I had been walking through darkened tunnels of the Underworks, trying to figure out where I was and to find a way out, when without warning everything changed. I suddenly stood amongst a forest of beautiful crystal trees, shimmering with iridescence. Overhead, three bright suns floated across a blue sky, and beneath my feet the earth had an unusual feel, soft like a bed of leaves.
But even more than the sudden change from darkness to light, I felt the change in Breath. Ever since I had realized the true nature of the Anubai concept of Breath, I could feel the Breath of the world around me. I could feel the movement within the air, the water, even within solid rock — I could hear it, like a song, a haunting, familiar melody. For the first time, I felt connected to the world around me. It was a wonderful feeling.
It was also extremely confusing. I could hear, feel, too much. Perhaps, if I had been back in the Crystal Palace beneath the Cerulean Abyss, or even by myself in some secluded part of the forests surrounding North Pine City, I might have had an easier time adjusting to my new sense of motion. But the tunnels I had found myself in, after my encounter with the Oracle, were damaged in ways that even now I find difficult to describe. There was something very wrong about the Breath in the Underworks, and I did not have nearly enough experience to unravel the ways that time and space had been twisted in that place. Continue reading
The sun shone peacefully on Fan Bin’s courtyard. The young heir of the Fan clan himself sat in his usual chair, sipping tea and enjoying his garden. His usual attendants, the mysterious Black Robe and White Robe, were nowhere to be seen; instead, two nervous young men could be seen standing behind him. Both fidgeted with uncertain expressions, and both shot the other occasional glares at the other, behind Fan Bin’s back.
Fan Bin appeared to have not noticed the two men approach, but they did not dare believe that he was unaware of their presence; neither did either man dare to speak before Fan Bin chose to acknowledge them. Although each of the two were as different from the other as possible, they both knew their lives were in the palm of Fan Bin’s hand, and they dared not offend him.
The fat young man on the right was Fan Mitzu, who had targeted Sun Mia two days before, and had been targeted by the deadly Li Stahn in turn. He had successfully escaped from both the Infinite Sky Devil assassin and the vicious purge of the market district by Fan clan soldiers, and had been discovered cowering in an alley some distance away. He had been dragged back to the clan, and made to stand before Fan Gen himself. The Clan Head had censured Fan Mitzu for ‘cowardice,’ and was set to make an example of the terrified young man; but the surprise of all, and the utter shock of Fan Mitzu, the First Young Master Fan Bin had intervened on his behalf! Continue reading
Both creatures hissed in unison, continuing to retreat from Kahen Sera’s suddenly revealed martial aura. The woman from the Green Wildness Sect stretched minutely, and the tension in her body seemed to melt away. Incongruously, even though her aura had increased exponentially, to Bi’er’s eyes, she seemed to be getting… harder to grasp; as though, even standing there with her full power on display, a single breath of wind might disperse her presence and form.
“Will you still call me mere ‘food,’ beasts?” demanded Kahen Sera. Even her voice had an eerie, wispy quality to it.
“Tsssk, the human is calling us beasts, brother,” hissed the monster on the left. Continue reading
Civilization on the Balkiri Continent was ancient, and tracing its roots would be all but impossible. Empires rise, empires fall, and mortal memory quickly forgets that they ever existed, even while plundering their remains. And because humans did not change over time, the locations they chose for their new cities were exactly the same as those chosen by their long-forgotten forefathers.
And thus it was, that North Pine City was built atop another ancient city, empty and forgotten. And not just a single city, but many; cities, and other structures less benign. Each, sunken under the weight of some disaster, or perhaps simply lost to the relentless march of time. Some had been built by humans, some had been built by intelligent monstrous beasts, and some had been built by… other things. But history is relentless, and none of the original inhabitants remained to claim their legacies.
But, whether by an accident of history or some other fell chance, bits and pieces remained. Corridors that led nowhere, ancient treasuries that had long ago been looted by brave and foolhardy hunters, murky pools that led much deeper than one would expect — a maze, a labyrinth, formed out of scraps of the past: the Underworks. Continue reading
It was a good deal later; although the passage of time, in this strange space, was not something that could be detected or measured.
Gan Zhu walked slowly down the hill. He noticed, absently, that the grass on the hillside was wavering, as though it were a reflection on a nearly still lake. Behind him, the wooden cabin was shimmering in a similar way; the Oracle, whose power supported this small world, was obviously growing tired.
