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A note from Casualfarmer

Several months ago….

 

Right beside Crimson Crucible City, in the Raging Waterfall Gorge province, there was a mountain. The lonely Cloudy Mountain, the tallest in its range, stood dominant and taller than all its brothers, its peak perpetually shielded from view by a ring of clouds.

 

Behind that ring of clouds, shrouded from view, sat the Cloudy Sword Sect; one of the greatest sects in the Empire, by reputation and the might of its disciples. The Indomitable Cloudy Sword Sect, the masters of the Raging Cloudy Sword Formation. The Bane of Demons and the Wicked alike.

 

Archaic stone halls and blue roofs dominated the mountain peak. From a distance,it looked deceptively simple. It looked almost ancient, like a tomb... And yet it was a tomb as pristine as the day it was completed. Its walls were covered in carvings done in traditional style. It depicted clouds and scenes of generals and cultivators battling demons, yet it was, for all the skill and all the detail, understated. No colour was upon the carvings—no inlays of gemstones nor gold leaf as was the case with many other sects. The designs were simple. Understated, they matched the harsh, stark beauty of the mountain peak.

 

Senior Disciple Lu Ri could not help the smile that overtook his face as he climbed the mountain, staring up at the enormous gates, the Gate of Clouds, carved with the scene of a grand battle against the demons. The blowing wind tousled his hair and threatened to remove his simple straw hat, which, if one looked closely, had a circular hole in it that had been patched. He planted a hand on it to stop it from blowing away.

 

Lu Ri could have simply leapt or used one of the artifacts to ferry him to the top... And yet it felt wrong, somehow, to enter that way.

 

So instead, he had come as if a pilgrim. From Crimson Crucible City, through the Clouded Forest, and now, up the hundred thousand steps to the main entrance.

 

His stride quickened. Months away from the sect. Through the trials of tracking down a single man, and then again, to the main Imperial Army Base to deliver a reply. His travels to find Jin Rou had been frustrating in the extreme… yet as he made his final approach to the gates, he could feel all that frustration dissipate.

 

He had accomplished his mission. In crafting the Plum Blossom’s Shadow, the lessons of the Honoured Founders made more sense than ever.

 

And... he had a rather delicious sweet to pair with his tea now, after a long day of managing the Inner Disciples.

 

The Honoured Founders said that small pleasures were permissible, so long as they did not lead to excess.

 

He took a breath as he reached the great gate and laid his hands upon them. As tall as any Imperial Palace, they were shut tight currently, as a precaution— yet as he filled them with his Qi, and pushed, they opened for him easily—much more easily than he remembered them opening.

 

Lu Ri nodded, his hypothesis confirmed. He had felt the change as he used his Qi more and more to travel quickly. The months in a low Qi area, of constantly controlling his strength as to not shatter the warding stones the Azure Hills used, had improved his control by perhaps five percent.

 

While not an excessive number, it was still more growth than he had expected from his time in such a Qi-starved area. He would have to continue with the exercise. It was intensely uncomfortable to have such a tight grip on his Qi, and yet, discomfort was to be endured, and then mastered.

 

As he passed the great gates the sound of the wind cut out, and the chill, enough to kill a mortal within hours, dissipated. The air was brisk and invigorating instead of biting, and the silence lent itself to quiet contemplation.

 

“Brother Lu Ri! You have returned to us!” His Fellow Senior Disciple, Zhao Haoyu, exclaimed. The one on duty to the gate had a truly vast pile of paperwork he was going through, along with four other disciples. “Was your mission a success?”

 

Lu Ri smiled and nodded his head.

 

His fellow Senior Disciple brightened. “Tell me the parts that you can later, over a drink. Elder Ran is within the Great Hall.”

 

Lu Ri bowed his head in thanks and turned to the street.

 

Within the sect, the style of architecture continued. The streets within the compound were wide and open to the blazing sun. Each building was uniform, but they held an air of quiet dignity and tranquility.

 

Several disciples spoke quietly within the Outer Sect dormitories, deep in discourse over a scroll. The walls of the building had been freshly cleaned, and there was not a crack in sight.

 

Lu Ri’s smile widened.

 

Behind the dormitories were gardens. There were fields of herbs that, when hit by the high altitude sun, seemed to shimmer like jewels in the light, a slight iridescent sheen upon their leaves. Here too there were disciples, watering and tending to the Lowly Spiritual Herbs which fueled their early cultivation and healed their injuries.

 

He passed the halls and the training grounds upon his path up the mountain. He noted an Inner Disciple unleashing a devastating combo upon one of his juniors… Only for the young man to pop back up after he fell and frown as he retook his stance, shifting his legs slightly under the hawk-like eyes of another Senior Disciple. The woman was supervising several pairs today. The Inner Disciple nodded his head before the man and demonstrated the first move for the boy.

 

The Junior Bowed to his Senior, thanking him for the pointer.

 

A marked difference from before, Lu Ri was pleased to note. Pointers truly were pointers instead of thinly veiled excuses for the strong to bully the weak.

