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The silver needle that was Bi De was flung through the torrent of emotions. He had exited the memory bubble too fast, and torn the fragile thing to pieces.

 

The memory exploded in a torrent of light, spilling the memories held within. It popped like the bubbles the Great Master made of soap for Chun Ke to chase.

 

The silver needle was tossed upon the torrent, like a leaf in a storm. The lines of Qi strained, groaning, threatening to snap. Bi De barely managed to reinforce them, before the needle was lost forever.

 

Painstakingly, he evened out and began his search again. He grimaced, as he stared out at the thousands of bubbles, shining like stars, amid the chaotic void.

 

Yin and Miantiao had alerted Bi De to their presence through their Qi, and the monkeys had little in comparison to lead him to them.

 

But as his Great Master said: one step at a time.

 

He did not rush nor panic, which would make him potentially miss something. Careful observation and a calm demeanor were what was required of him, and Bi De rose to the task. Even battered by the torrent of emotions, the silver needle wavered not for a moment, its body pure, clean, and without flaw. He searched through a hundred little stable bubbles of memory. Each one pulled him into a different vision. Once he completed his search within he exited the memory. Back into the void, he had to center himself fully, lest he be washed away.

 

And then, he found one with a difference.

 

It was minute, a slight difference, but his sharp senses honed by his work picked it out. The slight tremor within the bubble.

 

Hopefully, it would be Master Gen. With his Qi, and his connection to his Kin, Bi De would be able to find the others with greater ease.

 

Yet even as he pierced the bubble of thought, appearing in a massive ravine, he could tell whoever this was. It was not Master Gen.

 

The Qi was different. Unfamiliar. Bi De could feel the confusion, as men swung like monkeys from long ropes. The massive ravine had trees growing from its walls, horizontal to the ground for the lengths of two men before curving up towards the sky.

 

He touched the unfamiliar Qi. It was unrefined. Fluctuating. New.

 

The monkey startled at the intrusion, and the sudden realization that they were trapped within a memory.

 

Wha? What is going….?’ The monkey asked, waking from the dream. His voice was rough and gravelly. ‘What? I’m…. I’m… I’m me…?

 

He had awakened.

 

What a poor place to truly wake up. He was already remarkably coherent, though, his thoughts fully formed, and his mind completely functional. His spark must have been powerful indeed.

 

Yet Bi De did not have time to explain things slowly. To let the worst of the confusion and uncertainty fade. He would have to put a lot of stress upon this young mind, and hope it would be able to take the strain.

 

Bi De’s Qi touched him, calming the panic and fear. They were quieted by his conviction, his absolute confidence.

 

There was an incident, young one. All will be well, do you understand me? But right now, we must escape this place, and for that I need your assistance in finding your brothers and sisters.’

 

The monkey’s Qi, full of fear, firmed at Bi De’s words.

 

‘The Clan is in danger…?’ The monkey asked. ‘Ah, like a cave in. How do we dig ourselves out?

 

Bi De was pleasantly surprised at his immediate grasping of the situation.

 

‘I need you merely to grasp tight to this thread. Do not let go for anything.’

 

Aye. I can do that.’ The monkey said tentatively.

 

‘Do you have a name?’ Bi De asked him.

 

...Huo Ten.’ The monkey answered. ‘That's what Master called me.

 

Then, Huo Ten, calm your breathing. We shall be out soon.’

 

The monkey’s Qi and resolve firmed. A feeling, like solid stone surrounded him.

 

And then the silver needle was off again.

 

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

 

One monkey. Then two. Then, three. The connections came faster and faster, as Bi De refined his search. The web of silver light expanded, weaving together the memories.

 

Bi De glanced at each of them.

 

They took place in deep valleys. In grassland watering holes. In Great stone quarries, and enormous mountains. In little towns, and circular cities.

 

The memories of a man who seemed achingly familiar, yet like a complete stranger.

 

Yet as he found the tenth monkey, there was still no sign of Master Gen.

 

Until Bi De realised something.

 

Most had been confused, or actively trying to escape the bubbles. Their little eddies of Qi had had knock on effects.

