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A note from Agranulocytosis

Squeezed another chapter out, but I doubt there'll be any more coming any time soon now that the holidays are well and truly over.

There's a bit of a lengthy note at the end as well.

You,” Yang Xingling spat, glaring at the two approaching figures.

“Hello, Sister Yang,” that damned Wu Guanzhong said. “It has been awhile. I hear that your training has borne fruit. My congratulations.” Then, he turned toward the remaining three Seniors who were now joining by her side, greeting each of them in turn. “Brother Liu. Brother Song. Sister Qin. Where is Elder Hua?”

She ignored how the term of address grated at her. Sister this, Brother thattwo years ago, such formality would never have been spewed by Guanzhong.

“Yo, Guanzhong!” Song Quanhao greeted with his usual vibrant cheer. “Elder’s off to scout out the group of beasties to make sure they haven’t moved. She says she’ll be back in the morning, and to be ready for her return. But more importantly – Senior, you’re finally free from captivity! I knew that you’d be let out one of these days!”

Enough nonsense. Xingling stormed up toward him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The bastard actually had the audacity to look confused. “Did you not receive Elder Yang’s response to Elder Hua’s update?” he asked. “He said that he would ensure that you all were aware that assistance would be arriving within the week, and –“

“Of course we received my father’s damned reply!” she interrupted. “What I want to know is why you are here!”

“With the recent troubles in Penshan, Elder Yang felt that it was for the best that –“

“I don’t care about what my father feels.” Passivity. Deflection. As always, Wu Guanzhong was trying to weasel his way out of this. “You don’t leave the Sect for the past two years – no matter how much anyone tries convincing you – and only now you decide to step out?”

The look of slight embarrassment on his face was wrong. The old Guanzhong – no, the real Guanzhong, the one who she had grown up with – would have risen to the challenge, and issued a duel right there and then, and fought until one of them could no longer move. This mockery that was the Wu Guanzhong before her couldn’t be compared to who he once was.

Two years. Ever since he had been taken under her father’s wing, he had become an utter coward. He had politely refused to leave on any missions out of the Sect, opportunities which he would have jumped upon at a moment’s notice when he had been an inner circle Senior. No matter how much she pleaded with him, all he did was find ways to deflect. He stopped issuing spars and bouts, and a year and a half ago, he had stopped accepting them entirely.

Spineless. An eagle who had lost its wings and talons. People could say that to his face, and all he did was smile that same damned fake half-smile of his, and continue along with his day.

But Xingling knew better. He hadn’t lost his skill – Guanzhong still practised in the training grounds, and the fierce blows that had once made him a formidable warrior hadn’t dulled in the slightest. Somehow, however, he seemed to think that it wasn’t sufficient, that there was something lacking.

He had refused to fight. When he wasn’t meditating or continuing with those same forms he had already mastered, all he did was serve as her father’s little lapdog, play niceties with the Juniors who hadn’t even completed their foundation in bodily cultivation, and continue practising his skills without ever using them.

And now, suddenly, after two full years of inactivity, he was here.

He remained silent, simply continuing that serene smile that she swore her father must have taught him. Ignoring him, she turned to the one who Guanzhong had travelled with. “And who the hell are you?”

The stranger was obviously someone outside of the Sect. His features were foreign – slightly messy brown hair that was very loosely pulled back into a little tail, startled-looking blue eyes, wearing a flowing coat with sleeves just past the elbow and tails that went down to his thighs. The coat covered an inner layer of garment, with pouches, satchels, and a book strapped by his belt. He was shorter than Guanzhong, and his form was lean, with little muscle to speak of.

He was obviously a cultivator, but an extremely pitiful one. She could sense his qi, but it hadn’t yet been fully settled into a firm foundation for further refinement. It was at the stage of a Junior who barely had slightly more than year of training. In the Sect, it was not yet even deserving of being promoted to the inner circle of Juniors, and receiving the daoshi that came alongside the title to begin the second stage of bodily cultivation.

“Brothers and sisters, this is Sylar Spellsight,” Guanzhong said on his behalf. “Sylar, these are Yang Xingling, Song Quanhao, Liu Yao, and Qin Shurui. Sylar here was the one who had uncovered our yet-unknown enemy’s attempt to cause harm on the Lu family after they had infiltrated Penshan. It was only thanks to him that we know of their sinister designs for Jinxiang.”

