“Yes, Sir. You may store your wares here. I swear upon the honour of the Pale Moon Lake City Guard that none shall lay a hand upon it,” the guard said, as he handed me a note with a seal on it. He and his fellows saluted me respectfully. “This will be where your wares will be stored.” He pointed to a storage area on the map, near one of the guard houses.
“Thanks. You boys have a good day, now!” I called out to them. They bowed once again, as the bandits were taken to the temporary holding cells. They bandits were apparently a newer group, but there had already been complaints about them. They were a gang from the city, that had been pushed out into the countryside.
If I had a nickel for every time I had to take people to the police after arresting them, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot but it is a bit strange that it happened twice.
With a shrug, I headed over to the place the guards directed me to, lugging the cart. It had been a bit funny to see the looks on their faces as I wandered in pulling this monstrosity, with a bunch of beaten up bandits tied up on it. The men still seemed a bit shell shocked, and had been silent the entire trip. The guards were quite polite, but they all seemed caught off guard when I arrived. I think they were slacking off, because they had something that was emitting a dull buzz, like an alarm or buzzer.
It was strange being in Pale Moon Lake City again, but I suppose it was nice. I hadn’t really looked around too much when I was here the last time. In and out as fast as I could, on a rainy, miserable day. This Pale Moon Lake City was much livelier than that one, and while I didn't particularly like the smell, I did want to at least explore this time. The buildings looked fantastic, in all their tiered glory. It was a living, breathing, ancient city. One with parks and pavilions sprinkled throughout it. Surprisingly, it was very clean. The wide avenues were clear of trash or dung, for the most part, with the worst of it being confined to the slums we passed by outside the walls.
It was a little irritating getting the cart through the streets, though, and I would be glad to have somewhere to store it. My muscles weren’t sore, but I was getting pretty tired mentally at the end of the day. Which made sense, really. Going to Verdant Hill wasn’t exactly that long a trip, so I guess fatigue wouldn't have time to build up.
. The people at the depot were efficient. They took the note, and immediately led me to a windowless warehouse with a thick, heavy set of iron doors, where my cart was locked up tight.
And then it was off into the city, heading to the Crystal Emporium, with a rabbit stuffed down the front of my shirt, a snake curled around my arm, and a chicken on my shoulder. They were all eager and excited to accomplish their mission, the crystal secure in my pack.
Mengde’s Crystal Emporium was pretty easy to find, especially with Yun Ren’s directions. If the massive columns and gold filigree in the doors wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the shop was massive.The obvious crystals surrounding it really drove home how “fantasy” this section of the city was. That, and the giant palace that was probably as big as half the Forbidden City of Beijing. Seriously, I think the Imperial Government was compensating for something.
I opened the door, the sound of another buzzer greeted us clattering away as we walked in. A man at the front perked up—
“Hey, long time no see!” I called to him, as his eyes widened. He did a bit of a double take at the animals on me, before shaking his head. It was the guy who had come to Verdant Hill to sell me my first crystal! The man seemed quite surprised to see me.
“Ah, honoured customer!” he said, glancing at the clattering device. It was making quite the racket. He tapped it once, turning it off. “Is everything well with your purchase?”
I waved him off. “Everything is perfect. I’m actually here to see Biyu?” I asked. The man nodded, but I caught some grumbling about “Lucky Geniuses.”
He went to the back, leaving me alone for a moment in the nearly empty shop. I took the time to gawk at the crystals. Some of them were faintly luminescent. Some of the crystals were stored in special stone cases, and others were simply in lacquered boxes. Honestly? They looked a bit like fake plastic, which is kind of funny.
“Um, Master Jin?” a soft voice asked, and I turned. Biyu looked exactly like the pictures Yun Ren had taken of her. Wide eyes, fluffy hair, and a tentative smile.
“Yeah, that's me! Nice to finally meet you, Biyu!” I said, exchanging bows with the woman. Her eyes flicked to Bi De, then to Yin, and sparked for a brief moment with childish joy before she got it under control.
“Master Jin, Bi De, Master Jing awaits, and wishes to meet as soon as you are able, if it pleases you,” she said formally, and Big D ruffled his feathers happily at the acknowledgement.
“I’m good to meet now, if he's ready,” I told her. She nodded once, determination coming over her features.
“This way then, please!” she said, and turned, leading me through the building, and out the back.
