I feel stuffy, like my nose is clogged and I can’t blow it. But it’s for my whole body. Gah! It’s driving me insane; what the heck is this feeling!? Did someone curse me? Which bastard was it!? None of these stupid animals could use curses: not the two-headed dogs, not the one-eyed snakes, not the weird eight-legged monkeys with horns, not the stupid, stupid acid-spitting birds in the sky. So why am I feeling this way? Maybe I should ask Liana or that Briarwood envoy. I have no one else to ask after all.
Let’s see, where’s my messenger?
Hmm? That’s odd. I thought I heard something.
Okay. That’s creepy. Is someone watching me? I don’t sense anyone, not even with my web of qi. I recently learned how to do that. If I project my qi outwards like shooting strands out of my body, I can roughly sense everything around me. I guess that’s what Durandal meant by high-ranked warriors could control their qi outside of their body. Wait. Durandal?
“Durandal!” I grabbed mini-DalDal. Durandal was in here, right? How did I enter it last time? Focus on the hilt and … whoa. The ball of light I saw last time was shining even brighter than before. There was another orb of light floating around. If I touch it, it’s probably going to hurt like last time. “Durandal?”
“Touch the orb, Lucia.”
…Dammit. Even when you’re asleep, you want me to feel pain, huh? “Are you awake?” I miss you, you stupid sword spirit. You said you’d never leave me. Well, I guess you didn’t. But falling asleep for however long it’s been is just as bad!
“Fading … consciousness…. Touch the orb…. Get stronger. Lucia, I’ll … be waiting.”
Just what does Durandal have in store for me now? Please don’t be painful, please don’t be painful. Deep breaths, Lucia. And … touch it. Gah! Motherf***er! It hurts! It wasn’t this painful before! Last time it was like someone hammering open my head. This time, it’s like someone’s using a chisel to chip away at every single one of my bones at once! I can’t feel my limbs. All I can feel is pain. Everything is pain. I am pain. I’m dying. Dying….
It was nighttime when I woke up. A circle of dead animal corpses surrounded me. My body was drenched in blood, and the ground was dark and damp. Did I do this? I sat up and looked around. I’m no stranger to slaughter, but even I thought this scene was a bit gruesome. The animals looked as if they had been torn apart by teeth and claws. Some weren’t even recognizable. Mini-DalDal was still strapped to my back, and it didn’t seem like it had been used much. My nails on the other hand…, they were pointed, sharp, and curved like a panther’s. There was also lots of dried blood and flesh underneath them. Gross.
And there’s a metallic taste in my mouth—blood, I guess? It had been an extremely long time since I last slept, and I woke up to something like this. Oh, hey! The stuffiness is gone. I feel great! But first, let’s check what kind of nasty surprise Durandal gave me. It better be worth all that pain and suffering I went through. I inspected my body while gathering the corpses. Unfortunately, most of them were so torn apart that the dismantle spell didn’t work. But I did find a decent number of beast cores.
My body didn’t change much after being tortured by Durandal. Was the orb a prank? I’ll review my techniques: Breaking Blade, qi projection, Steady Mountain Footwork, Unrelenting Path of Slaughter, the art of bone engraving. Wait. Hold on a second. What the heck is Unrelenting Path of Slaughter!? When did I pick up something so ominous?
A dull drone rang in my head, followed by an eerie voice. “Listen well, Lucia. You’ve reached the peak of high-ranked warrior, and without guidance, you’d’ve been stuck there forever. I forcibly broke you through to low-ranked spirit warrior. Unfortunately, I have no idea what path you’ll unlock. Your path will reflect the actions you’ve done while reaching the peak. Continue following your path until you become a high-ranked spirit warrior.”
That was an awfully convenient explanation. I guess this is part of the benefits of inheriting the Godking’s legacy—an easy pass to the next rank. And—
“Oh. If I wake up and find out your path is something stupid like the path of sloth or the path of ‘hey look, an acorn’, then I’m disowning you.”
Phew. Good thing I seriously invested my time and energy into improving myself. So what exactly can I do with this Unrelenting Path of Slaughter? This is something spirit warriors unlock, right? Should I know how to use it instinctively?
“To activate your path, send your qi to your forehead and follow the sensation. Your qi will want to flow a certain way. Allow it to.”
…You’re actually awake, aren’t you, Durandal?
“I’m not awake. This is my last message until I wake up. Lucia, there’s something I have to tell you. I…, actually, no. When the time comes, I’ll tell you in person.”
What the heck! You can’t do that! What were you going to say!? “Answer me, Durandal! You bastard!!! That was totally a confession flag!” Gah! Forget it. Focus. Send my qi into my forehead and follow the path…? Oh, that feels comfortable. Close my eyes, relax my shoulders, lightly bend my knees, tilt my neck upwards, open my mouth and howl at the sky. …What the heck is this qi path making me do?
When I opened my eyes, my vision was white. There were a few black outlines of trees and leaves and rocks and the dead bodies around me, but the contents were white. Everything was black and white like a child’s drawing.
