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Senhion, despite all the grand architecture scattered throughout this small world, had kept only a little cottage, half-sunken into the hillside, for her own residence. Her reason was simple; she rarely stayed overnight in this place. She had stayed in the sea for the majority of her time on Huade, and in various land residences later, and at the end, during the war, she mostly lived in the ‘outer cave’ on her mountain, the little cavern where the connection to this small world sat at the time. Although that place collapsed in an earthquake long after her death, it had been both her command bunker and her home during the war.
My little cottage, the freestanding equivalent of an efficiency apartment, had barely enough room for the four people now gathered here, but the dinner that Little Jia served us cleverly took that into account. Rather than seating us around the tiny table to eat a normal meal, her girls served us a picnic on blankets in the garden, alongside the newly installed pool.
All signs of construction were gone, other than a slightly too-clean boundary between pool and grass that suggested a section of lawn had simply been cut out directly, as if using a laser. Something with that level of precision was probably used, actually.
The daylight was currently fading, and the night sky was currently somewhere in the vicinity of royal blue, so the serving girls had positioned poles similar to tiki torches around us, but having magic lanterns emitting a gentle light. We sat on pillows and the girls placed kaiseki-style dishes on the raised trays in front of us. It was all quite similar to the dinner we had at the Fairy King’s Castle the other night. Little Jia really had been surveying the regional culture.
“Have you all become accustomed to the environment here?” I wondered as we finished the first dish, a little appetizer of sliced, seasoned vegetables and a small glass of sake.
“About that…” Chiara said as she set down her chopsticks. “It feels very… peculiar here.”
My lips curling up slightly, I wondered, “How so?”
“Well… I feel… oddly energetic here?” she asked. She flicked a brief glance toward Ryuu as she said that.
In addition to using this place to train her Servants, Senhion did often bring friends here for rest and recuperation. Naturally, that number had included those close enough to be lovers. I knew immediately what she had thought about when she looked his way.
She probably hadn’t meant to refer to her libido when she chose those words. Instead, she recognized in the middle of her sentence that her greater mental energy and the greater stamina they had likely been experiencing at night might be related.
By sheer force of willpower, the smirk in my mind did not show up on my face. I told her, “I told you already that this place has a much higher spiritual energy density, right?”
Dilorè raised an eyebrow, “Although, you didn’t really explain what that means to them. I tried to tell them while you were gone, but my knowledge on the subject is very thin.”
I frowned. “You haven’t begun practicing cultivation yet?”
Elders had made their children begin before their first century was done, and fairies seemed to be on roughly the same growth schedule otherwise. As a Xa-Ne, Dilorè would have started over a century ago.
“Some of the girls that I grew up with have already begun,” she nodded. “I’ve been focused on acquiring strength.”
“So nobody has ever sat down and explained things to you.” A slight sigh slipped out of me as I gave her a sad smile. “Now I know why you fell for Áne’s trap so quickly, My Lady. You need spiritual strength as well physical strength.”
As Little Jia’s girls began taking the appetizer dishes off and replacing them with bowls of clear soup, Dilorè’s forehead wrinkled up with doubt.
I shook my head and explained, “I’m not saying falling for her trap was your fault. Even if you had been working full time at it, you wouldn’t have been strong enough against something that strong in the long run. But you should have at least been able to notice it while it was happening. My concern is that you need spiritual strength in a regular fairy fight. Even if you’ve only accumulated a modest quantity of spirit essence, you can generate a substantial amount of spiritual strength. If you haven’t learned how to use it and defend against it, then anyone who knows how to throw spiritual pressure around has an edge on you through intimidation. You’ve seen Serera fight, right?”
Dilorè grew a slightly mystified smile. “Well, she certainly can be frightening. When she starts laughing at the top of her lungs while she’s fighting, she’s downright terrifying.”
I replied like it was fact, although it was just my educated guess concerning why Serera did that. “She’s throwing mental pressure at her enemy through that laugh. I saw her holding off five or six knights by herself that way. Her higher cultivation is her edge.”
Ryuu picked this point to demand, “What are you talking about, anyway?”
“Spiritual pressure,” I told him. “Mental strength. I know you’ve read something like it in shounen manga. I wish I knew your word for it, but it’s your killing intent, the force of your spirit, the will that you put behind your sword and your fist. If you know what you’re doing, you can use it like a weapon even without your sword or your fist.”
His brow furrowed deep as his eyes narrowed. “I know how to put mana into my sword or my fist, but you sound like you’re talking about something else.”
“I am,” I nodded. “Mana and magic, those are part of the physical world, you see. We’re talking about a power that emanates from the Spiritual Realm.”
That furrow just dug deeper. “I know this world has a lot of crazy things in it, but someone has always shown them to me. I’ve never seen this ‘spiritual strength’.”
I put down the bowl of soup that I had yet to take a sip out of, then channeled my skills from Fan Li once again. I prepared my spiritual voice, but didn’t say a word. I just stared Ryuu Kowa in the eyes while bearing down on him with it. I didn’t use the same sheer strength I had used on Áne, but I didn’t hold back that much, either.
His face went white and his mouth went flat. He set his bowl down as his eyes grew wide.
