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A lotus tree swayed in the darkness, sitting amidst a serene lake. I watched the calm waters lapping at the shore of unending nothingness, flowing in and then out. The light from the tree added life to the dreary void around me.

“Sii?” Silverlight called out. She was seated atop Sheldon’s back, her silvery eyes taking everything in with a child’s curiosity when taken to a new place, or given a new toy. I saw her gaze at the lotus with fascination, before her eyes moved upwards.

Following her gaze, I looked up and saw a ring of silver, donning the sky. But what should’ve been a brightly glowing ring of spirit and strength, lay dull, cracked and frayed, devoid of life. Roots spread throughout the ring, woven around its cracks. Essence coursed through them, into the little ring inside here, pulsating energy into them. I could feel the tie to the roots, from deep within my soul, a stop-gap, that held Zhang’s spirit in place.

A rumble took my attention to Sheldon, who stood next to me in his massive spirit form. So easy to forget that my small playful turtle was an Elder spirit beast, capable of so much destruction.

“Focus. The cycle needs mending,” Sheldon said, eyes moving upwards at the cracked ring.

I nodded, and stepped towards the ring. Briefly, I reminded myself of the nature of this realm. Spirits had no gravity, no dimension, and no form. What was the ground beneath my feet may very well be air, and the air I stepped on, solid ground.

I raised one foot awkwardly in the air, and let Chi pulse from beneath. I tried to push, like climbing a stair, and found my feet wobbling, the control on my Chi slipping.

“Too tied to the outside. Be free of the chains. And believe. The spirit defines this realm,” Sheldon said, calmly ascending up into the air with Twilight on his back.

Trying not to be left behind, I took another step, this time keeping my eyes firmly on the glowing spirit ring in the sky. The step came, and then another. My feet wobbled less and less, as I climbed up into the air itself.

Air stepping. A difficult technique to learn outside in the real world. But so simple in here. I let the sensation of exhilarating freedom take me, as I broke my chains that had held me to the ground all my life, and stepped up into the skies. Soon, I was walking high above into the darkness, watching the lotus sway with its gentle light amidst the lake that floated in the void.

“Must learn. We have carried Lu Jie so far. But now, must walk by himself,” Sheldon said, looking at me as he swam through the skies. His eyes closed for a brief moment, and I saw a stream of words resonate in my head, clearer than ever.

“When you leave behind the chains of the physical, they too forsake you. There will not be a ground for you to land on, do not let go of your focus, and lose your step, or you will plunge down into the depths of this spirit, lost forever in the void that separates the beyond from our souls.”

I looked down, at the endless dark, before gulping. “I feel like I should’ve been informed of this before I took off into the skies.”

“Just don’t fall,” Sheldon replied, letting out a low rumble, as I sensed his amusement. I rolled my eyes, before following behind the turtle.

Steadily, we made our way to the circle, soon reaching the massive, ethereal ring of silver light. From this close, I could sense the little wisps of Qi coming off of the ring of what must be pure energy. Gently, I placed my hand upon the ring, feeling a cold sensation return back to me.

“Mysteries upon mysteries. And I merely keep being swallowed by them, pushed around and led on wild chases. Never any closer to the answer,” I said, watching the ring.

“The rings of cultivation. But if immortality was merely a lie formed by the Heavens, then what even is the goal? What lies at the end?” I asked, remembering the words told to me in my trial. Immortality came at a price. The price of Gu, and demons. But if the path I walk brings death back into the fold then… What's the goal?

“Unknown. Uncertain. But different. For you to find.”

“That’s not necessarily better is it? The heavens created freedom from the cycle of death of rebirth? You know, enlightenment and whatnot, as you reach the heavens and become immortal. That sounds fairly nice.”

Sheldon shook his head. “They create, false life. They fear death. Freedom lies beyond life and death. Beyond the cycle. The cycle is a trap. One to be escaped. That is the purpose of our Paths.”

I heard the turtle’s booming words, and decided to ruminate on them at a later point.

Closing my eyes, I focused on my soul, on the little tree inside of it. I let the Chi from my core flood my body, as the roots tied around the spirit ring within Zhang’s core, began to shift.

My senses expanded, taking in every crack, every break in the ethereal ring. I sensed my own soul, tied together with Zhang’s. Breathing in, I used my expanded senses to guide the Qi. I guided my Qi into the ring, guiding my essence into the cracks.

The Gu in his spirit had corrupted the ring. Corroded it down. The lotus tree filled his core with Qi, yet the spirit that was supposed to channel it. The ring, the heart of his cultivation, was still broken.

Letting the roots of the spirit tree inside me guide the Qi, I allowed it to flow into Zhang’s. A glimmering light began to glow inside the darkness, energy once again flowing within his spirit. But the happiness didn’t last. I sensed the Qi, flowing outwards, through the seems and cracks, and outside his spirit. This would not do.

