L 001: Nightmare

With a breathless gasp, my eyes snap open. Panic and terror filling my heart, I sit up and frantically look around myself.

The sight of a darkened room greets me. For a second, my fear only grows. Where is this? What am I doing in this unfamiliar place? The darkness feels cloying and threatening, as if it’s about to swallow me. But then, reason reasserts itself, and my uncontrolled heartbeat slowly returns to normal. I wipe cold sweat from my brow with the sleeve of my shirt.

My sleep was not particularly peaceful, today.

As usual.

“Haaa…”

I let out a light sigh and let my upper body fall back down onto the bed. It’s very early in the morning. The sun isn’t up, yet. For a few minutes, I close my eyes and try to force myself back to sleep, but it doesn’t work. My mind is still filled with images of my last nightmare.

…And I just don’t feel tired.

I haven’t felt tired for a few months, now.

Ever since Uncle Finram and Akasha rescued me from the devils, I have been bursting with energy. Always, every hour of every day, a steady, inexhaustible stream of energy continually flows through every nook and cranny of my body. I don’t need to eat, drink, sleep… This flow of energy provides for all my needs. And whenever I suffer so much as a single scratch, a single injury, I heal instantly, the wound closing at speeds visible to the naked eye.

I’m not sure what kind of medicine Akasha fed me. I only know that it’s amazing.

It even allowed me to regrow the limbs that the devil… sawed off.

I suppress a shudder and rub away the illusory pains that suddenly lance up my arms and legs. No scars are left on my skin of what happened to me, but even though it sounds ridiculous to say so, I sometimes have to check to make sure that my limbs are all still there. And when I see that they are, I start to wonder if I didn’t imagine it all.

But no, I didn’t.

My presence here is proof enough that the course of my life has irrevocably changed.

Letting out a sigh, I get off the bed and head out of my room. The hard wooden floor feels cold beneath my feet. This isn’t the Springfield manor, obviously. This is merely a small shack that my family has rented for the duration of the Inter-Species Competition. Even then, it’s barely big enough to house Uncle Finram and me.

The two of us are the only ones to have come.

I wanted Silica to come with me, but Uncle Finram put his foot down and refused. And Mira didn’t seem to approve, either – she’s very protective of her daughter. I would have insisted, but Uncle Finram said it might become dangerous, and that the Island is no place for a child.

I’d ask why, then, I have to go, but I understand even without it being spelled out for me.

Since it’s become essentially impossible for me to live as a common mortal – thanks to Akasha’s medicine, even if I don’t actively cultivate, qi will still accumulate in my dantian – Uncle Finram wants me to get used to the world of cultivators.

I’m… not sure I like the idea.

If nothing else, cultivation is incredibly dull.

To just sit in a specific posture, breathe following a specific pattern, and cycle qi following a specific rhythm, all in order to absorb more qi from the air and refine it for use.

It is dreary, a test of patience.

I exit my bedroom and enter the only other room of our little shack. Here, Uncle Finram is sitting cross-legged on the floor, taking deep, regular breaths. When I approach him, his eyes open and turn to regard me.

“Lilly? What’s wrong?” he asks in a voice filled with concern.

I shake my head. “Nothing.”

“Can’t sleep?”

I hesitate for a moment, then nod. I shrug. “It’s fine. I don’t need to sleep, anyway. Sleeping is almost a chore, really.”

Uncle Finram looks at me silently for a while, then pats the floor next to him. “Come. Sit.”

I do, gingerly. “You’re not going to tell me to practice with you, are you?”

That gets a chuckle out of him. “Do you dislike it that much? I admit it can get a little dry, but it’s necessary. You’ve been given a great opportunity. Would you rather grasp it, or waste it because you were lazy?”

I give an overblown sigh. “Fiiiiiine…”

I sit cross-legged, too, taking the same posture as Uncle Finram and start to follow the steps he taught me when he imparted his breathing technique to me.

Apparently, it’s supposed to be an amazing technique from a different plane or something, but I can’t really tell since I don’t have anything to compare it to. I’ve never studied any other technique.

At first, I expected his breathing technique to be incredibly profound and difficult to learn, but the truth was the opposite. I could get started with it and get visible results in a week or two. According to Uncle Finram, this is only to be expected, as the quality of a breathing technique is not only determined by its efficiency, but also by its ease of use, since children of cultivator clans are supposed to use them, too. Though, he did warn me that, despite only taking a few days to understand it, it would still take me years to reach full proficiency with it. It’s one of those ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ things.

I close my eyes and take a steadying breath.

Then, I cultivate.

