Chapter 436 – In the Presence of the Divine

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Curator politely guided this scholar through the grand “gallery” where the entrances to the many training scenarios hung on display as artworks. Having more access to the memories of the immortal Senhion who was our great predecessor, it had become possible to recognize that many of these were her own work, having enjoyed an Immortal Realm method of painting as both her hobby and her main mode of meditation.

This humble one had, during her own lifetime, practiced calligraphy as a means of meditation, and found it intriguing to realize that it had been a habit carried over from a distant past she’d had no memory of.

We reached the small room where the painting of the Lotus Pavilion, a work created not by Senhion but by our parallel existence Kanon. She had no Mortal Realm body to paint with, so it must have been created within the simulation network and then recreated for her by Little Jia in the physical world. This was a reprint.

Curator turned and gave a deep bow, then held her hand out not toward the Lotus Pavilion but to the opposite wall and the oddly named ‘Garden Pavilion’, Senhion’s painting of our original mother’s beloved refuge floating in the infinite sky of the Fundamental Realm.

“Rather than your intended destination, I am requested to send you in this direction,” Curator stated.

The proper owner of this body would frown, an act this small one rarely commits, and in her part of our consciousness, she indeed grew displeased. Someone was yet again trying to push us in a different direction than she wanted to go. But my smile remained placid, as is my practice.

But it had to be noted. “A request has a requestor, whom you have not named.”

“The senior was most insistent,” Curator stated.

Whether named Senhion, Tiana or this humble scholar, we are the owner of this place, and Curator has no confusion in this regard, but there are certain guests who must not be offended, so this scholar gave an understanding nod.

After all, a particular senior who should not be offended had spoken, a very short while ago.

Guessing that she was the senior in question, this humble one stated, “If Gaia can confirm it is safe for Mother’s soul, please increase the time compression of the simulation system to the maximum. It is necessary to minimize the time passing on Huade during this visit.”

“Certainly, Commander,” Curator agreed.

Stepping up to Senhion’s painting, within which an Immortal-style inscription scrolled an ancient poem, and placing my palm on the protective glass, this scholar operated the system and transferred in.

Tiana’s wings were still materialized, and instinctively spread as our body appeared mid-air at perfectly the position from which the observer views the painting. But this humble one used my dao technique to grow my lotus flower beneath our feet, removing the need to fly.

Please switch our appearance to that of my previous incarnation, Fan Li, this scholar directed, and in an instant, my customary body and garments appeared. 

“What? Haha!” a familiar male voice came from behind. “How’d I get here?”

And a tiny, high voice also squeaked, “Out? Why?”

Controlling my surprise, this humble scholar simply looked over a shoulder and stated, “This humble scholar greets you, Sir Durandal. And you as well, Miss Lucy.”

A moment of thought made the answer clear. Although Durandal’s sword body, Lucy’s magic stone and Gaia’s amulet had been on my person in Tiana’s body, they were not part of Fan Li’s ensemble.

“It seems when the system switched to Fan Li’s body, you lost your vessels, so it gave you your alternative ones.”

The handsome warrior grinned and scratched his cheek. “Sure was an awful surprise.”

Tiny Lucy buzzed around Fan Li’s chest, looking for her stone in vain, remaining bewildered.

“Please be at ease, Little One,” this scholar told her, “We will sort it out and return you to your comfortable stone as soon as possible.”

The miniature pixie orbited the giant lotus blossom, staring at the two human-sized figures on it with a continuing look of bewilderment. Perhaps the spirit understood enough physics to grasp that something very peculiar was going on, for a giant flower to float mid-air, carrying passengers.

With a thought, this scholar Willed the lotus blossom toward the Garden Pavilion, while noticing that there was no garden in evidence here to explain the name. The explanation for it did not appear anywhere in the memories recovered from Senhion thus far.

The expectation had been that the Senior would be waiting, but there was also no person on the pavilion. It appeared to be entirely empty, both visually and in the spiritual senses. Nevertheless, this scholar stepped off the blossom and gestured for Durandal to do the same.