The word from her father had been dire. He seemed to reason that this was only just the beginning, and that a storm was brewing not just in Penshan, but possibly Jinxiang province as a whole. Messenger kites charged with spiritual energy had been flown out, recalling those who had been on training pilgrimages and putting those already in Jinxiang on high alert. Elder Hua had been instructing them in martial combat, with the aim of having the four of them destroy the Demonic Beasts in the chasms below as a final test at the end of their training, but her father had made it a special priority to put an early end to their extended training exercise.

Her father was a timid man who rarely left the Sect these days. But he was not senile, and when the word had come from Penshan, everyone knew that he was being deadly serious. Elder Hua had brought their training to a close, even though they were supposed to continue on for another two months.

But… him? This foreign cultivator? “He hasn’t even finished his foundation for bodily cultivation.”

And what the hell was that cultivation base supposed to be? It was vastly different from that of the Righteous Heart Sect, which infused and strengthened the body with the natural elements, binding the energies of the natural world through the excess yin and yang energy that their bodies produced.

As a yang-dominant cultivator, she was well attuned to those who had cultivated themselves by refining their yang, but her recent breakthroughs with Elder Hua had enabled her to mildly pick up traces from those based on yin as well. What the foreigner utilised wasn’t derived from those of the Sects of Penshan; neither based on yin or yang, or any of the natural elements.

“I made the same mistake in underestimating his skill as well, Sister Yang.” He glanced over at the foreigner. “Trust me when I say that I have learned my lesson well. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say that his knowledge of the Spiritual Arts rivals even that of Elder Yang’s.”

There was a beat of silence.

“No, really?” Quanhao swore, sounding amazed. “Elder Yang’s?”

“He’s lying, idiot,” Xingling snapped. “Look at his qi. He’s barely even at the level of a Junior.”

Guanzhong shook his head. “A week ago, even that wasn’t there.

“Really?” Qin Shurui spoke up, frowning. “But that’s…”

“And we’re supposed to believe you just like that?” Xingling scoffed. “I’m starting to wonder how much of what else he said is true.”

“It’s true,” Guanzhong defended hotly. “Elder Yang arranged for us to have a duel, and –“

Abruptly, she and her fellow Seniors who had been scrutinising the foreign cultivator whirled toward him. She had been about to question how plausible it was for someone to complete in a week what Juniors took close to a year to achieve, but this new revelation took precedence.

“You what?”

The foreigner blinked, looking at Guanzhong with confusion, but Xingling couldn’t possibly care less about him right now.

“We had a duel –“

“Nice!” Quanhao cheered, interrupting him. He surged over, clamping a hand on Guanzhong’s shoulder. “You’re finally back with us! I knew you would get over your slump one of these days! Challenged him like you used to after you caught his lie, did you? Gave him a good smack, until he called you ‘grandpa’?”

“No, Quanhao,” he said, embarrassed. “It… well, truth be told, I was equally surprised when Elder Yang insisted for us to have a match.”

“Forget why you two even duelled – are you telling me you lost?” Liu Yao asked, mouth agape.

“No, actually.” The foreigner finally decided to speak up. “I lost, and in quite a spectacular manner, too.”

Guanzhong gave a wry grin, one of those from the old days. “You still left me bedbound for two days while I gathered energy to recuperate, Sylar. I must admit, it was quite nostalgic.”

“No way?” Quanhao spoke, sizing up the foreigner. “Nice! You woke up the sleeping dragon!”

“I’m not sure nostalgic is the word you should use for a situation like that,” the outsider said, eyeing Guanzhong. “You really weren’t kidding when you said you used to be hot-headed, huh?”

It made no sense. Elder Yang was notorious for being the sole one of the three Elders who stuck to the basics, and made his disciples repeat the same old exercises of the Foundational Forms, and engage in practice in the Baijian Basic Sword Arts, Fist of the Steadfast Heart, and Ten Heavenly Forms that all Seniors had been exposed to since the day of their promotion. Guanzhong had long mastered all those arts since before even becoming a ranking disciple. His technique was flawless, and he could rattle off their principles by heart.

