“Walking, walking, walking. Looking to the east and to the west, looking under every stone. Oh great physical spirit, where are you? Lequilier is searching for you. It’d be great if you’d appear, but equally great if you didn’t. Lequilier isn’t that determined to find you.”
Lequilier hummed a song to himself as he walked. It wasn’t tuneless to the point of ear-grating, but it certainly wouldn’t be able to move a person to tears.
The song reflected his current situation. As one of the Servile Spirits, logically, he should have been attending to the needs and whims of a physical spirit. His tribesmen had been urging him to find a physical spirit to serve for quite a while now. However, he had lived among the humans and been revered as a great spirit binder for far too long. Whenever the thought that he would have to stoop to serve someone else crossed his mind―even it if were a physical spirit―Lequilier was quite reluctant to accept his fate.
He also found it strange that his tribesmen were pushing him to find a physical spirit; after all, very few of his tribesmen had been successful in finding a physical spirits to serve themselves. Even if they did find one, it didn’t mean that their work was automatically over. After finding a physical spirit, they had to obtain the spirit’s permission become they could follow them around. Servile Spirits who could complete that required step of the process were few in number.
Also, quite unfortunately, physical spirits were few in number as well. Of their small numbers, most were guardian spirits who made difficult communication partners. All that the guardian spirits ever had in mind was how to fulfill their duties; they didn’t need someone to wait and attend to them. Everyone outside of their spectrum of protection was meaningless to them. It would be an impossible task to get a guardian spirit to nod his head in permission.
If the obstinate guardian spirits who didn’t know the meaning of compromise were a closed path, then most of the spirits left over to serve were the cunning and merciless spirit beasts. Lequilier didn’t want to follow such spirit beasts for the rest of his life. He didn’t want to be ordered to kill or even worse―find food for his master.
Spirit beasts didn’t consume animals or plants. Most of the spirit beasts in Xi Zong ate humans, while in Xiasha, they probably ate Danyas. Lequilier didn’t want to be ordered to capture either of those two types of “food” for his master, and then have to watch as they got crushed inside the beast’s jaw.
That would be disgusting!
Soaring Phoenix was probably the only spirit beast who had a good reputation, but he was far too difficult to find. Lequilier didn’t even know how long it had been since anyone had last heard any word of Soaring Phoenix’s appearance. It would be a foolish dream to go looking for him!
Thus, Lequilier was very troubled by his dilemma. As a Servile Spirit, it would be a lie if he said he didn’t feel any urge to serve under a physical spirit. However, he still couldn’t accept the idea that he had to serve under someone other than himself. As a result, he didn’t especially want to find a physical spirit.
Then let’s go find Soaring Phoenix! If I can’t find him, then that’s to be expected. If I do find him and become his servant however, then I’ll become a legend within my own tribe!
“A legend… Haha, that’s going to be difficult.” Lequilier laughed to himself.
His tribesmen were satisfied with his choice. Up until then, nobody within the tribe had become Soaring Phoenix’s servant. Even though Lequilier’s choice was nothing more than wishful thinking, it could also be considered as an ambitious and magnificent goal if looked in another perspective.
With the blessings of his tribesmen, Lequilier set out towards the east.
In legends, Soaring Phoenix was said to live in Xiasha. The humans and the Danyas were still fighting a war with each other and unfortunately, the battlefield was right in the path Lequilier had to take to reach Xiasha. However, it seemed like the war was reaching its end. As long as he was careful, there shouldn’t be any problems, right? Even if he did come across danger, he could just hide inside the mountains and throw a few jars of spirit medicine at anyone who dared follow after him. Who would be able to catch him then?
With that thought, Lequilier hummed to himself and continued on his foolish journey. Despite his initial bravado, his song eventually grew weaker and weaker, until he finally stopped humming altogether. He paused in his steps and stared at the thicket beside him, feeling as if some strange, bloodthirsty beast would rush out at him at any moment!
No, it would actually be better if it were just a mere beast! Lequilier pulled a long face. He hadn’t expected to find the tracks of a physical spirit so soon. Plus, it seemed like the spirit was quite close to his current location.
Servile Spirits had a special ability: They could sense the presence of a physical spirit as long as it was within a certain range. The range differed with each person’s ability, but Lequilier was very talented, making him a well-known figure within his tribe. His tribesmen had always placed high hopes on him.
After discovering the presence of a physical spirit near him, Lequilier couldn’t help but feel tense. It couldn’t be Nightclaw, right?