When I open my eyes again, the sun is starting to come up, but my training has yet to end.

For now, Uncle Finram didn’t teach me any spells, so my dantian is still empty of runes. There is only a faint mist of refined qi, which slowly grows thicker as my cultivation grows stronger. With the help of Akasha’s medicine, I already have more than enough power to cast spells. But Uncle Finram said I shouldn’t try that for a while yet, until I’m entirely comfortable with releasing my qi and judging how much I have left and how much I can still consume without risk, in order to avoid qi exhaustion. It’s apparently dangerously easy for a novice to overdraw their qi reserves and die after casting too powerful a spell.

So, I practice that, next. I slowly release what qi I’ve refined out of my body, by tiny increments. I try to acquire an instinctive feel for how much I’ve left.

Saying that cultivation is a dry affair is something of an understatement. Soon, I grow too bored to continue. I open my eyes again to find Uncle Finram sitting in front of me staring at me. Examining my progress, I assume.

“Done already?”

“You mean, ‘finally,’ right?” I pout and give him a sour look. “The sun is up. The Competition will start soon, won’t it? It’s time for us to get ready.”

“We still have a little more time. And don’t try to pretend that you’re impatient to go. I know you just want to stop practicing.”

“Yes!” I reply frankly and flop backward onto the floor, before remembering that this isn’t the manor; there are no servants to wash the floors here. I quickly spring back up and rub the back of my head to make sure nothing strange stuck to my hair. At the same time, I gaze at Uncle Finram. “I can’t believe you did this for so many years. I feel like I’m going to go crazy if I sit cross-legged even one more time.”

Uncle Finram chuckles. “Cultivation is a long and lonely road. But you don’t need to be impatient. You can take your time and progress gradually.”

“Do I even need to practice at all?” I shrug. “With all the energy flowing through my body, even if I don’t do anything at all, I’m getting stronger all the time, anyway.”

Uncle Finram frowns and shakes his head. “You mustn’t rely on that. One day, you’ll finally exhaust the medicine’s power, and if you haven’t developed a good training ethic by then, you’ll find yourself slipping and procrastinating. Or you’ll despair at your suddenly slower practice speed. You have to understand that cultivation is heavily linked to and dependent on self-confidence and willpower, so at this point, if you aren’t ready, you likely will never see a single whit of progress again.”

“…Fine, fine.”

Uncle Finram stares at me for a few seconds more, presumably to see whether my agreement is genuine or merely lip service. Then, he cracks a smile and gets to his feet. He beckons to me to do the same.

“Good. Then let’s stop for now and go watch the competition.”

# # #

“So… So violent…”

Uncle Finram nods grimly. “Yes. This is the world of practitioners.”

I feel sick. I struggle to swallow my saliva past the lump in my throat. How many people did I just watch as they were brutally murdered? This isn’t a competition at all. There is no sporting spirit, no fair play. This is… a battlefield.

Kill or be killed.

For a while, there is only silence between Uncle Finram and me.

I watch the battles rage on the stages below. Majin and humans are clashing, their faces twisted and deformed into ugly snarls. They claw and bite at each other like wild animals. Limbs are severed, and lives are extinguished. They bathe in their own blood and the blood of their opponents, but none of them hesitate to step onto this dreadful stage. They don’t seem to care that they might die, that they might be staking their life, staking their many years of painstaking cultivation on a single moment. They risk losing everything, and for what? The glory of proving they are stronger than their opponent?

The world of practitioners?

What kind of world is this?

 

Why would anyone want to be part of it?

Is this senseless killing the whole point of it all?

Why even cultivate, then?

Insanity.

That’s what it is. Plain and simple.

There are tens of thousands around me, but watching these people – these famous cultivators, the subjects of worship of all youths as they hear tales of their exploits – murder each other in the arena while the rest watch and cheer, I feel very alone.

“Is this… Akasha’s world?” I ask quietly.

I expected my voice to be lost amidst the cries of the audience, but Uncle Finram unexpectedly answers. “No. It isn’t.” His reply surprises me, and I turn to look up at him. He looks back at me. “Most of the people you see here today are greedy mass-murderers who would gladly slaughter a thousand innocents just to protect their reputation, a million if it earned them some piece of treasure. But to your friend Akasha, this is nothing. Kiddie play. Little puppies play-biting and swatting each other on the tip of the nose. Her world is much more brutal and merciless than this.”

My mouth opens, but no sound comes out.