He scratched the back of his head as he stepped onto the pavilion floor and noted, “I have absolutely no idea what we are here for, My Lady.”

“This humble scholar does not require such a lofty address, Sir Durandal. The simple name ‘Fan Li’ is more than sufficient. We are here because a senior wished for it. But I do not see…”

In one blink of an eye, quite literally, a woman appeared, seated upon a cushion, clad in ethereal cloth wrapping her petite body with cloud-like lightness. She balanced a steaming cup of tea on her hand and various delicacies lay on platters set out on a blanket spreading before her.

My assumption, formed from Curator’s words and Gaia’s message, had been that Gaia would be the one waiting, but this was a great senior of a much higher realm than the goddess in question. 

Her spiritual presence was like a ghost. No, less than a ghost, which possesses a sliver of presence. This being was not present at all, at least not according to my senses. Which could mean only one of two things. She was either some form of projection, or she was able to completely suppress perception of her being even when she was visually apparent. But she was indeed no projection. The flow of mana clearly proved it.

But she was indeed visible, and a vision to behold. She was a heart-stopping beauty, with skin like white jade and hair like onyx-black silk. Her eyes shone like diamonds as they surveyed me and her red lips, like a tiny rosebud, curved into an impish smile as her thoughts came to my mind.

To become so smitten by your own mother, those thoughts tinkled with humor like silver bells, and in such turns of poetry. Have you truly forgotten my face to that extent, child?

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Shock at realizing her identity tore through me, and I fell to my knees, then down to my hands to kowtow.

“Great Senior, this humble one greets you. This Fan Li does not dare claim to be your amazing daughter. This small one is a mere fragment of the child you sent to this world.”

The greatest and most amazing sage that ever lived on Huajie was an ant compared to this being, hundreds of millions of years old. Even goddesses like Eurybia and Gaia were very junior to her. It would be too presumptuous to claim to be her daughter.

You are my daughter, came the rebuttal, blunt and brooking no argument. I know my own child. Come here and take your seat.

This scholar glanced up at Sir Durandal, who was staring back with a bewildered look, then gathered myself up and walked gingerly forward.

The woman– she had no name in human speech– gave a sigh.

“I shall use Mortal words, so that all present may hear me,” she stated gently as this scholar knelt meekly on the cushion provided. She looked over at my unexpected companions.

“My daughter calls you Durandal,” she stated, then looked over at the little mini-pixie now investigating all the nooks and crannies of the pavilion, “and that one is Lucy. This place is a recreation of one of my homes in the Immortal Realm, so I suppose it is okay for me to welcome you to it. Your presence is accidental, but I will not begrudge you my hospitality. Please sit and enjoy.”

Durandal pursed his lips, then took a seat, cross-legged on the cushion that had appeared for him. Although he grinned and admitted, “I don’t really have the habit of eating or drinking, My Lady.”

“Ah yes. You are a holy sword, as I understand it? Divine artifacts which transform into human figures are nothing new to me. They usually learn how to enjoy food and drink eventually.”

She sipped the tea she had been holding, then looked at this Fan Li.

“Child, I’ve poured for you,” she told me. “Please drink.”

The cup at my place was indeed filled with tea, to my surprise. She had not moved and this humble one never saw nor sensed either cup or tea until she mentioned it. With a nervous laugh, this Fan Li cautiously picked it up. It was at a perfect temperature for drinking.

This humble scholar hesitated, then noted, while looking down at her cup, “Great Senior, the current life’s incarnation sent a request for guidance to your exalted self, which this humble one wonders if you have heard her question?”

“I’ll not answer,” she stated primly. “Not while I’m being addressed as ‘Great Senior’. What mother would make her child be so distant?”

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This Fan Li looked up at the Great Immortal before her and found herself at a loss for words. A thousand and five hundred years of rigid adherence to etiquette and formality wouldn’t allow any address of familiarity for such an exalted being. The senior that this humble one faced was ancient beyond imagination.