Where there was war, there was Nightclaw.
Lequilier’s tribe was very knowledgeable on physical spirits. If he came across Nightclaw, he knew he would be doomed! Completely doomed!
As a Servile Spirit, he had no resistance against the pull of a physical spirit; the only exception would be if he already had a physical spirit to serve. If he came across a physical spirit, he would be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Even if he were to be burned to ashes in the process, he had no way of resisting the allure of the flame.
Even if Nightclaw was one of the most troublesome spirits, many members of Lequilier’s tribe were still willing to serve him. Even worse, Nightclaw brought a large pack of beasts with him everywhere he went. Due to their large numbers, very few of Nightclaw’s pack would be averse to the idea of having an extra servant around to attend to their needs.
Did that mean he had no way of escaping once he came across Nightclaw?
The moment the question had formed in his mind, Lequilier obtained his answer. As if they had a mind of their own, his legs unfolded and sprinted toward the direction of the physical spirit. Even if he knew he was probably heading straight toward Nightclaw, he still couldn’t resist the pull.
“Woe is me!” Lequilier’s face crumpled with grief, but his legs only sprinted faster. Even if he was crying out in frustration on the surface, he was still very excited on the inside.
Although the physical spirit’s presence seemed to be close, Lequilier still had to run for a long distance. When he reached the shores of a lake, his footsteps finally came to a stop. He glanced around the lake and couldn’t help but to sigh in relief when he noticed the visible lack of ferocious beasts he had initially envisioned.
Everyone knew that Nightclaw always had a pack of beasts around him. If the spirit he had sensed was indeed Nightclaw, then there should have been numerous beasts lounging around the lake.
However, Lequilier didn’t spot any beasts even after glancing around for a while. But the physical spirit was close, very close.
Lequilier was mystified, the spirit was definitely there, but he couldn’t spot even a hint of their existence. Physical spirits weren’t hard to find. Once he had a sense of their direction, he could easily pinpoint their exact location. Rather, physical spirits radiated such an intense light that it was hard to ignore their presence.
However, everything within Lequilier’s sight was green. The blue-green of the trees, the dark green waters of the lake, and the bright green of the verdant grass, there wasn’t anything else around.
Could it be a plant-type physical spirit? But it should still shine brightly to my eyes…
Filled with suspicions, Lequilier made his way around the lake and began to search around. He even parted the branches of a small thicket to look inside, but immediately felt stupid in doing so. How could a physical spirit hide in that sort of place!
Lequilier felt more and more idiotic the longer he conducted his search. Finally, he stopped rifling around and stood still. He closed his eyes and focused on his sensing. He then moved a tiny step and paused again. Only after making sure that each step was taking him closer to his quarry did he make the next step…
Right in front!
Lequilier opened his eyes to the sight of a tree. He stared closely at the tree in front of him. There were physical spirits who took on the form of trees; the Spirit Tree of the Leaf Tribe was one example. However, no matter how he looked at the tree in front of him, it was a completely ordinary tree. It couldn’t possibly be a Spirit Tree.
What was going on? Lequilier scratched his head. The only thing he hadn’t done was knock on the trunk of the tree to see if there were anything special about it. Exactly where was the physical spirit?
“Hey!” Lequilier called out. “Is there a physical spirit around here? Answer me! Even if you aren’t one, answer me!”
Thoroughly discouraged, Lequilier had yelled without expecting a response. However, after calling out aimlessly for a few minutes, he heard a rustle come from underneath the tree. It was quiet, but there definitely had been movement.
The roots of the tree were crowded with an undergrowth of weeds that couldn’t possibly hide a person. Lequilier looked at it in surprise but couldn’t make sense of the problem no matter how he thought about it. He reached out and pulled out some of the weeds that covered the lower part of the tree. Unexpectedly, there was a pitch black tree hollow behind the screen of weeds. Lequilier couldn’t see into the hollow, but he knew there was definitely something moving inside.
Lequilier had the urge to laugh after his discovery. What was a physical spirit doing inside a tree hollow? It seemed like he had come across quite an interesting spirit. He called out, “Hey! What you hiding inside there for? Is it fun down there?”
The tree hollow was silent in response to his question. Then suddenly, a mass of black tumbled out of the hollow and crashed into Lequilier. He fell down hard onto the ground, thinking that he was going to be killed. However, after discovering that he hadn’t been injured, Lequilier quickly recovered from his shock and turned around to chase after the mass of black.
