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A note from Rith

Well, i promised you 10,000 words of enraged powerup, and thus do I deliver.

Also, sorry for the delay, this was not an easy chapter to edit/rewrite.

Content warning

This chapter contains themes of domination and violence and scenes of a sexual nature some may find upsetting.

 

The death of an era is never an easy thing and few died in a more decrepit and ugly way than the previous Imperial Dynasty. For centuries noble powers had agitated against it and its young emperor, gnawing away at his mandate for both good and ill. It is certainly undeniable that the Moon Tomb Emperor, scion of the Shan clan and a genius blessed with the blood of dragons, was a hard Emperor to love. His rages, his compulsions and his unwillingness to compromise on even the smallest of things made him a figure that our enemies feared…

However, an Emperor cannot rule on external fear alone and while in his short reign, barely five centuries all told, he had great success in sending the enemies of the Imperial Shan scattering, at home he only engendered fear in those who supported him and greed in those both near and far, who saw an opportunity to strike at the weak underbelly of the imperial seat and seize it for themselves, and perhaps gain the inheritance of a dragon in the process.

The final straw in all of this was his treatment of his young Empress, Saintess White Swan, a talented prodigy from the Sheng Heavenly clan and grandniece of the Emperor of Shan Lai. For though she was a great beauty and much beloved, the Emperor, who adored her for her beauty and had long desired her, also came to despise her in equal measure after her elevation to sit by his side. For his blood drove him to envy what she had, and which he did not – the love of the people.

Subsequently, with their falling out in a very public and embarrassing denunciation, the favour of Shan Lai was briefly withdrawn from the Imperial Seat and shortly thereafter the young Emperor entered ‘seclusion’ to attack his advancement and was mandated to appoint an heir from among the noble clans of his court. To oversee this task three figures were appointed: Mu Shansu, the renowned hero of many eras; Din Hao, the Imperial Chancellor, and Tai Weimin who had returned to the world of his birth and risen to great acclaim in the eyes of the people.

Thus was set in motion what can only be called ‘a judgement of heaven upon those with ill designs’ the aftermath of which we are still grappling with, half an era later.

Excerpt from The Annals of Shan

  By Seng Mo – Elusive Scholar.


~ Ha Yun – Valinkar upon the Waters ~


Sat upon a rocky outcropping, waiting for his divination compass to settle, Ha Yun watched the hurricane twist over the mountains rising beyond the town. It had brought with it an obnoxious new addition to the climate of the grasslands: humid wind. It had pushed the already torturous environment to the point where there was no respite to be found anywhere, and with it, most of those who could had retreated back outside the repression field. Those who remained tended into two camps: those who were being forced to stay here and those, like him, who had discovered somewhat compelling reasons not to go back to the camps.

The divination compass shifted, turning him away from thinking about the growing suspicion that his memories of events from before he ended up in here were… problematic.

“Further to the left!” he called out to the other two who were accompanying him on this particular circuit of the farmlands and settlements outside the town.

Fen Zhuan, an outer disciple from the Nine Auspicious Moons sect who had some expertise in formations, acknowledged and made his way across the rocky ground some dozen metres and started to take another reading.

Shen Shi Tongfei, a junior member of the Shen clan, adjusted his umbrella and started to head off on a tangent to Fen Zhua, seeking a new point where his own child compass would start to give readings again as well.

The other two who were out here with them – a pair of guards with Bai Meifen who simply went by Brother Weng and Brother Ci – followed after.

“Nothing here!” Fen Zhaun called back a few minutes later, sounding… drained. “The signal just reads as dubiously neutral.”

“Readings are deviating again,” Shi Tongfei agreed.

“Well, shit,” he sighed, staring at his own compass, which was now telling them to head back towards the town.

Shaking his head, he made his way off the rocky outcropping and down to the others, who were stood in the wind, trying not to look like the land was rapidly becoming a torturous sauna.

“This makes seven in the last nine spots that have been like this…” Shi Tongfei said wearily. “What even are they having us look for?”

Plotting the result onto a jade tablet, he considered the other points they had looked at in the several days since he had been sent out here by Bai Meifen and Brother Feng. On the face of it, they were clearly looking for the root of whatever had severed the land, or at least the pattern of the alignments within what remained. Unfortunately, to do that they had to rely upon purely mortal methods of divination and some land surveying. It was no exaggeration to say that even those, like him, who had some experience with feng shui were not at all experts in that area. The interpretation in particular was giving all the groups headaches, not to mention the compasses and charts they were using were the crudest of things.

“Ah,” Brother Weng exclaimed wryly, poking his arm and pointing.

He turned and sighed, because there, ten metres away, lying on the edge of an innocuous, tumbled-down pile of rocks out of which a tree was growing, was a slab that had worn writing on it.

“Talk about wearing out iron shoes!” Fen Zhaun groaned.

“…”

They considered the cairn of stones. He could only agree; this was… typical really. Divination got you so far and then usually it was blind luck that got the final bit… or there was nothing there.

“Oh, that’s interesting…” Shi Tongfei frowned, kneeling down to wipe away some of the dirt. “The writing on it is…”

“Is?” Brother Weng frowned… looking at it as well before starting back.

“Well, that is interesting,” Tongfei repeated.

“What is?” Fen Zhaun came over, with him following and they both looked at the stone.

The writing on it was in a strange swirling text for a few seconds before it somehow reorganised itself and read: ‘Waystone 19 – West: Valinkar – Plains Gate, East: Plains Road, South: Drysdale Farmlands’.

“Why is there a marker like this all the way out here when there is no road?” Brother Ci muttered.

“Maybe it’s for general direction, or there was an old trackway here?” Tongfei shrugged. “The weird thing is the writing though. Given none of us have any cultivation to speak of…”

“Get back!” Brother Ci suddenly hissed, grabbing him and Tongfei and pulling them down.

Brother Weng glanced around, puzzled and crouched–

The arrow took Weng straight through the shoulder, then exploded, severing an arm and sending Brother Weng sprawling. Before he could fully register what was going on a second arrow hissed out of nowhere. Ci pushed him aside and the arrow passed between the–

He pushing himself up, his ears ringing, blood in his mouth. ‘Nearby, on the ridgeline, Leng was lying sprawled… his qi was already running out of his control as he fumbled with the teleportation talisman even as he struggled to see where–’

Reality snapped back and he pushed himself up, his ears ringing, the taste of blood in his mouth. Nearby, Brother Ci, who had managed to dive into cover by the cairn, was waving frantically to Tongfei, who was sprawled in the grass, trying to hide–

A third arrow hissed overhead and Zhaun and Tongfei both screamed as it exploded in mid-air, flattening the grass and lacerating their clothes and flesh with the blast.

-What, by the evil eye of the heavens is with these arrows…? he protested weakly, still trying to get his bearings. Are they alchemical?

An arrow hit a rock right by his face and snapped in two, leaving him sweating in fear. He had just been about to move in that direction. It was only his concern about what the arrows were. Curling up, he tensed for the explosion that never came. Sighing, he looking at the arrow, which had been painted blue and yellow, in relief and pushed himself–

The blast flipped him several metres into the air. Landing on rocks, he felt several sharp pains in his side–

-Monkeyshit… ribs! He screamed inwardly, ‘trying to roll away from the attack by the two cultivators who were attacking them… And managing to turn himself over, he found he was face to face with Leng… no… Mao? His childhood friend’s eyes were lifeless, the shock and disbelief on his face immortalized in the moment the Golden Immortal had cut off–’

Tongfei lay a metre away from him, the healing pill bottle still clenched in his outstretched hand, which was impaled to the ground by a blue and black painted arrow. The youth had two more stuck out of his back, pinning him to the ground even as he feebly tried to free himself. Shaking his head again, he tried to focus on the moment – the other memories were… disconcerting… so real as well.

-And totally at odds with my ‘actual’ memories of that moment… a part of him added, sounding small and lost.

There was another scream. This time it was Brother Weng, and it went on far, far too long.

‘Sir Cao desperately parried an attack’ even as he struggled against twin grasping hands of his memory and something… else…? ‘Nearby Ha Mao, sobbing in terror, threw a ‘Spark Dragon’ talisman–’

He barely registered the explosion that smashed his face into the rocky ground as reality and ‘memory’ slid back through each other again.

...Someone or something was dragging him across the ground.

“Fates get… What is even going on!?!” Fen Zhuan, who was evidently the person dragging him over the rocks, was panting from the exertion.

After a few moments he managed to recover enough to properly register his surroundings and tried to scramble up only to–

“Careful, you’re not in good shape…” Fen Zhuan panted as they slumped down between two rocks.

His vision was still swimming as another explosion, totally silent he realised, ruptured the air about 10 metres away over a rock that would have been ideal cover for someone cowering. Two more, almost metre long arrows arced lazily down out of the sky, hitting rock and sinking into them several centimetres, quivering. Their purple and yellow colour along with blue fletching was again clearly visible for–

The eruption of the space around them made his bones rattle, even though there was, again, no sound with it. The grass was flattened, rocks scattered and the ground where the arrow had been was left with a half metre crater.

“We have to get out of here…” Fen Zhaun hissed.

“What… of… the… others?” he wheezed, realising that his chest felt like someone had hit it with a few hammers in inauspicious places.

“No idea… I think Tongfei is dead; I saw him hit by four arrows… Weng… well, you heard the screaming and I’ve not seen anything from Ci…” He stared dully as the Fen Zhuan who was beside him wavered like morning mist and vanished, followed by the rest of their surroundings a second later.

He was lying, slumped on the ground near the ‘waystone’ while Brother Ci, who was crouching over him, sent qi into his body. The energy pushed away the strange fog of confusion that had been dragging him down like a bucket of icy water, making him gasp. He reflexively reached for his ribs and found that beyond being a bit bruised from falling down they were okay.

“Easy… that was… odd…” Cao muttered.

“What happened… why is there… qi?” he asked.

“What qi?” Sir Cao frowned.

“You’re using qi…” he pointed and then flinched, because it wasn’t Ci who was healing him but Sir Ha Cao.

“Young Master Ha… it’s okay. Sir Huang managed to recover from his fall and…” Sir Cao said, pushing him down, “the rebels were fought off, although I have to regret that Young Noble Ji was grasped by one of the attacking elders…”

Shaking his head frantically, he tried to clear it, because this was all kinds of wrong.

Their surroundings were bizarre now… utterly bizarre. He was on the slope they had been on, but to his left was clearly the ridgeline. Nearby, he saw Ha Leng slumped, breathing weakly. Ha Mao was kneeling beside Ha Mun and Ha Ding, tending to the latter, who had somehow had his arm severed. Of the pavilion hunters with them, he could see no sign of Lin Ling or Kun Juni, but Han Shu was bound by a talisman nearby, being interrogated by… Ji Tantai?

Din Ouyeng… he placed the Golden… Core youth, who was pale and shaking, blood tickling down his face.

-No… not a Golden Core cultivator… a Golden Immortal? He struggled to rise.

“Please do not overexert yourself, Young Master Yun. You took a serious hit from that vile old ghost of an elder who ambushed us!” Sir Cao pushed him down and…

“What hell, this one memory is more fucked than Ur’sar accepting gifts in a new village?” a strange voice echoed in the vicinity.

Easy Young Master Ha…” a soothing female voice whispered by his head.

He felt warm qi flowing from feminine hands into his body, soothing the pain. The fire cooled, the ice started to warm and the twisting agony in his bones, which he had just realised he could feel again, was…

“F...Fairy Bai Ling?”

He realised belatedly who was holding his head as her beautiful features swam back into view as the damage to his eyes healed. With it, he felt a strange rush of euphoria that someone this important was concerned about him – about his well-being. Bai Ling was bending over him with a look of deep concern on her face. Tears marred her perfect features and her eyes… He found himself lost in her gaze for a few seconds before he reasserted control over his emotions.

“They not what we looking for?” a second voice hissed, sounding a bit annoyed.