Yet, for two years, her father had never deemed him worthy of beginning the next stage of cultivation with the Nine Processes Unification Scriptures. Unlike Elder Hua and Elder Shang, he rarely took his disciples away from the mountain for field training. Few people applied to be his students, and ever since Guanzhong had become his charge, her father had stopped actively seeking out new personal disciples.

For the last two years, Xingling had continually pestered Guanzhong for them to spar, only to be repeatedly shot down. She had even swallowed her dignity and begged at one point, wanting to help him return to his old glories, but he hadn’t even batted an eyelid, continuing to meditate and practice in the grounds. The rivalry that had seen them both improve from strength to strength had abruptly vanished into just memories of the past. He had become stagnant in the Sect, while she had been sought out by Elder Hua six months after, and since then had exceeded the rival she had never previously been able to beat.

And now, her father had suddenly ordered for Guanzhong to duel not herself, who had been his closest rival for years, but this outsider?

It was absurd, and it was humiliating.

“Two years,” she forced the words out. “For two years, you’ve refused every time I challenged you to a spar. You suddenly stop talking to me, and find every excuse you can to avoid me. Fine. I can accept that.” She inhaled deeply, then fixed the foreigner with a glare. “But this outsider shows up, and both you and my father suddenly decide to stop being cowards?”

“Sister Yang, that’s not –“

“Why?” she interrupted. “What’s so special about him?”

“I didn’t know either, at first, but Elder Yang saw something special in him and thought that it would be a good learning opportunity for both of us –“

“What about me? What about us?” she spat, sweeping her hands out toward the others. “Did fifteen years living in the same Sect mean nothing to you?

“That’s not what this is about, Sister Yang,” Guanzhong said.

Sister Yang. In the old days, Guanzhong would have just called her Ling. He was fine calling Quanhao, Shurui, and Yao by their names, but he always kept his distance from her now. Ever since he had been poisoned by her damned father’s passivity, Guanzhong had become a completely different person, as though their old friendship and rivalry had never mattered.

“Enough.” She glared at the foreigner. “Prove it, then. If you are as great as Guanzhong says you are, prove it.”

“Um.” He looked at Guanzhong. “Not that I mind and all, but we’re not planning to take down those Demonic Beasts tonight, are we?”

“No, Sylar.” There was a tone of respect there that Xingling hadn’t expected. “The plan is to attack at mid-day.”

“Ah. That’s fine, then.” He paused, then glanced at Guanzhong. “Any requests?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, smiling mysteriously. “How about showing off the Pecking Blades Technique?”

The Pecking Blades Technique? It was one of the few Spiritual Arts that had been taught to ranking disciples, building upon the Baijian Sword Art. It wasn’t overly impressive – it could hold no candle to a skilled swordsman, and was too slow to injure anyone who knew what they were doing – but it was nothing to scoff at, either.

“The Elder taught you that technique?” Shurui spoke, sceptical. Of their little group, she and Quanhao were close to completing Core Condensation, and becoming ranking disciples themselves. Less than a month, and they were likely to have a breakthrough. Yao was only just slightly behind them.

“Not exactly.” The foreigner looked aside to a group of rocks. “Mind letting me borrow your sword, Guanzhong?”

“Certainly.”

He placed the sword on the ground. Then, his eyes darted to the side, and a Spiritual Formation materialised in the air in front of him. Xingling studied it quickly, but it was not one that she recognised. Far too quickly, it vanished in a flash of light.

A jolt of lightning appeared in mid-air, and in an instant so fast she could have missed it if she blinked, it wound around two stones about twenty metres to their left and right. They flew toward one another, the smell of electrical ozone stinging the air, before a second Spiritual Formation appeared.

This, she recognised. It was that of the Pecking Blades Technique, but… it was wrong. There was an alteration to it, in one corner of the formation, but before she could make sense of it any further, the formation activated.

The two stones that had been sent hurtling toward each other suddenly halted in mid-air. He let go of Guanzhong’s sword, and it, too, began to float. They spiralled lazily in the air in complex movements.

“How did you phrase it again? ‘I will show you the Pecking Blades Technique?’” he said to Guanzhong. As he spoke, the two stones and the sword began a little mock duel, the stones flanking and striking the blade as sparks flashed where they met. “Somehow, it sounded a little more impressive when you said it.”

Guanzhong turned away, embarrassed. “Had I known you were the capable of the same Spiritual Art, I would never have phrased it that way.”