While the building was pretty big, there was an entire courtyard behind it. One filled with trees, and even a stream filled with koi.
“You've been doing well?” I asked Biyu, and she jumped a bit, turning a questioning eye to me.
“Ah, yes, very busy, especially after Yun’s gift. It's so… so interesting, all the ancient styles!” she enthused, her eyes shining, “And Master Jing is very happy with how I’m progressing!”
“And… um, sorry. I know of Bi De, but you two are?” she asked politely. I smiled at the earnest question.
‘Noodle’ The snake greeted.
‘Yin!’ The rabbit introduced.
Biyu shuddered slightly, letting loose a little noise of happiness. That was kind of cute. “If I may be so bold, Yin, you are very beautiful!” She complimented, and the rabbit preened. Biyu led us to a slightly smaller building, nestled against the back wall in the normal style of multiple buildings in a courtyard. One that was the most ornamented out of the lot. It looked old.
“Anything I should know before meeting your Master?” I asked.
She seemed to think for a moment. “I don’t think so?” she replied nervously. ”He has always been kind to me, but…” She trailed off.
I nodded. “Well, thanks for the help. Dinner, my treat, tonight? I got some embarrassing stories of Yun Ren, directly from his mom.”
Biyu’s face flushed red, then she laughed, and nodded in agreement, knocking on the door.
“Master Jing,” she called.
“Enter,” an aged voice answered.
Biyu opened the door.
The house was simpler than I had been expecting, considering the outside of it. There was a fine seating area in the center, but for the most part, the house was a workshop. Massive tables, and racks of tools dominated the room, with what looked like hundreds of shelves with tomes lining the walls.
It was the house of someone absolutely dedicated to their craft, with the bare minimum of comfort. The man’s bed was directly next to a workbench.There was just enough space left over so that he could entertain a guest if he had to.
I got the feeling that it was also a statement to meet me here in his home. He could have probably met me in a fancy restaurant or something, instead he invited me to enter the heart of his domain. The proof of his craft and dedication surrounding us.
“So, you are the one who has been so good to our Crystal Emporium,” the old voice stated, and as he walked forward I got my first look at Master Jing. He looked… a bit stereotypical, if I’m honest. A wizened face like old leather that had been left out in the sun for too long, and one of those thin mustaches that hung down to his chest. His eyes, however, were still as sharp as daggers. He wore the exact same thick cloak, gloves, and goggles as Biyu did with nothing to denote his superior rank.
“Mengde Jing greets the Master Cultivator,” the old man said respectfully, bowing low.
I nodded, clasping my own hands in front of me, and returning his gesture of respect.
“Thank you for meeting with us,” I said. Yin hopped out of my shirt and Big D flapped down to bow as well. Yin and Noodle stayed where they were, observing.The man’s eyes focused on them intently, and then they drifted back to me.
He didn’t seem surprised to see them. In fact, he offered them polite nods.
Huh. Noodle’s coils tightened slightly on my arm.
Biyu herself bowed, and made to leave as I sat down on the couch on the other side of the table.
“Stay, little stone,” he commanded, taking a seat himself, and Biyu tentatively sat beside her master on the couch.
“I understand you come to us with a problem, Master Cultivator?” he asked.
I nodded, and glanced at Big D, who nodded as well.
“Yeah, I wanted to see if this could be fixed.” I pulled out my pack, and careful to avoid touching the crystal, opened it and set it on the table. The crystal had certainly seen better days, but it wasn’t flickering too badly at the moment. It simply sat there, with the shards of other crystals sticking out of it.
Master Jing’s eyes widened, as he stared at the flickering crystal. He swallowed thickly, as his eyes traced over its form. Biyu too was just staring, almost like she was having a religious experience.
“Wonderous…” Master Jing breathed. “In all my years…”
“May I?” he asked, and I nodded.
He pulled his goggles over his eyes, and stood, walking around the table. “Grown into it. Six thousand years?” he muttered, as he looked closely at the spokes. “More? I have not seen this variation of the Azure Ancient Style. Its facets are much more complex than one normally sees.”
He kept muttering about spokes and faceting, until he suddenly whistled.
There was a shuffling sound, and from the back of the house strode a creature. If I had never seen the creature in the Before, I probably would have been shocked. It’s face was free of fur and pale blue, with a lack of a nose that reminded me vaguely of a skull. Beady eyes that were almost black peered at us, orange fur surrounded his face.
