that.”

“I… can’t say that I’ve ever heard of one like that,” Jin said slowly. “I suppose that there is no need to, though, since most cultivators stay within the Six States of the Immortal Lands.”

Immortal Lands? A bit rich of a name, but Resham had plenty of peculiarities of its own. The regions of the Dread Convergence and the Eternal Maelstrom had always struck him as being a little over-the-top.

“Independent rogue cultivators tend to be rare in the Six States,” Wenchai added. “Did you train with a Sect before, Sylar?”

“I apprenticed under Master Rynwald for a time, but then left to further my own studies as I travelled Resham.” Sylar glanced at his work – the rough matrix for the Second Level Shocking Grasp – and then crossed it out, starting a new spell. Practice made perfect, and the importance of being able to call upon the entirety of a matrix at but a moment’s notice had been drilled into him by his master.

“How old are you, Sylar?”

“Twenty-three. Why?” He wasn’t about to toot his own horn, but he’d completed his training with Master Rynwald remarkably quickly. Still, though, he’d stagnated over the last four years, when he’d locked himself in his tower and retired from adventuring. Arcanist had been good enough; he didn’t need to push for the title of Spellsong.

Now that he had Transcendental Essences practically everywhere, though, that was a different matter entirely. He would need to practice with spells of the Fourth Level and higher that drew from the Transcendentals other than Fate, since he hadn’t been rich enough to afford reagents for their regular practice and casting before.

“No reason. I was just curious.” Wenchai pointed at the parchment. “Alright, I give up. What are you even doing right now?”

“Drawing matrices for Spiritual Arts. It’s a fun exercise.”

“I thought cultivators weren’t supposed to show off their formulae and manuals in front of outsiders?”

Sylar waved it in front of Wenchai’s face. “Does any of this seem like legible writing to you?”

Wenchai chuckled, conceding the point. “I haven’t met many cultivators, but you’re quite a bit different from them, huh?”

Sylar shrugged. “Wouldn’t know.”

“Do you think I can become a cultivator too, Master Sylar?” Qiyu suddenly asked innocently, from where she sat beside her father on the opposite pair of seats in the carriage.

“Qiyu?” her father asked, aghast.

“It’s only natural, Jin.” Wenchai laughed. “Didn’t you ever fantasise about riding on flying swords or putting down Demonic Beasts like the master cultivators of the Penshan Alliance as a boy?”

Riding on flying swords? Sylar perked up. Now that he had to see. Was that done through an Animate Object, or a more specialised form of Enchantment?

“I mean – sure,” Jin said, embarrassed. “But Qiyu is already ten, anyway. The Righteous Heart Sect starts training earlier than that.”

“Wait, really?” Sylar questioned. “When do they begin?”

“Around six or so for most of them, I think?” Jin furrowed his brows. “That’s based on what I saw from my visits to the Sect as administrator of Penshan, at least.”

“Huh.” That was remarkably early. Sylar had begun at a younger age than most, but even he had been older when Master Rynwald first began his initiation into the wondrous world of Essence Studies.

“How old were you when you started?” Wenchai asked.

“Nine.”

“How long was your training?” he pressed, interested.

“I was with Master Rynwald for… what, five years?” he said, counting. “I started travelling some time around thirteen or fourteen, and then settled down in Nimbria when I was eighteen or nineteen. Haven’t progressed as quickly since then, though.”

“I’m not too old, then?”

Probably not,” Sylar conceded. “Some of my acquaintances began later than myself, and I know a couple of them who were well into their late teens before finding their talent for the art.”

“Can you teach me?” Qiyu asked quickly, the words practically racing out of her mouth.

His first student! Sylar reached into his robes, excited, but then remembered that he, unfortunately, hadn’t brought the teaching materials he had long prepared in anticipation for the first-ever student of the Nimbrian Academy of Essence Studies. All those hours spent penning down primers on each of the Transcendental Essences, and the practice exercises and homework he had created, all wasted.

“Is that actually possible, Sylar?” Jin asked, with a tone of caution, gripping tight on his daughter’s shoulder. “I heard that attempting to cultivate without a strong foundation can lead to disastrous results.”

Ehh, that sounded like the accidents that might occur when a Neophyte who had no idea what they were doing tried forcing Essence pairs into shells, without knowing how to actually cast the spell, or when they pushed too far, too quickly, and caused massive accumulation of Soulburn. It was why the system of apprenticeships was the dominant model of instruction, since a good tutor knew how to see when their charges were recklessly mucking around with Essence after they began to have a feel for how to draw in and manipulate them.