They were undoubtedly Spiritual Arts. The first was not one from the Sect's teachings, and though the second did look like the Pecking Blades Technique, it was also different. It was not meant to work on stones. Somehow, he was genuinely a cultivator who had achieved Core Condensation, and yet had a pathetically tempered body. He had gathered the Spiritual Energy into the necessary Spiritual Formations, and unleashed them far faster than she could.

It made absolutely no sense. How could anyone hope to wield the fundamental forces of the world, if their bodies were not primed to accept them? How could he not be torn apart by their raging Spiritual Energies? And more fundamentally, how could he even perceive the mundane elements and the greater Aspects of Creation, without the dedicated practice that came during the journey of laying a foundation, refining, and continually reforging the body? Without first understanding how the energy circulated in his own body, how could he have managed to unleash it as a ferocious tide from his dantian into the world beyond the self?

“Satisfied?” Sylar Spellsight asked, as the swords and stones began a little tandem dance.

“Well, I’m convinced! If Senior Guanzhong vouches for you, you’re alright in my book!” Quanhao cheered. “Welcome to the club! Thanks for dragging the old dragon out of his cave; some of us thought that he would end up rotting there!”

“Sister Yang,” Guanzhong pressed. “As you can see, Sylar is indeed a fellow cultivator past the Core Condensation stage. He has Elder Yang’s confidence.”

She hated it. She knew she should have been overjoyed that Guanzhong was finally out of his slump, and that some part of her old rival had returned. It had been what she had sorely wanted for the past two years, for some of their old challenge to return.

But now… things had changed. They had changed.

“This changes nothing.” Xingling turned around. Perhaps she was being irrational, but Xingling didn’t care. She didn’t want to see her old rival right now. “You are not the Wu Guanzhong I know, not anymore. We finish this mission, and we return to how things have been for the past two years.”

Without waiting for any further word, she headed off, sprinting to the edge and away to another plateau. Practice with the Baijian Advanced Sword Arts sounded very much welcome right now.

She didn't know why, but Yang Xingling most assuredly did not like this Sylar Spellsight.

-x-x-x-

Sylar looked over at the shadow who had just leapt across one of the wide gaps between plateaus as though it was nothing, who had then faded into a speck in the distance soon enough. After a moment, he turned toward Guanzhong.

Guanzhong hadn’t been kidding when he said to prepare for people who weren’t quite as composed as he was. Personality wise, she was almost the complete opposite from the Elder. Aside from the same intense grey eyes, he couldn’t see any resemblance between Yang Xingling and Elder Yang.

She was of approximately the same height as himself. Appearance wise, everything about her spoke more of practicality than aesthetic value. Her hair was tied in a loose bun, and though she was just slightly shorter than Sylar, she had exuded an aura of intimidation that could match a raging Barbarian. She wore the same blue robes with yellow trims that Guanzhong had in her position as a ranking disciple, made for easy movement in combat without being cumbersome, and had a sword fastened by her waist.

“Well, that was a nice reunion.” The one Guanzhong had addressed as Liu Yao sighed. “I’ll go make sure Xingling doesn’t do something stupid. Good to see you out of retirement, Guanzhong.” He broke into a sprint, leaping past the chasms just as Xingling had.

“Lovers’ spat?” Sylar teased, hoping to break the tense mood that had been left in the wake of her abrupt departure.

Guanzhong winced, deliberately not meeting his eye. A moment passed.

“Wait, really?” Sylar asked, incredulous. “You two don’t strike me as – uh – compatible.”

“We were once the best of friends,” Guanzhong admitted. “And I did tell you that I used to be a lot more hot-headed. Things… changed, after I was accepted into Elder Yang’s tutelage. I didn’t like who I used to be, and tried changing myself for the better. We just drifted apart.”

“Best of friends? Hah! They were inseparable! Everyone was placing bets that they would be betrothed to each other sooner or later.” Guanzhong’s discomfort deepened at Quanhao’s nonchalant tone. “The only reason this idiot ranking Senior begged the Elder to accept him as his disciple was because he thought it was the only way to show that he could be worthy of Xingling.”

That… didn’t fit at all with what he thought he knew about Guanzhong. Maybe there was some truth to what he had said earlier, about how he used to never stop challenging his peers to contests of strength and skill.

