Right now, thinking back on that moment when I first appeared before Ryuu Kowa, something within me wanted to giggle at his perplexed stare, but my nature simply would not allow a giggle to surface. It was the mannerism of another incarnation.
This small one, currently standing atop an enormous lotus blossom floating high above the field, observing Mr. Kowa’s party retreat after another marginally successful raid, was not a woman capable of giggling.
I flicked a sleeve, and the lotus blossom slid horizontally, parallel to the hero riding the elklion. I was in no danger of attack from the bird soldiers. Although the racial skill ‘Cloak’ used by this lifetime’s incarnation was not a feature of my current simulated body, I had already deduced its function and created a spiritual facsimile.
Everything I did in this place, I did through spiritual energy, actually. Mana is not a concept of my world, Huajie, and it does not flow in the same manner as qi, to which I am accustomed. Qi flows from Heaven downward into the ground, passing through a being’s meridians. Mana arises from the core of the planet and spreads outward, into all things, circulating in a magician’s body through mana pathways, which are very different than meridians. Frankly the local division into pneuma and mana rather than essence, aura and qi causes me considerable trouble, unless I take time to consider every move and adjust every technique.
Thus I use the mystical principles I comprehended while studying at the knee of my mortal mother. Although I distressed my peers often with my practice, these techniques, so otherworldly in the eyes of the qi refinement disciples of Mother’s sect, saved me many times in my long life.
That is not to say that the mana skills and techniques of my young incarnation in this world were of no use. Right now, I was reproducing Tiana’s Cloak, which used the innate spiritual skills of her vampire half to control the Darkness mana around her to deny the information of her presence to all observers.
Having nothing further to observe– the swift Elklion could easily outrun the dog soldiers and Mr. Kowa’s streams of [Earth Bullet] fire made them too dangerous for the bird soldiers to follow, so once they were running, they were as good as free– I ascended to follow after the skymaid.
If this were Huajie, I would have stepped through space to arrive next to her. Such maneuvers were indeed available on Huade, using Dark magic rather than spatial control, and I suspected that Tiana’s young companion Brigit secretly knew them, but Tiana did not. I had yet to deduce the means by which they operated in this universe’s physics.
Even so, Orho’s method of swimming through the air is slow, in comparison to my Heavenly Lotus Blossom Platform technique. It was easy to imagine her as a Siamese Fighting Fish from Earth, lazily swimming in a bowl. I easily caught up with her, now already ascended beyond the firing range of her pursuers. I dropped my Cloak technique and appeared beside her.
“Lady Orho, good afternoon,” I greeted her while placing my right hand atop my left fist and bowing. I was facing her rather than the direction we were flying, for etiquette’s sake.
She shuddered visibly, surprised by my sudden appearance, then recovered and nodded.
“This incarnation is merely a humble scholar bearing the name Fan Li, Lady Orho.”
I… she appeared about to protest, then nodded. Yes, Scholar.
“How do you assess the latest raid?”
We had a somewhat greater effect, I felt. We were still beaten off too quickly. Fortunately, I don’t think the enemy has perceived our goal yet. Else, they would be purposefully driving the ball toward the center of the field.
I nodded while contemplating her words.
“My assessment is that Mr. Kowa has not yet successfully executed the technique,” I stated. “Too few of his attempts to drive away the attacking bird soldiers land hits.”
To be frank, I do not understand this technique, Orho confessed.
“You are not a mortal,” I told her. “You cannot perceive the portion of the instruction that he is receiving via communion.”
You even use terms I do not understand. You– this incarnation of you– must come from a truly alien world, Scholar, this being descended from the immortal realms had the temerity to tell me.
“The world of mortals is indeed alien to you, in the final analysis,” I responded with a smile. Then, I thought of an unrelated topic that had been nibbling at my curiosity, and decided this was a good moment to ask. “Lady Orho, I have something I wish to know about you. Unless you object to answering, could you kindly illuminate me?”
A little frown appeared on the skymaid’s brow. If you ask, I will naturally answer, Comman… Scholar.
“You have cultivated a human-like form. You have achieved in your evolution the mouth, throat and breath of a beautiful woman. Why do you not use them to produce a voice for speaking?”
Orho pursed her lips, then replied, It is… a fundamentally vain reason. Shall I reveal my vanity to you?
“It is entirely your own choice. By no means do I demand that you answer such an idle question, Lady Orho.”
She was silent for a space, then confessed, It is simply that I have yet to cultivate a beautiful voice. Vocalizations do not yet come easily to me.
My young incarnation, from the back of my mind, wanted to blurt out, After all these thousands of years? Really?
But I considered it rationally and nodded. The only vocalizations that I have known fish to make are croaking, grunting and drumming noises. A fish that sings in beauty like a bird… in fifteen thousand years, I cannot say that I have encountered such a creature.
Of course, I did not entirely know Orho’s standard of beauty. She found the human female form pleasing enough to cultivate herself into a truly exquisite example, but chose not to adopt it entirely. Instead, she kept her grand, gleaming fish tail, reminiscent of Huajie’s dragons and probably related to them in some way, and decorated herself with grand streamers and fins and glorious coloration that rendered the finest fish in the Dragon Emperor’s garden ponds mere mudskippers in comparison. What precisely would constitute a voice beautiful enough to use, in her mind?
I smiled to myself, letting a mild lifting of the lips show to her, and bowed. I chose not to pursue it further. Perhaps it was fear that I would learn that my own voice was ugly by her standards.