 

But what if one knew what was happening was a memory, yet did not want to leave.

 

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

 

It was something beautiful. Old and precious. A well appointed hut.

 

A man was sitting at a desk covered in a thousand scrolls and sheafs of paper. Beside him sat a woman. Harsh and severe looking, she held a pipe in her singular hand—the other was missing.

 

Formations. Formations far more advanced than Gen had ever seen. The work of his Great Ancestor spiraled out before him. Each complete piece was a masterpiece. Each was a work of pure art.

 

The man turned around from the desk, towards the man Gen was viewing the scene from. He had thick, bushy sideburns, and slightly too sharp teeth. His eyes danced with mischievous glee, even as pride and satisfaction was evident within them.

 

But what held his attention was the crystal in his hands.

 

Formed without flaw, without the signs of age that Gen had seen. It was the same crystal within which he was trapped.

 

“That should do it. Lady Cao’s work was inspired, as always.” The man said as he handed the crystal back to Gen. Gen did not fight the strange feeling of another moving his body. He simply observed.

 

The woman rolled her eyes. “You did most of this stuff, you little fool. I’m not what I used to be.”

 

The man grinned, and with a pop, in his place sat a monkey. His golden fur and bright eyes sparked.

 

“Oook. Aah!” he said, cocking his head to the side, as if confused.

 

The woman groaned. “Don’t you even dare start that up again. Do you know how embarrassing it was when you played dumb in front of Ruolan?!”

 

The monkey cackled, and the man holding the crystal shook his head with amusement.

 

“Thank you, my friends.” The man said. “Cao Li, Kuang Den.”

 

Both bowed to the man.

 

“It was a pleasure, my Lord.” the woman intoned, as both of them rose.

 

The man clasped his hands in return…. And then at some invisible signal, the formality dropped, as they started to exit the hut.

 

“Are you sure about going to Pale Moon City?” The man asked Lady Cao.

 

“Yes, My Lord, I am certain. Formations don’t make themselves, as you well know. It’ll be interesting to see the big city, for once in my life. Hubby has been waxing poetic about it forever.”

 

The monkey, who had clambered to her shoulders, frowned, but said nothing. He tightened his grip slightly, and the woman absently patted the arm with affection. “Don’t worry, I’ll come back every couple of months.” She reassured.

 

At the doorway, the monkey, Gen’s Honoured Ancestor, clambered off the woman’s back, and with a pop was once more human.

 

The door opened.

 

They ventured out of the hut, out onto a mountain top. The wind whistled past them and the sun shed a bright light. It was cold and harsh, stark and beautiful. The sight resonated deep in Gen’s soul. Something that he hadn’t realized had been lost to him all his life. Gen felt a sense of completion. This was home. For it was not the mountain top of a hermit. There had to be over a hundred people living upon it. Humans, and monkeys. An entire village. An entire clan of Spirit Beasts. He saw dozens of figures flitting about. Everyone around them wore colourful clothes. Oranges, reds, and yellows on long rope pennants that fluttered in the wind.

 

“Anything else interesting?” The man asked. Kuang Den nodded absently.

 

“Yeah. Little Shou Ren was talking about visiting the north.” The monkey said, pointing to a man with black hair and a steady espression, as he sharpened a spear. He had amazingly bushy sideburns, and a peak in his hair that belied his lineage. “That hunter stuck visions of glory in his head.”

 

The man nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for him. Or at least point him in the right direction. The north is vast and dangerous.”

 

They made smalltalk, for a while, but Gen barely paid attention. He had eyes and ears only for the village.

 

The people, looking so bright and happy, were a mix of men and monkeys, Spirit Beasts in human form.

 

“I’ll never forget you, my friend.” The Honoured Ancestor said, as the woman turned to leave.

 

Lady Cao smiled. “I should hope not! I’ll not be gone long. I’ll see you soon, you little troublemaker. And if you ever feel like coming down from your mountain mine, look for Mengde’s Formations in Pale Moon. You won’t be able to miss it!”

 

The Honoured Ancestor nodded, as the woman turned… and with a single leap, jumped from the top of the mountain.