“It’s generally harmless with good supervision,” Sylar said. “With the methods of Resham, at least. Some discover the talent on their own, while others might take weeks of instruction before it clicks, though.”

Qiyu leaned forward in her seat, determined. “What do I need to do?”

“Sylar, you are sure that it is safe?”

“Probably. There’s no telling if she’ll even be able to get to the point where things might become dangerous, anyway.”

“How do you start?” Wenchai asked, curious, a childlike spark in his eyes. “Can I start flying around on swords any time soon?”

“Unlikely. It’d be easier if you were impaled first, though.”

“Bah, not interested.”

Sylar snorted. “Normally, you begin with meditation. That was how I started my training with Master Rynwald, but only because he’s one of the old-school types. There is a slightly faster way to kick-start things, I think.”

He grinned. He’d been readying things for a student that never showed up in his Academy, but he never much had the chance to test this application of the spell he had prepared. Share Sense was meant to be a spell used by a Mage to convey information to their allies, but Sylar had postulated that Diviners who reached the stage whereby long use of Fate Essence had allowed them to sense ambient Essence instinctively might also help with the most difficult step in pre-Neophyte training.

Better Diviners than he had probably theorised the same, but there was never much need to test it – by that point, most apprentices that they took up would already have a solid foundation on the basics of Essence Studies and spellcasting. If it worked, though, the stage that took Neophytes weeks to months to reach could be cleared in a single instant.

“First, you need to see the world as I see it.” He looked at Jin, asking for permission. “Don’t worry, this Spiritual Art is completely harmless.”

He hesitated, but finally nodded.

“Ready?” he asked Qiyu.

“Yes!”

He closed his eyes, visualising the matrix of the spell. It was complex – Fifth Level – but he was fully capable of casting Sixth Level spells. The spent Essence would be recovered during the time that they rode to the Penshan Peak.

Fate, paired with a minor amount of Spirit. A trickle of each of the Primals, that represented the natural world. The other Transcendentals – Life and Death excluded – for the immediately adjacent Planes.

And then, he cast the spell.

A glyph appeared in front of him, mirroring an instant later in front of Qiyu. He focused on his intent – sight, as a metaphysical approximation for Essence had always worked best for him, even though it was far more intricate than that. The glyph moved alongside his intended purpose, drawing nearer to their eyes, smaller sub-glyphs spreading at vertices around their body.

Then, he allowed the Share Sense to collapse, a final push of Essence, and his sense of Essence became transmitted to Qiyu.

She gasped.

“What is this?”

“Amazing, isn’t it?” He remembered the first time he understood Essence for what it was. It had been intimate, as though rediscovering a lost sense, like a blind man seeing colour for the first time. “This is the world as I see it.”

“What are all these… colours?” Like him, Qiyu likely realised that there was no word that truly described what Essence was; a sense entirely of its own.

“The cultivators of Resham call it Essence,” he said. “I don’t know if your cultivators here have a different name for it, but they represent the energies that suffuse the world we live in.”

“You mean… like the Elements?” Wenchai cut in, curious. “Don’t suppose you can let me see it too, Sylar?”

“Sorry. I can’t use that Spiritual Art again right now,” Sylar said. “Elements is… well, a close enough description, I guess. You see it, don’t you?”

“Is that… Water?”

He nodded. As in Resham, the four Primals still made up the bulk of ambient Essence. “Water, Fire, Earth, Wind. And there, if you focus a bit more – Spirit, Fate, Form, Shadow, Space.”

He omitted Life and Death. They were present, but at lower concentrations than the others, and he doubted a complete beginner could perceive them. If she could even sense the Transcendentals at all, he would be impressed.

“Amazing…”

Jin looked at his daughter, his affection for her plain in his gaze. Sylar could imagine why – after spending a month trapped in the Horrid Nightmare, seeing her behave in this way must have been a breath of fresh air.

“Look at me, now.” Slowly and deliberately, he drew in ambient Fire Essence. “Feel what I feel. Spiritual Arts are empowered by drawing Essence into your soul.”

He took his time, letting the Fire Essence in, and then decaying it as Soulburn without release of a spell. Then, repeated the action, taking in fresh Fire Essence.