Beside him, Lost Justice marched calmly. The sharp-eyed assassin paid no attention to the visible impermanence of the space around him, and instead watched Gan Zhu carefully. Gan Zhu had no intention of lashing out at his pseudo-captors, of course, and he felt that Lost Justice knew that; but it was not in the man’s nature to take his eyes off a potential threat. That he thought Gan Zhu was a greater threat than the potential collapse of the world around them was, perhaps, a measure of his confidence in the Oracle. Continue reading
“The ‘Oracle,’” Gan Zhu repeated wonderingly. “What is an ‘Oracle’?”
The woman with a warrior’s appearance hummed thoughtfully to herself. “That is an interesting question, young man. Normally, I would say that I am a messenger of the gods and spirits; but there are few spirits in this world, and no gods.”
Gan Zhu stared at her blankly, completely failing to understand her meaning. Surprisingly, it was Lost Justice who reacted to her words, straightening up from where he leaned against the wall. “Hey, wait a sec. That ain’t what ya told me earlier. Ain’t we hiding here because ya didn’t want to get caught by the gods of this world?”
“Yes, that is true,” agreed the woman, smiling at Lost Justice. “But the gods of this world are not gods; they are men.” Continue reading
Gan Zhu was shocked, and unwittingly he froze in place just like the man had ordered.
It was unfortunate, but Gan Zhu had become arrogant. Even knowing that he had made an enemy of the strong and terrible Fan clan, he hadn’t believed they could track him down so quickly, and so he hadn’t bothered with any basic precautions. In addition, this assassin had known enough about his demonic abilities as to hide his own breath — but Gan Zhu had never explained his abilities to anyone! How had the assassin known?
“Step forward,” the man ordered coldly. Gan Zhu slowly obeyed, taking two steps into the room. The man, whom he had still not laid eyes on, quickly kicked the door shut before moving around to Gan Zhu’s front, maintaining a distance between them. Continue reading
The Balkiri Continent was an extremely dangerous place to live. Especially if you were a human; unlike monstrous beasts, humans are born weak, and only the most assiduous cultivation will prevent one from being weak for one’s entire life.
Monstrous beasts, on the other hand, were naturally blessed in comparison. Not having to worry about cultivation techniques, esoteric arts, or even basic strategy, these monstrous beasts were gifted with long life, ever-growing power, and a single path leading toward invincibility. Not to mention, many types of monstrous beast were smarter than humans as well, and capable of long-term planning to an even greater degree.
Indeed, if you were to say that the Balkiri Continent belonged in its entirety to the monstrous beasts, it would not be entirely inaccurate! Continue reading
With matching glares, Li Stahn of the Infinite Sky Devil Sect and the monster hunter Gan Zhu confronted each other. On the outside, each was as confident and as domineering as the other; and on the inside, both were angry, vexed, and severely depressed, and trying very hard not to let their feelings show. An outside observer might conclude that the two young men were actually very similar — and as it happens, there was in fact someone observing their fight who came to that very conclusion!
If the two had realized that they were being watched, they no doubt would have felt even more despondent, but fortunately the watcher was one Zebu Biel! The fat man sat atop a tall tree, resting on a branch that seemed much too thin to support his apparent weight. But somehow it failed to snap, and the fat man watched the ongoing fight while occasionally bursting out into laughter, completely ignoring his precarious perch; and neither fighter had even the slightest idea that he was there.
The two fighters had paid close attention as they retreated from North Pine City, and as far as they could tell, they had not been pursued. Nevertheless by unspoken agreement, they moved while leaving no traces, as quickly as possible, to delay the inevitable pursuit of the Fan Clan. Continue reading
Sun Mia panted as she ran, pulled along by the ordinary-looking woman who had been selling vegetables to her less than half an hour ago. The woman wasn’t running at random and seemed to have a destination in mind, but Sun Mia wasn’t sure where she was being taken. She had tried to get the woman’s attention a couple of times, but the woman was ignoring her words, and dragging her along with an unusually strong grip on her wrist.
Sun Mia had been initially grateful that the woman had pulled her away from that frightening situation, but now she was getting worried. She wasn’t too familiar with this particular market, and she had no idea where the woman was taking her. Perhaps she was still in danger…
The merchant woman paid no attention to Sun Mia’s worries, however, and quickly arrived at her destination. To Sun Mia’s surprise, this location was an ordinary meat stand, run by a tough-looking old man behind the grill. Had Gan Zhu been here, he would have recognized the old man as the one who had sold him a delicious meat skewer early: Old Mehek! Continue reading