“Why didn’t you accept her sparring requests, though?” Sylar asked, nonplussed.

“That’s… complicated. While under the Elder’s tutelage, I realised that there was something I was lacking, something that was blocking my progress. I can’t speak too much about it, but it was only recently that I thought I might have found a way forward. By then, our paths had diverged too much.” Guanzhong spoke, guarded. “Can we please stop talking about myself?”

Seeing that there was no point of forcing the subject, Sylar acquiesced. He turned instead to the two remaining Seniors.

Quanhao struck him as friendly and vocal – more so, perhaps, than even Wenchai. His build was muscular, larger than even Guanzhong, but he felt less threatening than Xingling had been. In contrast to Guanzhong’s neatly-tied black hair that added to his composed demeanour, Quanhao had a veritable mane of jet-black hair, dishevelled and wild. He was continually burning Earth-Chaos, that Sylar now understood to be an exercise in tempering the body, just as Sylar himself was currently still assimilating the latent power of Fate-Fate.

Beside him, Shurui looked more uncertain, continuing to carefully observe Sylar. Like Quanhao, she wore blue robes that marked their positions as Seniors, but lacked the yellow trims of ranking disciples. Her face was framed by long, flowing hair that stretched past her shoulders, with focused green eyes that seemed as though to be studying for herself whether Sylar was as Guanzhong had claimed. As with all the Seniors, she too carried a blade. In contrast to Quanhao, she was continually suffusing her body with the energies of Water-Order.

“Was that really the Pecking Blades Technique?” Shurui finally asked.

“Sort of?” Sylar shrugged, letting the floating stones and sword fly over. “It’s a Spiritual Art from my homeland, but it seems similar enough to what I saw Guanzhong using in our duel.”

He lied – it was the exact same matrix. He had no idea why they only used it on their blades, but all it took was a little bit of extra focus in defining the object to be animated when activating the matrix. He had stretched Animate Objects a little with this casting, by affecting both Guanzhong’s sword and the two smaller stones, that he had judged to be the maximum extent he could push it while casting it at the Fourth Level.

“Any chance you could teach it to us?” Quanhao asked greedily.

“You know that the technique is restricted to those who have achieved Core Condensation and become ranking disciples, Quanhao,” Guanzhong rebuked disapprovingly. “Until then, you will not be ready to draw in enough spiritual energy, and even if you succeed, it can be dangerous to release the Spiritual Formation before Core Condensation.”

Finally! Something that actually makes sense! Now this was more Sylar’s territory; they were talking about Essence capacity, Essence flux, and Soulburn capacity!

“Yeah, yeah. Spoilsport.” Despite his words, Quanhao held no ill will. “But man – using a Spiritual Art without preparing the body? That stuff’s wild.”

“It is good to see that the two of you have continued your progress, Quanhao; Shurui,” Guanzhong said. “It feels like a long time since you two were outer circle Seniors. It’s good to see that your training with Elder Hua has been paying off.”

“You didn’t all start at the same time?”

“Us? Nah, Shurui, Yao and I used to have to call this man here Senior Wu when we were Juniors!” Quanhao grinned. “We’re going to be levelling the playing field now, though! Soon enough, all three of us are going to become ranking disciples too!”

Now that Sylar was paying attention, it did seem like Guanzhong was slightly older than them. It was a rough estimate, but he would put Guanzhong and Xingling down as being in their early twenties, close to Sylar’s own age, while the remaining three were probably in their late teens.

“Senior Wu,” Shurui said. “Does this mean that we’ll be seeing more of you again?”

“Just call me Guanzhong, please. We are now of equal rank, Shurui,” he said. “And… I don’t know. I need some time to think things through, but I think that I’ve finally found what I was missing.”

Sylar glanced at him. Cryptic words. Did this relate to this Nine Processes Unification thing that Guanzhong had hinted at as being the next step in store for him as a ranking disciple?

“That’s good to hear,” Shurui said. She looked intently at Guanzhong. “Don’t rest easy, though. We’ll be catching up to you and Xingling.”

He chuckled. “You three always were my favourite little Juniors. You’ve all grown into such fine cultivators during the past two months training with Elder Hua.”