“Can you sense it?”

“I… think so? There’s… some kind of heat, around here.” She pointed just below her navel.

“The feel of each Essence is different. I’ll start with Fire, and if you can get it right, we can go on further. Close your eyes, now.”

She did as bidden, shutting them more tightly than he’d intended, but at least that meant she wouldn’t cheat. “Okay?”

“Tell me if you feel anything. Say yes if you feel it.”

He drew in Fire Essence, taking his time. No response. He ejected it into his Soulburn cache as Pyrans of Soulburn, and began the process anew.

“Yes?”

He nodded, and repeated it.

“Yes?”

Huh. Not bad. This time, he faked it – for a good fifteen seconds, he did nothing.

She gave no response during that time.

“Sylar?” Jin spoke up, from where he’d been observing on the side.

“Just testing her.”

“No fair!” Qiyu whined.

“Complain later.” He drew in more Essence –

“Yes!”

Not bad, not bad at all. He would put this success down as fully due to his novel teaching pedagogy. At some point, he would need to patent it as a method of the Nimbrian Academy of Essence Studies.

“Open your eyes,” he said. “Now, I will use a Spiritual Art, so you know what it feels like to push it out from your soul.”

Slowly, he drew in Essence. Then, he held a Fire-Fire pair in its shell for a moment. Finally, he released it, forcing it out to flow through his metaphysical soul into the material body, concentrated at his fingertips.

Dancing Flames caused a small ember of flames to materialise, twirling around the length from base to tip of his phalanges.

“Wow…” Qiyu was fascinated by the flame, pressing a hand against where she had pointed her ‘soul’ to be. He knew that feeling well – the first castings were the most wondrous of sensations.

“Is it really that easy to use Spiritual Arts, Sylar?” Jin asked.

“I have a feeling that your local cultivators go about it by a different method, that has its own strengths and weaknesses,” Sylar admitted. “In the end, it’s also heavily reliant on individual talent and hard work, although I think that my method helps cut down the initial hurdle.”

“You’ve taught disciples of yours before?” Wenchai piqued up.

Sylar groaned, annoyed. “Hardly,” he said. “No one signed up in the five years after I set up my academy.” He snickered darkly under his breath. “Well, we’ll show them their loss now, won’t we?”

“What do I do?”

“Try drawing in Essence as I did,” he instructed. He let go of Share Senses – it was nearing the end of its duration, anyway. “Don’t push it out just yet. Once you get it done the first time, hold it in your soul, and don’t do anything else.”

Far be it for him to have a catastrophic failure of his first student suffering death by Soulburn within the same day of his instruction. It was near-impossible to die from Soulburn after casting a mere 0th Level Spell, but accidents happened.

She shut her eyes tight in concentration. There was agitation in the Primal Essences in the immediate vicinity, but it wasn’t quite at the level necessary to truly draw it in into the soul.

“You need to tug a little harder,” he said. “And focus a bit more on the Fire. You’re pulling a bit on Wind and Water right now.”

He leaned back in his seat, returning to sketching matrices on his paper, glancing at Qiyu’s progress every now and then. Even with his little boost to Essence awareness, drawing in Essence still remained a significant hurdle.

Credit where credit was due, though – she never complained. In his travels, Sylar had heard horror stories of whiny apprentices from fellow Mages deep in their tankards of ale when their groups mingled in the taverns.

“You said you never had a student before?” Wenchai craned his neck, looking between Sylar’s matrix exercises and Qiyu continuing in her forays into the world of Essence manipulation. “This seems much… milder, than what I heard cultivators do in their training.”

“Ehh, my cultivators also don’t just draw in Essence in order to punch things harder.”

Qiyu giggled, but then stiffened, embarrassed, and returned to concentrating on her work.

And so it continued over the next few hours, as they drew closer to the Penshan Mountain, and began to ascend around its winding path. At some point during his quiet observation of Qiyu, Jin had fallen asleep, likely owing to his lack of rest through the events of the previous day. Wenchai was likewise snoring loudly.

Then, with a sudden rush of movement, Sylar felt Fire Essence in the vicinity begin to shift. Qiyu jerked, her eyes opening.

“Hold it there!” Sylar ordered, his Diviner’s sight allowing him to sense the Fire-Fire pair that had finally been drawn in, and placed into its shell.