Human beings actually do accumulate a small amount of spirit essence during their lives, because like all species they have the ability to absorb it naturally. Actually, humans naturally accumulate it much faster than most races. Unfortunately, they have the handicap of a short lifespan, and rarely accumulate enough to do anything with it. In a world like Huajie, or like Daq or Kwelabi’s worlds, they can learn to do a lot more. On Earth or Huade, they only learn basic things, more or less by accident, as the result of their training in other subjects, and they rarely realize they are doing them. A few, like advanced yogis or qigong masters or martial artists, do a bit better than the rest, due to having at least an inkling about what is actually going on.
Ryuu’s eyes remained locked onto mine, and he was impressing me. Although he was visibly trembling with effort, he was resisting longer than I had expected. Thanks to his growth cheat, his subconscious absorption of spirit essence had probably already exceeded any of those masters on Earth, and possibly he had exceeded Dilorè in her two hundred plus years of accumulating by default. Fairies and other non-mortals can learn to absorb it consciously much faster, but if they are just accumulating it naturally through daily life, they lack a human’s natural speed at it.
I could feel his resistance beginning to crumble under the load though. With the advantage of my spiritual vessel, I had already long since passed him up. And today, in the last few hours, during one intense, four hour round of meditation in this environment that had brought the full knowledge of multiple lifetimes into practice, I had probably increased the spirit essence that I possessed when I arrived by as much as ten times.
Something like the fight-or-flight instinct went off inside him, and he leaped to his feet and jumped back. He crouched as if he was prepared to fight, or ward off an attack, or something, but it was obvious that he didn’t know what he could do. He needed to defend, but he didn’t even understand the attack. He simply saw my eyes and felt a deep threat.
It had been a closely focused attack, targeted strictly on Ryuu. Chiara and Dilorè were both looking back and forth between us, plainly struggling to understand what was happening. Little Jia and the serving girls simply stood attentively and watched.
Satisfied, I dropped the assault completely. I turned my face away from him immediately as a chuckle bubbled up out of me unbidden. It was probably just stress relief, and I didn’t want him to think I was mocking him.
Looking at him sidelong, I noted, “You did a lot better than I predicted, Mr. Kowa. Well done.”
“What the hell was that?” he demanded.
I picked up the soup bowl, took a sip, and placed it back down. “That was the demonstration that you requested.”
“So it’s some kind of mind trick?” Chiara wondered.
“I suppose it could be called that,” I agreed. “Although what I did was just a simple brute-force application of something with many more important uses.”
Dilorè asked, “Is that what you brought us here to learn?”
“In a way,” I agreed. “I brought you here to acquire the strength you need. That was simply one kind of strength. At this level of spiritual density, you can indeed accumulate spirit essence far faster than on Huade. But we are going to work on many other aspects.”
“Why us, specifically?” Chiara asked.
“Why did I start with you, you mean. I’m planning to bring Mr. Kowa’s entire team here eventually. I would have brought them all, right away, but they had to complete our mission of bringing the princess to safety.”
I considered the rest of my answer for a moment, then gave it. “I’m starting with Mr. Kowa so that he can see what it does, and so his companions can see what it does for him. I included Dilorè because I need her to become strong enough to be at my back in a fairy fight. And I included you because, to be frank, you’re still my prisoner.”
Ryuu scowled upon hearing that, but Chiara’s crimes and her outlook had already been fully explained to him. When I looked at him to confirm, he gave a dissatisfied nod. He understood.
I finished my soup in silence, as the dinner conversation had died. When I swallowed the last of it, I decided to add one thing. “The reason I am training you anyway, My Lady, is that I intend to ask His Majesty to commute your death sentence to slavery and sell you to me.”
She looked up and a very complex expression grew. Hope and gratitude were fighting it out with objection and dismay. “Your Highness, I…”
I interrupted her. “I know that you want to do the honorable thing and accept your death as the deserved punishment.”
Frankly I thought she was wallowing in that fact a little. I had no doubt this fling with Ryuu had its beginnings in her brooding over her mistake and her foreseeable death. Ryuu had probably started out by sensing that she was down and trying to cheer her up. He’s not some sort of predator, and I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose. It’s just that his established pattern is to comfort a distressed female and end up in bed with her.
“I simply don’t think it’s enough,” I said, overriding her. “The demons used you to go after Amelia for some reason, so I will use you to get her vengeance upon them, for as long as you can be of use.”
“Tiana, couldn’t you say that better?” Ryuu protested.
Ignoring him, I continued speaking to her. “I have no guarantee that the King will agree, but until we hold your trial, I intend to make you as valuable to our cause as possible, for Amelia’s sake and the Kingdom’s sake.”
With a nod while looking down, she answered, “I understand”.
We ate the next course in silence, even though it deserved comment. It was two pieces each of excellent maguro tuna, scallop, yellowfin and squid sashimi. Sadly for it, I had managed to kill the mood. It wasn’t until Little Jia’s crew brought the next plate, a small serving of salmon teriyaki, that Dilorè returned to the original subject.
“So, exactly what should we be doing here?”
As I cut a bite-size piece of fish with my chopsticks, I said, “For one more night, just enjoy your rest. We’ll begin training in the morning.”
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