He followed the black shadow to the shores of the lake. Stepping out from the shade of the forest, Lequilier was met with a wide view of the lake. Splendid rays of sunlight struck down onto the surface of the lake, creating gleaming waves. Standing on the shores before the glittering water, there was a pitch black mass. At first glance, it appeared like a dark cloud. However, after closer examination, Lequilier discerned that it was a person wrapped in a cradle of twisting black hair.
“Hey!” Lequilier called out.
The person stiffened and turned to look at Lequilier. His hair waved about as if having a life of its own and exploded outwards in a sudden frenzy. The strands of hair morphed into knife-like shapes and danced about in the air, creating a menacing sight.
As the spirit’s black hair floated in the air, it exposed his patchy white, red, and black skin for Lequilier to see. Lequilier pondered over the appearance of the spirit, racking his brains for any memories of this kind of spirit. After examining the other’s body closely however, Lequilier discovered that the spirit’s patchy skin was actually made of burns: The wounds that were openly bleeding dripped red; the places that had been burned to the bone appeared white; and the areas that had scabbed over were black.
Lequilier’s eyes bulged at his discovery. He couldn’t believe that the person in front of him was actually a physical spirit. To his knowledge, no matter the type, physical spirits always shone with an unearthly beauty that made others unable to look at them directly.
They weren’t supposed to carry around injury-laden bodies that made them such a horrifying sight!
But the spirit in front of Lequilier was definitely a physical spirit. Being one of the Servile Spirits, Lequilier would never be mistaken about that. He called out lightly, “Y-you’re greatly injured! I have a lot of spirit medicine on me. Would you be willing to let me treat your injuries?”
The spirit didn’t respond to Lequilier’s question and instead stared intensely at him. His eyes were the same shade as blood: the pupils were red, even the whites of his eyes were threaded with red, making it appear as if he would cry out tears of blood at any moment.
Lequilier suddenly realized the danger he was in. Being so greatly injured, was the physical spirit even in a rational state of mind? Just from appearances, the spirit seemed to only have murderous rage left inside of him.
Lequilier swallowed hard and pondered over his next course of action. Should he stay and wait or should he turn around and escape for his life?
Seconds, then minutes passed, and to his grief, Lequilier found he was rooted to the ground. Even if logic was telling him to run for his life, it couldn’t win over the natural instinct of his tribe.
Fortunately, the physical spirit had yet to attack him. The spirit’s black hair still floated in the air, but the strands were no longer in the shape of lethal knives; they merely floated gently in the air.
However, if I were to move a single inch, his hair would probably instantly impale me and puncture a hundred holes in my body. Lequilier didn’t doubt the might of the other’s attacking ability at all.
The physical spirit suddenly turned around and sprinted toward the lake. He jumped and dove into the waters. Instead of moving his arms and swimming, the spirit willingly let his body sink into the depth of the lake…
To Lequillier’s eyes, he was obviously drowning!
Lequilier quickly rushed into the lake. The water near the shore wasn’t deep, so he was able to reach out and pull the other up to the surface. At first, the physical spirit was motionless as if he were unconsciousness. However, once they reached the shores, he started flailing around.
Lequilier quickly tightened his hold on the spirit, but his grip immediately dislodged something on the spirit’s body. He looked down to see a piece of skin in his hand and almost fainted at the sight. He didn’t dare use any more force, and the spirit took advantage of this and broke his hold.
The minute the spirit was free, the spirit slipped into the waters and disappeared without a trace. Lequilier was scared out of his wits. He quickly discarded his luggage onto the ground and leapt into the lake after the spirit again.
Luckily, the lake was well-illuminated beneath the surface. After swimming for a short distance, Lequilier spotted a mass of black at the bottom. He quickly swam in its direction.
When he reached the spot the spirit was at, Lequilier understood at once that he had done something unnecessary. The spirit wasn’t drowning at all.
The spirit’s eyes were tightly-closed, but he was standing straight up with his arms hanging weightlessly at his sides. As he stood at the bottom of the lake, his head of black hair drifted to and fro and fanned out around him. With the help of the sunlight that beamed down into the depth of the lake, his whole person glowed with a weak light. He appeared like…like a flower that only bloomed beneath the water.
If there hadn’t been any burns on his snow-white skin, he would probably have looked even more beautiful. Lequilier sighed in awe to himself, but couldn’t resist feeling that it was a pity that the spirit was injured.