“Can you not tell just by looking at her? Why would someone who carries around such a powerful medicine like the one she fed you still be covered in scars? How did she lose an arm and an eye?” Uncle Finram shakes his head, and his eyes return to the arena. “Our worlds are too different. It’s not even about strength. It’s about… savagery. Even if your little friend had a tenth the cultivation she has, I still wouldn’t dare to fight her.”

“B–But, you‘re a 9th-rank warrior! One of the only ones on Caldera! You’re one of the strongest men in the world!”

Uncle Finram nods. “Precisely. I’m one of the strongest men in the world. More accurately, I’m one of the strongest men in this world,” he says, pointing down at the arena and its bloody fights. “I’m one of the strongest in this peaceful, gentle world of little puppies playfully swatting at each other’s nose. Akasha is one of the strongest in a brutal, cruel world of blood and steel and death.”

“…Is that why you cultivate, Uncle? Do you want to become part of that world, too?”

“No. Do you?”

“…”

For a long while, I don’t know what to say.

I started cultivating merely to take advantage of my current circumstances. Because, as Uncle Finram said, it would be kind of a waste to not make the best of the situation.

And I want to see Akasha again. We’re friends.

But…

I shake my head.

…It just doesn’t make sense.

That weird little girl with a fluffy tail and ears, who looks even younger than me, who doesn’t know anything about the world? Sure, her face is scarred, and her eye looks a little scary, and she doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t mean anything. Father has always said that you shouldn’t judge people by their appearance.

I try to imagine Akasha as one of the crazed fighters in the arena below.

I try to imagine her as something even worse.

This… is impossible.

# # #

I watch, aghast, as the first Majin friend I ever made, the person who saved my life, rips the head off a werewolf who tried to help her. His spine dangles from the base of his skull, blood dripping, strands of flesh still hanging from it.

That, after she disintegrated a human’s head, destroyed the Emperor’s private compartment, and crushed several hundred innocent human practitioners on the side.

I swallow back the bile that rises up my throat. I’m suddenly thankful I didn’t eat anything, this morning.

“This… This…”

“See? A wild fenrir standing in the midst of a pack of unsuspecting puppies,” Uncle Finram says blandly while shaking his head. “Though, those five might be different.”

“They’re… the new Emperor and his bodyguards?”

“So it would seem.” Uncle Finram takes a deep breath, then stands up and sweeps me up in his arms.

“W–Wait, Uncle, what are you doing?!”

“We’re leaving. Right now.”

“W–Why?”

“Because the rest of the audience might not realize it, yet, but I’d be very surprised if this island still exists in half an hour. We need to escape before then.”

And without letting me get another word out, Uncle Finram runs out of the arena while carrying me. As soon as he’s outside, he takes to the sky, and we soar toward the harbor.

I silently gaze over his shoulder at the figure of my friend disappearing in the distance.

43 comments

  1. Actually that comment about the medicine brings up a question. If Akasha was to get something that regrows her arm, would it have the…whatever the stuff her bones are made of around it like her other limbs, or would it be a normal fleshy arm?

        1. probably depends on what the something is and how it works.

          concentrated demon blood based medicine engineered for demons?

          probably adamant.

          something made for majin?

          probably just flesh.

          1. It is said she could regrow her eye or get rid of the scars if she wanted to but she does not want to go though the pain/effort of doing so.
            I am currently assuming she could regrow her arm if she wanted to.
            Some reasons for not doing so could be it has not occurred to her since she is now used to not having the arm or the ice replacement is part of her combat style.

            1. She had lost her arm before the demon transformation. She never had a demon left arm so there is nothing for her demon physiology to regenerate.
              Plus she cooler with the ice arm.

  2. I really enjoyed this chapter and Lillys perspective in it, I love the fact that Finram probably hasn’t realized yet just how much Lillys cultivation level improved, because she doesn’t know any spells, at all.

    But I don’t think that Lillys problems with concentrating on serious and boring topics was fully fleshed out.
    Like, she says she finds it boring, and I understand it intellectually, but there is this very specific feeling, where you are in school and a teacher is trying to teach you something and you just don’t care at all and it hurts to concentrate. I feel like that kind of feeling isn’t entirely brought to paper on an emphatic level here, at least for me.

    ….I don’t know why I’m so miffed about this, I guess this is just me reading the chapter title and expecting every moment, that during one of her recapping internal monologues Lilly just loses focus and thinks about her playing with Akasha or Silica only to be asked why she stopped cultivating.

    1. yeah, but each one contains new characterizations and additional info.

      this novel is plpt driven and character driven ag the same time, part of why i like it so much. means it takes a lot of words to give a true picture of what’s going on, but I think its worth it.