Wenchai bolted upright. “Wazz going on? My money! Where’s –“

“Qiyu?” Jin was alert. “Is something the matter?”

“She’s just managed to take in some Essence. You remember how it felt when I released my own Dancing Flames?” he asked. She nodded uncertainly. “Right. I want you to slowly try and repeat what I did. Don’t worry about the fire – once you manage to push it out, I can use another Spiritual Art to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.”

He put his writing material away. This was the moment where the most nascent of Neophytes tended to make mistakes. There was a right and wrong way to link the soul and body. Failure would cause the Essence to turn into Soulburn without effect, while success manifested as a spell. For someone unused to casting, though, Dancing Flames could turn catastrophic if they panicked while creating the flames, especially in a carriage constructed of flammable material.

Three pairs of eyes watched Qiyu, as she held out a palm with fingers splayed out. The dormant Essence began to activate as she pushed outward from within her soul. They flared to his sight, and then –

A gush of flame.

She yelped, the fires spiralling uncontrollably, and Sylar reacted immediately. A Shape Fire spell gave a semblance of order to her manifested flames, and he brought it to the space between them both, hovering as a flickering orb of radiant light and heat.

Damn I’m good,” he said, pleased with himself. “Essence awareness, absorption, and expulsion on the first day?”

“Wait, the little miss actually managed to use a Spiritual Art?” Wenchai gaped. “She’s a cultivator now?”

“Not really. It needs to become a lot more natural, and plenty of people reach this stage entirely by accident. Back in Resham, you don’t earn your title until you manage the full range of Essences and build up a repertoire of Spiritual Arts.” Sylar observed Qiyu, who had her hand placed just below her navel. He thought he knew why. “What you’re feeling is what Reshamin cultivators call Soulburn,” he said. “It’s only a temporary thing, and the Spiritual Art you used generates only a single unit of it. Still, you should stop any further practice until it dissipates fully.”

“Soulburn?” Wenchai wrinkled his nose. “Sounds nasty.”

“It is. It’s how the cultivator from yesterday ended up killing himself.”

“He… burned his soul?” Jin asked.

“I imagine your cultivators have a different way to describe it, but yes. He couldn’t contain the energies of the natural world that he infused into his soul, and it ended up overwhelming him. It’s hard to actually happen, though, unless you do it on purpose like he did.”

“Well, well! Good job, missy!” Wenchai gave a wide, toothy smile, squeezing on one of Qiyu’s hands with both of his own. “A talented genius in the making! Who could have known?”

“Will you keep teaching me, Mister Sylar?” Qiyu asked.

“That’s… not my call to make. Besides, I don’t actually know if I’ll be staying here for that much longer, but I could help out while I’m here,” he said, glancing at Jin. “Also, you should know that my methods are very different from your local cultivators. I’m starting to think that there are more differences than I initially suspected. You might be better off with the Righteous Heart Sect, actually.”

After all, why would any self-respecting Mage reduce the grand art of Substantiology to punching things, meditating in caves, and riding on swords? Surely there was a reason, even if their understanding of the field was completely different from Resham? He had to be missing something, and she might benefit more from whatever their training methods were.

She turned at her father pleadingly. “May I? Please?”

Jin looked sternly at Sylar, deliberating between his options. “It’s completely harmless?”

“As long as she does it under supervision and listens to instructions, sure.” Part of the learning experience was failure, anyway. His time with Master Rynwald had been much the same, with his mentor stepping in only when there was a real risk of harm for the most part.

“Then… fine,” he acquiesced, and Qiyu gave a whoop of delight, hugging her father by the arm. Already, she looked loads better than how she had been earlier that day, and a world apart from when she had been under the influence of Horrid Nightmare. “Heavens above know that I can never say no to her wishes.”

Truth be told, Sylar was excited to have a… well, not quite an apprentice. A student? That worked.

Figure out the secrets of the local cultivators, work on catching up with his own practical aspects in Essence Studies in the Transcendentals he’d neglected in Nimbria, and teach Qiyu in the downtime. Already, things were shaping up to be more entertaining than the last five years had been, up in his tower where he’d Divined artifact after artifact.

Before he knew it, the carriage was winding its way up the mountain spire, and they soon arrived at Penshan Peak, home to the Righteous Heart Sect.

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A note from Agranulocytosis

Merry Christmas everybody!


About the author

Agranulocytosis

Bio: A scientist, casually writing about fantasy in my free time.

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