 

Leaving Gen, in this strange man’s body, and The Honoured Ancestor.

 

The man studied the Honoured Ancestor for a moment. He looked sad, and wistful. “Come on, my friend. You wanted to show me something else, right?”

 

The Honoured Ancestor shook his head. “Yes! This way. I’ve found a new set of crystals, they look promising!”

 

Gen could have stayed in the memory for an eternity. Simply watching life in this village. Examining the formations and the massive, perfectly formed crystals.

 

But… he knew he could not.

 

I am sorry, if you were looking for me.’ Gen whispered to the specter made of silver light. It had entered a minute ago, and stayed silent, letting him observe his Honoured Ancestor. ‘It's beautiful, isn’t it?’

 

You may examine it at your leisure later, Master Gen.’ The rooster stated, not a hint of reproach in his voice.

 

Thank you.’ The monkey stated simply. ‘Whatever you need, our resources are yours to command.

 

Silver light met the monkey.

 

Let us discuss such matters later. For now, we must escape.

 

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

 

Bi De’s eyes snapped open as the last of the threads connected to a monkey. Eighteen had been in the cavern with them. The needle wove off the last end.

 

The rooster took a metaphorical breath, and slowly began to pull.

 

The threads tightened, and the bubbles, stitched through with silver light, and stabilized by Bi De’s Qi slowly began to move. It was like tugging on a mountain. Each moment was a strain against the nature of this world, as emotion battered against him.

 

Yet he was not alone. Miantiao. Yin. Master Gen.

 

Eighteen newly awakened monkeys.

 

They reinforced his spirit. Shoring up the fragile bubbles.

 

And they moved, ever so slowly together. One connected to Bi De’s own memory.

 

A massive wreckerball squinted down at the crystal bearer. His armor was covered with a thousand scars, and his face had laugh lines all over it.

 

“Gahhahahaha! Leave it to me! This Rumblin’ Yao’ll get it done, little lord!” The massive creature roared, as he guzzled a barrel of wine. “Rumbling Earth Gang! Let's roll!”

 

The humans and the Roadspinners howled with laughter, rough and tumble, one and all.

 

And then… as the sphere touched, the orb went blank. The bundles of memory fused.

 

He was suddenly within a white void, together with Yin.

 

Both blinked in surprise at each other, but Yin immediately brightened up. She moved to latch onto one of the threads, helping to pull it in.

 

The next to join them was Huo Ten, the monkey looking shocked at his sudden appearance, and hooting nervously.

 

Then there came Miantiao.

 

However, BI De noticed something starting to go wrong as they pulled on the next orb.

 

They started shifting, for lack of a better term. The bubbles were being pulled down by a force. They began to ‘fall’ in this ocean.

 

The orbs that had yet to be merged further away, pulled on the silver lines Bi De had bound them with. As they fell, and as more and more memory bubbles were added, things began to change. Bi De clenched his beak as his form became more and more corporeal. More and more himself.

 

He would not relinquish a single one.

 

Of course, that was when the dense ball of memories impacted a more chaotic one.They merged, and then, a feeling of wrongness pervaded. The white orb began to bleed black fluid.

 

And from that fluid came the beasts of hell. They were monstrous. Clad in black armor, and white faceplates. Their forms were mockery of humans. Twisted images in a mirror. Bi De’s very soul was repulsed by their presence.

 

Demons. Even the memory of their Qi was corrosive. They moved and shambled without purpose… but their presence made Bi De’s Qi begin to steam, holy moonlight battling against the corruption.

 

Alone, he may have fallen.

 

But the Sun was with him.

 

Yin abandoned the strings of silver, and exploded into motion. Her solar Qi was tinged with Bi De’s own moonlight blessed silver as she smashed into the creatures, the shades shrieking and flailing as they burned. Her body was armored with sunlight, pure, clean and bright, blazing in the defense of others.

 

The Demon memories screamed, as they beheld her. Their ethereal flesh cooked, bursting into flame.

