plick, plick, plick…
Water, dripping down onto stone, one drop at a time, coming from somewhere.
I don’t know how long I spend listening to this regular sound, as if it’s ticking down the elapsing seconds. Probably very long. Long enough for those drops of water to erode the stone on which they fall, it even seems.
I feel Sanae nearby. She was probably standing guard over me while I slept.
Slowly, my eyes open.
My body hurts a lot, but I’m alive.
It’s pretty much always like this, when I awaken from sleep. It only makes sense. Unless I’m terribly injured, there is usually no need for me to sleep in the first place, so the very act of my waking up only happens in those sorts of situations.
The ceiling above me is of raw stone. There isn’t much light, but my night vision is good enough that this doesn’t affect me at all. The sight of that rough ceiling reminds me of that day, so long ago, when I woke up on the first floor of the Tower and this whole nightmare started.
A lifetime ago.
Did Nerys look for me, after I disappeared? If she did, when did she give up? Surely, she didn’t continue looking for me for all of those 279 years I was gone from Caldera, right? That would be stupid. And sad.
Casting off those thoughts – for now; they’ll be back soon enough, as they always are – I take stock of the state of my body in more detail than just the pain crashing from it into my brain.
My skeleton is in a perfect state. My adamantine limbs too are just fine, of course. My meridian system is whole and working correctly. And the worst of the wounds I incurred during the fight in Dorn – or rather, the wounds I incurred when I was shot in the back by whatever weapon those guys threw at me – have healed.
Unfortunately, as I wasn’t awake to direct the healing and use my blood-qi to supplement it, they didn’t heal perfectly. Lesions have been left. Slight tears, deep in my muscles. Some of my organs didn’t knit together properly. This isn’t good. As it is, this much damage won’t actually affect me too much, right at the moment, but if I let it accumulate, I will soon see my flexibility and my strength drop. The merest movement will become painful. And the longer I wait to fix this situation, the more the imperfect healing meshes with the rest of my body and becomes difficult to correct.
I’ve seen it happen before, early on in my years in the Planar Tower, when all the piled-up wounds I’d suffered before came back to haunt me. It was a long time ago, but the few days I passed then, working to return my body to its former, pristine state, firmly stayed in my memory as some of the worst of the lot.
I close my eyes and focus inward, inside my body. Slowly, carefully, I map the precise spots where the problems lie, then send some of my blood-qi out of my dantian and into my meridians. The blood-qi cycles through my body, seeping from the meridians into the afflicted areas to nourish my muscles and organs.
It’s a slow process, but I have energy to spare, and gradually, the leftover injuries start to improve. My muscles, easiest to heal, soon become whole again, the tiny tears running through them closing up once more, leaving the fibers around them even stronger than before. The most recent scars on my skin also become more tender and flexible, their color less red and raw. They still leave a mark on the outermost epidermis, but those won’t appreciably affect my movements.
On the other hand, the most afflicted of my organs still present issues. My left lung feels unnaturally rigid every time I inhale, and some of the surface of my stomach looks puckered, wrinkled, irregular.
I keep pumping more blood-qi into my meridians, but eventually, instead of healing, it only starts to strengthen my tissues when it seeps into them. The last thing I want to do is run body strengthening on those areas – which would compound the problem – so I quickly stop my efforts.
I let out a tired sigh.
…How long did I stay unconscious?
Days, it seems, if my wounds have had time to set in like this.
All right, then…
I focus once more and exhale deeply, for a long time, until my lungs are emptied of air. Then, I call upon my magic directly inside my own body. Blades of ice form over the surface of my afflicted lung.
Then, I cut.
My body jerks at the sudden pain. The clawed fingers of my right hand pierce into the ground beneath me, carving and crushing the stone like it is mud. Blood starts filling my throat; I swallow it back down immediately.
It’s strange, actually.
If something bit into my lung in the middle of a fight, I’m sure I could take it without flinching and keep moving, almost unaffected. But when I’m doing it to myself in a calm and safe environment like this, it seems to make the pain – or my ability to resist it – much, much worse.
And unfortunately, it doesn’t end very quickly.
I immediately channel more blood-qi into my meridians, and this time, proper healing indeed starts again, but it takes nearly an hour for the part of my lung I excised to grow back, the edges of the injury crawling toward each other and linking up, good as new.
Then, I do the same for my stomach. Since the problematic area is larger here than it was for my lung, it takes even more time to process it. And since it would become dangerous for me to cut too large a hole into my own organs, I’m forced to do it in several tries, gradually scraping off all the damaged tissue.
By the time I’m finally done, several hours later, the small cavern where Sanae left me to rest is thick with the pleasant smell of blood, and my entire body is trembling from the aftershocks of the pain. Deep scores have been left in the ground everywhere around me, from when I failed to properly control my reaction to the pain and thrashed around.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the slight glow of Sanae’s red eyes, peeking from behind a small rock. I let my head fall to the side to get a better view of her.
I grit my teeth and carefully raise myself into a seating position.
I wish I didn’t have to do that. My body is mostly a very convenient machine, but it’s still imperfect, in some areas. Why can’t it heal perfectly on its own? I’ve tried to train it, so that it would be able to use my blood-qi to power regeneration without my conscious input, but I never obtained any satisfying results.