“Shush, his injuries are still healing, idiot,” Ling Meifen snapped, before he felt a feminine hand smooth his brow.

He was still unable to move in any case, and she was right… he did need to lie here for a minute, with his head in Fairy Meifen’s lap… It was a very nice view, after all, especially given how ragged her own clothing was from the battle they had just endured.

-Focus… this is not… another voice, in his head, that was trying to get his attention was dulled even as it tried to get his attention.

“You took a serious soul wound. You are lucky to have survived, given your low circle,” Young Noble Din said from where he sat nearby looking through a storage ring. “Brother Ji was barely able to save you using a precious treasure, the one we were going to use…”

“Who can say… all things go to shit, huge storm, very bad…” a third voice murmured, cutting through the scene, which wavered slightly. “Why we waste time with this trash?”

Stop that…” Ling Meifen–

-Stop that… this isn’t real! his own sanity screamed at him. There is no Ling Meifen.

“Ah… by the Taker’s Teeth,” a nearby voice sounded annoyed. He had a brief moment of confusion as his qi turned turbulent, and there was an icy, shooting pain in his head as blackness took him.


~ Han Shu – Fleeing Through the Forest ~


Han Shu found a familiar, haunting rhythm to the fight as they fled through the trees. Behind them, the echoes of detonating talismans spoke to the vehemence of Ling and Juni’s brief assault on the forces now assailing them… and yet… and yet…

To his left and right, spiders were streaming out of the forest in their hundreds, easily keeping pace where they were visible. With the water splashing as they sprinted across the surface of the river, he was reminded of the desperate flight in the darkness, pursued by the devil-spiders. A male threw itself out of a tree, aiming to catch him, even as he cut at it in turn. It twisted away from him easily, to all intents missing his sword. A heartbeat later it collapsed in two, cleanly bisected, its remains splashing into the river to be swept away. No matter how many times he saw that, it was equal parts unnerving and miraculous.

They hit the far shore and he waved for them to race on–

The spider, with a rider wielding a net and a spear, hurtled out of the trees far too fast to be anything less than Soul Foundation. Ruo Han met it with a talisman that blazed with blue-green fire, sending both rider and spider skittering back as a gout of destructive flame incinerated a hectare of forest in the blink of an eye then formed a tiger with horns on its head, made out of blue flame that chased after the spider.

*crack*

Both rider and spider were briefly illuminated in blue and white light as Liao Ying, who was being carried by Teng Chunhua, hit it at a distance with another talisman, a lightning-attributed one this time. However, the brief delay had been enough, because already he saw spiders surging across the river, leaping from one bank to the other behind them before vanishing into the green as their camouflage took over. A second spider rider followed, this one carrying a–

The scythe-like weapon on its rope shrieked through the air towards them – not aiming for him, but rather Teng Chunhua. His stomach dropped like a stone for a moment until a rippling series of formation-like designs rippled in the air, blocking the strike and repelling the weapon. Another talisman, a defensive barrier that Liao Ying had used defeating the attack.

An arrow hissed through the air, barely disturbing his qi-perception and he threw himself forward and sideways. The projectile, which would have hit him in the leg, hit a tree just in front of him, quivering for a heartbeat–

He pushed his face into the dirt as it exploded and then rolled away from the spot and scrambled up in time to feel the hair on his arms stand up. A second lightning bolt from Liao Ying’s talisman sizzled through the forest behind them. Tendrils of lightning scattered everywhere, hunting out spiders and anything else that was in the vicinity and lighting them up very briefly as little… and not so little candles.

“–They can do –?” he caught part of Hao Jun’s shocked exclamation, rather randomly in a lull in the noise of battle, and also got to watch as the armoured spider following after them ‘caught’ the stray lightning with its front pincers and…

Liao Ying’s barrier bloomed even as the bolt was returned, a shrieking chittering lance of death, straight back at her, guided by the lashing forelimbs of the spider. The bolt connected with the barrier and every tree within ten metres of Teng Chunhua and Liao Ying became a blazing inferno as the pair were hurled backwards through the forest.

Cutting two more spiders that had chosen that moment to make their presence known, he…

He saw the spider mother rising out of a divot in the ground a dozen metres away, its camouflage fading away already planting its legs and rearing up–

{Martial Lotus Momentum}

Without any preamble or stopping to see what it was about to do, he used the movement art to get distance, feeling his qi drain away very rapidly, for all the good it did. A swirling mist that made his skin go numb flooded the space between the trees. The lingering traces of the lightning and the mist met and–

Ears ringing and skin burning, he pulled himself up just in time to find a male spider stabbing down at him. He cut it and used his movement art again to try to escape another, shifting between the trees and seeking for the others in the chaotic scenes of the forest. He didn’t find them, and instead was found by the spider and rider who had originally been blocked by Ruo Han’s flame talisman.

The spear-wielding rider who wore spider chitin for armour, with a face hidden beneath a grotesque mask shaped from a hollowed out spider’s head, snarled at him. He cut another two spiders that had skipped out of the shadows to try to bite him, thankful that Liao Ying’s talisman had at least cleared out the small ones almost completely. The purification pills in his body were having to work overtime to counter the dozens of bites he was now nursing, even through his qi armour.

Clearly losing patience, the rider led the spider, which was still smoking slightly, in a scuttling charge straight at him. The long forelimbs of the spider swept through understory and tree alike as it sought to–

His limbs went cold even as he tried to use ‘Martial Lotus Momentum’ to gain some paltry distance.

-Soul Attack!?!

He felt a freezing intent try to lock him down. The sword passively freed him from it almost immediately, however…

Thinking quickly, he tried to nudge the blade mentally, suggesting that it not free him just yet. Given the speed of the rider and spider, running was going to get him nowhere, and such was the gulf in capabilities that he had no chance of making openings to strike it conventionally. To his surprise, the suggestion actually worked, and the icy chains reasserted themselves slowly, although not to the degree they had before.

Steeling himself, very glad that the cultivation scripture for the ‘Ninefold Lotus Origins’ manual had some very in-depth explanations about his cultivation base and its resilience, he waited until the last moment and managed to deflect the spear strike with the flat of the blade and slice up the half at the arms of his attacker–

The spider smashed him in the side, sending him flying and then leaping after him. This time there was no avoiding the strike which impaled him through the stomach, missing the point of his dantian by mere centimetres.

The creature lifted the spear and grasped for his neck with its free hand as he fought with his mantra, the foundation symbol in his mind’s eye and the passive properties of the sword to control the near-incapacitating waves of qi that were trying to invade his body even as the cold chill of the soul attack continued to ‘apparently’ deaden his mind.

“Stupid thing…” the masked figure sneered, speaking in flawless Easten as it dragged his body down the spear.

He persevered for three seconds and then, finally when it was within sword range, he swung the sword, which he had been holding in his left hand, in a sweeping uppercut. As expected, it read the reaction even as he was moving the blade and made to block his arm.

“Idio-”

As expected, even though the physical aspect of the attack had been stopped, the intent to cut on his part had lingered on and his attacker was inexplicably bisected. What had undone his assailant in the end was the apparently mistaken belief that the spear haft would actually stop his blade.

“-ghuaaaaagghh…”

With a surprised gurgle, the two halves of its corpse collapsed sideways off the spider to the ground even as he beheaded it with the backhand s–

The spider screamed and shook its whole body in rage. He had dropped onto its thorax and now it bucked and twisted trying to throw him away in a strange sideways roll. He executed what the Martial form called ‘Technique Four – Spiral Cut’ and the blade successfully bit deep into its thorax in spite of the spider’s attempted evasion. It shook itself again, thoroughly enraged this time, and then sent a blizzard of spines everywhere.

He barely managed to avoid the worst of it and swept the sword at random in front of him, only to then see the spider itself raise its forelegs and a second spider blur out of it, stabbing at him. All he could do was lash out again, desperately, recalling how the Nascent Soul of the Immortal Realm cultivator from the Argent Justice sect had been damaged by the blade.

To his relief, that was not a fluke and the weapon successfully split the spirit form of the spider cleanly. Less helpfully though, the spirit form itself did not disperse; it just danced back, reforming anew and then sending a shockwave directly at him by smashing its front limbs together somehow.

Left with no other recourse, he pushed qi into the sword and tried to cut the shockwave itself.

“…”

To his immense surprise, the sword cleft it apart just as easily as everything else. He found himself staring at the sword, feeling a bit silly, realising that despite his previous interactions with it – the sight of that cultivator dying horribly after putting qi into it – had perhaps had more of a subconscious impact on him than he grasped.

-No time to linger on that now… he remonstrated with himself and pushed more qi into the sword.

{Technique One – Forward Thrust}

Lunging forward, he executed a two-handed stab with the sword, ‘Technique One – Forward Thrust’, and a phantasmal version of the sword slid forward, piercing through the spiritual projection and the spider behind it, dispersing the former and killing the latter even as his qi melted away and he stumbled.

The arrow that had been about pierce him in the head passed right by him and then exploded the instant it was clear it had missed, hurling him across the clearing.

The sword fell from his grip and he watched helplessly as a second figure, dressed in a grass cloak and also wearing spider chitin armour, emerged out of the misty, rain-drenched gloom of the chaos between the trees. It stared at him, the dark eyes of the spider head helmet staring at him intently, then looked at the sword, before looking back to him again. It then walked over to the sword and after considering it for a moment, picked it up and examined the blade.

The figure twitched once and collapsed like a puppet that had had its strings cut. Somehow, in the process of that it fell on the sword, which pierced straight through its heart, revealing that it had dark blue-purple blood.

He struggled up and started to crawl towards the sword as fast as he could, only to have all the hair on his body suddenly stand on end. In the sky above, a massive formation was unspooling rapidly, its epicentre maybe a mile away across the valley.

{Heaven’s Cry – Balance of Fate}

The echoing mnemonic of the talisman triggering blazed in his mind even as a blaze of purple lightning swirled down, lighting up the whole forest and penetrating the gloom thoroughly. In the middle distance he was able to see three more figures, sat on large crab spiders, carrying bows, watching the lightning fall. Dozens of spiders were surging down from the heights on both sides of his position even as the formation above them kept expanding. The metal qi of the land almost sizzled around him–

Grasping the sword, he prayed that the others had a means to stay safe as lightning consumed the valley. Foliage turned to after-images and ash; trees were incinerated, exploded or simply turned to dust amid the raging maelstrom of destruction from the peak Immortal Grade ‘Strategic Suppression’ talisman. The category being so named because they were basically ready-to-go, pre-prepared Immortal grade formations – usually they could be activated a few times… or once like this.

Bolts scattered for miles in every direction, hitting the valley sides, arcing off tall trees and shooting upwards into the clouds.

“Oh no…”

He stared dully at the sky, as did Ruo Han and Jin Chen, who were surprisingly close by. In fact, everyone, attacker and pursuer alike, was frozen as the ‘Balance of Fate’ part of the talisman took hold and in a heartbeat the leaden, swirling rain clouds in the sky twisted. The rumbling thunderclouds above reacted as a storm of that size, charged with so much metal and water qi and now provided a clear, resistance-free path to the earth below would do. The shockwave of the thunderclap dispersed the clouds for a brief moment, turning the sky blue as it ruptured trees, scattered earth and then dragged the entire valley, floor, river and all, upwards into the void that had just opened up.

Thin white lines of celestial death, straight like sunbeams, divided heaven and earth before sliding inwards towards each other…

“Oh no… no, no, no…” Hao Jun’s horrified, quavering words echoed strangely in the forest as the very land they were on was dragged unnaturally towards a singular point where the five beams met…

Pure yang lightning descended, striking a mile away. A single, searing pulse of inside-out light. It spidered across the sky, leaving black cracks in its path. The sky twisted and the whole valley bent inwards somehow and flexed.

Reality snapped back with an absence of sound. The shockwave of the impact of the bolt in the middle of the valley made the haze of uprooted trees, drifting land and the scattered river recoil–

He had the presence of mind to grasp the sword even as Ruo Han triggered some talisman nearby and Hao Jun’s scream was cut off by it. The pressure wave that came first set the entire forest on fire for a split second, before the broken landscape itself washed over their position like an avalanche.