 

Those that were not devastated by Yin’s armored form were torn into by shattering blasts of glass from Miantiao. The snake’s rage made manifest tore into them.

 

The survivors met Master Gen.

Master Gen was no warrior. He was an artisan. A craftsman. Bi De knew that the monkey had very likely never fought in his life, safe behind his protective formations.

 

Yet his family was in danger. Master Gen’s face was a mask of silent fury. The caustic, demonic Qi burned his hands and his fur yet the golden figure rent them asunder. Fingers that could crush rock shattered demonic scale. Fists that excavated mountains struck out, and skulls detonated, exploding off the bodies they were once attached to.

 

The furious Spirit Beasts brought enough time for Bi De to reel the last of the memory orbs in.

 

His attention freed, Bi De reinforced the bubble with his silver threads as it fell and fell… until it slowly came to a stop.

 

As suddenly as they had appeared, the demons disappeared.

 

The memory bubble shuddered.

 

“Interlopers.”

 

The voice was a raspy growl. A snarl that nearly sent Bi De to his knees, as the most magnificent creature Bi De had ever seen stepped into their little bubble. The newly awakened monkeys dropped to their knees upon merely seeing it.

 

A proud, and noble animal, unequaled under heaven and upon the earth. He knew this beast’s name simply by laying eyes upon it, a primal part of his soul whispering the creature’s name directly into his mind, demanding his respect and veneration.

 

Temple Dog.

 

Defender of the righteous, a heavenly beast.

 

Bi De had seen this creature’s corpse. It had laid in the room before the crystal, dead for thousands of years.

 

This was not the original beast that had remained loyal. It was a mere shade. Only a memory of it. An image that bore not even a fraction of the original’s power. But it was still a great foe, even weakened to this, Bi De was not sure he could best.

 

Yet still; if he was a horse, he would be Red Hare.

 

He would have to try anyway, if only for his Great Master’s sake.

 

Yin. Reinforce this place, please.’ he requested of the rabbit, as he strode forward to meet the shade.

 

Both the rooster and the heavenly beast exploded into motion at the same moment.

 

He could tell the blow from the beast was titanic, as it came for Bi De. A strike that would kill him instantly if it connected.

 

So then, the only way to defeat the beast would be to not let it hit him.

 

It was almost nostalgic, to be so utterly outclassed again.

 

It was almost like fighting Basi Bu Shi, the fox that had once been his greatest nemesis.

 

The Temple Dog struck out with his mighty paws, moving with a speed and skill that were incomparable to a mere fox, barely awakened. But they were movements he still knew.

 

To move in this place was simple. There was no up or down, no pull of gravity, as his Great Master had named the invisible force. Only Qi. Only thought.

 

Bi De was a silver needle, and then he was a rooster again.

 

The memory’s eyes were focused solely upon him, as he, the First Disciple of his Great Master, Guardian of Fa Ram, fought the shadow of the heavenly guardian of ancient memory.

 

The air pressure of the blows hammered into his body. The near misses of the beast’s teeth tore out feathers from his form. Despite the danger Bi De could see the guardian construct was fading.

 

The crystal had been near destruction in the first place when it had been recovered. The energy within was nearly nonexistent. The beast drew on those meager reserves. It could not last.

 

Both the power of the moon and the sun burned away the darkness.

 

[The Rising of the Crescent Moon]


Basi Bu Shi. Chow Ji.

 

And now, the heavenly beast, Guardian of the temple doors.

 

The moon rose, and Bi De with it. His legs struck the fuzzing construct’s face, a mortal blow.

 

He felt no satisfaction as it faded ,white gaing way to gold, the memory descending further.

 

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

 

It was then that Bi De beheld the true form of the Temple Dog. Not the guardian construct he had faced, but the creature that was nominally alive.

 

The beast's eyes were milky white, completely blind, and its skin had festering rents in it, exposing tendons and organs. Bi De could see the places where its muscles were now reduced to skin and bone. Both its horns were cracked and splintered. It was pitiful and broken.

 

Its blind, sightless eyes were locked on a golden orb that it was cradling in its massive hands, its claws bare nubs.