Changing my plans, I stopped the flow of Qi. Glancing down, I stepped towards the lotus tree instead. Sheldon following my lead, taking Silverlight with him.

The lotus sat silently at the centre of the lake. No wind rustled its many petals, or swayed its odd branches as it bathed the darkness in its gentle light. It was like the sole star on a dark moonless night, guiding lost travellers.

Stepping down through the void, I felt my feet touch the water, and my eyes widened in surprise. What I’d expected to be a manifestation of water was instead Qi. Yet, not in any shape or form. It was as if the ethereal Qi had been slowly given a denser form, distilled into droplets like pure water that shimmered and glowed in the dark. The Qi-water stirred and rustled and crashed at the shore, reacting to my presence near it. Splashes flew up into the air and turned to mist, flowing around the lotus that sat in the middle.

Moving closer, I let myself submerge partially into the water. Moving through, I set my palm against the trunk of the tree, upon which the lotus flower blossomed.

I sensed the Qi that flowed inside of it, connected to the miniature tree growing inside my soul. The tree within my spirit was tied to this one, and the cycle of Qi it circulated in this dark expanse.

“Sii!” Silverlight exclaimed, jumping down into the water, as she splashed around, drinking in the Qi-water and giggling like she’d just found a lake full of candy. In a way, she really had.

“I’m assuming you have no idea what this is either,” I asked Sheldon.

The turtle shook his head. “Unknown and new.”

I looked at the crashing surface of the Qi lake i in front of me, and the tree around, before my eyes went down to the submerged lotus tree, and it’s roots spreading deep below.

“Wanna take a swim?” I asked Sheldon.

My reply was a jet of water splashing me, before the giant turtle dipped in as well, picking up an ecstatic Silverlight on his back.

I gasped for air, before remembering I had no need for something like that. It felt strange to let the Qi-water flow into my lungs, and stomach, alien, almost, and the sensation made me want to escape, but the feeling subsided within moments, as I began to swim through the water.

Following the lotus tree, I swam further and further down, following it’s twisting branches, before I found the base. Through the endless void, now rested land, dark, and unformed, it was like a word that was about to be spoken, not fully there, but not absent either.

Gently, I let my feet settle onto the ground, as I watched the roots of the tree weave into the darkness, and carve a piece of reality into it. I looked up, and saw Sheldon, looking at the same thing.

“What do you think?” I asked the turtle.

“New Paths. Perhaps with the little Silver-lily-of-life,” Sheldon responded.

“Is that the name you have for her?” I asked, as the half name half concept flowed into my head. It was… accurate. Far more than any name could ever hope to be. “What’s your name for me?” I asked, feeling curious.

“Asks-too-many-questions,” Sheldon replied, and I snorted at the turtle’s snark. Finding content with what I’d found, I swam around through the Qi water, letting it flow through my spirit, and soak into me as I made my way out.

Stepping out into the lake, and above the Qi-water, I turned to face Silverlight.

“Can you bind this with that thing above?” I asked Silverlight, pointing my finger at the lotus tree first, and then up at the ring floating above.

“Sii?” The plant spirit asked, and I heard Sheldon’s rumble. I followed up after the turtle, slowly distilling the concept to the spirit. It took her a bit, but soon, the little plant nodded her head.

After making sure she understood, I reached out with my spirit, guiding the Qi water around, and towards Silverlight.

“I’ll step in if I think there’s a problem. But the rest is in your hands, Silverlight,” I said.

“Sii!” Silverlight explained, as she confidently patted her chest, the flower on her head bobbing around.

Looking at the spirit once more, I nodded, before letting go of my hold over Zhang’s soul. The roots from my spirit receded, as the world shuddered. Cracks appeared in darkness, stirring the lake below, as Zhang’s core began to collapse once more.

The lotus shuddered, lighting up, as the plant spirit began to glow. Qi flowed from her body, swirling through the tree, lighting up its petals as they flew around in a swirling wind.

Tens, hundreds, thousands of shining leaves swirled around the tree. I stood mesmerized at the sight, watching the tree shudder, before it began to grow. The tree spread high up into the sky, branches reaching upwards. Little vines reached out to the ring in the dark sky, twirling around it.

The tree rose higher and higher, encompassing the ring inside Zhang’s core in the bosom of its branches. Silvery light from the ring flowed into the tree, and down into its root, before spreading throughout the core.

I turned towards Sheldon, before nodding. I’d done my job, the rest would be on Silverlight.

With a rumble from Sheldon, the darkness swirled around me, dragging me out from Zhang’s core.

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About the author

KrazeKode

  • Far away from humans
  • I have a pet turtle. His name is George. George doesn't like you.

Bio: I took up the keyboard.

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