A tree hit him and everything went black.


~ Ruo Han – Ruined Valley ~


Ruo Han hauled himself out from under a smouldering tree, glad that he had had a protection talisman on. The rain that was falling had already turned the entire valley into a quagmire within moments of it being turned over by the aftermath of the Heaven’s Cry talisman. Nearby Jin Chen was dragging Hao Jun out from a smoking crater. Both looked… frazzled, but even suppressed they still had the durability of peak Soul Foundation cultivators. Liao Ying and Teng Chunhua were about twenty metres away. Teng Chunhua had used some high level area defence talisman to deflect some of the lightning. She looked as bad as he did. Liao Ying was unconscious next to her.

“Fates… did that idiot hunter use that Heaven’s Cry talisman?” Hao Jun groaned…

“Please don’t speak in ways that heaven might hear…” Jin Chen muttered, slumping down in the mud.

“Where is Han Shu?” he asked, looking around.

“I think he was hit by a tree. I hope he’s alive…” Teng Chunhua grimaced and cancelled her barrier to save the talisman.

It took a moment to orientate himself. In the end, he achieved it by the location of the two very crispy spiders. Their riders were little more than charred stick figures at this point. Several other humanoid figures were also dead nearby, including at least one that was dead by Han Shu’s hands.

“Well… at least there is nothing living within a few hundre–”

Jin Chen cut off as a very disgruntled centipede-scorpion–looking thing almost twenty metres long and two metres wide shifted out of the ground, no more than twenty metres away from them. It displaced two trees and waved this way and that… looking very confused. Lightning was still sparking off its carapace.

They all stared at it.

-Fates damn you Chen! He complained in his heart. We didn’t survive all that just to end up being eaten by this did we!?! It was unfair to blame the coincidence on his friend… but really, that timing was just too terrible!

It took in the devastation, took in them… took in the armoured spiders and then shifted to appear on beside the nearest spider which it started to rip apart with gusto.

“Leave now!” Teng Chunhua signed to all of them.

Five pairs of eyes considered the creature.

“Han Shu?” he mimed.

“…”

Before any of them could do anything, however, an arrow scythed out of nowhere and smashed open the log just above his head. The creature feeding on the ruined spider froze and turned in their direction.

“Oh… f–” Teng Chunhua managed as she dove for cover as the spider thing blurred over and appeared on the log right above him.

This close, he could feel its stifling aura suddenly focused on them. It took him a moment to work out why it hadn’t spotted them, until he saw that it had no eyes... and the ambient qi was totally chaotic. He fought not to swallow and stilled his heartbeat. The others were all sat there frozen as well.

Teng Chunhua moved her hands very simply and signed – “Blind. Dangerous. Silent.”

“Star?” Jin Chen managed back.

“…”

Teng Chunhua just stared at him and said nothing.

Above them, the creature swung its tail, which he realised was remarkably like a scorpion’s in fact, and made a clicking noise, tapping its forelegs on the bark of the tree. He quietly readied the strongest talisman he still had – a ‘Blaze Spear’ talisman. It was a weak Immortal grade one, far more conventional compared to the one Lin Ling had used to annihilate most of the valley. Much less likely to kill them all by accident as well. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee that it would do anything to this thing other than make it angry.

He held it up to Teng Chunhua who peered at it then slowly shook her head.

Speaking of making it angry, another arrow scythed out of nowhere and punched through Hao Jun’s arm, severing it at the elbow. Jin Chen had the presence of mind to clamp a hand over his mouth, much good as it did, as the arrow detonated with a huge explosion a second later. The creature struck out for that point almost lazily. Both Jin Chen and Hao Jun dodged even as he watched the attack distend and warp space carrying an unavoidable inevitability that he recognised as a ‘principle’.

-I hope a devil devours all your future generations’ good fortune! He cursed the distant archer for making him have to risk his life like this and triggered the talisman.

{Blaze Spear}

A line of white molten death punched through the creature, incinerating it and leaving only a faint afterimage and a glittering core than started to bubble and warp before dropping to the ground with a *phut*.

“Oh thank the fates…” Jin Chen whispered, already fumbling for a regeneration pill for Hao Jun.

-Oh Chen… please shut up!

He sobbed inwardly as a second later the entire creature snapped back into being as it regenerated from its core that was still glowing cherry red. It was on top of him before he even grasped what had happened, stabbing down with its limbs impaling him to the floor. Its maw opened and he felt a terrible suction lock onto him and something try to drag his Nascent Soul right out of his body even as a strength that was absolutely Immortal Sense wrung out the qi from him like he was a rag.

As he struggled to trigger the talisman a second time, he saw the charred parts of the creature’s carapace turning tan as it continued to drain away his qi. His Nascent Soul desperately tried to resist as well–

{Argent Flare}

Hao Jun’s talisman ignited and hit the creature in the torso, turning its back half into silver sparks, along with a thirty metre swathe of the landscape. The creature snarled and reared back even as the silver fire rapidly ate through the rest of its body. He had to admit he was surprised that both their talismans were working this well… when its physical form snapped back a second time, regenerating fully from its core.

“Oh come on…” Teng Chunhua groaned.

He puppeted his injured body and struggled away as the other hunter grasped Liao Ying.

Their struggles were, however, made moot when the earth beneath them ripped and a vast howl echoed across the valley. The creature flinched and turned away from them, suddenly backing up. A second howl made his vision swim and the rain faded away, leaving stifling heat and humidity in its place.

A fraction of a second later, they were all physically slammed up in the air along with a 50 metre radius around them. He hung weightless in the air, constrained by a soul-freezing qi, looking at a collection of huge armoured spiders perched on fallen trees some 500 metres away and before them a figure wearing what looked like a robe made of flayed hide and carrying a staff, which he was pointing at them… that…

Before he could register fully that it appeared to be made out of a bizarrely twisted cultivator wearing robes of the Four Peacocks Court, four arrows appeared right before them.

Two struck him in the heart and chest directly, making him spit blood as his foundation shook under the impact of the qi that was injected into his meridians through them.

One hit Hao Jun in the leg, punched through it and then exploded, severing the limb entirely and doing severe damage to Jin Chen who was beside him, severed limb and floating blood and viscera was frozen in the air a moment later.

The last arrow hit Teng Chunhua in the head, only to be deflected by the talisman that had been used earlier. It blazed brightly for a second then dissolved into dust. The arrow instead travelled upwards for a few metres and then exploded with flesh-shredding strength, impaling all five of them with thin shards. Shards he realised all carried some kind of yin fire poison because it immediately started to corrode and warp what remained of his soul strength.

The robed figure gave a great shout and suddenly the treeline rippled and he watched dully as over a hundred figures, all wearing spider armour… and bearing several totem-like banners… which were made out of the crucified, brutalized forms of cultivators. Most were missing their legs, still alive, impaled, hung or tied to the frames, being easily carried by single or pairs of combatants.

Several others flapped like flags… which he realised in abject horror were also made of the freshly flayed skins of more of their brethren from Eastern Azure in all likelihood.

Crude red glyphs pulsed on their bodies, drawing power out of them, and based on the strength of their vitality, given all of them were still alive in their current, horrible plight, they were all at least Immortal realm.

As he watched… helpless in the field that was suspending them, almost out of qi, the four archers readied four more arrows.


~ Lin Ling ~


Lin Ling opened her eyes and tried to move. Below her, icy black rock pressed against her body. The surroundings were...?

Her memories flooded back. She had made her way out of that complex… up the stairs… and arrived at the top… there had been a large octagonal room, on three layers… with the found stele. After that, she had explored the various rooms off it, but found little of interest. Thereafter, she had exited one to find… Di Ji.

{Lullaby of Fragrant Tranquillity}

Most of her memories didn’t even recall that at this point – the words he had spoken, accompanied by the strange chord that echoed through her body as she first set eyes on him had been utterly irresistible. Thereafter all that had been left was scattered chaos and confusion. Her memory recoiled and she struggled with her bonds.

[Stop Struggling]

The command from Di Ji sank into her body like a warm caress and she stopped struggling, even as a part of her, stuck in the back of her mind, found itself untouched by the command. In fact, even that earlier command, the soul art that had captured her so thoroughly had not managed to find this little part of her, as it turned out. It hid in the shelter of the symbol for her ‘Shield Bearer’s True Physique’ even as she tried, from that strange vantage to understand what exactly was going on.

The trip here… had been weird. She blanked out the other voices in their screaming confusion, terror and insanity and tried to work out what was what. Di Ji had seized her without any preamble; the art was one she had never heard of but she now knew enough to know it was a ‘soul art’. His realm was such that any chance of her resisting him was futile as well. She, a Qi Refinement, Physical Foundation cultivator might as well dream of walking in the void as resist a Golden Immortal, even one suppressed by the darkness of the depths.

-Gah! She grimaced and refocused her thoughts, such as they were. She had so little in the way of spare mental space to work with that any kind of stray thought was…

So, weird trip to get here. Di Ji had worked out about the blood quickly, and made her use it to open various doors. As far as she could see, it almost looked like he was testing the efficacy of what it would and would not open. Most of those rooms had had various stockpiles of things, crystals, ores and other resources and even some info-slates and such that he had taken without preamble.

Then he had taken her downstairs and cleaned out most of the rest of the blood pond and cleaned out her storage talisman, leaving only the large jars of pure yang blood in them for some reason. Everything else he had tossed down the stairs, which made her heart ache. Even her talismans got thrown away – he had only kept a few that were bespoke ones from Grandmasters Li and Mang. A few pills he had kept, and the rest he had thrown away arbitrarily, including various other keepsakes and oddments she carried with her.

Thereafter, they had gone through several long, winding halls as he, carrying a bizarre cube-shaped compass made of bronze with a little flame inside, searched for something until finally descending another set of stairs until they entered another shaft. He had her open another corridor with the blood that led downwards and then they arrived in this other octagonal hall, which had various layers and a raised platform made of Arborundum in the middle she was certain was another teleport formation.

He had led her through one of the eight doors of that place, into rippling darkness. That walk was… unnerving – he led her along paths that wound through a bottomless void, lit only by his lantern compass until at last they stepped through a second such door and arrived on an island in the midst of a vast subterranean lake. The island itself, made of pure black rock that repelled all qi, held a vast pit that she could only think of as an inverted pagoda.

Descending it, there were a lot of sealed doors which he ignored, following instead the compass and then also a dull grey-coloured jade talisman that started to shine with an eerie purple light until eventually they arrived at the second lowest level and found four doorways.

Di Ji walked over to the nearest one and considered it for several long minutes in silence, occasionally looking at the talisman before finally turning back to her.

[Use the Blood to Unseal It Fully]

She watched as her body did as it was asked, painting the blood across the doorway, tracing the various symbols. When it was done, Di Ji placed the bronze compass on the floor and the light within it somehow ignited the blood directly. They both stood back and watched as the symbols around the door swirled and shifted, showing several strange runes that her mind translated as ‘Green Security Access Authorised: Privileges – Food, Visitors’

The door rippled and the empty space behind shifted to become a room she could only call… disturbing.

Within it, two scenes were overlaid with each other. In the first which was ‘vividly real’, she could see a palatial entrance hall draped in finery and covered in grand carvings. A dozen maids, all of them beauties wearing barely any clothes, their bodies marked with shimmering symbols that accented their femininity in enticing ways, bowing to receive them. In the second, which was like a shadow overlaid to that palatial scene, there was a dark and dusty hall with twelve alcoves on the walls. Each alcove held a figure, one of the ‘maids’, each unblemished with age but nailed to the wall with spikes of green black metal.

“How disturbing,” Di Ji muttered, shaking his head.