    2. I know. It’s annoying for me, too, to see the story stall like this.
      But there are many characters coming together at the same time, at this point, so it’s kind of inevitable. Next chapter will advance the fight, if that’s any comfort.

      And I do think I’m restraining myself, here. Just imagine. Next, I could write a chapter from Gareth’s POV, where he hypes himself up for a good fight. And then I could write a chapter from Jasper’s POV, where he froths at the mouth when he sees his sponsored contestant suddenly try to assassinate the Emperor. And then a chapter from Phineas’s POV, where he discusses some mechanism of magic or cultivation or something. And then, a chapter from Sif’s POV, where she sneaks around and curses her bad luck at finding herself in the middle of a battlefield full of gods.
      Trust me, filler is easy to find…

      What I’m doing here with Lilly and Nerys can still be considered staying close to the plot’s main thread. And considering I’m trying to set them up as NPCs vital to Akasha’s quest, it’s important I give some characterization. Otherwise, readers just won’t give a shit about what happens to them.

      1. You are doing a good job!! 🙂

        Being the a-hole I am I must admit that your characters tend to be samey in the way they.. present their thoughts, but I much prefer that from authors that beautifully make each character speak in a different way, but fail to give them distinct personality (and you do a mighty fine job writing believable people, with clear but not one-dimensional personality).

        Anyway, while the a-hole in me wants to find faults, I just can’t help but greatly enjoy your writing, and because the events in the story don’t repeat themselves in same pattern (and everyone, or most everyone has more than one goal be it one they are aware of, or one they seem to be aimed to grow to makes me believe it all leads to satisfying to read developments, and an end that will one day come), and the character slowly but surely develop and grow it never gets boring.

    1. Read the chapter title. If it starts with “Trials:” it’s from Trials. If it starts with anything else it’s Taint. For the Taint chapters, if it starts with “Chapter X” it’s from Akasha’s POV, if it starts with a letter, like this one, that means it’s from a different characters POV whose name begins with that letter (this chapter is from Lily’s POV). Additionally, each Taint POV is numbered separately. This chapter is titled “L 001:” meaning it’s the first chapter from Lily’s perspective. If it was titled “S 017:” it would be the seventeenth chapter from Sif’s perspective.

      1. And I forgot to say; if it’s just a chapter title without some kind of header it’s a Taint chapter from a mostly unimportant side character’s POV

  3. This chapter gave me feels. O_O

    thanks Liv!

    i feel like I owe you lunch again. Your chapters make my day sometimes. 🙂

  4. Loved seeing Lilly’s POV. Nice to see she has matured a little, you can see her reality starting to come together as she is forced to grow up. Her conciousness misting like that suggests she is nearing Goodhood Rank 1 from what Liv has written previously. I suspect the Pill Akasha has used is incredible and something never seen on Caldara. It did come from an unconquered Tower that even Gods couldn’t complete after all, on another Plane.

    Cannot wait for Nerys to come to her sisters aid. I hope there are no misunderstandings. I hope it is insta-love. It is highly suggested that the Major is a god.

  5. Aaaah, thought there was gonna be some more fun with her having to do a bit of dodging and weaving with her uncle from attacks destroying decent percentages of the island’s surface (and not so surface). Hope we can get a little snippet after the fight with them just watching the island go through various explosions of matter and light as it much too slowly shrinks in the distance and just as they are thinking they dodged the big one a huge wave comes and uncle has to think fast to surf it or die. (maybe has to use his abilities to stitch a quickie ship out of the shattered hull and what sailors he can salvage?)

    Just feel like she hasn’t gotten the FULL treatment when it comes to realizing who she’s been playing around with so casually. And I’d like to see THAT reaction! XD

      1. ☺Sometime-next-week《TRADEMARK》
        ….those different POV’s you mentioned; in a montage chapter would work?
        Ps: thanks for the chapter, so lily is going to be important in the near future??

  6. That ending felt kind of sad, I hope she doesn’t start hating Akasha because of this…

  7. I like how you solved making a time buying filler chapter by placing characters on the edges of an ongoing scene… Most authors will stoop to going from the middle of a combat scene to writing about how halfway around the world this character is enjoying his freaking tea.

    But you do realize this entire chapter could have been summed up with one or two sentences with akasha noticing lily and finram on the edges of her battlefield out the corner of her eyes don’t you? Then lily talking about her experience in another 2-3 sentences when they next meet… Entire chapter dodged.

    If anything it would create more intrigue as people wonder what lily was doing there and how she felt about what she saw rather than handing that to us on a silver platter.