In another half-hour, I heard Ka’s spiritual voice. We have returned to the camp. I believe we have eluded all pursuers.
I saluted Orho again and stated, “I shall go down and confirm that our camp remains secure. Please visit us before you take your leave.”
She nodded back. I shall, Commander.
Time may have flowed like water for me in my own lifetime, but the same could not be said for the impatient young man below. Rather than fly to him, I stepped out of the world into the background, and then back in at the aforementioned camp.
Mr. Kowa was scowling at a cup of tea, provided by the humble serving maid who had been his mighty steed only minutes before. Ka is a remarkably adaptable creature.
I saluted and bowed, hand in fist. “Mr. Kowa.”
He looked up at me without being startled. Perhaps he was beginning to develop some spiritual perception at last.
“Ti… Fan Li.”
The corners of my mouth rose a bit. “I may perceive my name as Ti Fan Li by the time we finish here.”
His eyes rolled, then he stood and faced me, and attempted to recreate my salute. I raised my sleeve to my mouth to prevent any rudeness from showing in my expression.
“What precisely was that, Mr. Kowa?”
His brow furrowed. “I thought, if you are teaching me, I should treat you like a teacher.”
I bowed. “The respect is communicated. I appreciate it, Mr. Kowa.”
Then I covered my mouth with my sleeve again, because an outright smirk was fighting to make itself known. “For the future, a man covers his right fist with his left hand. You saluted as a woman. But you should probably be stopping your right fist with your left palm instead, as a martial student.”
He looked uncertain, so I told him, “My incarnation from Earth feels that you should have witnessed it in martial plays of the theater, from the land whose culture resembles mine.”
That was the best I could do, to render the words Chinese Martial Arts Movie in the language we were speaking. What a true fantasy world he and Robert came from.
My translation worked. Comprehension dawned, and he raised his elbows and struck his left palm with his fist, executing it correctly.
“Well done,” I critiqued. “Let us sit and discuss the raid.”
I materialized cushions for us and we sat. This control of the environment around me is remarkably convenient.
Ka provided me with a cup of her excellent tea and I sipped while contemplating my words. But naturally, Mr. Kowa forged ahead with his.
“I couldn’t manage it in the middle of shooting, like that.”
Naturally, he knew that I was going to ask about his assignment to effectively wield his will during combat, first.
“But you indeed tried,” I nodded.
“I tried. I guess I need to practice harder, right?”
“No,” I stated. “That would accomplish the result eventually, but that’s not what you need, is it?”
He looked at me as if I were speaking some foreign tongue. I was quite certain I had used Dorian.
I sighed. “This is your… What is it, ‘shounen manga’ mentality?… coming through, Mr. Kowa. I’m sure it served you well while training the sword and the magic skills that you wield. It is the wrong tool, here.”
“Ka, refill Mr. Kowa’s cup,” I directed.
The serving girl dutifully stood and carried the pot to use. A flow similar to qi informed me that she was surreptitiously feeding Fire mana into it to warm the liquid within. She poured it silently, bowed, and returned.
“Thank you,” he told her.
“Contemplate the steam rising from that cup, and the surface of the liquid, Mr. Kowa, as you retreat into the sea of your heart.”
The first time I taught him this way, he had bitterly resisted, muttering something about ‘Buddhist temples and superstitious nonsense’. As best I can tell, some of the ‘superstitious nonsense’ those Buddhist temples imparted was valuable wisdom he would have done well to learn.
Eventually, I had convinced him to learn my meditation technique.
As he settled into his mind, I opened my spirit and subtly guided the way. This communion is not the same as the spiritual brainwashing techniques that evil masters of my world employ, but it uses a parallel principle. Instead of forcing a mind into one’s chosen pattern, as they do, one merely points the way. It is up to the student to follow or not, and it is up to the student to comprehend what he is being shown.
As his physical sight grew irrelevant and his mind came to the correct posture for the next step, I began revealing a vision to him.
For this lesson, I showed him the image of a young fighter with the heart of a dragon. He did not need to know that my beloved foster son starred in this show. I showed him a ‘martial arts movie’ of a child of perhaps ten years old, going through his forms. He stood in an open grassland, somewhere far from civilization, far from any structure at all, somewhere where even barbarian tribesmen rarely roamed. The sun baked the vast fields as he began his practice. He demonstrated one pattern, then the next, then onward through the sixteen that I had taught him at that time. Then he sat cross legged in the grass and closed his eyes.
In the air around him, the air began whipping about, and in the spiritual perception that Tiana would call ‘Fairy Sight’, he saw a figure made of qi, going through the identical formations. It was not the boy doing the display; the formation in which he was seated was replaying his moves for him. In his mind’s eye, he studied it.
A frown clouded his expression. He sprang up and began fighting against the qi impression of himself. The two sparred, there in the open grassland.
As Mr. Kowa watched, he should have witnessed what had triggered the boy. I had secretly guided his forms, and he became upset upon discovering it in the replay. The guidance had appeared to him only because his spiritual perception had improved to that point. I confess that I was intensely proud of him when he caught my little prank.
When he attacked, planning to spoil the replay in a fit of pique, the formation went into its sparring mode and fought back, using the simulacrum of the boy’s body.
“Sensei, how did you do that?” Mr. Kowa wondered. For some reason, he would begin addressing me that way, once we were deep into our lessons. So he had understood what he saw, but not how I achieved it. Very well. We had all afternoon to review it.
“I will replay it again. Watch, as he goes through his forms, and observe how I wield my will upon his movements.”
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