[Do Not Interact with Them At All Unless I Command It]

His command sank into her mortal body and they walked through the outer hall without any preamble. The maids bowed and invited them in. In this double world, she could see the links from the imprisoned figures to the maids. Each maid bowed and smiled beautifully, but the figures on the walls just looked… hungry. Each one had pronounced incisors and eyes that almost glowed in the dark.

“Please, young lord, our master is delighted to entertain new guests…” they all murmured as one.

“However… this young lady… her current attire is… unseemly, perhaps we can provide her with some new accoutrements?”

“…”

Di Ji looked over her body and nodded curtly.

One of the maids cupped her chin and smiled at her, then her whole body shimmered faintly. The rags twisted and shifted and she was dressed as they were, in a slip of diaphanous silk, corded around the waist with a thin golden chain and nothing else. Her blonde hair swirled up behind her head and fell into a style of plaits and curls not dissimilar.

“Much better…” the woman purred. “A young girl should always strive to look her best after all…”

Something about the way the woman lingered on 'always' made the small portion of her psyche able to observe want to curl up in a ball and weep in fear. She resolutely grasped control back and shuddered.

The maids had opened the door into the inner chamber…

Gone was the strange double world for starters. The décor was palatial, with drapes in thick red and gold. There was a desk at one side, and a huge bookcase. The other wall had a fireplace, with a crackling fire. Before it, seated in chairs, were two figures. One was a young man, wearing the robes of a scholar, while his compatriot was dressed in finery of a style she somehow knew to be the Longevity Cult, slashed with green and red, the hems of his clothes embroidered with swirling leaves picked out in black and gold. His features were what she could only call beautiful to the point of disturbing. Dark locks were tied back with a ribbon, framing a pale face with red lips and almost sapphire blue eyes.

Against the back wall was a bed with rumpled sheets in which lay a very shapely, young blonde-haired woman, naked and sweating, her limbs trembling, somewhere between pain and ecstasy. She tried to take her gaze away from her, but found it impossible now she had set eyes upon her. It was as if she was a lure for all that was not the pair by the fire in the room.

Even Di Ji was not immune, she noted. He was sweating faintly and looking flushed as the woman moaned and massaged herself.

“You like my beauty?” the princely youth smiled, glancing up from the game.

Instantly, both her attention and Di Ji’s were fixed on him. It was as if the woman on the bed was nothing by comparison.

“She was an empress, you know… ‘Saintess White Swan’, I believe she was called,” the princely youth said, casting her a look before returning his gaze to the two of them. “An Empress. Can you credit it? Of the mediocre little world out there. Such a waste of heaven’s riches indeed – now she is my beauty though, a much more fitting fate… Is that not right my little Saintess?”

“Oh…. My lord… my lord…” the woman, ‘White Swan’ moaned ecstatically from the bed.

“She is quite overcome, my apologies,” the princely youth sighed, taking a sip of his wine before turning back to ponder the game between the pair. “It is your move, Kong Din Hao…”

The other youth, who had been examining the black and white counters, moved a piece and then glanced at them as well.

“It seems that Din Bo has taken what I taught him to heart and finally made some use of it… I take it this is the final one?”

“…”

Di Ji glanced at her, and she felt a chill in her heart.

“It is not the one I had hoped to bring, Senior Din,” Di Ji bowed at the waist. “There was a daughter of the Kun Clan who was much more fitting, and also a daughter of the Ling Clan… she is…”

“Nonsense… this girl is from the Lin Clan; this is a great service… Their ancestral roots in the world above are almost as deep as the Xiao or the Tai, in my time. That one of their cherished daughters, with her Yin Purity intact, is standing here now… is perfectly acceptable.”

“Indeed,” the princely youth, who had made his own move, now stood and walked over to her. “And you even had her dressed up as I like them… There is much to be said for the way the acolytes of Sar’Ishara dressed of old… Whores, the lot of them, but such an eye to stoking the desire of others in the name of their Red Mistress…”

He ran a hand over her body and she tried to ignore it… “Lin, you say?”

“A small clan, to be sure,” Kong Hao mused, “But size is not everything… With this, our deal should be complete?”

“Hmm…. For a woman, I am led to understand that girth is more favourable,” the youth smiled, cupping her face in his hands and forcing her to stare into his deep golden eyes… “But we must accept what is given must we not… She is a tiny thing, but yes, this is acceptable. Ninety nine beauties from families whose lineage transcended a heaven. You have done well, Din Hao.”

“And the matter you will help us with?” Kong Din Hao added.

“You wish to extract revenge on that boy who closed off your family’s route to the heavens by seizing the divine seed of the world above? What is his realm now?” the youth said, still staring into her eyes.

“He should be a Divine Sage. He ascended on Mount Erfei, which they then renamed Mount Tai, Honoured Ancestors,” Di Ji replied respectfully.

“Just a Lesser Divinity,” the youth nodded. “He has backers though, with the Kong Clan?”

“Undoubtedly…” Di Ji replied, still respectfully bowed.

Din Hao grew more animated… “He originally agreed to support my claim to the throne… This era should have been my Din clan’s Heavens and instead he betrayed me? Me… his teacher! Using that meddlesome fool Mu…”

“Yes… yes… a terrible tale,” the youth said with a faint smile, cutting off Din Hao… “Brother Hao, it does you no good to get worked up over such a thing.”

The other youth exhaled, and nodded. “You are, of course, quite right…”

“Perhaps… my beautiful White Swan can calm you down a little while I talk to our guests?” the youth added.

“Mmmmm,” Din Hao nodded and made his way over to the bed, disrobing without a second glance.

“…”

-What the fates is actually going on here…?

Hidden in the darkest recesses of her own psyche, she stared dully as Di Ji was left standing there, frozen… except also not… because she could suddenly feel within him something akin to what she had in her own mind, a shadow within a shadow that was still cognisant of their surroundings.

“Ah… this is no good…” the youth sighed… staring at the two bodies writhing on the bed. “You… boy... you delivered so many beauties to me through the teachings I provided that fool who thinks he can wrest back an era from a Divine Sage.”

“It was all according to the designs of the ancestors…” Di Ji muttered.

“You dislike it though… You thought this was to be your great chance… did you not?” the youth smirked, waving for Di Ji to sit.

“I…” Di Ji looked unwilling for a moment then walked over to take Din Hao’s seat.

“You, Lin Ling, serve us wine,” the youth said with a clap of his hands.

Her body moved mechanically as she listened to the rest of the conversation.

“You were reborn into the world above… a quirk of cosmic fate… and yet the person you were reborn into was this pitiable wretch, destined only to be the plaything of old men dreaming of suicide and dressing it up in glorious vengeance?”

“This one has dutifully served the Din clan,” Di Ji said, taking the cup of wine with a slightly shaking hand.

“They must believe you to be a terrible person,” the youth chuckled. “How many beauties were befouled by your hand, I wonder… in the search of the right ones for what your ancestors agreed to give me.”

“…”

“You must have seen many things… aiiiii…” the youth sighed. “It is a shame, a promising piece of jade like you, being wasted by those foolish old men.”

“You, girl… dance for us... amuse us,” the youth commanded her.

She watched, fuming now as her physical body started to perform a sinuous dance for the two of them, moving her hips rhythmically in synch to the frenzied moans from the bed behind her. Even with the circumstances in which she was in, it was impossible for her to totally tune out her surroundings even as she tried to work out what was what.

The take-away here was that Di Ji had been working with this person… these two people here on some plot or other. If she understood the context, he had been providing some benefit for this person.

“Hmm… she is not untalented, even if her figure is lacking,” the youth sighed, turning back to Di Ji as the woman’s moans became screams of pleasure. “So… you have them?”

Di Ji gulped and pulled out an object, a shimmering bowl of a size to drink wine from in which swam almost a hundred shimmering energies. Each one carried with them a sense of defiled innocence that made her skin crawl.

“All that remains is hers…” the youth nodded, looking at her.

-Oh fates no… she hissed mentally, even as the rest of her discombobulated psyche continued to jibber and fragment.

[Go to the bed]

Di Ji commanded her.

“Ah… unnecessary,” the youth waved a hand and beckoned towards her.

A prisoner in her own body, she was drawn forward until she stood before him. Without any preamble, his clothes melted away and he commanded her to sit upon his lap and kiss him. She managed to dissociate away from the reality of it somewhat, even as she felt her stomach roiling and the little shard of her consciousness that was watching tried to close its eyes only to discover that she was incapable of doing so.

The youth sighed and grasped her neck, drawing it to one side as she sat, like a doll in his lap. He then proceeded to kiss her neck. Her body almost melted in his arms and within moments a sense of euphoric joy had flooded through her, blurring her awareness of her surroundings even as the lust of the woman on the bed drowned out everything else. Di Ji… just sat frozen, watching as the youth continued to toy with her even as she raged in the cage of her own mind.

“Ahhh…” The youth leaned back and sighed as her body twitched in his arms, wracked by an ecstasy that made the tiny flame of her sanity hidden by the symbol shudder in revulsion. “There is nothing to say the experience should not be… enjoyable, is there not?

Reaching over, he grasped the bowl Di Ji had set on the table and with his free hand drew a strand of silvery-blue, misty energy out of her body from where her dantian was located. The pain that came with it was lost in the unnatural vigour that was wracking her body. In that instant she felt something vanish inside her mortal body – her spirit root melting away and her primordial potential with it – even as her body moaned pitiably in his lap, rubbing against him like a drunken harlot.

“Exquisite…” the youth sighed… leaning back and considering the bowl which held the stolen primordial potentials of so many others… and now her own also. “Now, all that remains…”

The rage inside her was now at a point where she was sure it would actually seep out – she was unable to look away, to abandon the horrible moment. That sense of unnatural euphoria that gripped her body, left her feeling… She wished her memories were ruined still… and also that the face stuck in her vision was not Di Ji’s, and that he was not as much a puppet in this horror as she was.

“Please, Senior, allow me to salute your success,” Di Ji finally moved, pulling out a dull earthenware jar that was sealed with cloth.

“Oh…ho… you are a proper boy, aren’t you?” the youth chuckled, waving his hand and refilling his own empty cup and another before drawing them through the air to the two of them.

Her own body took its cup and smiled prettily, raising it in salute even as Di Ji smiled. “This junior was honoured to have seen the great success of ancestral seniors!”

The youth, still naked and cradling her body which had begun massaging him, she noticed with rising horror, even as she sipped her own wine, stared blankly at Di Ji as he threw the stone jar of ‘wine’ he had been about to pour from directly at the two of them. It smashed in mid-air, broken somehow by the youth and scattering burning blood everywhere, ruining furniture, drapes and splashing over both her and the youth to a greater degree.

“Why…” the youth rasped… his face a rictus of fury as he pushed her body over the table and surged to his feet even as the elemental energy within the blood burned his flesh. Flesh that, a part of her noticed with mute terror, was melting away into mist and revealing shimmering black bones beneath.

“You… are too dangerous…” Di Ji hissed, suddenly looking pale and drawn. “You have no intention of helping us, do you?”

“…”

Abruptly, the youth’s body stopped withering away and he started to laugh as if this was the funniest thing in the world. The mist from the wounds flowed back and he was healed again as if nothing had happened a few moments later. She could, however, see that he was still weakened somehow even as she herself, who was sprawled over the table, was unresponsive to what had landed on her.

“Indeed I do not… but what will you do about it? You think this bit of muddy lizard’s blood is enough to stop me? All you have done is ruin this poor girl’s looks temporarily… and even that–”

The youth ran a hand across her body and all the damage that had been dealt was undone in the blink of an eye.

In that instant, though, her memories had a strange moment of co-synchronicity as she recalled the other memory… The one of her throwing blood over a skeleton chained to a chair…? The disparate parts of her still cognisant in some way grasped for some form of coordinated control and realised that she suddenly had it, even as the youth drew her towards him, even as he focused on Di Ji who was now frozen in place, sweating with narrowed eyes.

The largest 50 litre clay jar of the purest yang blood that she had harvested from the middle of the pool had not been claimed by Di Ji…

She summoned it, already upended, watching with satisfaction as it drenched his naked form even as he bent over her and prepared to continue his violation. The youth, totally caught off guard, screamed and too late, tried to scramble back, his flesh corroding and his properly exposed bones bubbling and warping.