    I feel that going from Nerys’ perspective to watch the beginning of this fight into Akasha’s perspective of the early stages of it was really clever, what was however not clever was leaving Nerys who was last seen charging towards the battle at it’s very first second, nowhere to be seen after the first phase of the engagement completes…. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and hoping you have planned a good explanation prepared for her yet unexplained disappearance because you have never disappointed up to this point. But I can’t think of any possible explanations, don’t think “she was at the other side of the arena” covers this amount of time, it would for a normal person, but Nerys is like a supersoldier right? She can cover that kind of distance in just a few seconds and she didn’t seem like she’d let anybody stop her. She shoulda been there before that werewolf even, so unless you planned to have someone have intercepted her, you probably fucked up a bit here. The last chapter was possibly the most disappointing one yet, it revolved around Akasha’s “everyone dies” one liner. An important one liner? yes, but not as important as fucking Nerys which she has been looking for diligently for over 40 chapters which I bet nobody missed was missing even if she should have been there, right next to Akasha before that one liner was said.

    But this chapter was a disappointment too, I take it lily will become an important character from this entire chapter being devoted to her being surprised when seeing Akasha going all out… But as I said, you could’ve handled it a lot better than this, without delaying the main story. A few planted sentences rather than a whole chapter.

    Readers feel it very acutely when an important part of the main story gets delayed or slowed down like this, and for just about everyone it annoys them, I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling. It’s something you should avoid at all costs. Even if you weren’t just buying time to decide what comes next, it feels like you are.

    I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt like I said, but 3 consecutive disappointments would be too much. Next chapter bettered be really damn good after this mess. For the love of god don’t make the next chapter about Gareth’s hurt feelings…

      1. This chapter was quite disapointing, I skimmed over the first 1/3, skipped the second 1/3 because it didn’t seem worth reading, and then read the last 1/3 and this was my impression. It’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t have commented on if it wasn’t a weekly release thing, if I could just go straight to the next chapter I woulda skimmed the entirety of the last chapter as well.

        I picked like the worst time to start reading this lol, after this part of the story wraps up I will probably drop it because I don’t stick around waiting for the next chapter normally, this is the only book where I’ve bothered to stick around after catching up to the story actually.

  8. Going to break a rule of mine,
    I literally *cringe* when the idea occurs to me to even suggest to another writer how/what they should write….but this 2nd Rune thing has been rolling on without really ANY info on it since the Psychosis of Fuschia City. It goes dormant, ceases to be a factor, Akasha essentially forgets it exists. It pops up, Akasha goes Mass-Murderer Mode, Akasha exhausts her Alien Bloodthirst, and then dormant again.

    Some traction on what’s going on with that thing would be INCREDIBLY helpful.

    1. She gets pissed off, rune goes kaboom, she doesn’t get pissed off, rune doesn’t go kaboom. Good enough?
      PS: How likely is it that the mystery rune is actually 血?

    2. I don’t think we’re in any kind of rush for information about that rune, the story is still far from over, I’m guessing it will play a bigger role later on in the story, it’s probably something that will allow her to still be a force to be reckoned with in the gods realm, when/if she ever goes there. I also think it will reveal some truth about the taint and demons, maybe its origin or something.

  9. I kinda completely forgot about taint and trials for 3 monthes… I have no idea how\why. Literally today I remembered about it and instantly I remembered where I left the story and what I thought was going to happen next… Seriously they are some of the best novels Ive ever read and I have no idea how I forgot them…

  10. If you lay drama too thick, it becomes feeling too unnatural and engineered. Akasha going to undiscriminating slaughter mode is too cheesy, because she is always about efficiency. Killing that wolf is not efficient as he can act like distraction. Even if Akasha wants to murder both human an maijin, it would be most effective to take temporary maijin as temporary allies. But, ok, she got brainjacked by either her unknown second word (her first one is 冰, and second is shrouded in black clouds), or by Sanae . What makes it cheesy is Nerys popping up EXACTLY when Akasha does not recognise friends. It’s so… Unsatisfying.

    Either Akasha murders Nerys or puts her to coma, or stupid Godling does this. And afterwards, Akasha has a typical psychological meltdown.

    1. It would make it a typical plot for Marvel ,,.. comics.

      Please, no. If anything, Taint is somewhat smart. It has it’s own distinct taste, and a surge of creativity.

    1. I know. It’s been a long time, but I’ve been really fucking busy, these past few days. Still, next chapter should come out soon.
      And soon, holidays too! Woohoo!

      1. I’ve been binge reading this series and it’s been great. Thanks Liv! I’m desperate for the next chapter. Hope everything’s going well.

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