“Careful there; your current Juniors might think you’re playing favourites!” Quanhao laughed. He glanced at the palm of his hands, and Sylar could see even in the dim evening light that they were callused and bruised. “But yes, you’re right – Elder Hua’s training really is something else. I’m glad she accepted the three of us when we heard she and Xingling were leaving for training.”

“Soon enough, you three will be ranking disciples as well.” Guanzhong looked into the distance wistfully. “How time flies. I still remember how you three used to watch our spars all the time, and plead with us for pointers.”

The members within a single Sect had far more history between them than Sylar had appreciated thus far, he realised. Sylar had spent five years travelling with his adventuring friends, their composition occasionally changing as some of their number unfortunately perished during their quests, or when they grouped up with other like-minded peers. He cherished them all, even though there had been times when they had butted heads.

For those who grew up in a Sect from the time they were but children, those ties had to be stronger still. It was no wonder why Xingling’s reaction had been so intense.

“You can still reconcile with her, you know.” Quanhao nudged Guanzhong in the side with his elbow. “Sure, she’s got a bit of a head-start now, but you’ve never been one to be overshadowed by her for long.”

“Things have changed, Quanhao.” He sighed. “Xingling is still someone precious to me, but I don’t hold the same feelings for her as I had before becoming a ranking disciple. I… I don’t quite know what to think.”

“Well, you’ve got plenty of time to think, boss.” He grinned. “Don’t take too long, though! One of these days, once I finally get to Core Condensation, I might just snag her for myself!”

Guanzhong looked sharply at him, and Quanhao’s smirk widened. “I hate it when you do that,” Guanzhong groaned.

“Remember when you used to chase Quanhao around the Sect until he begged for forgiveness whenever he teased you about Xingling?” Shurui teased. “Yao and I could never stop laughing.”

“Seriously?”

Quanhao nodded, while Guanzhong gave a sheepish and embarrassed expression.

“Now I’m glad our duel ended the way it did,” Sylar said. “If you still were the same way today, it sounds like Elder Yang would actually need to scrape me off the mountainside.”

“You give me far too much credit, Sylar,” Guanzhong said. “I collapsed almost as soon as I was dragged to the infirmary.”

That revelation startled Quanhao and Shurui. Quanhao pointed a finger at him. “You managed to injure the boss that much?”

“He had potent Spiritual Arts, Quanhao,” Guanzhong said. “They were unlike anything I had ever seen. The Juniors who witnessed our duel are still talking among themselves about what they saw.”

“But then – you’re saying that even with your Steadfast Stone Purification Method and the Four Yin Mystical Tempering that only –“

Guanzhong shot him a warning look, and he clammed shut. “I apologise, Sylar,” Guanzhong said, turning to him. “Even though you are an ally of the Righteous Heart, you are still an outsider to the Sect.”

Drat. And here he thought he might have some newer insight into how cultivation of the body worked. Still, it was enough of a hint for now.

“I understand,” he reassured. Sylar looked over toward the chasms of the Demon’s Pass. “What is Elder Hua doing, anyway?”

Now that it was turning to night, the place gave off an even more unsettling vibe. He could imagine unknowing travellers journeying onward, only to suddenly lose their footing at the edge of a plateau, to fall to their deaths in the chasms below.

“She’s rounding up the Demonic Beasts,” Shurui said. “Since we had to cut short our training mission, she is herding them inward for us to be tested tomorrow.”

“A test?” Guanzhong frowned. “I heard nothing about that.”

“Turns out it’s Elder Hua’s style,” Quanhao said, shrugging. “She wants to see how much we’ve grown during our time with her. From the first day out here, she told us that she would not be intervening during the test. It’s up to us whether we live or die.”

“That sounds extreme.”

“It’s how she made it to Elder that quickly,” Shurui said. “Say what you will about her methods, but you can’t deny that they’ve got results. Xingling’s already on the Nine Unification Processes, even though she only became ranking after you did.”

Guanzhong fell silent, once more looking into the distance. If he strained hard enough, Sylar thought he could see two blurry shapes flitting about on one of the plateaus. A quick Farsight confirmed that they were indeed Yang Xingling and Liu Yao, both of them making their way through sword forms at a rapid pace.

He cancelled the spell. He didn’t know enough about martial combat to fully appreciate their art as they trained, and he couldn’t pry any additional secrets of cultivation from them, since the magical sight granted by the spell did not possess the same Essence awareness as his own sight that had been altered through long-term exposure to Divination.