A Golden Snub-nosed monkey. It cocked its head to the side staring at us, before handing over a stange tool to the man.
Its eyes were still a bit dull. Well trained, instead of a surprise spirit beast.
Master Jing was completely transfixed by the crystal. He waved his strange tool overtop of it and around it, pausing to mark down numbers that completely went past me.
His breathing slowly got faster, and Biyu’s eyes went wider and wider at whatever the crystal maker was writing down.
“Imperfections, here, here and here.” He muttered, writing. “Microfractures in the fourth carnival quadrant. Contamination from the other crystal is.. Severe. Integrity is failing, but most of the storage is intact, just shorting with the Qi Break here.” He spoke quickly, jotting down his notes.
Until he abruptly stopped, staring at what he had written. He glanced back at the crystal “Formation within a formation, how…? No, such a thing is possible, but the control needed is…” He paused.
“Biyu, retrieve for me the reference books from the vault,” he commanded, and pulled out a key, handing it to the olwish girl. She nodded her eyes wide, and went to do as bid.
The man sank back into the couch, looking like he had just ran a marathon. His hands were shaking, as he pulled off his goggles.
He looked at the crystal, then he turned back to us and bowed low.
“This Mengde Jing thanks the Master Cultivator and his companions for allowing him to examine their crystal,” he whispered, and began chewing on his lip as his eyes locked on the crystal.
“This would help explain so much…” he muttered.
Master Jing sat quietly lost in his thoughts. I didn’t want to interrupt so we waited for a bit until Biyu returned. Biyu came back with a few old and dusty looking scrolls that Master Jing immediately opened, his eyes flowing feverishly over the letters, while he occasionally said a number that Biyu dutifully wrote down.
After about an hour of sitting and watching both of them work, Jing finally spoke again.
“Master Cultivator. While it is unstable, this Mengde Jing believes it can be fixed. With the entire resources of our crystal Emporium, it shall take thirty years, if the heavens favour us,” he stated matter of factly. “Should you choose to entrust this duty to us, we shall carry it out to the end.”
Big D recoiled in shock in time with me.
“Is there… any faster way?” I asked.
“The detail is too fine. A master could work on such a crystal perhaps for two hours, before his concentration began to slip. It requires absolute focus, and commitment, lest something go wrong. Perhaps a cultivator could do it faster,” he admitted. “But first they would have to learn the ancient style of the Azure hills. Which is a task that would take several years itself… if we were willing to open the vaults to such a scholar.”
I grimaced. Ancient copyright huh? I frowned at the crystal. Well, it's going to take a long ass time. Would Big D even be alive in thirty years?
I scratched at my head, as Big D looked at the crystal with frustration. Like a corrupted harddrive with all your work. If only we had some backups, or some way to transfer it or…
“…is there any way to just get whatever is stored inside out?” I asked. “Like, transferred to another crystal?”
Master Jing frowned.
“That may be possible,” he said at last. “But we would need another. I know of one held by one who is ill-inclined to help… but he may.” He glanced at his pet monkey, then at Big D. He looked conflicted, his eyes flicking once to the crystal.
“We have our secrets, but, in light of this discovery, I think Master Gen would be amenable to being bothered.”
He wanted to study it. To work on it. I could see the ill-disguised hunger.
‘We merely require the knowledge,’ Big D stated, speaking for the first time. ‘Should we retrieve what we need, we shall entrust the empty vessel to you.’
Master Jing didn’t seem shocked at the voice. Instead, he took a deep breath.
“I must speak to my fellows, and Master Gen,” he finally said. He rose and bowed once again. We collected the crystal, and left with Biyu.
Big D was obviously frustrated with the outcome. And I was a bit too. Seriously, thirty years to repair it? Hopefully we would be able to do at least something with it earlier than that.
We were all a bit quiet, as we pondered the predicament.
Biyu took me to a tasty noodle shop, and even if she was a bit nervous, she was good enough company. I kind of really wanted to tousle her hair, though. It was just so fluffy!
At the end of the day, we came back to the crystal emporium, where Master Jing was waiting for us.
“Master Gen will meet with you, but you must travel to meet him for he cannot travel the distance in his age. This one apologizes for the inconvenience,” Jing stated, and handed over a sheet of paper.
A map of an area that looked close to the Dueling Peaks. Well, I guess I was definitely visiting now. It’d be fun to surprise my friends.