The contents spilled across the floor, flooding the entire room with pure yang energy to a degree that was comparable to the blood pit itself as the youth screamed and flailed, trying to fight the misty white flames that were starting to consume his flesh.

Di Ji, who had suddenly been freed from whatever grasp held him, staggered off his chair. For a brief moment she saw something approaching a conflicted expression flicker across his face... then he fled for the door.

Din Hao surged off the bed and she realised belatedly that despite being aware of her qi in this room… nobody actually seemed to be all that ‘powerful’. Likely it was down to this place being made out of the qi suppressing stone? However, she had no time to ponder such inconsequential things, because the table she was lying on suddenly collapsed sending her sprawling into the pool of yang blood. It immediately seeped into her body, igniting her flesh even as her soul finally succumbed to the shuddering ball of rage, hate and pain she had become over the course of the last thirty minutes…

The symbol in her mind’s eye wavered and the scene was somehow split, a parallel track of memories to hers intruding even as she howled in agony in the middle of the sea of Yang Blood.

On the one hand, she suddenly understood certain interactions with her mantra and why it had placed so much emphasis on her blood… she had been subconsciously trying to ensure that nothing else would do what that… youth had done, and her mantra had taken that and used the yang blood to turn her blood into literal yang poison over time.

So, she watched as the blood invaded her body and filled in the void left by the loss of her primordial potential.

On the other hand… she was lying on a hilltop, watching two people have a discussion, sat in a weird stone circle made of three stones on a cold winter’s day. She didn’t pay much attention to it though… Firstly because it was a horrible and cold winter’s day and she hated the cold and secondly because they were talking about things that were boring to her, things he already knew, from his ancestral memories. All they were showing was a series of old methods, now dumbed down for humans to understand–

Something ethereal and angry in the back of his mind reached through the ancestral connection and grasped that memory and forcibly, brutally pushed his nose against the scene, forcing him to look at each and every symbol in turn, memorise it, and understand it as the weak humans did…

The symbol in her mind’s eye connected with what she only vaguely knew of as her ‘soul’ in the same instant. Such a feat should have been impossible, as she understood it, because she was only… barely at Golden Core, until she realised that her meridians were doing a weird thing and had turned slightly ghostly. Those symbols from the other memory linked together in her Sea of Knowledge and then started drawing on her renewed vitality, redrawing the map of her meridians with the help of her mantra to match more closely those ghostly ones she had never noticed before.

After that, the blood flowed through those meridians and then out of her, onto the chamber floor even as the screaming youth finally re-composed himself to find Din Hao and Di Ji struggling on the floor. Looking from one to the other and then to her, the youth narrowed his eyes and started to pick his way carefully between the pooling blood towards her.

She felt the qi change as it flowed back into her dantian, synergised with her mantra again and flowed outwards through her bone a second time and then everything flowed outwards again – across the stone floor. Her dantian became misty and warped, qi bleeding out of her body to become a physical shroud around her for a moment before it sank back inside her and ‘set’ abruptly, completing itself and forming a liquid inside her dantian.

She wanted to remonstrate that that did her no good when the youth was only a few paces away, but the symbol… intuitively, she suddenly understood, cripplingly, that her rage… was not enough.

The ancestral memories also seemed to realise this, because they gave him… her… a mental slap and pushed his eyes closer to other memories. She felt something in the blood… the remnants of the creature’s own spirit in fact, struggle faintly trying to ignore those distant memories it had wanted to hide away and forget about for all eternity. Something about that annoyed her, who was seeing all this horror again, inordinately and she threw her own weight behind the memories as well–

A beautiful woman sat on a chair, staring over at him… his mother… or maybe older sister? She was a human, but not like the others. Her beauty was what others talked of… enough to capture the heart of a nation, make princes sob and the common man extol every womanly virtue… but it was her grace and her kindness that were exceptional.

Now… she watched him as he lay by the fire, strumming a harp and singing a song in a language she didn’t know…

The memories merged and shifted and the song she was singing was the same, but deeper, and more sonorous. They sank into her, carried through the ages by other memories who had existed for far too long to rage in the manner she required, she understood, but now possessed the knowledge.

Each memory was like a bell, resonating with a symbol and a word that went with it.

“In the name of the maker, father of earth and sky, hallowed be his name…”

“Hallowed father, who walked in Heaven…”

The words of the woman’s song melded with the memories of the ancestors in the blood, within her and also with something primal in the very qi in her bones… a link to a land far from here in both time and place. They evoked a timelessness and sense of loss that made her breath catch and gave her the sense of ancient tablets, incense, chanting hymns and veneration.

Other memories followed, he watched as his mother was courted by princes… watched as her sisters raged and denounced dukes and princes from foreign lands, sending them away even as a shadowy woman on a throne who he had always had a fear of for some reason, scowled down at those who departed…

They came back, in the dark, a promise of vengeance… then shadow, and he witnessed his mother be dragged away, seized by darkness even as her song echoed in their minds.

“I fear no evil… I fear no pain… for though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, my heart is true… I dream only of you…”

The words dragged them down even as he watched the youth who had come that time proposing marriage be dragged forward and the woman walked down from her throne. The world wailed and he saw her for what she was… a monster that had walked out of time… but time had already run out and the thunder rolled and the face of evil was revealed to them all even as the youth screamed and wailed and cursed his grandmother.

“Do not turn your face from it,” the oldest voice hissed to him… told her…

“This is your strength; you cannot hide from it. This… this is who you are…”

They watched as the woman on the throne tore apart the youth and put him back together, learning why her daughters had been ruined… and then she tore a hole in the world… and he watched her step through… onto a grassy plain before a great city, even as the nobles of her court, craven, graven fools who had helped to sell out his mother, cowered.

“If this is the world you truly wish…” she whispered… staring up at the city, home to three billion souls.. The beating heart of an empire that ruled a vast swathe of the cosmos… “Then I shall let you choke on it, and send you on as a funeral offering to my dear daughters…”

The woman turned incandescent and the rift vanished.

The scream of death echoed in the world and he knew what was done, even as thunder rolled over the collapsing ruin that was Saint Robert’s and it vanished from the world, dragging his physical body down with it, into oblivion… and yet it was not enough… he wanted the whole world to burn as a funeral pyre to his dear mother… the kind girl who had taken him, a monster born of a primordial mould, and shown him what it meant to be good… bright and true…

He wanted to speak her name one final time…

Hear her voice one final time…

And yet… her name eluded him…

Wield it… for without it, we will all fall here!” another furious old voice hissed.

“Power… Glory… Kingdom… all meaningless…” another ranged… almost triumphantly.

“SURVIVE! That is our reason to be…” the voices all snarled.

The rage in his blood… in her heart finally melded became a fire that surged through the bloody matrix and she gained a comprehension of the power she needed and the mnemonic to call upon it thereafter.

{Rampage as One}

The blood whispered as one and she surged up, grasping the youth even as her consciousness fragmented.

“Blood Rage?” the youth hissed… suddenly backing up and looking uncertain. “How… what… you!” he stared on in horror as she found strength beyond her means and…

Her memory snapped back to the present and found she was lying on her back, completely naked in a smoking pool of blood, the ruins of a corpse in her hands. Tossing it aside, she sat up and looked at the others, now aware of their presence.

The attackers lined the shoreline. There were almost a hundred of them… several held nets and long spears… watching her as drums thundered and war chants echoed all around. They were all dressed in skins… their skin was painted in the appearance of their skeletons, dark colours overlaid with white bones. Many also had weird tattoos and glyphs that were unsettling to look at…

-Arcane Symbols, their memories supplied information on them that made her wish she had remained ignorant.

Many wore spider carapace armour painted with six golden eyes. It was the skins, however, that drew her attention… and the banners.

She really wished she couldn’t see those, because they were abominable, made of the stretched skin of humans, daubed in evil symbols and figures that were… very keen on anatomy... Yes, she was going to leave that there. Eyes and anatomy and acts… her complete memories refused to allow her any innocence now... and the pain in her breast deepened.

Others approached the group, who were watching in in relative silence, accompanied by the sound of frenzied drumming.

-Why were they watching in silence…?

She looked around at the pool and realised it was likely down to the body in her hands… half a body, because she had ripped it in half, her hand gripping its spine. She tore the helmet off and looked at its features. It could have passed for an ugly… human. It had a narrow face, high cheekbones and a nose only a mother could have loved in all likelihood. The thing that stood out was the pointy ears… which, combined with the squarish jaw and the pointy teeth, told her it wasn’t a dark elf and was in fact an Ur’Vash… no… not an Ur’Vash... Orcneas.

The memories supplied that, for both of them. The common understanding seemed to be that they were a species of trollkin that worshipped a malevolent entity, a corrupting abomination that wanted only slaughter, chaos and defilement in its name, so it could grow stronger. Others could, however, become ‘Orcnéas’ as well – once they did, they all started to warp and become more like the original, the dread thing that the People of the Plains and clay children of Keramos, Sorcerer Lord of Ur, made between them: Orcus, Defiler of All.

Other names followed after, giving her extra context, which she buried for now… The key point was that how a creature ‘fell’ defined how it became. The children of Ur were most susceptible to Orcus, who fell through chaos and slaughter. The Elves to Akalaraltis, who fell through arrogance and pride. Humans tended to fall to Neron, their short lives leading them to become greedy and avaricious. All became abomination though.

The group parted and the ‘leader’ approached. It wore a long skin robe made out of…

-Burn that one… the memories hissed in unison, and she could only agree.

It wore a skin robe made of female cultivators.

That wasn’t just evil; these were actual demons… The rage surged even higher as it looked her over. The symbol in her soul shivered as well, reacting to something, as other figures came forward. Four hulking grey-skinned brutes carrying a palanquin upon which sat a wizened old Orcneas even as the memories supplied other reasons to hate and rage…

She saw a similar people in another place and time tearing down their species… both their species, flaying them, consuming its flesh and making weapons from their bones using abhorrent rituals, binding the souls to banners made of their skin and seizing… good fortune from their souls. Turning them into enslaved guardian totems. She stared back at the banners of the people who were on them... Still somehow alive, she realised… impossibly still alive…

Abstruse and abstract.

The drumming was also strangely disturbing, making it hard for her to focus on details and drawing her attention towards things like the banners, she realised.

“Oh…” her voice sounded alien even she spoke dully, realising why they were still alive.

-Immortals… they refined immortal cultivators into banners… then the flesh on his robe…?

The Orcneas wearing the still-living flesh of the female Immortal cultivators walked towards her carrying a net…

“Gugug…”

Its laugh made her skin crawl and sent icy shivers down her spine even as her limbs suddenly grew leaden and she stumbled back.

“To think someone lucky enough to get the blood of an ancient being should fall into our hands…”

-They are trying to cool your rage… the memories told her.

She laughed mockingly in her own head at that idea.

“This one will make the very best banner. I will have it live forever… gugugug!”

At that proclamation, the drumming intensified and the old shaman lifted up his hands and the other members of the tribe all shouted, whooped and cheered suddenly. On the flip of a coin, they went from looking like the evil devils they were to whooping and frothing at the mouth, their eyes bloodshot as they chanted and stamped.

It turned back to look at her, sneering at her struggles to resist it. “You will be our Spider Eye tribe’s new totem!”

The symbol, which had never stopped reorganizing itself and sorting out that array in her mind’s eye, she realised, finally finished whatever task the memories had started. Her qi, her mantra and her intent swirled together and flowed through the blood pool, forming symbols in its depths even as the Spider Eyes shaman took a net from a nearby Orcnéas and started to swirl it around.

In a single instant, the liquid qi in her dantian flowed out after the misty qi into the vast array that was forming in the pool. It swirled through the medium of the blood that she realised had come from her own supply. Her dantian, which had become misty and warped, twisted and set again abruptly, completing itself.