Looking down at myself, I notice that my entire body is covered in caked, dry blood. With an effort of will, waves of ice run over it and remove all the filth from it, leaving it encased inside a neat little ice cube which I casually discard to the side.
I gently run my fingers over the newest of my scars, kneading them and checking that they won’t tear open again if I start stretching them too far.
They seem fine.
Though I know it won’t produce any results, I send a few streams of blood-qi into them.
The results are as expected.
I’ve been thinking about it, ever since my stay at the Springfields’ home, where those maids kept making comments about them, but I can’t do this easily. As it was for the internal injuries on my stomach and my lung, once the damage has set in and strengthening replaces healing, the only thing to do is to cut away and regenerate from scratch.
The same holds for my skin.
Cutting it away and regrowing it with my enhanced, blood-qi-powered healing ability should leave it unmarred and flawless.
I run hesitant fingers over the burn scars covering the right half of my face. The scars cover pretty much my whole body. If I want to remove them…
That sounds really, really painful.
Especially since I can’t be unconscious for it.
I’ve been flayed a few times. It was never fun. I don’t think I could do it to myself, just to remove a few scars that are purely cosmetic and don’t impact my body’s performance. Maybe if Nerys asked me to, but I think I’ll wait for her opinion on the matter before forcing myself to go through it. If she turns out to be too disturbed by them, I’ll clean them up.
Propping myself on the wall next to me, I slowly make my way to my feet. My legs start weak and clumsy, but after a second or two, strength flows back into them along with my blood-qi, and my balance reasserts itself. I turn my neck left and right and rotate my shoulders, hearing my joints crack and pop a few times.
Phew. That is very long indeed.
For me to take so much time to regain consciousness, I must really have been close to death. I think I took longer to heal from the fight with the frog godbeast, but it shouldn’t have been by much.
As ice gathers around the stump of my left shoulder and starts growing in the form of a new arm, I direct my steps toward the cave’s exit. Sanae jumps onto my foot and climbs up my leg as I pass near her, quickly taking her place in my eye socket.
Outside is raining.
I let out a deep breath and feel my body finally relax after the rather painful experience it just went through as the raindrops crash against my shoulders. Running a hand through my wet hair to get it away from my eyes, I look around at the scenery.
There isn’t a trace of civilization anywhere in sight.
As Sanae said, just plain, deserted wilderness.
I’ll have to find some kind of landmark to know where we are. I’ve already read the map book I bought in the Planar Prison from cover to cover, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an idea of my general location.
And then, I’ll start heading for the human capital, Alsomn.
There, is the God-Emperor, who is now my main suspect for the crime of destroying my life. And there, are the headquarters of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce, who are my main clue in my search for Nerys.
I’ll need to be careful. I’m not quite sure what to expect of that city, but if it’s the hideout of my enemy, I likely won’t be welcome.
I predict violence. Again.
As for the devils…
[…What happened after I lost consciousness?]
<Nothing. Took you. Fled.>
[…You didn’t kill that brat?]
<Nope. Shield. Too long. Dangerous.>
Hmm. Right. His shield was indeed really annoying. I’ll need to think of a way to go past it, in anticipation of the next time I meet him. My telekinesis techniques to control force vectors should do the job, I think. If I could have used them during this fight, I wouldn’t have struggled so much against that amateur.
And now that my soul has finished healing, too, I’ll be able to use them without scruples.
Keeping a guarding eye on the countryside in front of me, I focus inwardly again. Within my dantian, my soul, a perfect image of my physical body, floats above the whirling cloud made up of more than 4000 blood-qi beads. Examining it in detail, I can no longer find even the slightest crack. After several months of patience, all the damage that was caused by the demon-sealing stone back in the Planar Prison has disappeared. Those 18 days of sleep must have been the last impetus it needed to be completely fixed.
Experimentally, I will my soul force into sweeping over the landscape in front of me. The questing tendrils of it don’t find anything suspicious anywhere. Looks like I really am alone, here. Continuing my experiment, I select a boulder at random, buried halfway up its height, and my soul force coils around it and strains against it. The boulder trembles for a few moments, until it slowly rips itself from the ground, dirt and soil raining down from beneath it. The thing is rather heavy, so my soul soon reaches the limits of its endurance, and the boulder falls back down into the hole it left as I uprooted it, shaking the earth when it lands.
But I’m satisfied with these results.
Even pushing it to its limits like this, my soul hasn’t suffered any damage at all.
(Impressive. You’ve trained your soul well, in just 2 centuries.)
At the unexpected voice ringing out from behind me, I spin around. There, floating in the void of my dantian, is an old man, slowly getting to his feet. He stretches up to his full height and yawns.
(Haaa… Well, I have to say, I did a good job of this. Something that should have taken me more than 300 years done in something like 230. Bam. Just like that. Worthy of this great master of the arcane secrets of the soul that I am.)
The old man glances at me up and down, apparently amused and satisfied by my surprise, a wide, smug smile lighting up on his face.
(Haha! So? Having troubles? Well, never fear, because Phineas is here!)
Apr 9, 2017