 

Within the orb a man was seated, his eyes closed, a troubled look upon his face.

 

Bi De’s Great Master.

 

He swallowed, as the Temple Dog breathed in. The golden orb shuddered as mist rose off it, sucking into the beast’s shattered nose. Bi De’s own Qi tremmored, peeling out of his body, and being sucked in.

 

“Master. Master.” The Great Guardian whispered, its voice raw with pain. “Master, I knew you would return!”

 

Love. Loyalty. Devotion.

 

There was no grand battle that needed to be had here.

 

Bi De bowed his head, as his Great Master opened his eyes. He seemed dazed. Confused.

 

And yet as he opened his eyes and focused, he took one look at the whimpering broken creature before him, and extended his hand.

 

The guardian beast’s blind eyes shed tears. Great droplets streaming down as desperately it leaned into the touch.

 

“It hurts, Master. It Hurts. But I never doubted you!” it moaned. It coughed, a great, racking thing. “Master. Master, forgive your humble servant’s weakness!”

 

The madness and desperation in its voice was evident. Bi De couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of kinship with the creature. He knew these creature’s feelings like they were his own.. For what was Bi De without his Great Master?

 

If his Master died… would he be able to give up? Would he be able to move on? Or would he guard his Lord’s resting site for all eternity?

 

It was a question he knew not the answer to.

 

“I’m sorry. You waited a long time, didn’t you?” He hears his Great Master whisper. The enormous beast whimpered.

Its body was rent and ruined. Its mind was in shambles.Yet, it persisted. It persisted through thousands of years.

 

It persisted through death.

 

The golden light touched the great beast. Bi De’s Great Master gently took its ruined paw, and touched its cancerous skin. He took the creature’s enormous head into his lap, and stroked its soiled and ruined mane.

 

“Master, oh Master, it hurts so.” The beast that could challenge the heavens rasped. “For so long, it hurt.”

 

”You did your job. You did it so well.”

Golden light seeped into the great temple dog. The light steadily turned to earth brown and grass green as it was drained. The world around them stabilized.

 

“Yes. Yes, I did my duty. Master, may I rest now, Master?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, you can sleep, now.”

 

Aaaaaahhh….” The temple dog sighed. The broken and ruined body of the creature faded, leaving only faint motes of light.

 

A golden core of energy formed in his Great Master’s hand. Power so potent Bi De felt energised just from being near it.

 

His Great Master cradled the core in his palm.

 

“It's okay, boy.” His Master said, with eyes that were not truly seeing. Lost in a memory of his own. The golden core sizzled, and turned to dust in the darkness. “You sleep well, now.”

 

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

 

I was feeling utterly exhausted, and my eyes were crusty with tears. It felt like somebody had scooped my insides out. The formation had stopped taking in my Qi, and I had a pounding headache. Felt like a really bad hangover.

 

I was also laying on my back, instead of sitting properly.

 

Master?’ Big D asked, his voice full of worry.

 

Groaning, I opened my eyes, and immediately closed them again at the sheer brightness from the crystals in the ceiling.

 

I rolled on my side and tried again.

 

My fingers curled into soft moss, as I pushed myself up and looked around. Everybody looked like they had stayed awake for weeks. Their postures were droopy. The monkeys looked positively shell shocked. Some were nursing bruised hands, others were bleeding, with little bits of crystal and stone poking out of their skin. Bits of stone medallion and all of Master Gen’s instruments lay strewn around the ground, shattered and broken.

 

If the cave was a jungle before…. Well, now it was nearly impenetrable. The ferns had grown massively, nearly touching the ceiling. Mushrooms sprouted out of every inch of wall. Green moss had crawled across the floor, leaving not a scrap of bare stone.

 

I opened my mouth to ask if everybody was alright— and vomited.

 

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A note from Casualfarmer

This arc probably would have been better book 2, but at the time i felt like it really hampered my forward progress, and detracted from the stuff that was happening at the Dueling Peaks too much. In one run that might not have been the case, but in the serial format it felt really awkward. Well, live and learn.

 

If you want to see two advanced chapters, I do have a Patreon


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