Qi suddenly bled out of her body to become a physical shroud around her, as it had done once before, in those memories… after she had been…

“What…?” the Orcneas Shaman stared at her blankly.

“On the contrary… my own rage is more than enough…” she hissed, sinking back into the horror of that moment and dragging that little seed of fury out of her and merging it with the mnemonic that the memories had provided.

~{Rampage as One}~

The rage in her blood sang, and the fury and pain of the blood merged with her own… trying to explode outwards. The fact that the memories had apparently dragged her back to that moment all of their own accord, and shown her an entirely new and even more disturbing perspective on what she had previously believed… just fuelled her fury to even greater depths.

The symbol shifted, almost snarling, and somehow started to restrain the rage, honing it, drawing her own despair and fury at her current situation into it even as she found another sympathetic chord with the memories in the blood.

“We will not let you die, like mother did…”

Her scream was not words as any mortal would understand it. It was an older tongue, a tongue of the true tyrants, the primordial beasts from which the blood hailed.

The shaman wearing human skin was thrown back as if she had smashed him with a hammer in the chest, crashing across the water as she surged up, screaming her rage and denial.

Outside the ring of dancing Orcnéas, she became aware of other shamans raising their staffs. The banners blazed and spectral chains surged out of all of them, guided by the shamans to pierce her limbs. Her qi turned turbulent and the rising strength in her body was almost abandoned then and there. Enraged, she struggled against them, trying to fight their devouring, twisting power with her mantra even as the chains plunged her back into the shallow lake, coursing through her, mapping out her meridians as they sought to make her body the cage by which she would be bound a second time…

Her fury and hatred erupted. All the pent up fury of everything… the insanity, the torture, the ruined memories, the truth behind it, the loss and ruination that the creature whose blood she had acquired had suffered, all of it raced through her mind like a furious torrent, or maybe an avalanche that wanted to bury the whole valley… the whole world, both inside and out…

She looked up at the sky rolling above her and the memories in her blood gave her a word… not of its species, but another that lived in the heavens and swam in storms and deep waters, a word that matched with the original water attribute of her spirit root.

The sky rolled and raged as thunder rumbled and the sky turned lead as she spoke it, calling on her old friends in the storms whose will lingered still to descend.

Lightning rippled from the sky, the clouds descended, shifting at her words to form the shadow of a vast, winged bird that clutched lightning in its talons. The wind against its feathers made thunder crash and the whole valley tremble. The ruin around her flowed away from them even as the lightning cracked down, striking at the shaman with the intent to exterminate it and all the hateful things it stood for.

The Orcnéas raised their banners and uttered a terrible cry and cast something up at it. She saw the screaming forms of beasts and other enslaved totemic creatures try to meet the bird and fall, scattered.

Even as their banners burned and chains crumbled away, scattered by the pure yang lightning, she surged to her feet. The cloak of qi around her was continuing to deepen and with it came power. She had no idea what her cultivation base was now… the memories had no understanding of that idea; there was just potential, acquired, accrued and awakened, and right now her latent potential was, in their eyes, still erupting.

She screamed inarticulately and the whole valley wavered as her qi, infused with pure yang intent of various elements, swept outwards. For a brief moment she saw the whole valley, the rain falling, the ruin wrought… saw Ruo Han and the others struggling in the grip of another group… and didn’t find Han Shu or Juni…

Her conviction wavered for a split second and then she turned her eyes to the perpetrators of all this – the Orcneas.

“I will bury you all with the dead…”

Her words hissed through the world, warping it as her qi and intent merged with something in the blood and became… ‘Principle’, guided by ancient memories. The shamans howled and their own principles, warped, defiled things made of stolen promise, twisted her land and tried to turn it upon her. She placed a hand upon it and shared its fury, letting her own hatred and rage become the path for it to act out its own vengeance.

“Disrupt Everything.”

The valley overturned as the natural alignments rejected the defiling touch that was seizing them. Mountains quaked above her and the lead shaman, who had found his footing and started to coordinate the banners for a second attempt at them, staggered back, coughing purple-black blood even as hundreds of those dancing and chanting nearby died, torn to ribbons by the aftershocks of her declaration.

The vile banners sent chains again, trying to disrupt the cloak of qi around her that was still coalescing.

Her body was staring to break down now, merging with it, her skin flaking away and her blood flowing through it in mandala-like patterns, shaping it to a ghostly outline that was no longer really ‘her’ but had more in common with the ancient and noble creature whose blood had replaced her stolen primordial potential completely.

Her own qi met the chains – yang earth crushed them, yang fire burned them to cinders and yang life overturned their devouring strength. The memories continued to rage, feeding her more and more scenes from their pasts now… The disdain for the Orcnéas that those older memories held was truly breath-taking.

To them, they were just things that scuttled beneath their feet, creatures that were born of rats and vermin that fed on rubbish left behind by them and others like them. They had been the gods of their era, tyrants of sky and earth who predated even the first of the ‘people’, the Ri of the Sun, who walked among them and gave them names and called them friend.

Only when men arose, after they had already suffered a calamity of the cruel sky that ruined their world, forced them into the shadows, to change their forms and seek new paths, had they been forced aside. Had the world that should have been theirs stolen from them by lesser races.

They tyranny of the great bird reflected this… but even as the lightning foundered, she saw for a brief, horrifying moment another reality that the memories were somehow unable to overcome. For it was not the dancing, chanting Orcnéas but men in chains, their bodies twisting on the macabre banners screaming in torment and unleashing their arts onto the descending shadow that broke the attack.

The storm faltered, her old friends in the sky were banished beyond the limits of the world by the evil ways of the primates who brought only chaos and destruction… and the rage in his blood only deepened.

He screamed, utterly enraged now and lashed out at them, shattering another formation with a wave of yang earth qi that reduced a hundred Orcnéas to gristle and returned their bones to the earth where they were devoured.

-Her?

-Yes it enraged her

She managed to claw that back as powerful Orcneas, warriors with principles of their own, struggled out of the mire she had tried to bury them all in and charged for her. Turning to meet them, she charged forward herself.

“Break, evil things… I will see your nine generations ruined!”

They collapsed, their qi chaotic and their rotten souls crippled like the pathetic primates they were, as her power continue to surge. She wielded her qi again and dragged them down into the lake of blood to be purified by her blood and consumed by it.

Even so, there were too many, and some were strong, she had to acknowledge. Two leapt for her, striking with two-handed axes at her. She met their intent with her own manifested qi, barging past one and smashing him away with her armoured shell.

-Armoured shell? She froze mentally. I have an armoured shell?

Her awareness of her body returned marginally through the fog of her fury, even as she obliterated several more attackers in quick succession and confirmed that the thick cloak of qi around her was almost solid now and that bony plates were slowly manifesting out of yang earth qi on her arms and back. They even had wicked spikes on them. Those she had hit were crumpled and broken, struggling to get up and trying to puppet their bodies with their qi.

She turned towards one and, with a howl that shook the ruined landscape again, dragged it up and eviscerated it with a sweep of her claws, ripping out its heart-core and refining it according to a method provided by the ancestral memories. They added a warning that she should not refine an actual Orcnéas like this… These were only pathetic minions who had fallen to worship of that dreadful thing. Turned in spirit, but not having undergone the corrupting physical baptism of their dread lord.

-How will I know the difference? She managed to ask

-Oh you won’t be able to mistake it if one of those does show, one of the old memories snarled.

She got a brief mental image of hulking ape-like things half again as tall as a man, corded muscles, body covered in tattoos, many naked, but some clothed in blood flayed hides, wielding black stone weapons to cut an unstoppable swathe through an army ten thousand times their number. With each one that fell, the others howled and became greater still, until at the last the owner of the memory itself crushed it to the ground and tore it limb from limb even as the abomination hacked and clawed savagely at it.

The other old shaman on the palanquin had fallen back, she noticed, and other bands of Orcnéas, Ur’Vash turned to the worship of Orcus, screamed in rage and charged out of the ruined landscape from all sides. These new arrivals wore little in the way of armour and they cared nothing for their casualties as they charged at her.

A lightning bolt from one of the spider riders hit her, earthing itself on the spikes and skittering away harmlessly. Two more followed in quick succession even as she rampaged directly into the horde of frenzied Ur’Vash trying now to swarm her with numbers – breaking skulls, crushing limbs and tearing out heart-cores as she went. Their weapons broke on her body for the most part, while their intent-infused qi was scattered, unable to pierce the plates that were continuing to form from her qi cloak.

A larger Ur’Vash, qi boiling off him and supported, she noticed, by one of the banners, pushed his way through the throng towards her.

“I SLAY YOU, OFFER BLOODY HIDE TO GREAT GOD ORCUS!” it screamed at her even as it closed the final distance towards her with a leap, aiming its club at her head.

Instinctively, she met its strike with the side of her head, deflecting it away as she realised that the plates had now grown over her head into a kind of helmet. Well, a series of overlapping plates that were protecting much of her skull and neck. Her blonde hair was flowing around the edges of them and making her look a bit like she had a mane of hair now, even as it melted away into the qi-cloak.

She smashed a clawed limb–

-Clawed… limb? Her lack of awareness over the changes that were manifesting to her body was… unnerving actually.

-Finish this fast… or you will be in a lot of bother, one of the oldest memories supplied helpfully.

-You don’t say? She shot back a bit incredulously, but in truth, she knew she had no time to dwell on it.

She screamed in its face, watching its flesh melt and warp under the pure yang energy infused into the sound waves even as she stabbed it again and again to gouge out its heart-core from its body. Others charged in, uncaring to die as she lashed her tail this way and that, deflecting another bolt. Arrows were starting to come as well now, from the spider riders who, having had their attack across the valley on the Argent Justice group disrupted, were now focusing on her.

Two exploded against her shell and a third managed to find a chink in her armour and detonate, sending a wave of principle through her body that her mantra, guided by the memories somehow, met and broke.

One of the spider riders blurred forward at last, leaping with its mount to try and get at her back. She swept it out of the way with her tail that was still coalescing out of the cloak of qi, then kept spinning, sending other enraged attackers blurring away in smashed bits as the horde kept on coming. The damage she was dealing to them was… not as much as she expected, she was starting to realise.

-Yes, finish it fast, she understood the other reason for that suddenly, as the knowledge from the memories continued to settle.

The Ur people had a gift, of a sort. A shared spiritual space that became a sort of mental link. Singularly or in small groups they were no more dangerous than a human… However, in large forces like this one, their shared connection was a fearful thing. Their morale fed each other, their mood self-reinforcing. It even allowed them to use remarkable formations and geomancy-based arts with little to none of the planning and preparation other races needed. For Orcneas, this was taken to the maximum though, because their shared singular desire for chaos, death and destruction just fed their compatriots. Each one that died just drove the others even deeper into fury… and as such she was now in a race to see who won out.

-Either I kill all the ones of consequence, or they tear me down first, he… she grimly acknowledged.

A net, made of some kind of cloud spider silk and fused with the souls of a hundred animals that ensnared and devoured their prey, tried to catch her and in response she roared again and punched… smashed… the ground with her forelimbs.

The valley ruptured beneath her. The massif pillars shook and trembled like leaves in the storm. Cliffs collapsed and the rain sang for a brief moment, scattering into mist that fused with the pure yang energy now saturating everything. The world around her turned into a haze of searing vapour, even as what remained of the devastated forest became even more chaotic. Her oldest friends in this land, the birds of the forest and the cliffs and mountains, surged into the sky from miles around, swirling across the valley in a massive avian vortex of sound – their calls and cries, in words she almost thought she understood, echoed her own rage and hatred for these interlopers and defilers.

Their cries melded with the still-changing alignments, carried on the howling winds and the driving rain to further turn the fury of the world against her opponents.