Yet the divine being merely arched her eyebrows expectantly and looked back at this humble scholar, waiting with the patience that only a being more than a half-billion years old could possess.

– Let me take over, Senior. It’s time for me to stop being such a wuss anyway.

The girl who had thrown control over to this scholar in frustration, unable to see the right path forward and hoping that Fan Li could find it, had summoned her pluck at last. With a nod, this scholar sent a quiet command to the system, to switch our form back to her body…

… Fortunately, I did not fumble the cup of tea that Fan Li had been holding. But I did blink in surprise when I realized Durandal was still there. For some reason, Fan Li had chosen to have me wear the same Imperial Court dress that she had been wearing, with its draping sleeves, soft silken material, and distinct lack of Durandal’s scabbard or my sword harness.

A single pendant did appear on my chest, though. Mother’s amulet was still missing, but Lucy’s stone had reappeared. She made a happy noise, then steered a straight line back to it.

I cleared my throat, noticing Senhion’s mother still staring at me. Fan Li had fully exited, somehow forcibly expanding my mind up to ‘Little Sen’ state, and yet, still, I felt a serious sense of unsuitability. I could understand exactly why she had balked so hard at the idea of calling this divinity something as familiar as ‘Mother’.

But I could sense it. Senhion’s memory of her life before Huade, as a young Celestial Maiden in her mother’s care. And this was indeed the being who had tendered that care.

Tears welled up, which belonged to my earliest incarnation, and I stammered,”M… Mother.”

I felt a tender wave wash through me, a sort of warm glow, and recognized it as one of the Immortal styles of nonverbal communication. This particular flavor could be translated as ‘It’s been a long time’, or ‘Welcome home’ or perhaps ‘It’s good to see you’, but with the distinct meaning, always and forever, of ‘I love you’.

“That’s much better,” she declared gently. “I suppose it was too difficult for the you of that lifetime to address me informally, but it’s better this way, anyhow. The you of this lifetime is the one with the concern in question. Isn’t it so?”

I tried to form a cogent reply, then simply pressed my lips together and gave a tight nod. It really was horribly challenging to try to form words in front of this being.

“Relax and drink your tea,” she counseled. “Breathe and think lightly of your concerns, so you can treat them logically, without anxiety. That junior of mine is able to take direct control of her amulet and protect the children within while you are here, so you can take as much time as you need.”

She gave a soft sigh, then grew a mild smile. “I shall be taking my friend to task, I think. I did permit him to recruit you to this world, so I bear responsibility as well, but what a state you are in!”

I finally managed to bring the cup to my lips and sip. It was a nostalgic flavor, one of the celestial teas that the divine being before me had always enjoyed when visiting this particular home… or rather, the real version of it, in the Fundamental Realm

I nearly spat it out when she mused, “And to have sent one daughter to him and ended up with three is quite a perplexing development. Whatever shall I do with three daughters?”

She gave a tiny giggle that suggested she wasn’t angry but happy with the idea, but my mind spun wildly. What in Heaven could she mean? Perhaps Kanon would make it two, but…

“You don’t need to figure it out, Child. They’re both coming in now. I summoned the other two once I deduced you would be coming.”

Exactly as she predicted, Kanon appeared at one of the entrances to the pavilion. So she had indeed meant her as one of the three. But as for the third…?

“Big Sis!”

- my thoughts:

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Having a bit of a family reunion today.

Although life is still throwing curveballs at me, so that I'm a little late posting today's chapter, I'm at least finally squared away with the software. Between the folks at the software company and a kind soul on Reddit, we were able to chase down a solution and I'm back in business.

But issues at work kept me from starting this chapter until I finished work today. I literally started this one at 5, and it is now 8:40 as I'm typing this author's note. Written in under four hours. Fortunately, I had held in my head a pretty good idea of what would be in the chapter, or this would have been impossible.

Now to do a quick proof-read and grammar check, then cross my fingers and post.

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