The space I stood on turned red. Red footprints sprawled outwards from me like a spider web, staining the white landscape.
My legs moved without my permission, stepping into one of the red footprints. The rest of the paths disappeared except for the one I took. My other leg advanced forward, stepping into the next footprint, then another. What exactly was this supposed to do? Well, I couldn’t do anything except follow the path laid out before me.
Without listening to me, my body continued forward, following the path of red footprints, slowly at first. By the time I figured out the path was leading me to a two-headed dog, the beast was already dead, killed by my body’s actions. The beast had a differing appearance than everything else in the world of black and white. Its outline was orange while its insides were gray. Red lines had appeared in its silhouette, and mini-DalDal cut through them like a hot knife through butter, killing it instantly. This was the power of the Unrelenting Path of Slaughter?
Thankfully, my body stored the corpse of the beast inside the interspacial ring. After it did that, another web of red footprints appeared around me, but my body didn’t move by itself this time. Was it telling me to copy its actions? I picked a path to the right of me and took a step forward. And I promptly lost all control of my body again. What the heck!? This is my body, you stupid path!
My body ran with the footsteps despite my best attempts at stopping it, and I arrived in front of three eight-legged, horned monkeys. The number of red lines on their bodies were less than the dogs, but my body still took action and cut one apart with mini-DalDal. The other two horned monkeys opened their mouths. Stupid body, cover my ears! The monkeys had a stupidly loud howl that stunned me and made me see white the first time I fought against them. …And my body wasn’t listening to me at all! Cover your ears, dammit!
The monkeys pounded their hands against their chests and closed their mouths. Huh? There was no howl? Now that I think about it…, I haven’t heard any sounds or smelled anything since I activated the path. And if I really think hard about it like a crow instead of a squirrel, was I really seeing? I can only see the bare minimum of everything. While I thought about my vision, my body moved forward and cut along the red lines on one of the monkeys, killing the beast effortlessly. When my head turned towards the final monkey, there were more red lines on it. Did the Unrelenting Path of Slaughter discover new weaknesses?
Whether they were weaknesses or not, it didn’t change the fact that the third monkey was killed against my will. My body stored the three monkeys inside of my ring and stood still. Once again, a web of red footsteps appeared around me.
I refuse to pick! Give me back my body!
Shut up, creepy voice! I choose independence!
Aren’t you tired of saying the same thing over and over?
…Aren’t you going to control me anyway? Does it matter which path I pick? Hey, the paths are changing. I guess they reflect where the beasts at the end are? If they’re moving around, the path to reach them should change.
Why don’t you let me control my own body first? Can’t we be friends, creepy voice? We’re stuck together after all.
You’re not listening to me at all. A partnership can’t work without communication!
I think I figured out why it was called the Unrelenting Path of Slaughter instead of the normal Path of Slaughter.
Fine! Dammit! I don’t have time to waste on fighting myself when there’s a sleeping prince waiting for me to bring him back to life with a kiss! A figurative kiss, that is. Mhm. Totally.
Gah! I already said I’ll pick! I chose the path leading straight ahead and took a step. Once again, I lost control of my body. This time, I paid careful attention to how my body moved. All of its movements followed the Steady Mountain Footwork, using them more effectively than I could. How’s that fair!? …I’m not jealous of my own body. Even when my body engaged in combat with the massive one-eyed snake, its movements were more efficient. I would’ve chosen to fight it at a distance, slowly wearing it down with long-ranged qi blades, but the Unrelenting Path of Slaughter dove straight in, disregarding the danger. The spikes on the snake flashed and tried to impale me, but my body avoided them with the distance of a hair’s breadth. It even had time to counterattack, striking at the red lines on the snake.
You stupid path! This is my body! What are you going to do if you injure it!? Stop fighting so recklessly!
Never negotiate. Always attack. Evade everything. Don’t defend. Simply slaughter.
F*** you! The best offense is an impenetrable defense! Stop risking my life like—gah! If you mistimed that dodge just now, I’d be sterile! Release me right now! Give me back my body! Of course, the Unrelenting Path of Slaughter didn’t listen to me as it continued to practically glue itself to the snake where the danger was the highest. When the snake was dead and its corpse was stored in my interspacial ring, another web of footprints spread out around me.
Really. Is it really my turn, you shitty voice? How about this? I took a step on the white ground outside of any of the red footprints. …And I lost control of my body again. One dead acid-spitting bird later, I was once again presented with a ‘choice’ of different paths.
Follow the path….
Will I gain control of my body if I do?
Follow the path….
Answer my questions, dammit!
What. It answered? Fine, I’ll follow your stupid path to get back my own body. Since Durandal gave me this path, it can’t be something that’ll want to hurt me, right? Actually, knowing Durandal…, this path is definitely going to be painful in some way, shape, or form. But what else can I do but believe its words? After thirty footsteps, I messed up one of my movements and fell off the path, losing control of my body once again. It seems like it’ll be a long time from now before I’ll regain control of my limbs.