Hundreds of Ur’Vash died and thousands were thrown down. The net caster who was, she now grasped, almost as strong as the old shaman was distracted long enough for her to project her fury through another howl–

There was a word in there, but in the maelstrom of her current emotional state, halfway between being totally berserk and just collapsing, she didn’t know what it was. It manifested as an exhaled sheet of merging yang fire, earth and metal qi that seared the battlefield, incinerating uncounted Ur’Vash, turning the landscape for a hundred metres around her to glass and ash. Unfortunately, the net stopped the worst of it from getting much further than the first group who were attacking her, but it was now badly damaged and useless to cage her, which was the important thing.

Snarling in rage, she cast about for the leaders and found they had all fallen back behind the formations, doing some kind of ritual…

She felt something start to settle onto her like a smothering cloak, shrouding her limbs and stopping her from moving as she should. The qi in her body tried to flow away even as she understood what was happening, courtesy of the memories supplying at last why they were screaming about ‘stolen’ gifts. This strength, was a corruption of an old thing, a risky thing to use now as well, because of the sword.

The memories had a lot to say about that, and the entities linked to it... this strength, the strength of ‘division’ came from one of them. It had been grasped by humans to defend these lands, given to them by false idols who had themselves stolen that knowledge from others. With the ruin of this place, they assumed it had fallen into the hands of others.

She stared up at the sky, narrowing her eyes and mustering her anger and focusing it according to how the memories dictated.

{CALL OF THE WILD}

The qi of the very land itself rose up through her, possible, she knew, only because of the array set down that allowed her to connect to the alignments of the world directly and because her primordial potential was now thoroughly merged with the Yang Shield Tyrant’s blood. Right now, her blood was the vessel for that connection, but it was already warping her body properly. The cloak of qi was almost entirely solid now – her physical form shrouded within it and merging outwards, even as she grew in stature with it. Her own vitality, the latent potential of it, was slowly being consumed by it as well.

“BE BROKEN, THIEF OF STRIFE! BOTHER NOT THESE HEAVENS BEFORE THIS SEAT!”

The roar itself echoed across the mountain peaks, ricocheting off the sky above, dispersing the clouds and shattering the storm as the roar sent peals of thunder and waves of lightning down across this and nearby valleys as it was momentarily displaced.

The chains tying her limbs receded even as the valley quaked, heeding the ancient call of the words of power that the memories spoke through her. In response, the drumming and the frenzy of the tribe became even greater and several more bands charged out of the ruined landscape even as it sought to exterminate them at her behest.

She could see their source now... They were pouring out of caves in the valley sides, most notably where the ruins of the human temple had been, where they had first tried to run.

A juvenile crab spider charged her. She swatted its rider, who was trying to stab her, sending them screaming into the valley wall behind her where they made a bloody crater. The spider itself she head-butted in the maw. Its lash-like forelimbs skittering off her shell as it recoiled. Rolling over, she slammed her tail down on it and then rose to push it flat down her forelimbs.

“JUST. BURN. ALREADY!”

It did as commanded, yang fire spewing out of her qi-cloak to engulf it and her surroundings. Somewhere, in the depths of her fury, she felt a pang of pity for the creature. It was another relic of her time, preserved in the deep places of the earth, and, just like many of her kind, they had been captured by later peoples and turned into living weapons. A sorry fate for a species that occupied such a fundamental niche in a landscape like this…

-Still, they are the enemy now, she managed to point out.

-Indeed… but we can only lament for what was lost, an old voice added.

-And rage all the harder for it, another snarled.

Another juvenile female rammed her; that was a better strategy for it. She had to admit, grudgingly, the spiders were strong beyond their size, as all their kind were, making her roll away. She lazily spun as she rose, shredding another dozen screaming orcs who charged at her with more mundane nets, spears and clubs, trying to tear her down and subdue her, and then smashed down her tail on another spider, flattening it into the mud and sending its limbs pinwheeling as it popped.

The shamans in the distance were gesticulating wildly now. Her attempt at dragging the land inward had failed, it seemed… However, it had also prevented them from retreating too far. Inhaling, she focused on that direction and roared again, smashing her forelimbs into the ground.

“BURN!”

“SCATTER!”

This time, the shockwave of yang qi merged and the land rippled outwards, twisting and overturning the ruined forest even more thoroughly. Thousands of the Ur’Vash, who had been recovering from her earlier attack were scattered or buried as she stormed towards the group of shamans. For their part, they managed to block or divert the worst of the attack. Two of the banners holding the bloody half-dead bodies of captured Immortals screamed and sent sizzling bolts of red lightning at her which held principles approaching that of what she was wielding.

{Red Judgement of Heaven}

The first she blocked with the armour on her back, although the second did manage to catch her and throw her down. Red lightning wormed into her body and tried to seize her potential and turn it upon her for a brief moment before it was itself overcome by the raging torrent of energy welling up through her.

{Golden Dragon Sword}

Another attack, this time in the form of a golden sword, smashed down on her. Her qi armour scattered the worst of it even as the memories mocked the name and some of the more prideful ones took umbrage that someone dared to call such a weak attack after a ‘dragon’, further feeding the spiral of bottomless rage that was welling up.

{Blazing Light of Ji}

A molten metal bar sizzled across her shell, emitted from the screaming mouth on another banner. She rolled away from it, watching as the Ur’Vash it hit vanished into motes of light that then also exploded all around her, making her qi chaotic. A fourth banner, this time holding a series of bald heads still attached to de-fleshed and deboned skin that two Ur’Vash were hammering like a drum, started to sprout sutras that turned into twisted black lotus blossoms.

“BREAK!”

The shout shattered the space between them, turning half that formation into a bloody smear on the ground–

The black spear, carved all of bone, shot out of the forest and smashed into her side, sinking into her qi-cloak far enough to damage her properly for the first time. A Shockwave of disrupting qi surged through her body, trying to shock her and damage her inner organs. Snarling, she tried to pluck out the bone spear only for it to melt away like black smoke and flow towards a figure who was being carried over the ruined landscape on a twisted eight-legged creature that was more nightmare than spider. In fact, it was scorpion, she realised belatedly, seeing the claws on the front. The Ur’Vash that rode on it had two banners, impaled cultivators again she noted, and a third bound up in a bag.

“Good fight… You do well to keep this one for me…” the rider called out, throwing back its head and laughing uproariously. “Trust stupid Ur’Vash to not know how to catch boil in a bag meal!”

“Asuraerleth of the Six Eyes” the Ur’Vash shaman snarled, his voice now carrying easily.

The new arrival turned to consider her again, then pulled off its mask to reveal a face that was not like the others. Where the Ur’Vash would never be called conventionally beautiful, this figure was – with the exception of their teeth, which were filed to points, and a rather unsettling tattoo of six interlocking eyes on its forehead – breathtakingly beautiful. The hair was pale gold and plaited in a very elaborate way. It had purple eyes and tanned skin, high cheekbones and full lips. The appearance was such that she had no way to tell if it was male or female…

-A half-blood, the memories of one old being mused.

“Really, you morons… just back off and let it run out of steam…” Asuraerleth commanded, hefting their spear again.

-Not on your life, they snarled and charged forward again, starting to cut through another formation, each of their stamps sending shockwaves that crippled or outright killed the weaker members of the tribe who were still charging in in a frenzy.

Two more golden swords slashed down from distant banners by the shaman, forcing her back and making her block them with her back.

“BE OVERTURNED!”

They snarled the command and sank her forearms into the ground, rolling forward with the attack as a wave of earth surged forward and crashed into the attackers, burying them and dragging them into the depths of the ground to be smothered even as she charged again for the pair of shamans standing on the palanquin carried by the four trolls.

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A note from Rith

Please give it up for 'Big Cliffy'.

Well... a somewhat darker chapter and one that also blurs a few previous expectations of where things were going I imagine. We get an idea of what the Din Clan, or at least some of the Din Clan are up to in this... that plot has more to run.

Colours will come later, and probably some funky rage font for Lin Ling.

Also - a wild elf appears, shit getting real now.

Authors Note: SO, there is a reason why people dont pick fights with species with Ancestral Blood Memories. Two Words: Blood Rage.

Sure, you might be confident thaat you can kill the chibi mythical creature over there... but can you kill the chibi critter with all the latent potential of its blood drawn out in one fell swoop? The down side to this... is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get ancestral memories angry enough to cooperate and the land needs to be broadly sympathetic. If those criteria are fulfilled though... RIP Konoha... wait, wrong fiction.

Incidentally, the creatures of Lin Ling's salvation is not the only species with this neato trait... incase you needed another reason to respect the Meng Fu's and Ju Shan's of this world and their capabilities to be scary well beyond their means if really pushed. This is also how Lady Xue Kai was able to have a showdown with the entire Imperial Court - this is the divine beast equivalent of what Lu Ji did with the Xiao clan ancestral land. those with such 'bloodlines' carry their ancestral lands around in their blood.

This makes them rather sought after as you might imagine. As you can see from this chapter, it also makes them a remarkably prickly proposition to grasp.

Release Note: I appreciate that the releases have ALREADY slowed, but there will only be one chapter next week - Wednesday 3rd Feb. This is because a conference/workshop from 2020 has revived from the dead next weekend and I must prepare a presentation for it.


Glossary & Terms

Edits & Stuff

 1/2/20201 - part 4 of the great Lin Ling edit - Mortal Physique became 'True Physique'.


Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! if you see any typos or oddities lemme know.


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Rith

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Garrdor ago

In that instant, though, her memories had a strange moment of co-synchronicity as she recalled the other memory… The one of her throwing blood over a skeleton chained to a chair…? Grasping for control, she realised that she suddenly had it,

So this whole thing is Lin Ling reliving the "real" events of what happened with her and Di Ji, and she repressed all that by imagining her throwing blood on a skeleton chained to a chair, right?

So shes aware that she's reliving memories as she becomes aware of the overlap, but when does she "grasp" for control? Is that something she did in the moment, or something she did in the actual chapter 79 present?

I know the confusion is part of the whole deal, but at least before the blood memories start merging, the different perspectives could be more clearly defined. IMO

JaxThePyro ago

I'm not entirely sure why, but this entire time I was kinda assuming the ancestral memories Lin Ling had were of Dinosaurs. Dragons are pretty cool too though.

Joyueguie ago

Di Ji is still a total twatwaffle! Deserves to burn. But it sounds like his whole family needs to burn also!

thanks for the chapter 😊

71M073J ago

Whew, what a spicy treasure! Hopefully the others manage to survive the clash of principles though, the AOE attacks seem plenty enough.

Thanks for the chapter <3

dakem ago

I still want to know where they are. Are they in the undergrove?

Kobina ago

Sat upon a rocky outcropping, waiting for his divination compass to settle, Ha Yun watched a hurricane twist over the mountains rising beyond the town.

His heart/stomach dropped like a stone for a moment until a rippling series of formation-like designs rippled in the air

Both Jin Chen and Hao Jun dodged as he watched the attack distend and warp space carrying an unavoidable inevitability that he recognised as a ‘principle’.

Thereafter all that had been left was scattered chaos and confusion. Her memory recoiled and she struggled with her bonds.

[Stop Struggling]

The command sank into her body like a warm caress and she stopped struggling, even as a part of her, stuck in the back of her mind, found itself untouched by the command. In fact, even that earlier command, the soul art that had captured her so thoroughly had not managed to find this little part of her, as it turned out. It hid in the shelter of the symbol for her ‘Shield Bearer’s Mortal Physique’ even as she tried, from that strange vantage to understand what exactly was going on. (This part is a bit confusing. Didn't Lin Ling acquire her mortal physique after her encounter with Di Ji through the baptism and adoption of blood? References below to the ancestral memories indicate that this is in fact a memory but it would help if you could clarify who the soul command in square brackets is from and where exactly her resistance comes from physique or mantra, unless the point is that memory and reality are mixing such that her current advantages are removing established blocks in her memory)

Something about the way the woman lingered on (Something missing?) always made the small portion of her psyche able to observe want to curl up in a ball and weep in fear.

“Oh…. My lord… my lord…” the woman, ‘White Swan’ moaned ecstatically from the bed

However, she had no time to ponder such inconsequential things, because the table she was lying on

So, she watched as the blood invaded her body and filled in the void left by the loss of her primordial potential.