Instead, Sylar turned to the two inner circle Seniors. There were more productive things he could do. “Do you know where Elder Hua is drawing the Demonic Beasts to?”

Shurui glanced at him, making a silent judgment, then pointed. “The main pack is somewhere over there, about five kilometres out.”

“Right. Thanks.”

He sat down cross-legged. For what he had planned next, movement was impossible.

Arcane Eye was the godsend that made Diviners as useful as they were in adventuring. The invisible arcane construct was a scouting tool that Sylar had made much use of before, especially in open terrain. It wasn’t all-powerful – the sight couldn’t extend past physical barriers, which made it less useful in urban regions where a humble and yet all-powerful door could prevent any attempt at his scrying.

Here, however, across vast plateaus and sunken fissures, there was no place that escaped his sight, so long as he searched hard enough. During the ride here, he had been curious about just what these Demonic Beasts were like, and he much preferred observing them from afar now than up close in the thick of action later.

Sylar clasped his hands together, a little habit he had picked up during his time of mastering the spell to help him with his concentration. He closed his eyes, fitting in the Fate and Spirit Essences into their pairs, bolstered with Wind Essence to allow it to be carried across the open air. It was a Fifth Level spell, but Sylar would rank it as far more potent than any Sixth Level spell in his current repertoire.

“Try not to get me killed in the meantime, won’t you?”

Then, he released his spell. As a weightless Arcane Eye, he drifted, soaring above the connected network of chasms.

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A note from Agranulocytosis

So...

Thanks everyone for your support - I did not expect that many people to enjoy it. Hopefully, it stays that way, and I continue to update this as I write, but there's certain snags that might get in the way of that. Real life work is one, but if I'm being honest with myself, this next reason is probably what will decide it.

I'll get this out of the way first - I'm terrible at completing what I start. I enjoy writing, but I get anxious after putting it out in the public field. I don't know if it's being irrational, but I always get stressed about whether my ideas are stupid or my writing is flawed, and beyond a certain number of readers/ratings/kudos etc the stress starts getting to my head. Right now the story is sitting at a 4.81 rating and #16 in terms of rank (pending an imminent 0.5-star carpet-bombing after this chapter and note drops, I imagine), and already it's making me feel like I have to meet expectations - whatever they are. Comparing it to others on the list, I honestly have no idea why this story is up there. 

Because of that, I don't have a good track record with finishing what I start. On my other account on RR, the moment the story there hit trending, I felt that the direction I was planning to take it was too stupid and couldn't meet expectations (real or imaginary). I put it on indefinite hiatus, and quit writing completely for a couple months. If anyone here also reads 'I Became a [Biologist] in a Fantasy World!', that's me.

I know it's stupid - I write this for free, purely for fun, with no intention of ever monetising it (God forbid I stress myself more), and I know I'm completely anonymous, but I still lose sleep over what complete strangers think about my stories and will probably forget in a couple days. It starts off as 'Oh, wouldn't it be cool if ___' and I write and upload a few chapters, but then at some point it goes into a cycle of (but what if ideas already planned in store for later on are stupid)-->(stress over writing)-->(comments/reviews/complaints over hiatus)-->(more stress until I cut the project entirely).

I don't think I'm alone - I've come across quite a few stories up here whose authors are in much the same position. 

Although all evidence in my track record points toward the contrary, I do enjoy writing the stories that I write. I like dreaming about the worlds I create. Still, there is always the underlying fear that the characters/plot/setting is trash and I should feel trash. Call me a perfectionist or a special little snowflake, but it is what it is. I have mad respect for those who put out amazing work week after week, while juggling different stories and life outside of writing.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a break for a while before coming back to this at a more relaxed pace (this chapter brings it to 35000-ish words in a week). No promises as to when the next chapter will be now that the holidays are over and I have work to do.

Alright, then - bring on the flames, and I already know I'm going to regret hitting the publish button within the next thirty minutes!

(Edit: I am going to bulk write this story when I am in the mood for it, until I have a sizeable chunk going before releasing it. It will take some time with work, and without any good chance to bunker down for a good ten hours or so to write in a single stretch - probably the next long vacation, whenever that may be. Writing is by no means a priority.)


About the author

Agranulocytosis

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

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