 

Lu Ri continued to the Great Hall. Higher up on the mountain there would be places for the Inner Disciples, and further still for the Core Disciples and Elders, yet even as one went to the highest peaks, and those within got their own private rooms instead of a communal dormitory… the same stark architecture remained. There was no gold here. The only treasures were those that could aid in cultivation.

 

Finally, Lu Ri came upon the Great Hall and opened the doors. There he beheld Elder Ran as he went over reports.

 

“The last task is the eastern annex. Continue with the work that we must do; for it is almost complete.” The disciples around him bowed as Elder Ran gave his command, his voice soft, yet heard by all. “I commend the work thus far. Distribue the rewards to the skilled and the worthy at the end.”

 

“Yes, Elder Ran.” The Senior Disciples obeyed.

 

“Now, you are dismissed. Lu Ri, Come, walk with me.” The Elder commanded, rising from his seat and gesturing to Lu Ri.

 

Lu Ri obeyed, walking behind the Elder through the wooden hall filled with the weight of history. They went past the Wall of Martyrs and, as was tradition, they both bowed to it before coming to a balcony.

 

“Your mission was a success.” Elder Ran stated.

 

“Yes, Elder Ran. I have found Jin Rou and, as per my commands, did not push when he refused to return. However, he provided me with a map and a means to contact him later.” Lu Ri produced the piece of paper and held it out for the Elder, who took it and nodded. “Further, I have delivered his reply to the Imperial Army.”

 

The Elder studied the page for a moment, before turning to Lu Ri.

 

“…How was his cultivation?” Elder Ran asked.

 

“Intact… and much stronger than when he left us. Yet it was…. Strange. Subtle, yet encompassing.”

 

Elder Ran nodded his head, letting out a small breath. “His temperament?”

 

“He was polite and kind. I do not believe that he holds the Sect with any ill will. I do not believe that he spoke any falsehoods when he said that we could contact him.”

 

The Elder studied Lu Ri for a moment longer before clasping his hands in respect.

 

“Then… I commend you, Lu Ri. Your diligence and skill may well have saved the Sect much hardship and much face. Such Diligence is to be rewarded. Go into the Vault of the Lonely Cloud; take any three items within as you so choose.” The Elder commanded, and Lu Ri had to duck his head to keep the Elder from seeing the surprise on his face. Three treasures from the Vault of the Lonely Cloud? That was absurd!

 

“Furthermore, you are to have access to the Skypeak for three months.”

 

The Skypeak, where the Qi of the Cloudy Mountain was thickest, and the most potent for cultivating and refining the Raging Cloudy Sword Formation.

 

Lu Ri could only bow.

 

“You are relieved from your normal duties until further notice, Senior Disciple. Collect your reward at your leisure.”

 

The last words brought joy to his heart, for a brief moment. Nothing but cultivation and study for the foreseeable future…? It sounded like a heavenly reward.

 

And yet, he paused. He thought back to the Plum Blossom’s Shadow and their diligence… Of his own thoughts on crafting something superior, and he found the idea of complete isolation not as appealing as it once was.

 

Teaching and commanding the mortals had proven more fulfilling than he had thought. And now… with the rest of the Disciples once more attending lectures and performing meditations…

 

He wished to be the Senior Disciple that he had desired to be.

 

“Elder Ran?”

 

“Yes, Senior Disciple Lu Ri?

 

“I would like to return to my duties, Elder Ran. I would aid our Cloudy Sword Sect, as a Senior Disciple.”

 

It was an insult and foolishness to refuse gifts of such magnitude

 

…And yet Lu Ri felt that he must.

 

Elder Ran’s face was stone… until he broke out in a smile

 

“You are a true disciple of the Cloudy Sword Sect, young man. I do believe my Master, may her soul rest in peace, would have enjoyed your company.”

 

A hand clasped upon Lu Ri’s shoulder.

 

“Go then, Senior Disciple. Return to your duties.”

 

======================

 

“And Thus, the Honoured Founders meditated for three days upon the question: Is the Law to be immutable?”

 

Lu Ri stared out over the Outer and Inner Disciples as he lectured, his voice carrying across the amphitheater. The Disciples’ eyes were alert, their minds open to the discourse of the Honoured Founders. He could see the consideration of their words, as they sought to make sense of them, to understand them.

 

It was a refreshing change. The amphitheater was completely clean, the smooth stones shining. The overgrown planters had been fixed and replaced, providing shade.

 

“Now go, and meditate upon this question yourself. I will be available tonight to those that have questions upon the third volume of Meditations of Zhong Haoyi.”

 

Lui Ri watched the disciples go, as they began to discuss amongst themselves the question he had posed them.

 

It was a particularly difficult one, in Lu Ri’s mind.

 

Yet he smiled as they departed, returning to his own quarters.

 

There, there was a map. A map of every road in Raging Waterfall Gorge, and rough travel times between locations. In his mind, he constructed depots and rest areas.

 

Beside the map was a list. A list of requirements, and a command structure.

 

All for delivering mail.

 

---

Editors:

Brandon “Philosophysics” Zhang-Leong

Massgamer

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A note from Casualfarmer
A quick interlude!


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