On the other hand… she was lying on a hilltop, watching two people have a discussion, sat in a weird stone circle made of three stones on a cold winter’s day. She didn’t pay much attention to it though… Firstly because it was a horrible and cold winter’s day and she hated the cold and secondly because they were talking about things that were boring to her, things he already knew, from his ancestral memories. All they were showing was a series of old methods, now dumbed down for humans to understand–

Something ethereal and angry in the back of his mind reached through the ancestral connection and grasped that memory and forcibly, brutally pushed his nose against the scene, forcing him to look at each and every symbol in turn, memorise it, and understand it as the weak humans did…

The symbol in her mind’s eye connected with what she only vaguely knew of as her ‘soul’ in the same instant. Such a feat should have been impossible, as she understood it, because she was only… barely at Golden Core, until she realised that her meridians were doing a weird thing and had turned slightly ghostly. Those symbols from the other memory linked together in her Sea of Knowledge and then started drawing on her renewed vitality, redrawing the map of her meridians with the help of her mantra to match more closely those ghostly ones she had never noticed before. (This would be the moment Lin Ling acquired the Shield Bearer Mortal Physique? Surviving the loss of her spiritual root which left a void the yang blood could fill before killing her immediately and giving enough time for the ancestors to encourage comprehension on her soul of their nature as transcendental beasts aka dragons of another kind. No wonder she doesn't like the memories in the bloodline inheritance, the ancestors essentially adopted her by force even if it saved her life. This would be part of the inheritance of a dragon in the prelude that the usurpers to the Moon Tomb Empire desired and no wonder. Given the least bit of affinity the accumulation of past generations will empower the younger generation.)

They were all dressed in skins… their skin was painted like they had skeletons on the outside, dark colours overlaid with white bones.

Its laugh made her skin crawl and sent icy shivers down her spine even as her limbs suddenly grew leaden and she stumbled back, dropping the (something missing)

Shockwaves of disrupting qi surged through her body, trying to shock her and damage her inner organs.

-Not on your life, they snarled and charged forward again, starting to cut through another formation, each of their stomps sending shockwaves

    Rith ago

    there should have been emphasis on 'always' in that sentence - which is now fixed.

    the second missing sentence (btw that is invisible text in half of it, very confusing) is just a blooper. 'dropping the' is the remnant of a part of how it was written in an earlier draft and is now deleted.

    Stamp vs stomp is kindof symantic lol.

    edit - ah, i see, having looked at it in dark theme it shows up. you might want to fix that lol

Kobina ago

Kun Juni and Ha Shun have to step up their game. The member of their trio without a profound Cultivation Scripture is leaving them eating dust in the race to leap the realms.

The target the Din elders are setting themselves to commit suicide by should be the Azure Tyrant, since he is the founder of the current Imperial Dynasty succeding the Moon Tomb Dynasty right? 

I'm assuming that rising to the level of divinity is gatekept by a scarcity of unique resources so even influences like the heavenly clans can't produce them as they will. Does using a divine seed of a realm to ascend have any effects of the realm in question? 

Is the method of extracting spiritual roots/primordial potential not necessarily malicious since it can also allow for substitution of superior material as Lin Ling demonstrates? 

Why is White Swan still with the prisoner in the Yin Eclipse? I can't imagine that the arrogance of Shen Lai would allow them to ignore the insult of one of their elite reduced to a tool for another. Rescue or death, the honor demands an answer. 

    Rith ago

    Regarding that (and the memories in general and the wording of those scenes) - this has more to play out.

    Well, the Dun Clan dynasty - there is a faction in the Din Clan who perhaps feels they should have taken the 'hot' seat. this does, though, mean grappeling with what Azure Tyrant did and the questions of the 'divine realm'. It does, indeed, have some serious gate keeping atttached. There will be more explanation of 'divinities' and more specifically 'divinity' which is not quite the same thing, in this book in any case.

    Concerning spirit root replacement: There are various methods for such a thing, yes. Some are more malicious than others, but the criteria are stringent. The act of replacing a broken spirit root or shattered cultivation is possible - The issue is that there are no 'good' ways to do it. You can compare it to giving someone a replacement heart if you like. You can do it with very expensive surgery, or you can gouge it out with a blunt spoon and walk away chewing on it. In both cases 'heart surgery' took place in a sort of spiritual sense, but the odds of walking away from it afterwards are...

    Regarding White Swan - There is more to play there - but you assume they know the deeply unfortunate White Swan is still alive and they know who was responsible? The aftermath of those events broke the Azure Astral Authorities power in Eastern Azure for most of an Era - They went from running the whole of it to bits of the Eastern Continent and the Northern Continent.

    Edits - for coherence rather than anything else.

Flashman ago

Typo maybe: To oversee this task three figures were appointed: Mu Shansu, the renowned hero of may eras; 'may' should be: many

Missing word: Ha Yun watched hurricane twist over the mountains rising beyond the town. Maybe: 'Ha Yun watched a hurricane' or 'Ha Yun watched the hurricane'

This sounds odd: The arrow took Weng straight through the shoulder, sending his body sprawling and then exploded, severing an arm and sending Brother Weng sprawling. Sounds odd that he was sprawling and while he was sprawling, he was then made to sprawl even more? Maybe: 'The arrow took Weng straight through the shoulder, sending his body stumbling and then exploded, severing an arm and sending Brother Weng sprawling.' or 'The arrow took Weng straight through the shoulder, sending his body sprawling and then exploded, severing an arm and sending Brother Weng flying.'

Depends on how you want it to play out. Was he forced on to his knees from the arrow and then to the ground by the explosion? Or was he flat on the ground from the intial arrow and then sent flying by the explosion?

He pushing himself up, his ears ringing, blood in his mouth. I think 'pushing' should be: pushed

He screamed inwardly, ‘trying to roll away from the attack by the two cultivators who were attacking them… And managing to turn himself over, he found he was face to face with Leng… no… Mao? His childhood friend’s eyes were lifeless, the shock and disbelief on his face immortalized in the moment the Golden Immortal had cut off–’

I think it should be like this since its happening in his mind: He screamed inwardly, ‘trying to roll away from the attack by the two cultivators who were attacking them… And managing to turn himself over, he found he was face to face with Leng… no… Mao? His childhood friend’s eyes were lifeless, the shock and disbelief on his face immortalized in the moment the Golden Immortal had cut off–’

The scythe-like weapon on its rope shrieked through the air towards them – not aiming for him, but rather Teng Chunhua. His dropped like a stone for a moment until a rippling series of formation-like designs rippled in the air, blocking the strike and repelling the weapon. Sounds odd and isn't Teng Chunhua female? maybe: She dropped like a stone

“Oh…. My lord… my lord…” the woman, ‘white swan’ moaned ecstatically from the bed < missing period?

Word missing I think: However, she had no time to ponder such inconsequential things, because table she was lying on suddenly collapsed sending her sprawling into the pool of yang blood. Should be: 'because the table'

Sentence got cut off: Its laugh made her skin crawl and sent icy shivers down her spine even as her limbs suddenly grew leaden and she stumbled back, dropping the < something is missing here.

Poor Saintess White Swan. Probably still not free even now. Thanks for the chapter!

    Rith ago

    Good spots - i think i got a few of them already.

    Regarding the Italics, i thought about it at the time, but decided not to. I may infact get rid of the ' ' around them, as they are not used in the Lin Ling section and the point is that his memories are merging wierdly with reality.

OrionTello ago

So as far as I can tell, this triggered the ancestral blood memory because Di Ji was actually working for the "pig-demons", who are looking to resurrect their demon cult with the flayed skins of 99 immortal princesses. All for some lower world goal of his that... can't possibly have been worth this.

Also the banners are literally still-living immortals. Holy shit. Talk about a fate worse than death. Even Di Ji might not deserve that one. No wonder Arai and Sana could only cut them with the leaf, it was the only thing they had that could hurt immortals. I suppose between having their will subverted with soul attacks they were convinced couldn't hurt them (wow they were way overcertain they were completely immune to soul attacks) and their general level of panic between "danger close air support" and "what do you mean white phosphorus" they didn't have much time to really think things through.

I suppose this means this ALSO isn't the last we've seen of Di Ji. He's starting to reach the special level of hatred reserved for characters who get turned into glass ashtrays in hell.

    Kobina ago

    I'm not sure Di Ji and his clan elders are dealing with the pig demons. The prisoner wanted the potential/bloodline inheritance of women whose ancestors had ascended to heaven, an act that probably had utility in getting him out of his confinement guven hiw the mechanic of accumulation has been mentioned. We don't know who the prisoner is. A devotee of the Orcus pig demon cult or some other cult? A cultivator equivalent of some other realm who is a sadist rapist? Cultivators really work on tribal morality: Myself and clan before all else because your clan is the foundation of your strength/identity not some larger state or nation or identity. So they are perfectly content burning down the world around them if the benefits are sufficiently advantageous. Besides their dealings with the prisoner had little exposure before Di Ji decided that he was going to shit everywhere.

    Di Ji is that guy who's gotten away with everything without realizing that there's always a bigger fish somewhere even if it has to join a swarm.

      OrionTello ago

      And it's wonderful that Cthonians offer you so many opportunities to burn down the world. Although I'm forgetting that at least one of the extremely powerful people we know is convinced Di Ji is Din Ouyeng's Real Doll, meaning it's actually Din Ouyeng who is the lower world cultivator?

      This situation is pretty intricate. Which I suppose is what a cultivator plot offers you when you get rid of "revenge" and "young master" narratives - a setting where both higher and lower worlds all have their fingers in your pie and both scheming old monsters and young masters have intersecting plans.

      Pretty sure the banners are definitely immortals though, from this chapter. Which is really horrible in a proper Lovecraftian fashion.

      Kobina ago

      Death can be a mercy at times. The banners may not be an Orcus/Orcneas specific feature. It's a given fact that cultivators become resources in themselves the higher they progress. This is just an extension of this in an unorthodox fashion.

      Rith ago

      I point you back to Book One - Meng Fu vs Idiot Young Masters in Yin Eclipse :p

      OrionTello ago

      Haha, right! Although I hope they're dead and their bodies are being used, it was implied they were being killed. Meng Fu killing them is way different than Meng Fu torturing them for an eternity. Changes my impression of her from "ruthless" to outright depraved.

      Then again what does death mean if you're immortal? We know immortals can be soulscoured by eldritch abominations, so they're not "undying" (just no longer age and extremely durable) but... I guess we'll find out more when some of our main characters get there.

zenturen ago

Is it bad that I'm...I dunno...sad (?) that Di Ji is a puppet too? I can see how it happened and it fits perfectly in the greyscale world that's been built, but I guess I kinda liked hating on Di Ji? This makes him more sympathetic and I guess it really depends on how Di Ji acts when not constrained that will determine how readers will ultimately feel about him and if he's evil to the core or just resisting a losing battle. We still don't know what happened directly after the pot-to-skeleton but Juni eventually finds Ling law-stamped and followed by Di Ji's body which had a black shadow in it. Leaves room for the skeleton to possess the Dharma double, or maybe Din Hao if he's also trapped there. That could even be the real Di Ji if you want evil to the core. I've also been thinking about the B1 theme of agency a bunch considering that B2 was heavily directed (skipped stones) and this reveal could mean more ancient ancestors may be pulling strings.

    Kobina ago

    What are the B theories of agency?

    Don't be too sorry for him, his main complaint was that the benefits of the clan's dealings weren't adequate.

      OrionTello ago

      Honestly there's an essay to be written about how this is a complete deconstruction of Xianxia and how brilliant it is.  And part of that would definitely be how Di Ji's motives (my clan got screwed in some deal) are completely out of proportion to his actions (literal slaver, rapist, and worse).  And how he still presents himself as fully justified when in reality no one can even work up an ounce of care about his inane 'revenge' next to the evil he does.  

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