Lequilier soon ran out of air and floated back to the surface of the lake. He looked to the east and then glanced back at the bottom of the lake. Finding that he couldn’t remove his eyes from the spirit, Lequilier swiftly made a decision.
He wasn’t heading to the east anymore.
Gong Hua opened his eyes. He knew he had been asleep for a long time; at least, long in human terms.
Despite sleeping so long, he still felt exhausted. He was surprised that he was able to wake up at all.
Although feeling fatigued in every limb, he still had important things he needed to do. Gong Hua lifted his spirits and started swimming toward the surface. Once he was floating atop of the lake, he headed in the direction of the shores.
He supported his arms on the ground and tried to crawl out of the water, but found every corner of his body wracked with pain. He glanced down at himself. His wounds had healed greatly during his time inside the lake, but that hadn’t taken away their severity. Most of his wounds were still inflamed and open; even the ones that had scabbed over still appeared red after the scab had fallen off. His snowy skin was covered with patches of black and red, making him a ghastly sight.
Suddenly, the sound of a clatter rang out on the shore. Gong Hua paused in surprise and looked in the direction of the sound. There was someone on the shore; there was even a makeshift camp.
When they had been on the run, Owen would always make a simple camp similar to the one on the shore: a campfire with two makeshift beds on the ground.
Was it him? Gong Hua quickly crawled up the shore, forgetting his pain in the process. Even if he knew it was impossible, he couldn’t help but call out the familiar name once he was near the camp. “Owen?”
The person in the camp turned around and jumped up when he noticed it was Gong Hua. The stranger couldn’t be any taller than 150 centimeters, but his voice was certainly over 150 decibels. “Oh, good morning! Master, I am Lequilier of the Servile Spirits. From today forth, I will be your servant!”
Staring at the short figure in front of him, Gong Hua mumbled in a daze, “You aren’t Owen…”
“Who is this Owen you’ve mentioned?” Seeing that Gong Hua hadn’t rejected him outright, Lequilier was relieved. He asked curiously, “Is he your target of protection? You are a guardian spirit, right? The feeling you give off is similar to a guardian spirit’s. You couldn’t possibly be a spirit beast. Were you injured so severely because you were trying to protect this Owen?”
Gong Hua ignored Lequilier’s questions and mumbled to himself, “Owen, Owen…”
Lequilier wasn’t all that surprised by their inability to communicate with each other. It only assured him of the fact that the other was a guardian spirit. However, he still didn’t know whether the spirit was willing to take him on as a servant.
“Would you like something to eat? Or rather, do you need to eat anything?”
Gong Hua seemed to not have heard the other as he stared blankly at the campfire, silent the whole time.
Is, is he crying? Lequilier was stunned. He stared as tears quietly streamed down Gong Hua’s face. Once again, he questioned whether the spirit in front of him was really a physical spirit. He seemed…too human.
“A-are you all right?” Lequilier asked, somewhat panicking. “Do you want to go find Owen? I can accompany you on your search! Can I follow you on your trip?” Despite panicking, Lequilier didn’t forget to add the last sentence; he was hoping Gong Hua would accidentally nod in agreement.
Unfortunately, Gong Hua didn’t seem to have heard Lequilier at all. He simply stared at the dancing flames. As he focused on it, it seemed as if he could still hear the screams. He could see that person turning into a pile of grey ashes before his eyes. He couldn’t resist reaching his hand out to the fire. His senses told him of the great pain he was inflicting on himself, but he merely watched as his skin started turning red, then black…
Black. Gong Hua stared as his hand gradually turned black like charcoal, turned black like Owen had.
Lequilier quickly reached out and pulled Gong Hua’s hand from the fire, but the spirit resisted his pull. Furious, he yelled, “What are you doing! That’s fire! You aren’t a fire spirit! Look at your hand. Your wounds were finally starting to look better, but look at it now!”
“No! I need to protect Owen. Owen… Owen!”
Gong Hua thrashed around, screamed, and cried. He wasn’t willing to admit that he had failed. No matter how strong he was, he wouldn’t be able to protect Owen anymore.
Lequilier used all his strength and pulled Gong Hua back from the fire, as far as he could. At first, he had been scared that Gong Hua would attack him out of anger, but then found out that the spirit had no energy to resist. He was even weaker than the average human.
Gong Hua continued to reach out toward the fire. The only thing he could do was call out that name.
Proofreaders: Rose, Xuan